Australian cricket continues on its old, merry path

EARLIER this year, after England sealed a resounding 3-1 win in the Ashes Test series, Australian cricket authorities, apparently all shaken up, launched an inquiry to find out why the team had been beaten, and so comprehensively too.

This was the third time that Tasmania’s Ricky Ponting had led the national team to a loss in the Ashes series; Ponting lost twice in England, in 2005 and 2009. The Ashes is the series that matters most to Australia as England is historically the enemy.

When the inquiry reported back and recommended sweeping changes, there was hope that things would look different this summer. Of course, the captain had to go – of that there was little doubt. But despite a lot of talk, much promise of change, one finds that with the summer cricket season nearly a third over, things are pretty much the same.
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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.
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Wayne Barnes proves that incompetence will help one make progress

ENGLISHMAN Wayne Barnes has earned a reputation for refereeing bloopers, continuing the trend he set in the World Cup rugby tournament of 2007 when he awarded France a try from a blatant forward pass.

That try helped France to knock out tournament favourites New Zealand in the quarter-finals. Barnes does not appear to have improved much – at the ongoing tournament, which concludes on Sunday, he denied Wales a try conversion when the ball had clearly gone between the uprights.

This was in a pool game with South Africa and as Wales lost the game by a point, they certainly had reason to feel cheated.
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Why is Wayne Barnes allowed to referee rugby games?

During the last World Cup rugby tournament in France, Englishman Wayne Barnes ensured that tournament favourites New Zealand would be thrown out at the quarter-final stage by allowing a French try that was scored off a blatant forward pass.

And this wasn’t one of those line-ball decisions – there was a difference of about two metres between the two French players who exchanged the pass.

Now Barnes has done it again, denying Wales a chance of defeating the reigning champions, South Africa, at the 2011 championships.
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Evidence of war crimes in Sri Lanka

BRITAIN’S Channel 4 television screened a remarkable programme on Tuesday, the 14th of June, one that nobody would expect to see in a Western country.

Graphic evidence of war crimes by the Sri Lankan military and the militant group, the Tamil Tigers, during the war that led to the elimination of the Tigers in 2008-09, was screened from 11.05pm in a programme titled Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields. (The programme is also available on YouTube; just search for “Sri Lanka killing fields”.)

The programme is not for the squeamish or those who cannot bear to see what actually happens in a war. This was a war fought between sides which were not equal – as the programme shows the military had heavy hardware and was prepared to use it. All Tamils were treated as terrorists and they were fair game. Indeed, the military gathered them together in so-called no-fire zones and then killed them.

Hospitals were shelled despite the fact that their coordinates had been provided to both sides of the conflict by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Children, old women, the feeble, the sick, pregnant women, aged men – they all served as cannon fodder for the bloodthirsty Sri Lankan military.

The government had given the military carte blanche as far as the war was concerned; they did not have go fight with one arm tied behind them. This led, in the end, to soldiers killing civilians in cold blood and collecting video footage as grotesque war souvenirs. Women were raped and then killed. Half-dead corpses were thrown around like sacks of potatoes.

The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon visited some of the government camps where those Tamil civilians who survived were interned. He stayed a few minutes and then moved on. In April, the UN produced a damning report wherein it cited plenty of evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity by both the government and the Tigers. Ban Ki-moon has refused to act on that report – he says he has no authority to do so. Doubtless, he is also conscious of the fact that with the end of his term looming, his chances of re-election will depend on having China on-side. Beijing has been Sri Lanka’s ally during the war and after; weapons were supplied to Colombo and in return a $2 billion contract to build a port and naval base in the Hambantota district, from where the president, Mahinda Rajapakse hails, went China’s way.

China, of course, is not the only country to help Sri Lanka in this manner. Israel supplied Kfir fighter jets and India provided intelligence to help Colombo destroy Tiger re-supply craft which were being used to replenish the militants’ weapons stocks. In their time of need, the Tigers found no country willing to help.

Now it remains to be seen whether there will be any action by the so-called international community. My guess is that nothing will happen. The US has shown no interest in speaking out about the atrocities and if it stays silent, every other country will hold its peace.

But unless justice is seen to be done, the situation will continue to simmer. Tamils will leave Sri Lanka in increasing numbers but there will be anger and hurt in the community which will resurface some time or the other. By going after the Tigers and ending the 26-year insurrection, the Sri Lankan government has, metaphorically speaking, sown the wind. They may well end up reaping the whirlwind.

The royal censor gets into the act

THE British royal family, an anachronism in this day and age, has shown its tendency to dictate proceedings in a strange way, totally against the grand British tradition of free speech.

Prince Charles has instructed the BBC to place strict conditions on the feed of the wedding between his son William and Kate Middleton which it provides to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation; these strictures effectively prevent what would have been the best program on the wedding, the view of the Chaser team, from going to air.

What’s outrageous is that the restrictions are specifically aimed at the Chaser – other not-so-straight coverage, such as that planned by Australia’s Channel 10, has no restrictions placed on it.

Charles has laid down the law to the BBC and the organisation has bent over and shown its backside.

The wedding is not a private affair – hundreds of millions of pounds in state funds will be used to provide security. Only the wedding expenses are being borne by the House of Windsor and the Middleton clan – the British taxpayer is forking out by the bucket at a time when the country’s economy and the financial standing of a large percentage of the populace is not exactly what one can describe as healthy.

It is a royal shame to waste public money at a time when most of the rest of the country is struggling to pay its bills. But when did the royals ever give a hoot about the public?

It is far too late for the Chaser folk to organise their own footage of anything remotely close to the wedding; indeed, people would like to watch some part of the official proceedings as they listen to the unique take of the Chaser team who are a class act.

Every country that claims to follow the liberal tradition and have a free press has its own set of satirists – for example, David Letterman, Jon Stewart, and Bill Maher in the US, Ricky Gervais and the Little Britain team in the UK and the Chaser and a multitude of others in Australia.

But the cold, clammy hand of censor Charles has clamped down and it’s back to the colonial era again when Britain told Australia what it could and couldn’t do. And Britain wants to spread the democratic tradition to other lands, I’m told.

This is a fine example, right from the top, of the class-ridden British society. Censorship at its brilliant best. One more good reason, if any more were needed, for Australia to cut the apron strings and become a republic.

Beating up on multiculturalism

TO ANY politician, people equate to votes. A particular community equates to a vote-bank. When it’s convenient to humour that community – i.e. when one needs their votes – the politician will speak good of them. If sucking up to another community will bring in more votes – doesn’t matter if it alienates the first community – the politician will take that route.

Multiculturalism is a popular political football. When politicians start talking it up or down it’s generally because they have spotted a potential vote-bank and want to try and consolidate their position
before the next poll comes around.

British prime minister David Cameron’s outburst about multiculturalism – at a time when the English Defence League was scheduled to hold a big rally – is nothing new. I’ve heard similar sentiments from former Australian prime minister John Howard, comments that contributed greatly to the Cronulla riots. Howard had form in this regard – he won an election in 1998 on the back of discrimination against Aborigines and a second one in 2001 by villifying Afghan asylum-seekers.

Others in the Liberal ranks, like Kevin Andrews, a former immigration minister, have also weighed in, drawing succour from Cameron. This Andrews is the same man who condemned an Indian doctor, Mohammed Haneef, to time in jail and trashed his reputation in the search for votes back in the run-up to the 2007 Australian national election.

This kind of beat-up often happens when economic conditions are bad – one can always blame the foreigners for it. And the UK isn’t in the best of economic health at the moment.

In the UK, within a few years, white people will be in the minority. If the experiment of bringing in migrants and making them part of British society has failed, then society and the government have to bear most of the blame.

A great deal of British policy on migration has been created in order to expiate guilt over its colonial rapaciousness. British guilt over the division of the Indian subcontinent is a classic example. No policy created because of such reasons will ever succeed. No politician has ever bothered to think about the settlement of people in such a way that ethnic ghettos will not be created. As the saying goes, birds of a feather…

Of course, one cannot dictate to people where they should live, unless one is living in a country like Singapore. But there can be more interaction to ensure that the kind of enclaves that one finds in places like Bradford in England are not created.

When ethnic people feel alienated from the mainstream, they tend to band together. This sense of alienation can be imagined or it can be real. Discrimination in the workplace, in public and the media – very subtle stuff at most times, things you can;t really pin down – tends to push people together with others of their kind and create a siege mentality. But when the government is only interested in is votes, these things do not weigh heavily on its collective mind.

There are cases when people in some areas realise the problems that are building up and move to make things better. Box Hill in Melbourne was a dangerous place to visit after dark; there were needles aplenty in the car parks some 10 years ago. But things have changed after local officials took steps to clean up the suburb. The population mix is still the same. But things are now very different because the community decided that it had to act and clean up the suburb for the good of its own children.

Politicians are unlikely to change their methods. People in various areas should act to ensure that newcomers get settled in and contribute to society. Making them feel they are outsiders greatly increases the possibility that the newcomers will turn against the very people whom they live amongst.

Ashes to Ashes: Australia left in the dust

AT LEAST one Australia could have been happy after the catastrophic defeat in the fifth and final Ashes Test – but even that didn’t happen.

Ricky Ponting, forced to stand down due to an injury, would have been happy that the team had not done better under Michael Clarke than under him – but then any happiness would have been washed away when the chairman of selectors, Andrew Hilditch, refused to say whether Ponting would be captain again when Australia resumes Test cricket in August.

Poor Ponting will have to keep biting his nails and spitting on his hands and rubbing them together for the next seven or eight months.

At the end of a series in which Australia was humiliated, becoming only the second team to lose three Tests by an innings at home, Hilditch said he had done a good job. You’d have to wonder what would have happened had he done a bad job.

Maybe if Australia had lost all five Tests, Hilditch would have been a mite more modest and said that he had done an average job. One never knows with such an unassuming gentleman.

The coach, Tim Nielsen, backed players like Phillip Hughes (who lacks even the semblance of technique and insists ‘but that’s how I play”). Steven Smith (who spent the last morning of the series making cow-shots against England) and Michael Beer Australia’s future looks bright, especially given that Nielsen has had his contract renewed until 2013.

Nielsen still said he had done all he could, but did not specify whether it was all he could to destroy the team or to make them able to win Test matches.

The selectors, who have been clearly unmasked as a bunch of jokers, also said they had done a good job. Australia needs a couple more series like this and it could well end up in a battle for ninth place in the ICC rankings with Bangladesh.

Three innings victories in a Test series down the years:

1928 – England 3 home innings wins in a row v West Indies
1931 – Australia 3 home innings wins in a row v West Indies
1931 – Australia 3 home innings wins in 5 tests v South Africa
1936 – Australia 3 away innings wins in 5 tests v South Africa
1947-8 – Australia 3 home innings wins in 4 tests v India
1957 – England 3 home innings wins in a row v West Indies
1958 – England 3 home innings wins in 5 tests v New Zealand
1959 – England 3 home innings wins in 5 tests v India
1994 – India 3 home innings wins in a row v Sri Lanka
2007 – Sri Lanka 3 home innings wins in a row v Bangladesh
2010-11 – England 3 away innings wins in 5 tests v Australia

Final Ashes Test: Ponting’s mixed feelings

RICKY Ponting faces five very difficult days ahead. Days when he will be torn between wanting Australia to do well in the final Ashes Test and also fully aware that any improvement will be put down to the stand-in captain Michael Clarke.

And any improvement will also decrease even the smallest chance he has of regaining the captaincy when Australia next plays Test cricket in August. Thus in a perverse way, Ponting will probably be happy if Australia suffers another defeat.

Would Ponting play under someone else as captain? He really wouldn’t have a choice – if the selection panel decides that a new captain must take over, then he will have no choice. And the new captain wouldn’t have much choice to having Ponting in his team if he merits a place on form.

Ponting is anxious about the captaincy and also highly insecure. This is evident from the fact that he wants to be in the dressing room for the fifth Test even though he is not playing. He wants to be around so that he can claim some credit in the event that the team fares better than it did in Melbourne.

Clarke must be feeling as though he has a millstone around his neck. It is highly unusual for a situation like this to develop but both the selectors and Clarke are being diplomatic about it. Nobody wants to make it appear as though Ponting has played his last Test as captain.

But that is what is very likely to happen. Ponting has some years left as a batsman but the team needs some rejuvenation and the long gap between Tests is exactly what is needed to blood new players.

The selectors have to look seriously at trying to regain the country’s ranking in Test cricket – it now stands fourth, thanks the weather in Sri Lanka that caused both Tests in the two-Test series between the West Indies and Sri Lanka to end in draws. Lanka thus slipped back from fourth to fifth and Australia moved up a notch.

It is always a touch tragic to see a good batsman come to a fork in the road as Ponting has. He is desperate to hang on to the captaincy and does not see that his time as captain is up. If he were to step down voluntarily it would be good for him. He could then continue as a player as long as his form warrants.

From good to bad in the space of a week

AUSTRALIA’S national cricket team seems to swing from bad to good to bad in the space of a few weeks or sometimes even a week. The team was thrashed in the second Test of the ongoing Ashes series, bounced back to win the third by 267 runs, and today, the first day of the fourth Test, was bowled out for 98.

Yes 98, the lowest score at the MCG for an Ashes Test. Australia was bowled out for 83 by India in 1981 at the MCG and has been dismissed for scores below 120 in home Tests four times since 1990.

At the close of play, England is 59 runs ahead with all its wickets intact. A miracle is required for Australia not to lose this Test and with only sporadic showers forecast for one remaining day of the Test, even the weather can be counted out as a saviour.

But why do these dramatic swings of fortune take place? In Perth, Mitchell Johnson bowled very well, aided by a pitch that was helpful to fast bowlers. The scores were not high – the highest innings total was 309 by Australia in its second innings. England made one run more than this in both its innings combined.

Johnson managed to produce quite dramatic late swing which brought him a number of wickets; he took nine in all for the match. Elated by his success, this was put down to changes in his action. Nobody factored in the easterly wind that blows in Perth and tends to make the ball swing. Nobody also thought about the fact that Perth is an open ground, allowing the wind to sweep over it, not a cauldron like the MCG, venue for the fourth Test, where the imposing structure prevents any wind from sweeping through.

Everyone expected Johnson to repeat his heroics. A little less was expected from the other hero of Perth, Ryan Harris, who also took nine wickets, though a number of them came after England had thrown in the towel in its second innings and had resigned itself to defeat.

Neither bowler has been able to do a thing on the MCG track. And when you have only 98 to defend, you need wickets fast to put pressure on the opposition. Skipper Ricky Ponting, who is likely to lose the captaincy if the series is lost, gave Johnson three overs but saw the paceman leak 17 runs. As the England batsmen kept scoring steadily, Ponting fell back on the more economical bowlers.

Whenever Australia is caught on a wicket where the opposition can make the ball move sideways, its batsmen stand exposed. They do not know which ball to leave and which to hit. They dab at balls that can be well left alone; only Mike Hussey seems to know where his stumps are. But today, Hussey also failed; by the law of averages he was due a low score, having scored more than 500 runs in the series to date.

One of Australia’s openers lacks technique (Phillip Hughes) and the other is a makeshift opener (Shane Watson) who would be much more comfortable batting at six. Ponting is no longer the best batsman in the side and therefore should not be at one-drop. But his deputy, Michael Clarke, cannot handle the pressure of the one-drop and hence bats at four.

After the success of Perth, Australia chose to go into the MCG Test with four pacemen, the first time in decades that the country has played without a regular spinner at this ground. It appears that Ponting was ready to insert the opposition if he won the toss and had picked four pacemen for that reason. Given that one only has a 50 percent chance of winning a toss, it looks as though the Australian captain had left his brains at home.

Even if Australia manages to pull the chestnuts out of the fire in this Test and go to the final Sydney Test level at 1-1, it is unlikely to win the series. As the holders of the Ashes, England only needs to draw the series in order to carry that precious little urn back home again. The prospect of rain affecting the game in Sydney is very high, given the existing weather patterns.