Friday, December 31, 2010

Sunset at the Year's End

Actually taken on the 29 December, it stands well enough for the end of 2011. The duck family should be pleased as they seem to have navigated the majority of the ducklings to full size.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

England Retain the Ashes

The MCG at lunch, day three, with the kids on the field.

Well, yesterday was a painful day. After the 'series of a lifetime' England win in 2005, where both teams delivered the most exciting sport you can imagine, followed by a five-nil whitewash of the tourists when England came to Australia in 2007, and an average series, rightfully won by England in 2009, the improvement in England's cricket and the remarkable collapse of Australia's team was made stark, with Australia's one win of the series (with one to play) being liked by a commentator to a 'dead cat bounce'. As that win was essentially down to a remarkable one-off bowling performance by Mitchell Johnson, ironically backed up by a high score with the bat as well, it rather obscured the rest of the team's poor performance.

Excepting house-hero Hussey, Australia's batsmen have consistently failed, and again it was ironic that Victorian Siddle managed a test-high score with the bat in a sinking cause this morning, scoring 40 with Brad Haddin to stave off certain defeat for an hour more.

The post-mortems have started, and there will be a major reconstruction of the Australian team in the near future. One simple fact stands out to me (and not widely remarked elsewhere) is that Australia needs more than one bowler to be able to take a swag of wickets a game, and when that same man is significant among your high scorers, then the others need to do more than just turn up.

Australia's captain Ponting has not been a favourite here, and his disgraceful argument with the umpires and England batsman on day two is symptomatic of his buckling under pressure, again. Another point not widely made is that he is now neither in batting form nor fit to act as a behavioural example for the current Australia team, or that which must be under rebuild very soon. Inheriting Waugh's world beating team and tough attitude, after the retirement of a suite of greats, Ricky has shown he can neither perform with the bat nor develop a new team from a cauldron of opponent's pressure in the way that Alan Border did, and set that 70s Australia team on the road to greatness.

England's performance was almost flawless - but more importantly showed batting in depth, and not only did their first 'set' of bowlers deliver, the three brought in after changes were as effective as their predecessors. Fielding and morale stayed high, and England looked a strong team, rarely being knocked, even at the WACA loss.

Sadly supporters on both sides resorted to boos at disfavoured players at times, and on the third day the booing of Ricky Ponting as he walked out was thankfully surpassed by a more appropriate clapping and cheers. Generally the crowds were well behaved, and England's Barmy Army provide entertainment to everyone except the most one-eyed Aussie supporter. Billy Cooper's trumpet is now an enjoyable game fixture. Both of us were frankly surprised by the number of England supporters, which, given the distance and cost (some questions over monopolistic practices for the tickets they were able to buy didn't sound very hospitable when we heard about them) shows a dedication to their team that's laudable. As one England supporter in front of us responded to a boorish Aussie behind us, they've had to put up with Australia for twenty years, and I agree the England fans and team have every right to make hay and celebrate - they earned it.

It's called 'test' cricket as it is a pressure game, testing as it gets, and class, and performance will overcome temporary form and however much luck you can get. After the 25 possible days play is up, the best team stands clear. Both statistically and in evident attitude, the gulf between the teams is huge - no great comfort to an Australia supporter that it looks like a reversal of the team's roles around the 2000 period.

We took our two English guests to the G yesterday, and for their first day of real test cricket they couldn't have had a much better one - painful though it was for us! That was a pleasure - as well as the fact that some of the young lads playing at lunch (top) will perhaps be in a future Australian slide the equal of the Invincibles and Waugh's men. Oh, and that Australia still has the greater number of Ashes wins, series wins, retentions, period of ownership, and, of course, the first series win which started it all.

But we must finish with due credit to a perfect team performance by Strauss' England squad. The best team won.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Team Pasta

After an episode with some eight-year-old pasta chefs, Bev decided she needed a pasta machine for Christmas. Funded by her sister (thanks Tam!) and purchased from the Med Wholesalers (who have to sell Nonna-proven Italian cooking kit, or risk Malocchio) we have a pasta machine.

So (on Christmas day) there was a team effort to make tagliatelle. Paul went first...

...and proved a smooth operator. Top tip (from Maria) was to dust the pasta with flour to smooth the rollers by making the pasta silky...

Jo dressed for as the elegant Italian Donna for the task, and rolled a successful batch as well...

I turned a mean handle next,

...and lastly Bev, who'd helped her glam assistants take a turn...

and then...
...we ate it.

Well that was England's day

Words fail me, so over to Peter English, summarising Australia's batting on Cricinfo:
"...the side face-planted on the biggest occasion of the cricket calendar."

Friday, December 24, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

One - One and Two to Play

And this* may be the only space left at the G on Boxing Day if predictions turn out. A history in pictures here, and a summary of the history and atmosphere here.


*Taken in December 2008 at the South Africa Test.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Waugh on Cricket

Sadly we aren't allowed TMS here in Australia, ABC's Grandstand having exclusive rights - ironic, as several of the commentators swap seats from one box to the other. (Still, TMS are welcome to keep Boycott.) Cricket wouldn't be worth it without the radio.

At home, a couple of days ago we had a Canadian visitor who was somewhat puzzled by the method of following the game as well as being puzzled (of course) by the game itself. Like the unique nature of the twenty-five day test of quality, having a TV on and mute while listening to the radio is probably not seen in many other sports.

If you want a man to bat for your life...

TMS's Aggers, guesting on Grandstand mentioned he'd interviewed Steve Waugh over on 'the other channel' and after a bit of online searching, this is one we can listen to. As ever, two top cricket analysts make a great interview. Lots of ground covered, and it's here.

Meanwhile today retired Australia opener Matthew Hayden stopped by the ABC commentary box and impressed us, sandwiched between two more regular commentators. I doubt you'd get the average soccer player discussing his chickens, best farm manure, and how to produce a fruit reduction for your Christmas ham and offering the recipe over the airwaves in between the more normal sporting recollections. However remembering listening to the cricket with ABC while a kid on the back of his dad's tractor is just as expected.

Oh, the test match? What a day's cricket! What it's all about. As Vic Marks of The Guardian said:

This has been a proper Test match, the best of the series by far. There were times during the first two matches when it was possible to wander off around the back of the stands for a pie (in Brisbane) or a Pimms (in Adelaide) in the knowledge that nothing of great significance would be missed. In Perth it has been foolhardy to take the eyes away from the action for a minute.

He added:

Mike Hussey, yet again, was the rock for Australia. He hit his second century of the series in front of an adoring crowd on his own turf. He now has 517 runs in the series at an average of 103 and here England probably only dismissed him because he was stranded with the last man again.

If England win from here, the remaining batsmen will deserve soup-plate gold medals, not just OBEs. That said, it looks like we'll be going to the G on the Boxing Day Test with a live, and exciting series. What more could you ask for for Christmas?


Friday, December 17, 2010

Single left-hander...

Hussey is probably the only Australian player who has done his job in the three tests. ABC.

I hadn't written about the Ashes tests since the last post, because in the words of a great Australian captain, "There are two teams out there, one is playing cricket. The other is making no attempt to do so."

Sadly the issue was that Australia's team were simply not up to the level of Ashes test cricket.

Conversely, England's players were clearly a team, all credit to them - they have played well as a team, and looked solid, not missing chances, rebuilding after knocks and being top class batting, bowling and fielding. Good cricket depends on both teams finding form, and playing well, together, and Australia were certainly - to be as kind as possible - out of form. They were a sad shadow of the team of Waugh's era. The fielding was poor, and the batting from the dedicated batsmen for the most part a disgrace. But after a couple of sparky individual performances up to yesterday - including another solid batting performance by Hussey and Haddin, and a remarkable high score with the bat by fast bowler Mitchell Johnson, today saw the contest really come to life with two teams fighting on form. Tellingly it was a dedicated fast bowler that high-scored for Australia yesterday, and it's ironic that the same chap was responsible for knocking over most of England's team today in one of the tightest, most effective single bowler efforts I've seen. When you're hot...

Mitchell Johnson (and that tattoo) celebrate another England wicket.

As another great Australian bowler,
Terry Alderman, now summarising for the ABC's Grandstand commentary said: "Single-handedly Mitchell Johnson has got Australia back in the game." I'll just mention Mitch is a left-hander.

An 18 minutes ABC highlights summary here.

Obviously I'm glad Australia's back in the game, and serious, but better still for everyone is that as I write tonight, this game (and the series) is now really in the balance, and we've seen (and hopefully will see) some really good cricket by both sides, which is what it should be about. Serious questions remain. Ponting's poor scores with the bat mean (were he not captain) he'd almost certainly be out, but Clarke, the deputy, is fairing little better and no obvious other successor. A sad reflection on the previous solid succession planning Australia developed through the 1990s and early 21st century. Another pressing question is what was Johnson thinking with that tattoo. No, really, no.

Strauss' men can, on their performance to date, be proud of being one of the best England teams to tour Australia for a long time; let's hope they keep it up. But let's also hope that
Australia do so as well, and give us a series to rival the 2005 Ashes.

Here's to a good contest!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Annoying juvenile

There's been a persistent loud keening whining noise around (mostly) the Eastern side of the cottage. It's a juvenile magpie trying to harass its parents into handing over the food.

They are noisy. While the normal adult magpie's song is one of the most pleasing and characteristic sounds of the Australian bush, as the Wiki article says:
Fledgling and juvenile magpies emit a repeated short and loud (80 dB), high-pitched (8 kHz) begging call.
(85 dB over time needs hearing protection for humans.) I can see why magpie parents go off their offspring, but with a beak like that, I'm surprised we don't find more young magpies 'Stabbed in the garden with a mystery sharp object'.

Of course to most Australians, magpies are a more personal threat, magpie swooping in the breeding season is something that can be a real challenge. It's worth noting that the Australian magpie (Cracticus tibicen) has nothing to do with the European bird, and is yet another example of a creature getting named by homesick immigrants. A good article on magpie swooping and the background here. Mostly, though they are no trouble - a lot less to us than we are to them, and they are a great bird to have around.

Just avoid the juveniles.