Gideon Haigh gets misty about Ricky, I talk aliens and Cook and daddy stuff

It’s one of those podcasts where Gideon and I talk compete shit for a while over skype, record it, and then put it online.

We talk about Ricky Ponting, pitches and the Sri Lankan talent cliff.

For free, I also give you another podcast where we talk about India England and a bit of random New Zealand anger.

Two for the price of none.

And for an extra bonus I have started a cricket with balls style blog about being a daddy. A beardless dad.

Yes, this post is a bit linky.

But you get that.

And here is the transcript of me and Gideon from our Canuck.

JK: Welcome to another episode of the Cricket Sadist Hour. With me I have gargantuan Gideon Haigh. How are you?

GH: Gargantuan, Thanks Jarrod. Nice to be here.

JK: We missed this. Generally when people are playing cricket, I am obsessing over it and tweeting and all those sorts of things that modern cricket fans do but unfortunately this week, or fortunately, I was at the birth of my child. And while that happened, apparently, South Africa did quite well in a test at Perth, is that right?

GH: Indeed. You were missed Jarrod, your contribution to Cricket folk lore. It was a terrific Test match and this was a wonderful series that grew steadily more intense as the series transpired. A team that looked on its last legs in Adelaide, proved that it’s not just No. 1 because it wins Test matches, its No. 1 because it’s very, very hard to beat. Adelaide was a little bit like Cardiff in 2009. South Africa took much, much more out of it than Australia. It was almost as though Australia knew that they’d blown the opportunity. Once again they had opportunities in Perth but they never looked like seizing them.

JK: That seemed to be almost their story. I didn’t see much of the Test. There was a little bit that I saw, luckily my son decided to wake me up for. What I was quite interested in was the way that it was rewritten. Australia had done well in the first Test, probably came out of that slightly better. They dominated the second one and maybe without Pattinson’s injury they win that and they lose the third one quite convincingly. And suddenly Australia are rubbish again. It just seemed to snap back in a millisecond.

GH: Yeah, really, it was won and lost on the second day, and maybe even the first hour and after tea on the second day. Australia really needed to get through the first hour of the second day without sustaining too many casualties because the afternoon and overs 40 to 85 in any innings at the WACA are the best time for batting. So they needed quality wickets in hand in the afternoon session. Unfortunately they lost the cream of their batting before noon. Once that had transpired they were never gonna get their way back into the game and of course later on in the afternoon, Amla and Smith just put the pedal to the metal and they left Australia choking on their exhaust fumes.

JK: That was amazing, being that it was those two. I know Smith plays in T20 leagues and Amla is a good one-day player. But, generally in Test Cricket, and that’s been something that’s held South Africa back, at time even did against England. Even though they won, they just never put the foot down and just went, we’re just gonna smash them, which is what really good teams do because otherwise you end up with a lot of draws which they have been. And suddenly, it just exploded.

GH: Interestingly, Amla was asked about it later on whether there was any degree of premeditation in the South African batting. And he said No, it just kind of felt right, it felt this was an opportunity to accelerate and we decided to take it and see what happened. It was no more than that. If that kind of intuition can be harnessed by the South Africans in future then they are gonna be a genuinely formidable side. Of course, they were able to bat that way because Australia batted so poorly and left South Africa with a useful buffer to start off the innings with. In fact, Amla said, it meant that if we lost a wicket by playing that way, it wasn’t a train wreck. I was delighted to hear Amla use train wreck because he seems far too serene to do something like that. But it was because they had that crucial first innings lead and the opportunity to bat during the best part of the day that Australia’s situation worsened in a compound way.

JK: I suppose it’s gonna be remembered, as much as anything, probably for the end of Ponting. What was it like being there? I know he bowled as well which would have been, for me, a highlight. Most people didn’t care but I always loved watching him bowl including that over that went for 20-odd for Tasmania once. What was it like being there right at the end?

GH: Very, very moving. Surprisingly, so, considering that over the last couple of years, Ponting’s retirement has been foreshadowed at regular intervals. When the situation actually transpired, we didn’t know what to do, we didn’t know what to make of it. Our prophecies had come true. I must confess I did get a feeling that something had shifted in Ponting when I saw him give his interview to Mark Taylor the day after he batted in the second innings at Adelaide.

JK: You mentioned that in the other podcast. It was a good spot by you. You should probably do this for a living.

GH: It felt different, because usually he’s been so relentlessly positive where his own form is concerned and in fact I chatted to Mickey Arthur in Perth and I said when did you realize that Ricky might not have much Cricket ahead of him. And he said that when Ricky got out in the second innings, Mickey went to see him and found him sitting with his pads on bent over staring into space and he said is there anything I can do? And Ponting replied in the negative. He said I looked into his eyes and there wasn’t any fight left. So he wasn’t completely surprised when Ricky came to see him and Clarke two days out from the Perth Test Match. I know that the announcement to the team was an extremely emotional occasion for all involved that took place around 9 on the morning before the game but then they went into the nets and then, as often happens, probably about a dozen journalists when to watch the Australians practicing and once again, for reasons I can’t even articulate, I could tell that something was different. Funny enough, after about an hour of training, it started to rain. The other journalists scattered because I thought the press conference was impending but I stayed and I was the last journalist there for about the last 45 minutes of training and watched Ponting, in that Ponting way, being the one who trained the longest and the hardest. I watched him do his throw downs, I watched him do his catches. I can’t really tell you why, there was just a subtly different feeling about it and I had a chat to him briefly about how he was hitting them and he said he was hitting them fine. There was no indication that what was about to happen was going to happen. Then I watched him pick up his bag, put it over his shoulder, take a look around the practice area. I think only Ed Cowan was left, he was doing his short leg catches. And he turned around and strolled off. And about five or ten minutes later, Peter Lalor from the Australian rang me and said have you heard there’s a rumor around that Ponting’s gonna retire. I said No, I’ve just watched him leave the nets, how strange. And then fifteen minutes later we were in a Press Conference and Ponting was announcing it. This first Press Conference was very matter of fact, quite terse in that Ponting way. He didn’t want his decision to over shadow Australia’s preparation for the game. But the Press Conference at the end of the game you could have heard a pin drop in there and you almost didn’t want to interrupt Ponting as he made his remarks. He was warm and whimsical and thoughtful and emotional but not over the top when he talked about his family, when he talked about his club, when he talked about what playing for Australia had meant to him. Then he scooped up his little daughter Emmy and he walked out the door and apparently burst into tears. I didn’t see that but some journalists who were standing outside saw it. He did an incredibly good job of remaining poised and dignified in exactly the way that you would hope from an Australian captain of his distinction.

JK: I do wonder if those tears were acid. It’s so hard that when they hit the ground, it made part of the ground melt away, although at the WACA, I supposed that happens all the time, the way it’s built. It’s a weird one though, trying to write the piece about it which we all had to do. I had such a complicated relationship with Ponting from my own point of view and the one time that I really, really wanted to watch him play in the last game, I virtually saw none of it. It almost felt like that was my way of letting Ponting go, not watching his last game after obsessing over almost every other Test he’d ever played. He definitely feels like such an Australian icon in a flawed and good sense if that makes sense.

GH: I think the thing that has always struck me about Ponting is that he had to lead Allan Border’s career in reverse. All the greats fade away and he was the one common denominator throughout that period. In fact with his retirement we are separated from those great Australian teams of the 90s and early 21st century. The strange thing is that I warmed to Ponting much more in the second half of his career than in the first half. I couldn’t really achieve a simpatico with him merely watching him triumph. You don’t learn very much about a man from the way he deals with success, maybe at the margins. But you do learn something about a person’s character from the way in which they deal with adversity. And I think he was an extremely dignified Australian presence except for a few interludes, on-field incidents, particularly with umpires. But other than that, I scarcely saw him put a foot wrong. And he was defending the indefensible, some terrible things that he had to preside over. And yet I think he never lost faith in his players and he always remained their No. 1 supporter. I think that was what probably kept him going in the last couple of years of his career, a desire to restore Australian Cricket to something like its former days, leave Australian Cricket the way it was two years ago. He atleast had to provide some sort of continuity. He’s done an awful lot to empower Michael Clarke as captain. I think, quite frankly, and I’ve heard it said by others, that Ponting has given much more support than Clarke ever gave Ponting.

JK: It’d be interesting to see how he’s looked back on. It was never his fault really that he was given an ever dwindling talent supply. He didn’t handle it particularly well but that’s what happens. Let’s talk about his home town or home island. He used to live there. I’m sure he visits every now and again. We’re going down to Tasmania this week where Shane Watson wants to bowl more. We’re not gonna talk anymore about Shane Watson. It’s all about the toss at Bellerive they tell me. Are we expecting 17 inches of grass again?

GH: (unintelligible) off the Bellerive square in an effort to generate it but they didn’t allow it sufficient time to bed down which accounts for some of the appalling scores and some of the ruinous deliveries that have been bowled there. They did actually, for a time, talk about moving the Test match away from Bellerive where everyone tell me that, on a per-capita basis, more Tasmanians attend the Test match than any other state but it still seems like very, very few. And if they didn’t turn up to see what was expected to be Ricky Ponting’s last Test Match last season, I can’t see them patronizing this one.

JK: All this talk about how much grass is on there and how it hasn’t settled and all these sorts of things. Just because when I grew up, and you are obviously about 30 or 40 years older than me, but, when I grew up, it was a batsman-friendly pitch, so much so that I thought to this day, Hills and Cox would still be out there in the middle. Its amazing how much things have changed down there but also how it is automatically the sixth Test venue. I would have thought by now that Cairns and Darwin might have been able to steal a couple more tests.

GH: Yes, I am so old that I can remember Alex Doolan’s father playing Sheffield Shield cricket, the spectacled, wicketkeeper batsman from the late 1970s. Tasmania, of course, has until recently, received 1/6th share of dividends from Cricket Australia, a revolution brought by Dennis Rogers, the Tasmanian chairman of the Board in the late 1990s. They get a lot of money down there. They wanna be able to put on a good Test Match. In domestic cricket, their record is as good as anyone in recent years. It would be nice if the local population were able to put on a better show round about Test Match time. They had a terrific Test Match last year, one of the most thrilling of recent years. In fact, it was free entry on the last day of that Test Match. So, if you took the opportunity you would have seen one of the great Test Match finishes. But it felt like a local club game.

JK: The way I look at it, in England, they have too many Test venues and that causes its own problems. But if they just said at one stage that you have to get this crowd in and if they don’t then we are going to Cairns. I wonder if that would change people down there. I could be wrong but every time you watch a domestic game down in Tasmania does seem to be a decent crowd there, there seems to be quite often a better domestic crowd than you get for some of the other states.

GH: I guess because you are guaranteed local content and guaranteed a measure of success which they’ve enjoyed for the last few years.

JK: The most important thing to hit Bellerive is the return of Phil Hughes who luckily for him can’t be caught Guptill bowled Martin this time. He’s gone back to the place where I always thought he would make runs which would be Adelaide. He’s made a bunch of runs and now he’s been picked in the side to bat in a position that he’s not particularly that good with.

GH: He has at least made most of his runs this season away from Adelaide.

JK: Gideon, he was inspired by Adelaide though.

GH: Frankly, if you’ve seen Adelaide recently, even I could make runs on that. They’ve shortened it straight but fifteen meters and shorten it square by six meters. It is a tiny little roller rink of a ground as Imran Tahir found to his cost. It is strange that, just as a general observation, the idea that we can simply project players into which they are not familiar. Rob Quiney batting at No. 3 for Australia when he hasn’t batted at No. 3 for Victoria for five years. Shane Watson now to bat at No. 4 for Australia, I don’t think he’s ever batted there for any of his states. Now Phil Hughes to go in at No. 3. When you consider the lineage of distinguished Australian No. 3s, stretching back to Bradman and compassing Greg Chappell and David Boon, etc., Ricky Ponting, the idea that we now have to manufacture players to fill that role is a bit of a statement about the lack of depth in Australian Cricket. At one time, you would have had three or four candidates to fill that role who were also fulfilling at role for their states. But now we’ve got four openers, four people who prefer to open batting in the top four slots for Australia.

JK: You’re forgetting No. 6 is also an opener.

GH: Indeed. Not for a while though.

JK: But he was before he came into international Cricket, he was even when he came into international Cricket. It seems that people are just picking where batsmen should bat. I don’t think it’s that simple and I also wonder about the psychology of John Inverarity coming and saying that he was hiding Phil Hughes from a really good bowling attack but then he’s gonna bat him at No. 3 which is the toughest position. Ricky Ponting and Bradman didn’t start their careers at 3.

GH: Yeah, it’s an odd one. I must say that if Phil Hughes doesn’t make runs under these circumstances then we can probably mark his file closed. I think he is in reasonable nick, not the greatest nick of all time, he hasn’t made a stupendous number of runs but he does have those 20 first-class centuries before the age of 24 which does indicate someone who knows at least how to build an innings. They don’t really know who to construct a stroke.

JK: What I do find interesting about Phil Hughes in general, it’s a little bit like Shane Watson. I’m constantly being told he’s changed his technique and he’s fixed everything. But every time in the past I’ve seen him do something, it’s almost become worse. If he’s gonna make runs against Sri Lanka that doesn’t actually tell me he’s gonna be a No. 3 that’s gonna go to India and make runs and then he’s gonna go to England and make runs. It tells me that he can make runs against a fairly flawed Sri Lankan side who we’ve mentioned before and we’ll talk about in a second, really only has one bowler. We’re not really testing him. His best chance would have been to throw him in against South Africa, see if he sunk or not or actually swum away. And then Quiney as the backup. Alex Doolan worried me the most when he wanted to talk everyone else up rather than himself. That’s not Australian, is it?

GH: That’s the kinda guy, Alex, very modest soul. As Ed Cowan says, he doesn’t quite know how good he is. I saw him get runs at the MCG, earlier this season and he looked just a million dollars. He was batting with Ponting and he lost nothing by comparison. To me, because he is a specialist No. 3, he would have been my ideal pick for this Test Match, particularly on his home surface. I don’t make the decisions, it’s well above my pay grade.

JK: I was gonna write that same exact thing and then I read his comments and I lost all belief in him. I haven’t seen him quite as much as you’ve seen, little bits of him, but I just think that this is the time that we pick someone who is actually known for No. 3 or we force Hussey or Clarke to go up the order. I’m not sure why Mike Hussey always gets away with not doing it. If we’re gonna have a make shift we might as well have someone who used to open the batting if Clarke won’t go up the order. And if Watson really wants to bowl more, it would really make sense for him to go lower than 4.

GH: Actually Hussey does bat No. 3 for his state. So he does have experience.

JK: Let’s talk about the Sri Lankans a little bit. They played in Chairman’s game which is a little bit horrible for them. Glen Maxwell batting at 5. Alex Doolan did fail in that game. Maxwell batting at 5 made 91 off 77 balls And Scott Henry made 207 not out. I am trying to read the scorecard while I do this, professional podcasting. The word was that they had Welegedara, Eranga and Randiv in that bowling attack. It’s not exactly their second string attack. I saw Randiv bowl really well for Sri Lanka a bunch of times, especially against India early on in his career. And that’s horrible the way they were treated. I think they went at almost 4.5 an over against a fifth string team for Australia.

GH: Normally, in circumstances like these, you say, well you can’t read too much into tour match form. But I think you actually can read quite a lot into this. Murali was never able to get wickets here. Sri Lanka has always struggled when Murali couldn’t get wickets and now he’s not there at all. It’s a great opportunity for some aspiring Australian batsmen to enhance their Test averages. I don’t want to talk Sri Lanka down too much because it not hospitable but it is a team whose main strengths are aging and depreciating rapidly and whose next generation hasn’t come on as you would have hoped. You can only see their performances tailing off over the next two to three years as Dilshan, Samaraweera, Sangakkara and Jayawardane begin to fade out of the scene.

JK: Even the young talented palyers, I’m gonna put Randiv in that because I really do believe he’s got a lot of talent and Angelo Mathews who I think should be the world’s premier all-rounder but hasn’t stepped up. They’ve also got the other quick bowler whose name I’ve completely forgotten who can slog a little bit. None of them have really taken the next step. Mathews is not much a match-winner now than he was two or three years ago, especially in Test Cricket. Randiv is second choice when you would have though with his talent. Herath is a very smart bowler but he’s not very suited to all conditions. In England, he looked completely out of it. It’s almost like there is talent her but they just haven’t been able to step up. These old guys can’t play forever. I know Kumar Sangakkara and Dilshan come across as younger than they are but are ageing and Samaraweera was a 50 year old man when he was 22. Jayawardane can’t go forever. It just seems like if they all leave they’re gonna fall off the map far more than sides like the West Indies and New Zealand did.

GH: It’s gonna be like the retirements of Chappell, Lillee, Marsh and it might take them a decade to recover. But the worrying thing is that there doesn’t seem to be any pressure from below on players whose selection is more marginal. Lot of players seem to be selected as a reflex. I can’t believe that the first-class scene, when there are so many first class teams in Sri Lanka, is that short of talent. You begin to think of other potential explanations, the rank poor governance of the country, the general shortage of resources, the discontinuity in the coaching staff, the insecurity of tenure for selectors. You get the feeling that this is a team that is an accident waiting to them.

JK: And that is such a shame because when I was in Sri Lanka, the tape ball cricket and that sort of the thing that I saw in Sri Lanka, compared to what I saw in India. The Sri Lankans, it’s probably the best street cricket I’ve ever seen, just natural guys who can do amazing things with the bat and the ball. Yet whether they just don’t get to the next level for whatever reason. The Sri Lankan Cricket Board. It’s quite hard now with New Zealand coming in and the US Cricket Board and Pakistan. The Sri Lankan Cricket Board is as bad as it gets in Cricket administration. That’s not a list you want to be on. You do worry about what they’re gonna do next. They’ve always had that problem, they struggle to find Test Match strike bowlers. They’ve really only had probably Fernando briefly, Malinga briefly and Murali. Even Vaas has never probably been a Test Match strike bowler. And if you don’t have batsmen to back that up, it’s impossible to see how they’re gonna win a Test and they’re already giving up Test series as often as they can. Of all the teams that are gonna disappear from the international landscape it looks like they are the most likely.

GH: They look vulnerable for sure

JK: I’m not just saying that because Usman Khawaja got a wicket against them either.

GH: Wasn’t a bad wicket either.

JK: What do you think of this series? It looks like, from the outside looking in, it’s gonna be one of those series where Australia talk themselves back up again. They might even forget about what happened against South Africa and suddenly go look we’re back in form. Had we played like this against South Africa, we would have beaten them.

GH: I don’t think that Sri Lanka’s attack has the explosive power to rock and roll the Australian top order in a session which is really what it takes to win a Test Match in Australia. I get the feeling that Sri Lanka are as surprised as anyone to be here as the Summer’s main attraction to have been given the Boxing Day Test Match and the Sydney Test Match, those two prestigious gigs. I also get the feeling that maybe Cricket Australia isn’t that disappointed about that since there is no risk of the Test Series overshadowing what really matters which as we all know is the Big Bash League.

JK: My favorite team of the Big Bash. I’ve tried not to follow it as much as possible but I know I will eventually get sucked in and start getting up early in the morning to watch games online, probably illegally, I apologize to Cricket Australia. But what I really like is that they’ve essentially said this week that the fans of the Big Bash are so slow and so drunk that they don’t actually understand when the stumps have exploded. So they have to light them up, Gideon. People need to be shown exactly what Cricket is, we are gonna do it with lights.

GH: At least that’s actually part of the Cricket. I think that the Cricket at the moment is in danger of being completely swallowed up by the entertainment aqua phenomena around it. The Crusty Demons performing in advance. The trained acrobats and boy bands and other surrounding entertainment attractions. Once again, I have said this so many times, I am going blue in the face, but it does seem like the kind of Cricket for people who don’t like Cricket and who probably never will. They don’t care whether they do or not as long as they turn up.

JK: You can’t take that stance because you are part of the Big Bash extravaganza now. You’ve hosting events with Warnie, Murali and Viv Richards. I can’t think of anyone more Big Bash than Gideon Haigh.

GH: Yes, I did, indeed, participate in last week’s season launch for the Stars and the Renegades at the Crown Entertainment Complex.

JK: That’s a good name. That’s the sort of place that they should be playing these. We’re gonna take the Big Bash away from the Cricket grounds because that’s too crickety and play them at Entertainment Complexes.

GH: They have a bit of a Entertainment Complex, Cricket Australia. To have the opportunity to have those three on stage and an audience that was hanging on their every word, it was a great thing to be part of. I did it because Cricket Victoria made a modest donation to a charity that I’m involved in. It was fascinating to have the three of them together and responding to one another and bantering amongst themselves. Their mutual regard was evident. Their love of Cricket was evident. Richards interestingly is not a confident public performer or so I understand. He doesn’t particularly like a large audience to address. But he was just outstanding. He’s got that passo fundo in his voice and sounds exactly the way that you would want Viv Richards to sound. It was not like W G Grace and his squeaky voice. He really does sound like Harry Belafonte. It was the first time I’d seen Shane since my book about him came out. So that was an interesting encounter. I must say that up close his face is quite still almost in a slightly disconcerting way but under the surface I think he is still the same Shane. I know that he ducked out every five minutes for a cigarette. So that part of him certainly hasn’t changed.

JK: Don’t leave us hanging though? What did he say about your book?

GH: He didn’t say anything at all. We encountered one another on stage and that was as far as our contact went. My questions were cricket-related matters and didn’t traverse the book at all. But I gather from his friendly demeanor that I haven’t offended him. He’s not about to sue me in the way that he once said that you should be able to sue anyone who wrote about your life without permission.

JK: What I found most interesting about that even that you talk about and it almost says everything about the Big Bash is that there wasn’t a person on that stage who was under 40.

GH: Yes, I think that would certainly be true. I get the feeling sometimes that the whole Big Bash enterprise is a middle aged person’s view of what young people are into.

JK: I think that is a 100% correct because every time, even when you go to the stuff in UK, the dancing girls and all that stuff. To be honest, I don’t think most people give a rat’s about dancing girls in England, when you’re watching a T20 game and its 12 degrees outside and she wearing seven jumpers. It seems to be that that’s what they think we want, young people want to be entertained, we gotta flash things at them and all this sort of stuff. Realistically, in the long term, I am not sure that that is gonna help them. It’s gonna die off. Wasn’t it one-day games in New Zealand they used to bring out an elephant at half-time in the change of innings? They don’t do that anymore because people either like the game or they don’t and I worry that they are so fixated on these old guys who one of which got absolutely smashed, another one is not even playing and the other one is a magician but we don’t really get to see him at his best in T20 cricket anyway.

GH: this addiction to gimmickry is governed by the law of diminishing returns. Over time the events gotta stand on its own feet as a Cricket attraction or it’s obsolete almost before it began.

JK: It’s gonna stand on Aaron Finch’s feet.

GH: Frankly the quality of the Cricket is not higher and arguably lower than what we used to see in the old Big Bash and yet it’s costing us 10 or 15 million dollars more. I just don’t see what we’ve gained. The whole rationale for setting up these individual franchises with their cookie cutter websites and their uniform names was to sell them to investors. Now that’s been essentially taken off the table since the Argus review, the rationale for them disappears. I don’t have any objection to watching domestic T20, but I want to feel as though it matters a bit, I want to feel as though there is something at stake apart from the opportunity of participating in the Champions League. I described it as a whole lot of not very much recently. It does seem to be a tournament that is shouting at the top of its voice in order to cover up that the games that they are playing don’t really matter very much in the long term.

JK: I just want there to be a team in the Northern Suburbs of Melbourne so I have someone to support. Unfortunately we’re not going to get what we want, Gideon. But thank you very much for chatting to me this week and I will chat to you after you’ve been down to the Apple Isle. Did I forget Tasmania’s nickname? Apples, Hobart, you know what I mean. You’ll go down there and see yaks and things and it will be a good time for you. I’ll talk to you after that, thanks for chatting.

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