Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Worst Pieces of Cricket Memorabilia Ever

Firstly a disclaimer, good readers: I own an alarming amount of cricket books, memorabilia and tat associated with the game and thus it is a bit rich for me to be passing judgement on the people who buy the items that follow.

I have been known to return home brandishing an item that will make my girlfriend slap her palm across her face (I'm not kidding, she LITERALLY does that and somehow manages to work a simultaneous eye-roll into the one single expression of disgust. It's actually quite remarkable).

I talk of items like...say....this:

Who needs a travel bag from the 1973 tour of the West Indies to put their gym gear in? Who doesn't? I also cannot sit before you and say I haven't drunkenly bought things on eBay late on a Friday night, or gotten a bit sauced at a sportsman's night auction and bid (I think there is a theme here...) for similarly pathetic acquisitions. 

Actually, I don't even have to be drunk. At one point my Dad took up wood-turning classes and for one of his first projects made my brothers and I (grown adults, one and all) a replica of the Ashes urn. It was immediately decreed we needed something worthwhile to burn and place inside it before that Christmas's "Backyard Ashes". I zeroed in on a suitably random item; Ben Barnett's wicket-keeping 'inners' used while he was back-up keeper on the 1938 Ashes tour. Post-purchase, my only job was to courier one of them down the Peninsula for the burning ceremony on Christmas day. But I forgot to, didn't I? So after a hastily convened committee meeting we resolved to burn our underpants instead and the ghosts of Ben Barnett still rest in a box in my wardrobe. In related news, yes, I am fortunate to even have a girlfriend.

But getting back to the point, Cricket memorabilia takes on many forms and there genuinely is some quite cool stuff out there, but there'll be none of that today. Today, we look at the random, the horrible, and the worst of all: the stuff that Channel Nine spend entire summers trying to sell us. So sit back and...grimace?

Brett Lee - "Leethal"

If there is anything I like less than a bad pun, it's a Brett Lee wicket-celebration. What does it say about you when two out of the six photos chosen to represent your career are fist-pumps?

I once took my much-younger brother to a game at the MCG at which he decided to collect all the Australian players' autographs on one of those mini bats. With limited space, the first four or five of them diligently fulfilled his request to do a small signature across the face so he could fit the whole team on. Jumping up out of his seat to collar Brett Lee, a look of horror spread across his face as Bing magnanimously snatched the bat, gave him a friendly "g'day champ", and then proceeded to sign the entire remaining surface space of the bat with a giant, illegible scrawl. The crestfallen look on my brother's face as he slumped into his seat has outlived any detail in my memory about the actual game. 

"The Champions"

"The Champions" is a bat signed by some of the "all-time greats of world cricket." So who have we got on there? Some knighted cricketers - Richards, Hadlee, Botham, Sobers, Bedser; legends one and all. Chappell, Walters and Marsh? Yes, big tick! And then finally.... Asanka Gurusinha??? Sure he only had a Test average of 38.92, but it was the way he made them, you see.

Tony Greig's Panama Hat

While there is a degree of poetry that a man who so relentlessly hawked dodgy memorabilia should become the subject of a piece himself, I could feasibly write an entire blog post on how wrong this thing is. I think the eBay listing for it provides damning enough evidence: "Hat was worn by Tony Greig. It even has the sweat marks. Buyer will not be disappointed." At a $500 starting bid, I think there is actually a lot of scope for disappointment if we're being honest. Did Greigy wear this while he was gardening? It seems very...soiled, don't you think? 

I just thought of approximately 6 theories as to how this hat got to be in such a state and I fear it is too soon to share any of them. Okay okay, I just don't wanna get sued.

"Chappell Brothers - The Backyard at Mum's"

The only explanation for this piece is that it was commissioned by Mrs Chappell herself and she specifically decreed that all the boys be included so as to avoid having Trevor feel left out. Danny and Dean Waugh are nodding their heads right now...

I can imagine that if Chappelli himself was to take over the memorabilia racket left behind by Tony Greig, it would be a matter of days before we were being bombarded with limited edition Les Favell prints.

The Glenn Maxwell Badge

Stay with me Australian cricket lovers, I'm tipping the pin on the back of this thing is perfect for poking your own eyes out. There is also a matching "Big No-Show" magnet available, which would be ideal to slap on the side of a nuclear weapon before you position it towards the Mumbai Indians' first IPL game.

Phil Hughes Signed Cricket Ball

Things you can buy with 85 dollars: 17 "Stunner Meals" from Hungry Jacks, every movie that John Cazale starred in on DVD, a meat pie and a coke at the MCG, or this Phil Hughes signed cricket ball. It's actually quite a rare item in that each one takes him hours to sign; the pen just keeps flashing past manically and not making contact. This also comes with a bonus Neil D'Costa coaching DVD. Just use it as a drinks coaster like Philthy does.

Shane Watson signed photo

Show the cricket-lover in your life how much you hate their hobby with this Shane Watson signed photo, guaranteed to make everyone in the room wince! I often joke that Watto probably can't spell his own name and the two prominent S's here seem to vindicate my theory. You heard it here first, people. I also like that he's signed it over the most well-utilized tool in the Watson armory; his mouth. 

"Justin Langer & Matthew Hayden - Double Impact"

I'd like to think that the person naming this particular piece of Channel Nine 'scamorabilia' was a would-be comedian. They probably could have pushed the boat out a little further but "Double Penetration" would only have worked for a bowling partnership, I guess. If you see this hanging in someone's games room, you have my permission to go to town with a Sharpie. Get creative, too.

Shane Warne Signed Photo

Remember 'fat Warnie'? I loved fat Warnie, he was so much more fun. And he was an ace cricketer, too. Anyway, I am borderline on buying this as a constant reminder of the good times. Its definitely not the dodgiest piece of Warnibilia out there though...

Warnie at play

This falls into one of my favorite sub-genres of sports memorabilia; the unsanctioned piece that no athlete in their right mind would consent to. You simply take a blank piece of paper, have it signed by said athlete, then attach it to a photo or montage of their most inglorious moments. Magic. Come to think of it, Warnie would probably sign that photo, if only as a reminder of the time he used to blow smoke rings whilst drinking a full-carb beer. Come back Warnie, it's never too late.

Meanwhile, down at the Scamorabilia factory...

"Dave Warner - The Powerhouse"

Are you sick of hearing the words "only $500 unframed" in between balls in Channel Nine telecasts? Well apparently you're not alone, because two years on, they still can't sell any of these Dave Warner 'Powerhouse' prints. And there was only 250 of the things to start with. Maybe Cricket Australia could throw one into Mickey Arthur's redundancy package? Feel free to leave your suggested uses for this monstrosity in the comments section.

"The Aussies and the Colonel"

Several questions immediately popped into my head when I saw this; Was Dirk Nannes engaging in a passive display of protest by putting his hands in his pockets? Is Colonel Sanders a better middle-order batting option than Moises Henriques? Would any amount of KFC refresher towels wash the filthy stain off everyone involved in this exercise?. But then I remembered this:

Right you are then, gents.

Jason Krejza signed cricket ball

So this thing will cost you 65, exactly the same as each Jason Krejza wicket. You'd have to be a serious lover of off-spin to invest in this thing. There is no similar memento to be had for Beau Casson fans unfortunately; at the sight of a cricket ball he instinctively curls into the fetal position.

Dirk Wellham Autograph

I feel a bit sorry for Dirk that this languishes on eBay with no bids despite its starting price of 99 cents. I might buy it and affix it to the title page of my copy of Dirk's book, 'Solid Knocks and Second Thoughts' a great read for lovers of the "axe-grind" genre of autobiography. 

Brad Hodge Signed Publicity Photo

This isn't actually a piece of memorabilia that is for sale, Brad Hodge just walks around handing them out himself.

Chris Lewis Stimorol Trading Card

There is only one reason that this remains un-signed and that is because, technically speaking, anything that Chris Lewis touches becomes evidence. 

Peter George Signed Photograph

While we are on the subject of police matters, can someone get this thing down to "Missing Persons" pronto? Literally no-one has seen or heard from this bloke since he played a Test in Bangalore three years ago. History tells us that if you go missing in Adelaide it rarely ends well.

Allan Border - Beyond Ten Thousand

I am currently a serious risk of buying this. Somebody stop me. I'm not even kidding. This could be a relationship-ender... This book was the greatest 'limited edition" scam of all time; 10,000 in total. Get in quick before they're all gone!

Monday, 18 March 2013

Why Chris Rogers needs to play in the Ashes

As each day of this Indian tour passes I begin thinking more and more of the upcoming Ashes series and what it holds for Australia. I have also been engaging pretty heavily in the dubious science of selection prognostications. As a result, I’ve been thinking a hell of a lot about Chris Rogers.

Chris Rogers is an old-fashioned Australian cricketer, which is to say he scores loads and loads of runs with a minimum of fuss and generally does his job properly. He doesn’t have a Twitter account and he’ll never become the subject of a bidding frenzy at an IPL auction. In fact it was almost disconcerting to see him in a Big Bash uniform this year, like watching Nanna stomp through your living room in a Pantera t-shirt and spit on the floor. Chris Rogers has red hair, he has glasses and you probably wouldn’t pay him much attention if he walked past you in the street. But put him in whites, give him a bat and he is a rarity in Australian cricket; a specialist batsman whose first class average hovers near the 50 mark.

There’s no guarantee that Rogers would have set the world on fire in India, though I wouldn’t have bet against it. But what does stand out like a sore thumb is Rogers’ record in England. Over the span of nine consecutive winters away, whilst others were lining their pockets with Twenty20 riches and lolling about at the Centre for Excellence, Rogers was lining the stats books with hundreds; 28 of them in England and an unbelievable 58 of the first class variety in total. He’s passed the half-century mark an additional 42 times in England and 81 in total. To give some perspective on these stats, these are the comparative records of some of Rogers’ rivals for a Test spot:

-          David Warner: 6 hundreds / 9 fifties
-          Moises Henriques: 1 hundred / 13 fifties
-          Usman Khawaja: 6 hundreds / 9 fifties
-          Steven Smith: 11 hundreds / 20 fifties
-          Glenn Maxwell: 1 hundred / 8 fifties
-          Alex Doolan: 5 hundreds / 14 fifties
-          Rob Quiney: 7 hundreds / 16 fifties

If your arithmetic is failing you, that septet has managed 37 hundreds and 89 fifties in their combined careers in comparison with Rogers’ 58 and 83. Sometimes statistics tell us fibs and pad out our arguments, but runs don’t lie. Especially in England where Rogers passes the half-century mark in 37% of his innings. In fact his record in England is a shade better than it is in his home country.

FC Games
FC Runs
FC Average
In England
In Australia

Rogers’ appetite for runs and his ambition to play Test cricket remain undimmed by the years spent languishing on the periphery. Aside from Ricky Ponting and Brad Haddin, he is the only other player to reach three centuries in the Sheffield Shield this season. It’s the sixth Australian season in which he has achieved the feat; to go with the 8 English seasons he passed the same mark (we’ll let him off for his 2005 English summer in which he only made two tons… in six innings). By comparison, of the serious contenders only Queensland’s Joe Burns has 2 tons but then he also has an average of 34 to go with them.

Still not convinced? Let’s look at Rogers’ record at some of the grounds that will host Ashes tests in England this winter. At Lord’s, Rogers averages 48.04 from 15 games with 3 centuries and 4 fifties. At the Oval he fares even better; in 6 first class innings there he has only failed to get past 50 on one occasion, racking up 2 centuries, 3 fifties and a Bradmanesque average of 109.8 – is there any safer bet on English decks with the ball swinging around? Does this experience churning out runs in England really count for nothing? Rogers has scored a double century for every first class team in which he’s played. He also holds the dubious distinction of being the only Australian to score a double hundred on the 2005 Ashes tour, it was just a pity he was wasting his time playing for Leicestershire at the time.

“Ah, but he piled on all those runs in England when he was a young buck,” you’re saying. Well sorry, but you’re wrong. In the past three English county seasons, Rogers sits atop the run-making charts with 3696 runs at an average of 48.00, scoring 11 centuries and 17 half-centuries. If the NSP opt for Rogers for the return Ashes series in Australia, they can do so knowing that he averages over 40 at every Test venue other than Adelaide. At the SCG you can pencil him in for close to 65.

Chris Rogers is 35 years old and there is no doubt that age is not on his side. But shouldn’t youthfulness and the corresponding lack of experience and fortitude equally count against players like Maxwell and Henriques? There's no doubt that Inverarity and the NSP will face severe scrutiny if they opt for Rogers but I’m not entirely sure of the merit of picking a “team for the future” if that future is an assortment of mediocre triers. The selection of Rogers could send the greatest cultural message of all: ‘we want excellence and we hardened batsmen who consistently make runs.’

Here’s a scary thought: on the last Ashes tour in 2009, Australia had six out of its top seven batsmen average over 40 and still lost the series. To get anywhere close to England in 2013, Australia need someone other than Michael Clarke to average over 50. And that also encumbers Clarke with the expectation of nothing less than that mark. To achieve such an average a player will need to pass either a pair of centuries or 3-4 significant scores over 50. Is there any player outside the current setup, Rogers aside, that you would put your money on to achieve this? Feel free to let me know.

Mickey Arthur has spoken glowingly in the past of the “X Factor” that Glenn Maxwell could be for Australian cricket. That ‘X’ is a great unknown though. Would Australia not be better placed with the degree of certainty that Rogers would bring to the line-up? At the very least his selection would prompt a higher degree of respect from the opposition. At present, England are relishing this series with the kind of blood-lust normally reserved for World Cup football qualifiers against banana republics.

Test matches are harder to win when your batsman are failing to make centuries and I am unconvinced they can be scored by anyone from outside the current line-up other than Rogers. Experience carries weight on an Ashes tour. In the last 3 tours, only three Australian specialist batsmen under the age of 30 have averaged fifty or above. Those players were Clarke, Damien Martyn and Marcus North. Martyn and North were both on the cusp of 30 at the start of their respective tours and seasoned veterans of English conditions. North’s fruitful return in 2009 is perhaps the best advertisement of all for Rogers’ selection.

But who knows? Maybe we’ll end up with an Ashes squad containing the same muddled assortment of all-rounder-shaped youngsters and batsmen under siege. If we do, we can’t expect much steel, we can't expect much polish and we can’t expect a return of the urn. That’s the thing about the ‘X factor’.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

How Australian Cricketers used to find out about the arrival of their kids

The arrival of young Will Watson has got me thinking not only of the father-son potential we now have in play, but the gradually shifting sands of Australian cricket.

Specifically, it made me think of the ways in which Australian cricketers used to experience the birth of their children...

Some friendly advice for the Aussies in India

Over the past couple of days the Australian Test squad in India have become the butt of a thousand jokes. Mostly lame jokes, but jokes nonetheless. Meanwhile, those who haven't been joking have been wagging their fingers disapprovingly and tut-tutting at the supposedly shambolic state of Australian cricket.

Irrespective of your view on the gravity of the transgressions by players or the severity of the punishments meted out by their coach and captain, you have to admit that touring India is tough.  In the 78 years since the first representative Australians traveled to India at the behest of the Maharajah of Patiala, we have come away with two series victories. So let's just take a breath and come down off the ledge, shall we?

The Maharajah of Patiala - the kind of swag that N Srinivasan could only dream of.

In the interests of maintaining my own sanity, I'm writing off this and every future tour of India as a loss and instead turning my attention to the remaining positives. In this light, I'd ask that the Australians view the rest of this trip as nothing other than a bonding exercise and extremely lucrative holiday. Here are my suggestions for Clarke and co which I base on the touring activities of their predecessors:

1. Try and make friends with the opposition

Nathan Lyon has copped a decent helping of stick from both the press and the peanut gallery on this tour and is supposedly at the pointy end of faction within the team. With that in mind, perhaps he'll find more friends in the opposition sheds? I'd love to see him sidle up to Harbhajan and ask if he can adopt his look, a la Ray Bright and Bishen Bedi

In the event of an unlikely Aussie win in Mohali,surely even freshly minted "Captain Grumpy" Michael Clarke would crack a smile once he saw Lyon-Nathan up on the massage bench belting out "Beneath the Southern Cross I stand, a bowl of korma in my hand." He'd at least enjoy it more than a Simon Katich rendition.

2. Have a drink and relax

I'm not generally one to recommend novelty sized drinks, but Warnie could be onto something with his suggestions that Clarke eliminate any tensions by locking all the boys in a room with an industrial quantity of grog. I mightn't have viewed this as a viable solution during the Andrew Symonds era, but at least we could be sure they were abusing a totally legal substance.

3. Be thankful you are touring India in 2013

In the 1960's, when an Indian crowd didn't like the direction of the match, they voted with both their feet and with lighter fluid. Crowds are far better behaved these days. I'd actually be in favour of this kind of people power if it was in reaction to Watto metaphorically burning another DRS referral, so the BCCI were possibly displaying some real foresight in nixing the technology.

Let's also not forget that touring teams now enjoy the benefit of neutral umpires. This is a bonus for two reasons; it eliminates hometown bias plus also avoids the situation faced by the Aussies in the 80's where umpires like Swaroop Kishan forced bowlers into makeshift delivery strides from which they had to release the ball from mid off. I guess there'd be a fair few guys asking to field next to him at square leg though; shade is hard to find in the middle of an Indian summer.

3. Embrace the local culture

Maybe this could be a way to put James Pattinson to work during his team-imposed suspension. I'm sure that the puritanical knee-jerkers in the op-ed columns would love to see Mickey Arthur initiate a cricketing "work for the Dole" scheme for Pattinson, Khawaja and Johnson. 

Remember, Greg Ritchie wasn't the first Australian cricketer to "black up" and don a mildly offensive costume. The 1964 Aussies came up with this look on their way to Bombay. The 2013 Australians might need to be a bit more low-key in their attempts to mix with the locals.

4. The team that bathes together, stays together

We need to be honest with ourselves, cricketers in 2013 are coddled millionaires. Is it any surprise that touring Aussies are not meshing given that they're often insulated from the simple pleasures of team spirit by multimillion dollar contracts and luxury hotel rooms? Instead of blocking each other out with iPods and living in isolation, perhaps Clarke could hark back to the spirit of the 1972 Ashes squad who were so unified they even had baths together. Who wants a moustache ride?

5. If all else fails, do a rain dance

We've all been there; staring in the face of humiliating defeat and all secretly avoiding any discussion of the fact that we're praying like buggery for rain to come bucketing down. I actually played for a club who greeted rain delays with a game of "jockstrap football" out on the ground. Never underestimate the ability of men with a huge amount of time on their hands to achieve greatness. Graham Pollock and his 1965 South African teammates make it look like a right lark, don't you think?

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Movie Review – Save Your Legs

Cricket may have a long and storied literary canon, but it is surprisingly under-represented when it comes to films based upon the noble game. There was 1953’s The Final Test, featuring cameos from Compton, Hutton and Washbrook. It, 2003’s Wondrous Oblivion plus the 2001 Bollywood spectacular Lagaan round out a small group of cricket-focused films that have reached any kind of critical mass.

Those aside, we’re talking documentaries and some really awful made-for-TV movies. In fact cricket’s main fictional successes have actually been on the small screen; the ABC miniseries Bodyline and last year’s Kerry Packer love-fest Howzat! are the most noteworthy.

To a cricket fan like myself, it seems odd that despite the enormous international appeal of the game, it has had so little love on the big screen. Awful sports movies come thick and fast, year after year, but poor old cricket has largely missed out on the fun.

With all that in mind I headed off to see Save Your Legs with a not undue amount of admiration that director Boyd Hicklin and screenwriter/star Brendan Cowell managed to even get this thing made. Getting an Australian film funded is hard work. Getting the cash together to make a film about cricket is something approaching a miracle. I was already half barracking, but under no illusions that it could be an innings defeat.

When reviewing sports films you always have to keep in mind that they exist in an alternate universe to any other films. Expectations are immediately lowered. Hoosiers, for example, is great fun as a sports movie and in this context would rate at about 4 stars. On any normal scale of film criticism it would be a 2 1/2 star movie. What I’m saying is that all you budding Roger Ebert’s need to cut this thing some slack. We know it’s not a proper film. Another disclaimer: I have not seen the documentary on which the film is based. In my experience, as with book adaptations, this is no bad thing when you are hoping to enjoy the film.

Well anyway, I am delighted to say that despite the odds being stacked so heavily against it and the fact it’s apparently bombing at the box office, Save Your Legs is a highly enjoyable little film. It is most definitely a cricket film but it also works as a light-hearted look at male friendship and the reluctance of men to grow up.

To anyone who has played cricket or been the member of a sporting club, there are a number of characters and moments that will resonate. The film benefits from some wonderful cinematography (has anyone ever made a horrible-looking film in India?) and locations that only serve to emphasise the rag-tag nature of the Abbotsford Anglers, an Aussie club team abroad.

The film’s heart and soul, Teddy, was a role tailor-made for Australian cinema’s go-to dag, Stephen Curry. He holds proceedings together well, striking the right balance between hapless and wimpy. 

Brendan Cowell is also excellent as the team’s shambolic captain Ricky, a man maintaining a debauched lifestyle at odds with impending fatherhood. Following on from his surprisingly believable portrayal of Rod Marsh in Howzat, it’s hard now hard to imagine Cowell without a 3 day growth and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. If he keeps winning and creating roles as cricketers, I for one will not be displeased.

Fellow Howzat alumni Damon Gameau graduates from his muted performance as Greg Chappell to take on the outsized role of ‘Stav’, the kind of flashy, arrogant dickhead we’ve all known or played cricket with. Gameau overplays the role by about 50% but in spite of this, it kind of works and you’re compelled to get behind him. His cocky strut and slime-ball persona keep the film’s run rate ticking over at a healthy pace. 

Elsewhere, Brenton Thwaites as ‘ring-in’ Mark, delivers a performance more wooden than any of the willow wielded during the Anglers’ 3 tour matches (I’m being realistic about the degree of financial difficulty in including any more match scenes, but it seemed ludicrous that the team only played 3 games on this epic and apparently expensive tour). Melbourne-born Pallavi Sharda is a shining light as the obligatory love interest (Of Curry’s Ted) – even given that SYL is a bit of a bloke-fest, what a novelty it is to have such a role filled by an actress who doesn’t look like a Home and Away extra. That itself could be a hint to Australian film-makers who tend to veer a bit too “white” in the casting department.

I can’t help but feel that the trailer and early reviews, focusing as they did on crotch shots and toilet humour, have done a real disservice to this film. In actual fact, Save Your Legs is mercifully short on such moments and the trailer really gives a distorted prominence to the low brow ‘gross-out’ moments. This is a film with a heart, a film about men fighting against their instinct to be boys, and most importantly a film about cricket. For those reasons, I couldn’t help but get behind it. I was thus prepared to look beyond the odd clich├ęd sports movie trope and extra helping of cheese.

Early signs are not good for the box office returns of Save Your Legs (I had the cinema to myself until I was joined by two stragglers as the opening credits rolled) which is a shame, because this is a genuinely entertaining, broad comedy. It was made by a group of people who clearly love the game (only a genuine cricket lover would work a scene involving in the knocking-in of a bat with one of those loud mallets into their film) and who shared the kind of chemistry from which such bro-mances can gather momentum. Let’s just hope that this momentum doesn’t send them all down-hill.

Save Your Legs is light, it’s a bit cheesy, but in spite of a stacked field on the off side, it came off somewhere near the middle of the bat and rolled all the way to the boundary for four. There are far worse films that you could take a chance on.