Time for Australia to blood new cricketers

NEXT week, the Australian international cricket season kicks off with the first Test against New Zealand. The Kiwis will play two Tests and then India will play four more, beginning in December. Next year, Australia, India and Sri Lanka will play a triangular limited overs tournament.

Australia is in the midst of a transition but it remains to be seen to what extent the new set of selectors are prepared to experiment. Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey are both well into their 30s and not exactly setting the Nullarbor on fire when they go out to bat. Mitchell Johnson has been erratic to put it mildly, with more downsides than upsides. And Brad Haddin has shown an inclination to throw his wicket away at the worst of times. His keeping is pretty poor too.

There are adequate replacement waiting in the wings. One of the very first fast-bowling options tried out, Patrick Cummins, has shown that he can serve as the fulcrum of a good pace attack. There are others like James Pattinson who can be blooded.

The two Tests against New Zealand could well be used to try out some of the aspiring players. The Kiwis are not that strong an outfit and Australia can be reasonably confident of winning both Tests, even if they blood a few new players.

Ponting is not the best batsman in the side any more; Clarke is clearly much better. Usman Khawaja needs to get more time out in the middle if he is to become a regular member of the team and Shane Watson needs to move down the order. The selectors should not be afraid to tap Ponting and Hussey on their shoulders and tell them it is time to go.

Whenever talk of Ponting retiring comes up, he always points to Sachin Tendulkar and says he can do something similar; the Indian has shown no dropoff in scoring, even though he is a year older than Ponting. But Ponting has been going through a drought for the last 18 months and it shows no sign of going away.

With the bowlers, too, there needs to be some firm talk from the selectors. Johnson should be dropped and others tried out. One of the revelations about Cummins is that he seems to have a great deal of intelligence and uses it when bowling; he just does not go out and bang it down the wicket. Peter Siddle does not use his brains when he bowls – at best, he is an honest trier. One should look to the example of Dennis Lillee and the late Malcolm Marshall, who always bowled well within themselves but always got results. Both used their brains when they were out in the middle.

Back in 1999, the West Indies were bowled out for 51 in a Test against Australia in the Caribbean. But the next two Tests were a remarkable turnaround, engineered in the main by one Brian Lara. That was taken by the Windies to mean that change was not needed and that the existing team was good enough to keep soldiering on. Twelve years on, the West Indies are still to win a Test series against decent opposition.

Australia can allow itself to be lulled into a similar state of complacency. The team was bowled out for 47 in South Africa recently but won the next Test with a strong showing. The latter result should not be taken to indicate that the 47 all out was a minor aberration; on the contrary, it was a warning that there is something wrong with the team that needs to be fixed, and fast.

There are good times to make changes in cricket teams, and bad times too. If the selectors are bold enough to make changes for the Tests against New Zealand, it will serve Australia well in the long run. If they opt to wait until desperate times arrive to make changes, then Australia’s goal of trying to climb up the ladder of international cricket will remain just that: a goal.

Farewell D’Oliveira, a man who changed the system

BASIL D’Oliveira died on November 19. I remember him because of the fact that he was a principal actor in what was the first international series of cricket which I followed on the radio. Later, when I was much older, I realised the significance of the role that he had played in exposing apartheid for the evil it is.

The year was 1968 and I was 11 years old. Back then Sri Lanka — which was known as Ceylon — was not yet an international cricket-playing country. That would take another 13 years. But the interest in the game was phenomenal, so much so that the local radio station was able to find a sponsor to cover the charges of broadcasting BBC commentary on the Ashes series that year.

Before the series even began, the South African prime minister John Vorster had told Lord Cobham, a past president of the MCC, at that time the body administering the game in England, that if D’Oliveira was selected for the forthcoming tour of South Africa, the tour would be cancelled.

D’Oliveira played in the first Test of that series which Australia won. He made just 9 as England collapsed for 165 — the Ceylon Daily News described it as a case similar to that of cows going to the slaughter — and ceded a lead of 192 to Australia on the first innings.

Facing a victory target of 413, England got to 253 mainly because of D’Oliveira who made an unbeaten 87, and Bob Barber. John Edrich made 38 but the rest of the batting was a shambles.

Funnily, after this, D’Oliveira was made 12th man for the second Test at Lord’s. Shortly before this, the MCC secretary, Billy Griffith, suggested to D’Oliveira that he make himself available for South Africa and not create a problem by being selected for England.

The MCC was thus fully aware that if a coloured South African was able to lay claim to a spot in the England squad for South Africa, there would be some uncomfortable times to be gone through. As an innocent 11-year-old I knew nothing about this – leave alone anything about South Africa’s official system of apartheid.

In August, another attempt was made to prevent any trouble. Tienie Oosthuizen, a top executive in the British branch of Carreras Tobacco, a South African company, made D’Oliveira the offer of a lucrative coaching contract in South Africa. There was a catch – he should refuse to go on the tour.

He was dealing with a man of integrity. D’Oliveira refused the blandishment.

The next three Tests were drawn. In the fifth Test, D’Oliveira returned as Roger Prideaux declared he was unavailable. On the first day, England ran up 272 for 4, with Edrich being the chief contributor, 130 not out. D’Oliveira was not out on 24. The next day, he made a marvellous 158. England won that Test on the final day.

But when the squad for South Africa was announced, D’Oliveira’s name was not there. Then followed a period when unrest dogged the MCC. Various members resigned. The Reverend David Shepherd formed a protest group.

Then came intervention in the shape of providence. Tom Cartwright pulled out of the tour due to injury and, given the public pressure, D’Oliveira was selected as his replacement. Vorster then announced that the tour could not go ahead if D’Oliveira was part of the touring party. The MCC, having tried everything in its armoury to prevent a situation of this kind coming about, cancelled the tour.

The only official cricket tour of South Africa after this was in 1970 when Bill Lawry led an Australia team there for a four-Test series. England cancelled a 1970 tour by South Africa and instead a Rest of the World XI, which included a few South Africans, played a few Tests. In late 1970, the International Cricket Conference suspended official tours of South Africa.

Had D’Oliveira responded to the bribes and not stood on principle, cricket tours would have gone on with the rest of the cricketing nations turning a blind eye to the fact that South Africa was not willing to play black and coloured teams.

One man changed the system.

Desperate US gets set to take advantage of Asia

AUSTRALIA is putting itself in a dangerous position by agreeing to be the meat in the sandwich between the US and China.

The US, realising that it cannot stand up to developing powers on its own, has devised a deal called the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement; this enables the US to act as a parasite and live off eight other countries.

But over and above this, the US wants to use Australia as a proxy staging ground for displaying whatever military might it has left and trying to hold off China from claiming its rightful place as the supreme power in the Asia-Pacific.

Australia has good relations with China which buys a huge amount of mineral resources from Canberra. Australia needs China and China needs Australia. Yet China is careful to try and cultivate others sources; it has built up good ties in several African countries where there is a promise that there may be mineral resources to exploit. Exploration is being funded by Chinese companies and the country has plenty of monetary reserves to continue making inroads into Africa.

The US has no currency in Africa. Indeed, it has never been able to make a success of any of its foreign adventures. The US has invaded more than its fair share of nations but has always been forced to leave with the invaded country in a mess. Iraq and Afghanistan are but the latest examples of this bungling.

Australia is a medium-level power. It is affluent because of its mineral wealth but quite foolish when it comes to looking to its own interests. Prime ministers and others are dazzled by the US and cede whatever Washington wants without thinking whether it is in Australia’s own interests. Many of these politicians, coincidentally, end up with good jobs at big American companies after they are thrown out of office by the voting public.

There is no doubt that China wants, peacefully or otherwise, to retake Taiwan. Will the US sit idly by if that happens? What will Australia do? Will it, by then, have adopted a more pragmatic attitude towards Beijing? Or will it still be following the old foolish policy of asking “how high?” when America says “jump?”

No matter what nice words people use to dress it up, you cannot trade with a country and at the same time ally yourself with someone else who is seeking to curb the power of that very country. One might as well try to marry a woman while spreading rumour and innuendo about her parents.

The US is a fading power. It has yet to accept this reality and figure out that the world will soon belong to China, India, Russia and Brazil. The Middle East will have its own centre of power as it has much of the world’s remaining oil reserves. America has no money to project power any more; high time to realise this and at least try to sort out domestic problems.

Australia gets ready to bend over for the US – again

After being in force for seven years, the free trade agreement Australia has with the US has yielded the former little benefit. The US has been the net beneficiary – last financial year imports from the US totalled $26 billion while exports were $9 billion. [1]

The figures for 2004-05 were $21.4 billion and $9.2 billion respectively. [1]

Given this, one would naturally conclude Australia would be wary of further deals that would expose it to being taken advantage of by the US.

Surprisingly, such is not the case. Since March 2010, Australia has been talking to the US and seven other countries about a deal known as the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), one that was supposed to be finalised in Peru in the week ended October 28. President Barack Obama is expected to announce a framework for the deal at the forthcoming APEC summit in Honolulu.

The talks have been held in secret and there has been practically no coverage in the mainstream media. The seven other countries involved are Chile, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Brunei and Peru.

But, despite US efforts to maintain secrecy, there have been leaks: in February, the draft text of the IP section of the TPPA was leaked online [2] to an organisation known as Knowledge Ecology International.

And just before the talks in Peru more documents were leaked to the Citizens Trade Campaign, an US advocacy group. [3]

According to the leaked documents, one of the chief aims of the TPPA is to empower big drug companies to attack schemes such as Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and New Zealand’s Pharmaceutical Management Agency (PHARMAC) that provide citizens of these countries with lower-priced drugs.

If the proposals made by the US are accepted, it would mean greater restrictions on generic competition and rising medicine costs for the Asia-Pacific region.

The federal government has indicated it may accede to US proposals: back in 2010 – the first round was held in Canberra – the Australian ambassador to the US, Kim Beazley, was quoted as telling a US hearing that “everything” was on the table. [4] Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean has reportedly said the same thing. [5]

The leaked draft includes a proposal to lengthen and create new pharmaceutical monopolies, grant additional exclusive controls over clinical trial data and eliminate safeguards against the abuse of patients.

The US proposal seeks to ramp up second-use patents for minor variations on known drugs and any new uses of these medicines.

There is also a proposal to increase drug monopolies by patent term adjustments that will delay the bringing to market of generic equivalents of drugs; this will mean higher prices for patients.

The US wants to remove any safeguards against the abuse of patents and prevent third parties from challenging patent applications. It wants to extend the control over clinical trial data, providing an extra three years of data exclusivity for new uses of existing products.

This is in addition to five years for first uses of the same product.

Recent events have indicated that the federal government is moving to soften the public to the changes that will come with the TPPA – after all, Australia’s only response when told “jump” by the US, has generally been to respond “how high?”

For one, the idea of changes in the Medicare system has been floated recently; in the last week of October Health Minister Nicola Roxon floated the idea of a revamp of the $17 billion system. [6]

Apart from the impact in the IP area, the TPPA also seeks to make it easier for foreign companies to control the conditions for investment; such clauses exist in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

In the 1990s, when Canada mooted the idea of plain paper packaging for cigarettes, it was threatened with legal action by Philip Morris. Any such action would have been judged by an international body, and not Canada’s judicial system as this is specified by NAFTA. The result was that Ottawa backed down. [7]

Australia is contemplating a similar move by July next year and has been threatened with legal action by Philip Morris; the government recently said [6] that it would delay the adoption of plain paper packaging until December next year.

If, as seems likely, the TPPA is finalised by then, Philip Morris would have a much better chance of winning its case because it would no longer be judged by the Australian judicial system but by an outside tribunal.

In effect, what this does is compromise the sovereignty of a country to make its own laws.

The IP draft of the TPPA contains some scary proposals. Draconian measures are proposed to apply to ISPs. Laws will have to be put in place to require ISPs to co-operate with copyright owners in preventing unauthorised storage and transmission of copyrighted materials.

Legal liability for ISPs will extend beyond the provisions of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Internet users will, by law, have to be identified by an ISP if copyright owners have given “effective notification of claimed infringement”.

There is also a proposal to extend the copyright period to a minimum of 95 years from creation of a work to a maximum of 120 years. Parallel trade in any copyrighted goods is ruled out altogether in the draft.

There is no indication that the Labor government will oppose the US on any front. Indeed, when the US free trade agreement was negotiated in 2004, the prime minister John Howard thought he would get some sweeteners from the US because of his close relationship with George W. Bush. But Australia got nothing. The present government has nothing like the relationship that Howard had with Bush; its chances of getting something from the TPPA are even more remote.

As the US moves into its election cycle, campaign donations assume even more importance. Media and drug companies are big donors and have to be kept happy.

Obama will need all the money he can get to fight for re-election next year, given that his poll ratings are low. The state of the economy is no help to him.

In that context, the rights or otherwise of Australians are of no importance. There are bigger fish to fry and the US appears intent on giving its big corporates the pound of flesh they are after.








Why journalists are treated with contempt

NEWSPAPERS are dying.Circulations are dropping and owners are desperately trying to find new business models to keep their companies afloat.

One of the reasons that people in the US despise the written word is because of the amount of spin that is transmitted by journalists. And here is an excellent example of the kind of garbage that makes people ask whether journalists are in possession of their senses.

This is a case of a journalist swallowing spin from Google hook, line and sinker. Why does Google put ads in its search results and in Gmail? Simple. To make money.

The company gives a rat’s about who you are, what you like, or what you do. It wants to flash ads in front of people to make money.

Of course, your mail is scanned and, using word association, advertisements flash before your eyes. But there is one stupid assumption in this process – that humans are limited in their interests. There may be something that one is really interested in that one never mentions on Gmail.

That said, when Google spins about this process, pretending that it is doing people a great favour, a journalist should ignore it. Or else, rip it up and expose it for the spin that it is.

But no, this Los Angeles Times article swallows the whole explanation and takes it seriously. And the LA Times is said to be one of the better papers in the US of A.

Is it any wonder that people turn off papers in droves when journalists display the IQ of the common cockroach?