How not to decide a championship


If I was a Kiwi I’d still be feeling sick, three days after the final of the World Cup. They were stiffed out of the title, not once, but in a succession of unlikely events. Mostly it was bad luck, but it becomes more than mere luck when every 50/50 call goes against you. There was the incompetence of umpires as well, as well as, ultimately, being defeated by an arcane and unfair rule cooked up by an administration that has no feel for the game. Worst case scenario, New Zealand should be joint winners right now, but play it all again and odds on the kiwis would come out on top.

Let’s recount the events. New Zealand bat first and make a moderate 241. First ball of the England innings Roy survives an LBW appeal on umpire’s call. Regardless, inside 20 overs England are four down. They rally, Stokes is batting well and Buttler joins making a half century, but then they lose wickets. Eight down they need more runs than balls remaining. It’s probably a 50/50 game, maybe the Kiwi’s in front, just, but then the first bit of ill-fortune strikes.

Stokes hits the ball towards the boundary. Boult is there on the boundary line waiting for the catch. He takes it, but as he steps back with the momentum his heel touches the rope. In an instant what was almost certainly the match-winning wicket of the danger man is now six runs off the target. Then stokes hits the ball to the boundary again. It’s fielded, and Guptill makes the long throw to the keeper hoping to effect a run-out. The ball never makes it to the keeper. Instead it hits Stokes’ bat he makes his ground, and rebounds to the boundary. What was a quick two runs is now ruled six runs in the last over. It’s wretched bad luck for New Zealand.

And here is the first bit of contention, and in comes in two parts. Firstly, it should only have been ruled five runs by the umpires, not six, because the batsmen hadn’t crossed when the ball was thrown in. The real significance of that is that instead of being on strike for the next ball, Stokes would have been at the non-striker’s end, leaving a tailender to score the winning runs. None of this emerged until after the match.

The game goes on, and England finish on 241 – tying the score, all out. What happens now? Super-over!

England bat first and score 14. Then the New Zealand batsmen take strike and on the last ball of the over – having scored 14 – are run out attempting the winning run.

So, theoretically it’s a tie still, but no – and this is where the arcane, ridiculous rule determines the victor.

England are ruled the victors, and why? Because they scored more boundaries in their innings than New Zealand did! Such an arbitrary ruling is nonsense. You might equally rule that New Zealand are the victors because they played less dot balls than England. But really, if there should be an administrative tie-breaker like this then clearly it should come down to wickets lost in achieving the score. On that count the Kiwis would have won because they lost eight against England’s ten.

But any administrative ruling is inadequate and unsatisfactory. After 46 days of intense and compelling competition the championship must be decided on the field, not in the rule book. As I see it the common sense approach would have been one of two ways – either the two teams are named joint winners because the deadlock couldn’t be broken; or, logically, they keep playing super overs until one team wins it. Shouldn’t take long.

This match has been called one of the greatest ODIs ever, and for drama you can’t argue that. It’s left a lot of people with a sour taste in their mouth though because it feels wrong. I can’t help but feel that New Zealand have been dudded. I won’t call them moral victors, but, on balance, I think they were the more deserving.

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Knuckling down


Up to about ten minutes ago I was in a nasty mood. It’s Monday morning, it’s cold and grey outside, I’m sleepy as well as suffering from the same low-level unwellness that’s bedevilled the last couple of weeks, and I’m at work – with all the rest of it. Then I head down to get my coffee and one of my all-time favourite songs is playing as I order my coffee. I tell the girl there, I love this song, and as I’m waiting for my coffee to be made I sing along to it, “I heard it on the grapevine…”

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to turn things around. A great song, the first coffee of the day, and you return to work with a bit more vim.

Saturday was the point that things came to a head for me. After poring my heart out here I felt listless, but forced myself to follow up on my plans I’d made earlier. I headed out a bit after midday to check out a rental property up the road from me, sussing it out as a potential new home. Now I had the job and knew what I would be earning I felt more secure doing this.

It was the second time I’d looked at this place. I’d liked it well enough the first time but thought it a tad too expensive, and it didn’t have a bath. In the meantime the rent had comes down by $25 and made it reasonable. I wanted to see it again, to imagine myself there. It’s larger and more comfortable than my present home, and much more private. And it has a bigger yard for Rigby.

I left and walked about 6-7 minutes to view another property. I got there just as it began to hail down. It was crazy, like a mini hurricane had swept through. The sky ruptured with lightning and thunder and the hail, driven by a mighty wind, came in at a sweeping angle. I found shelter under the eaves of the property, along with about another fifteen prospective tenants.

In ways that property was nicer, but I didn’t like it as much, and I returned home thinking about what I would do. A conversation with a friend confirmed my thinking, and I submitted an application for the first property.

I got to talk about a lot of things with my friend, who was supportive. As I’m talking my mind is turning over and I’m moving from one position to another. If I have nothing else then at least I have my mind. I can’t reason everything out, but I’m good at coming to an understanding.

In my experience, uncertainty and doubt are very poor for your mental wellbeing. You’re better off doing something even if it’s not the perfectly right thing to do. Inaction comes naturally when you’re down, but it perpetuates the apathetic mindset that is so often a part of poor mental health. So, I made resolutions and set goals.

I’m aware there’s a lot of shop dressing in these things. You force upon yourself arbitrary objectives to aim for, but that’s the point – to have something to aim for, and to give yourself a purpose to keep you busy. It lifts you out of yourself and takes you outside the reality you’re in.

In this case I set myself targets that encapsulated a new home (I deserved it), but also took in my professional ambitions. I’m not as ambitious as I used to be – I’ve said that before – but I need a certain degree of responsibility. I’m proud, and I must also improve myself economically. That’s what I did then. I looked at the job I’ve just been appointed to and set myself some KPIs with that. I need to drive myself.

I let something go as well, which was liberating. I’ve been agonising over a situation for about 6 months now and tying myself in a knot over it. On Saturday I accepted that not everything is forever and things change. Just because somethings always been one way doesn’t guarantee it always will, even if that means disappointment. As I know well, disappointment is a part of life. So, I opened my hands and let it fly away from me. Not my problem now.

Now all I need do is knuckle down. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s knuckling down. This is not the sinecure, but it’s a way of managing things until they get better – which they will.

Horses in the dark


It was a clear and mild last night, and I was in the city after an early dinner and heading towards a freebie play at the Malthouse.

We caught a train down St Kilda Road and got off at the Police Memorial. We walked down the street and travelling parallel with us on the road were a couple of mounted police on their horses. They clip-clopped along at a steady and reassuring pace, unbothered by all. I continued my conversation but had half an ear on the horses.

I was filled with affection. What wonderful beasts, I thought. There was something unperturbed and totally relaxed about the horses as they ambled along as if they had done this a hundred times before and were content with the life they had been gifted. It was a dream for their riders, too, I thought, imagining that this was something they had always wanted to do.

They were heading back towards the stables, I figured, which were nearby. I imagined what happened then – saddles removed and harness, given a brush down before a feed. Then the night ahead in their spacious cubicles, the odd clip of a hoof on the floor as a horse shifted, the sighs and gentle whinnies, and the quiet, companionable conversations between them in the dark.

They veered away as we went on. I looked in their direction feeling a quiet glow. That was something good.

The older I get, the more I come to love animals, and I’ve always loved them – and horses are one of my favourites.

The death of a legend


I was sitting on my couch last night watching TV when the news came through that Bob Hawke had died. He was 89, I knew he’d been crook for some time, but the news still struck me hard. I think much of Australia, on both sides of the political spectrum, had the same reaction. It was only after he was gone that I realised I had loved him.

Bob Hawke will probably go down as the greatest Labor Prime Minister ever, though he himself idolised John Curtin. I think there’s a strong argument that he’s our best Prime Minister ever of either persuasion. Together with Paul Keating, Hawke transformed Australia. They were a bold, reforming government with a vision of Australia that was innovative and ambitious. Somehow they managed to deliver most of their agenda. No other government has ever done so much, and it set us up and left us in a stronger place.

The economic foundation they set has seen us through some dark places since, but sadly the social and cultural direction they set – liberal and enlightened – has been waylaid by successive governments since. It’s an argument for another day, but had Keating not been defeated in 1996 Australia today would be a different place, and a better one. Enough survives however, the legacy remains.

Many contemporary Australians wouldn’t know that, but despite having left office in 1993 Hawke remained a public figure and became a cultural icon. Pretty well everyone loved him because he was a good bloke. There was no pretence to him, his compassion was authentic, and he was as he seemed, a garrulous, charming larrikin who epitomised the attributes we Australians like to think we embody.

For me, I remember much more than that. When I heard of his death last night I sent a text to a friend I knew who would be similarly affected. We spoke for a while and for the rest of the night exchanged SMS as we watched the coverage on TV and remembered. There was some mighty nostalgia at work.

The first election of any kind I ever voted at was the 1983 federal election, the election which Hawke beat Fraser. If I remember right it was held on the day after my birthday. I don’t know how it happened, but I was already deep into politics. I think a personality like Hawke’s probably encouraged that. I’d grown up with him being the president of the ACTU. He was immensely popular throughout the country. He was tough and smart – people forget how smart he was – with the boundless, inspiring confidence of man who knows he’s smart. He was without pretence though. There were no airs or graces to him and I doubt anyone ever doubted his genuine passion for the cause. I think many Australians could see something of themselves in his unabashed Australian-ness. He gave us permission to be ourselves.

That carried through to his prime ministership, though by now he had progressed from open neck shirts to fine Italian suits. He went into government with the imagination to create a better Australia, and the will to achieve it. We were all lucky that he had a man by his side – Paul Keating – who had similar imagination and drive. Together, and with possibly the best cabinet in Australian political history, they forged a new Australia.

Throughout that time he was on our TV screens and in our collective imaginations. He lives on in vivid memories, in great moments we all recall. He was someone we liked, someone we could be proud of. For all his great abilities what I cherish most about him was his compassion and decency. He was a truly good man who couldn’t abide injustice or bigotry. He stood for good, as no leader for many years has. He opened Australia up and made us look outwards, and in so doing embraced others with less opportunity, or disadvantaged by circumstance.

I can recall him crying on national TV, which he did several times. He was an empathic, sensitive man, and that only endeared him more. They’re the best people.

I look back and I remember sunny days and good times. Australia was burgeoning, we had belief, life was sweet. And we were lucky – how lucky we’ve only come to realise – to have leaders of the finest quality. We live in an era of pygmies, but Hawke was a true giant and a fine man. I’ll miss him.

PS It was good to see Hawke reconcile with Keating in the last few weeks ahead of this election. They are an iconic duo. It’s sad to see Hawke depart before seeing Labor win on Saturday, but his timing is impeccable otherwise. He always knew how to milk the political advantage. Australia is awash with sentimentality today remembering the prime minister they had once and what he stood for. That will stand today’s Labor in good stead.

Up for grabs


Getting ready for work this morning I was listening to an interview with Kevin McHale. For those that don’t know, McHale was a great power forward in the NBA who played for the title winning Celtics in the mid-eighties. I remember him well, tall and pale skinned with a mop of dark hair, he seemed destined to play for the Irish themed Celtics. Later on he became a commentator, which was what the interview this morning wall about. It was a terrific interview.

Naturally much of the conversation revolved around the current NBA finals series, which is coming to a crescendo. A good three or four minutes was spent discussing Kawhi’s buzzer beater against the Phillies in the seventh game of that series.

It’s already a famous shot, but in time it will become one of those moments in folklore. The shot itself, the seconds ticking down to zero, the high degree of difficulty shooting from the corner with the Sixers tallest player, Embiid, guarding him. The ball had to loop high to get over him and landed on the front rim of the hoop, bouncing straight up the height of the backboard, and coming down on the same rim. This time it took a forward bounce, hitting the front of the rim on the far side, before plopping into the basket. Time has stopped, the crowd is hushed, the fate of two teams, two cities, all wrapped up in the bounce of the ball. It goes in, the crowd erupts, and the Raptors win by two.

As a pseudo Sixers fan I wish it was otherwise, but Kawhi Leonard is one of my favourite players and really elevated his game in the playoffs. They went through and the Sixers went out, while in the other playoff series my number one team, the Celtics, went out to Milwaukee. I reckon the results would have been the opposite had the Celtics matched up on the Raptors, and the Sixers on the Bucks, but you play the game you’re given.

The Bucks now take on the Raptors for the Eastern divisional title. They’ll take on the winner of the Warriors/Trailblazers series in the west.

The Bucks/Raptors contest is enticing just to see Leonard go up against Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo is my pick for the MVP, though they’ll probably give it to Harden again (overrated in my book, but that’s another conversation). I reckon the Bucks will get up in six games and probably take on the Warriors.

The Western conference finals is a different ball game with the two back courts going up against each other. Curry is a hall of famer, but I loved Lillard both as a player and a personality. The Trailblazers have been brave and will take a game or two off the Warriors but can’t see them winning unless Kevin Durant – another great play-off player – doesn’t make it onto the court. I’d like to see the Blazers win the whole thing, but nah.

That would leave a Bucks/Warriors final. Warriors have been there so many times and won so often it’s hard to go against them. But, this time I reckon the Bucks might have a slight edge.

That’s what I’m thinking now, but it could be completely different. I’ll be watching. For mine the NBA is one of the great competitions in the world and shits all over the other American sports.

Crash and burn


A lot of talk about the final series of the Game of Thrones, now being broadcast. Much of the commentary has been negative – too violent, lacking in logic, literally, lost the plot, and so on. Having been an avid watcher of the series for many seasons now I agree entirely.

I’m far from being one of those GoT geeks who can recite chapter and verse every plot development and nuance over every season. I took delight from the show for the same reasons as most people. Here was intricately detailed world with a strong backstory and engaging characters and a myth to lead us on. It was beautifully designed throughout and well-acted, with wonderful set pieces and changes of fortune we could believe in. We all had our favourite characters. It was a world we could immerse ourselves in.

This last season was widely hyped. Here was to be the culmination of years of story development. Instead what we’ve been given appears to be a rushed resolution. What might have been better served over eight episodes has been squeezed into five. More fundamentally, aspects of the back story have been forgotten or dropped altogether, and inconsistencies in motivation and behaviour have taken the story in an unsatisfactory direction. Most obviously, the story has been overtaken by huge set-piece battle scenes and incongruous violence, as if suddenly pandering to a different audience that have stuck fat from the first.

It really does feel a rush job.

Take Daenerys. She’s always had tendencies towards megalomania and even cruelty. They were always hairline cracks in her personality. Come this season they’ve suddenly become wide breaches, dictating the direction of the story. She has become the mad queen all at once. So okay, maybe this was always going to happen, but the haste with which it’s happened is jarring.

Then there’s Jon Snow. If there’s meant to be a central hero of the show he’s probably it. He’s always been the decent, reluctant type who’ll always do his bit. Fine. But in this series he’s become basically a softcock, slow on the uptake and as wet as a lettuce leaf. Supposedly it’s from love for Daenerys, but gee, it’s an unconvincing love story.

You have other characters acting counter to their established nature, and all the lovely, intricate threads of myth and foretelling have seem to be all lost – unless they’re to make a belated appearance in the last episode.

What we have instead is this violent, almost nihilistic portrayal of a world bent on self-destruction. It’s a bleak, dispiriting vision full of special effects and grand sequences, but empty of purpose.

I’ll be watching the last episode next week hoping for some miraculous and satisfying resolution to what appears right now a steaming mess. I can’t see it happening, though I’m pretty sure were the story goes from here.

Long running shows sometimes go off the rails as they run out of ideas. In this case it feels not a lack of ideas but rather an artificially rushed ending, as if they had to be somewhere else and couldn’t be bothered tying up all the loose ends. Let’s just burn them all instead.

I’ve seen this before. I used to watch the Walking Dead for years but gave up on it about 18 months ago, for similar reasons. The violence had taken over from the story of survival. At one stage the show seemed almost fascist in its depiction of violent might. That came to a crescendo but wasn’t played out properly, and thereafter was just lame.

Oh well, there’s bound to be another cracking series to come along soon.

The big call


Look, I said I wasn’t going to speak after the election until it was done and dusted, but here I am and I want to make bold prediction: Labor will bolt it in.

I’m not one for sweeping pronouncements like that. I lot of that is superstition: if you say it, you risk it. Here I am being the outrider though. Most pundits are predicting a close contest but a Shorten victory. The polls are still tight, though it’s years since the Coalition have been in front. Me, I think Labor have had it won for a while and will end up with a good majority.

Part of my confidence is the sheer vibe. I talk to people and just about all of them are dismissive of a government they’ve become cynical of. Just about all of them consider it sloppy and incompetent. I have acquaintances who have voted Liberal most of their life now firmly intending to vote for Labor. My only caveat is that I probably move in a circle while not atypical, is probably more discerning.

Reading the paper yesterday I see that 2.2 million people have already voted – including me – and I reckon a good portion of those will be for Labor. Much of the damage has already been done. The LNP good have a stellar last week – which seems unlikely – and it would likely be insufficient.

Regarding the polls I think there’s a factor no commentators have accounted for. Thousands of young voters registered to vote for the SSM plebiscite. They’re still on the books and we know the great majority of them favour the left side of politics. I don’t know that they’ve been factored into the polling. A lot of them are still living at home and so their voice is not being counted. I think they’ll be a big part of the count on Saturday.

Given there are so many tight seats, and the government has such a slim margin, it’ll take basically fuck all for them to lose. I’ll be interested to see what happens in Queensland, and NSW will be particularly fascinating watching if the Nationals vote holds up, but Victoria is the big state in this election. That’s my state and I reckon it’ll go hard against the government. This is where they’ll lose it.

One of the really interesting developments in this campaign is the rise of the independents. Once upon a time they could be largely defined as fringe to kooky. These days the independent candidates – many of them disaffected Liberals – are almost all candidates of great quality. They’ve been given a high profile and I expect them to pick up a bunch of seats, mostly at the expense of the Libs.

Once upon a time I had a jaded view of independents as I thought they got in the way of good government. I have the opposite view these days. The cross-bench are an able bunch and are a good check on incumbents. Good policies should get through, or are modified on the way through. Bad policies don’t get that far. That’s a generalisation, but these days I see much more good in the cross-bench than bad. Now it’s set to expand I see them as a sensible bloc who represent no-one but the Australian people. They’re a fact of life now, here to stay.