Monday, 27 December 2010

Whingeing Aussies

It's been noticeable that few have expressed any sympathy for the Australian cricket team during their various trials and tribulations during the 2010 Ashes series.

So abject have they appeared, and so quick the fall in Ricky Ponting's star as a captain and as one of the best batsmen of his generation, that it would seem only human to express a modicum of pity for the Aussie team and its struggling skipper.

But several reasons have prevented me from feeling this way. Firstly, as was shown at Perth, it only takes a different track, a couple of England off days and the rub of the green for the Aussies to get right back into the series.

Secondly, Australia became so feared throughout the nineties and noughties because they were so ruthless. Leading into my third reason, another key trait, at least until 2005, was how unpleasant a team they were reputed to be.

The Aussies like to believe they're a little bit tougher, a little more stoic and generally more manly than their opponents – especially the Poms. The idea of English cricketers as perpetually whingey, self-indulgent and flaky has been a popular one for a couple of decades.

I think a number of myths sprung up in the 15 years or so when England were handed out repeated whuppings in Ashes series. That they were naturally more querulous, lacking in spirit and prone to complaining rather than getting on with the game were popular theories among the Aussie players (see Justin Langer's secret dossier) and press. No-one paused to wonder whether it was simply a case of having an inferior team.

Now the boot is on the other foot. The behaviour of some in the Australian team during this series, particularly from the skipper, has been pretty disgraceful. It paid off in Perth, where the Aussies probably preferred to think of it as 'mental disintegration', but it's looked curiously like the whingeing that is apparently so despised down under in most of the other Tests.

To see Ponting continually complaining about bad decisions, good decisions, bad batting or good batting – continually whining at umpires and England players; the former for doing their job; the latter for doing their jobs well – has been appalling, amusing and vaguely pitiful by turn.

And while some of the England players are hardly the most likeable of sportspeople – Jimmy Anderson's perpetual sledging similarly ridiculous - Punter's behaviour has been among some of the worst on the international cricket stage for some time.

Understandable, perhaps, for a man probably facing the twilight of his career as an Aussie skipper to lose three Ashes series and possibly as a declining force with the bat – but there will be plenty of English cricket fans who will enjoy seeing Ponting, so long their tormentor, whingeing like the biggest bitch in cricket as England edge towards an Ashes win on Aussie soil.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Tennis-ball bounce and bowling a heavy ball

Cricket goes through periods of coining new, unusual and meaningless phrases and terms that seem designed to baffle casual spectators and act as an affront to users of the English language.

The phrase 'very adjacent became very fashionable in the late 90s, invariably used to describe an LBW that looked plumb. However, instead of describing a ball hitting a pad in line with the stumps as 'very close' on something similarly descriptive, the term 'very adjacent'.

This always struck me as an unnecessarily roundabout and fairly meaningless way of saying 'it looks out'.

To be fair, Channel 4 seemed to do their best to combat this with the excellent jargon buster segments - but Sky seems to be doing its level best to introduce a whole new series of baffling terms, including the currently popular 'tennis-ball bounce' and 'bowling a heavy ball'.

The latter has been around for some time, and I remember Kenny Benjamin being described as bowling a 'heavy ball', though I've never heard a description of what this is supposed to mean, beyond the similarly bemusing term 'hits the bat hard'.

Bowling a heavy ball seems to be a term applied, mainly, to fat bowlers. Jacques Kallis, Freddie Flintoff, Mitchell Johnson, Darren Gough, Ravi Bopara, Ryan Harris and Tim Bresnan have all been described as bowlers of the heavy ball. Most could be described as a bit porky. Perhaps it's a kind of cricketing euphemism.

Bowls a heavy ball=fat?

At its most basic, bowling a heavy ball must mean that the bowler has some decent speed behind them, but I don't remember genuine out-and-out quicks like Brett Lee, Steve Harmison or Shoaib Akhtar every having the 'heavy ball' moniker directed at them.

So what is a heavy ball? A ball that isn't actually that quick but feels harder when it hits the bat or body? How does that work? A ball that has more power behind it but not necessarily speed? Does that work within the laws of physics? A ball that's simply back of a length and therefore likely to hit the top of the bat? Or, most basically, a ball that's quicker than you expect?

The only thing I can think that the heavy ball means - when commentators refer to it - is that it's delivered by a skiddier bowler, who may lack the pace of a Lee or Akhtar but will skid the ball off the pitch, meaning the ball doesn't drop as much of its initial speed as a delivery speared in from a height, at an acute angle, and losing more of its initial pace.

The fact that cricket followers are bemused by exactly what a 'heavy ball' is supposed to mean strikes me as particularly absurd, and something of a lazy shorthand for commentators. Type 'bowls a heavy ball' and you get 3,200 results, probably referring to just about every international bowler imaginable.

Asking some of the cricketers from Sefton returned the following explanations:

'a ball that thumps into the bat, as opposed to a fast one being easy to slice away'

'one that seems to pick up pace off the pitch, rather than from the hand... traditionally back of a length and hitting the splice of the bat, thus hard to get away'

'a ball that looks faster than it is and hits the bat harder than expected'

'one that rushes on to you after pitching'

All of which seem like rather differing and somewhat vague explanations as to what the heavy ball actually is.

So, what of the tennis ball bounce? This one seems a little more obvious to me, being applied to pitches rather than bowlers. Presumably it refers to a pitch that's springy, rather than hard, that saps the pace of a ball but may provide unexpected, steepling bounce.

The WACA Test pitch, we were told, had a lot of tennis-ball bounce. The MCG, by comparison, hasn't had a lot of tennis-ball bounce. I imagine the likes of Broad, Finn and particularly Tremlett should be able to get 'tennis-ball bounce', as they're all pretty tall (probably thin) chaps.

Tennis-ball bounce and bowling a heavy ball should, therefore, be pretty much opposites. And so are the bowlers who deliver them. Heavy ball=fat. Tennis ball bounce=thin. Simple as that.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Shane Warne continues to trouble England - but they myth of natural Aussie superiority is shattered

There was a great moment in the Adelaide test when Kevin Pietersen stepped away from a Doug Bollinger delivery at the last minute, having been alarmed by the sudden appearance of a gigantic Shane Warne advertising a chicken burger on the sight-screen.

It was amusing to see the fat, be-wigged leggie genius still troubling England, far more than the current Aussie attack has been able to do in this series thus far. How 'Straya' must long for a spot of Warnie magic. Or even a spot of assistance from McGrath or Lee. Or Kasprowicz, McGill or Gillespie, come to that.

Seeing the Aussies have their noses rubbed in the dirt hasn't really pleased me as much as I thought it would. Partly because it's too easy; partly because things can change very quickly.

But mainly because we're going through a cycle where England is in the ascendancy. In a few years time it will be the turn of the Aussies again. That's how it goes, and it's what made the 90s bearable for me as an England cricket fan; I knew it would come back to England.

This is something a lot of Aussies totally failed to grasp over the last 20 years. They convinced themselves that they kept beating England not because of having a superior team, but because Aussies were naturally superior to the English.

This was most evident in the Aussies' secret dossier around the time of the last Ashes, written by Jason Langer and making this 'Aussie dominance' belief most explicit. Here's an excerpt:

"Aggressive batting, running and body language will soon have them staring at their bootlaces rather (than) in the eyes of their opponent - it is just how they are built.

Langer clearly believed, at the time, that Australian cricketers were simply tougher and less mentally or psychologically fragile than their English counterparts.

That was essentially blown by an England series win, although the Ashes series of 2009 was tight and England had home advantage.

But the first two tests of the Ashes 2010 have totally scotched the idea. Ponting has been shown to be a limited skipper; the Aussie bowling attack have looked weak, old and bereft of ideas; the fielding team has looked totally demoralised.

Look again at Langer's phrase about having the opposition 'staring at their bootlaces' - it could easily apply to Australia at the moment.

But I'm not getting carried away. There's a long way to go, even though I expect England to win. Not because England are more manful, or tough, or because my team are natural winners and the opposition natural losers. But because England are currently the better team. Sometimes, it's just as simple as that.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Top travel tips for the barmy army

Although the barmy army looks like all it cares about when packing for Oz are cans of warm beer; bermuda shorts; a distinct lack of suntan lotion; a steady supply of English tabloids and a copy of Swanny's Christmas-rush autobiography, probably named Swanny: Taking Flight (does this exist? we do hope so) - this press release from points out a few more considerations the inebriated gaggle of boozy cricket fans should consider.

For the army - formerly belonging to Michael Atherton, before passing through the hands of Alec Stewart, Nasser Hussain, Micahel Vaughan and ending up in the current possession of Andrew Strauss - could face 'hefty medical bills' (liver, face, genitals most likely, at a guess) if they're not insured.

"Good travel insurance can cover the cost of medical treatment, which could run into thousands if you fall ill or have an accident abroad," says Sarah Findlay, Online Marketing Manager at

"But more than just medical costs, travel insurance also covers life’s little upsets, including lost luggage, flights cancellation and theft of possessions.

Sarah goes on to explain the genesis of the term 'barmy army' before delivering the chilling warning that the self-proclaimed crazy gang 'need to make sure they don’t make a ‘barmy’ decision as far as travel cover is concerned'. Oof!

"With a little preparation, fans can head down under and remember the 2010 Ashes tour for all the right reasons."

We're intrigued to know what those 'right reasons' are. Nevertheless, we feel obliged to reprint's tips, in case a pissed-up Paul Collingwood fan falls off a cliff and loses his passport.

Top travel safety tips for the barmy army:

Remember to apply for a visa ahead of the trip
If you plan to drive in Australia, you will need a valid UK driving licence and passport – take these with you whenever you are driving
You must carry ID to prove your age to buy alcohol
A proof of age card, which can be purchased from Proof of Age Standards Scheme allows you to party all night without the risk of losing your passport or driving licence
Look after personal belongings at all times, especially during games – a bag tucked under a seat could be an easy temptation for opportunistic thieves
Buy travel cover for your entire stay – it could save you thousands of pounds if things go wrong

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Welcome to the new Kia Oval...

Selling naming rights for grounds has to be among the more egregious examples of sports marketing twattery, with historic, memorable, meaningful names falling to King Cash left, right and centre.

Perhaps the worst example in sport was the replacement for the atmospheric, if rather basic Ayresome Park with the gloriously-titled BT Cellnet Stadium.

Current examples include the Reebok and the Emirates, although the wholesale naming of entire teams seems to have dies out with Airbus and Total Network Solutions (which inspired the superb 'they'll be dancing in the streets of total network solutions' gag) from Jeff Stelling.

Cricket, as is its wont, has been slower to adapt than football (barring Yorkshire Carnegie), and thus far has only Headingley Carnegie (Headingley, as any sane man prefers to call it) and The Brit Oval (The Oval, as far as we're concerned) really taking to selling their souls.

Bacon-and-egg ties were almost burned in disgust earlier this year when it was suggested that the Lord's naming rights could be prostituted around London agencies. What a wonder that would have been. Go Compare Lord's. We Buy Any Car Lord's. Iceland Lord's.

Of course, the powers that be may be greedy, but they're also stuffy. So we would have ended up with something like The Coutts' Lord's, Jaguar Lord's or Lord's Harrods.

Which is why the following press release took me by surprise. The Brit Oval sounded naff, but you could almost convince yourself it was a reference to Britain. Plus insurance should fall squarely within cricket's conservative demographics.

But a (whisper it) budget car manufacturer? From KOREA?!* I can almost smell the angina. Clearly that South London air has relaxed a few airways down in Kennington.

Could be worse, I suppose. The Fosters Oval, perhaps?

Kia Motors (UK) Ltd., has today announced that they are to be the lead sponsor of Surrey County Cricket Club and The Oval cricket ground.

Kia has signed a five year deal, and will have full and exclusive naming rights to the historic ground and become the primary shirt sponsor for Surrey County Cricket Club. The deal is worth over £3.5m to the Club over its duration.

Kia - part of the third biggest auto group in the world - takes over from Brit Insurance as the Club and ground’s primary partner. As well as the ground naming rights and the firm’s logo on Surrey shirts, Kia will also have a number of hospitality and promotional benefits throughout the season. The deal will come into force on January 1st 2011, from whence the ground will be known as the Kia Oval.

The deal is Kia’s first entrance into the cricket market; the company currently has worldwide commercial partnerships with the FIFA World Cup and Australian Tennis Open. Further to this, it employs current world number one Rafael Nadal as a brand ambassador and is also the Official Automotive Partner of the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States, sponsoring thirteen individual teams.

Speaking about the deal Paul Sheldon, Chief Executive of Surrey County Cricket Club, said: “To sign a deal with a leading International brand such as Kia is a fantastic boost to the Club.

“It is also hugely beneficial to us that we have been able to agree a five year deal as this allows us to plan for the future – both financially and on the field – with certainty. I have great confidence that our partnership has a long and strong future ahead of it.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Brit Insurance, which had been our lead sponsor since 2004. Throughout this time they have been a great support and I am delighted they are still a major supporter of our sport.”

Kia Motors (UK) Ltd., Managing Director Michael Cole said: "This is a fantastic opportunity for us to put our brand right at the heart of England’s favourite Summer sport and in front of an enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable audience

"We are delighted to be linked with such an iconic location as The Oval - it is rightly famous around the world - and as our UK headquarters are in Weybridge it is a privilege to be so closely linked with Surrey County Cricket Club.”

*Needless to say I have nothing against Korean car manufacturers, or even Kia. Their cars are really good, as it goes.