Sunday, November 30, 2014

The New Tiger Takes The Australian Apart


Photo courtesy of abc.net.au



What an absolutely magnificent round of golf played today by Jordan Spieth in the final round of the Australian Open at The Australian golf course today. With every other golf struggling to keep their score under par, Spieth came out and fired a faultless 8 under 63 to win by a street from Rod Pampling.
Extraordinary stuff. he never looked troubled, never appeared to become flustered or under pressure. he just kept increasing his lead as the day went on. as good a final round of golf you could ever wish to see.

But... was it just a little spooky that, in a week where the number 63 has become synonymous with the passing of Phil Hughes, that Jordan Spieth fired that exact number to win the Australian Open?...

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Vale: Phil Hughes 1988-2014



Why do I weep for a young man that I never met, that I never knew, whose hand I had never shaken nor whom I had ever had a chance to have a conversation with?

Phil Hughes was the epitome of what we want our greatest sportsmen and women to be. He was a prodigy, fulfilled in his second Test match with a century in each innings. We wanted him to succeed. When he was seen to fail in the eyes of some, and then dropped (unfairly by many), he didn't sulk or sell his story to the media. His finest line was always "if I keep making runs, my chance will come". And he kept scoring runs, and he kept getting chances, and each time he was cast aside - more often than not a borderline call - he reiterated his stance. This is what we wanted from our young sports stars - the will to fight for their place based on performance, not through media bleating. His determination was obvious, and almost always supported by his winning smile.

Everyone who has played the magnificent game of cricket will be devastated today. We all know how close you become with your teammates, and the joy of playing in a team and a club, and how close your relationships become with fellow cricketers, based solely on the game. That even extends beyond that, to players in first class and international level, the connection of watching the game, and imagining yourself in their position, the joy of winning, the agony of loss.
Each one of us has been hit by a cricket ball, some much more seriously than others. We have all faced the fear of injury from a fast bowler, and dealt with it in our own way during our careers. None of us could ever imagine what has happened to Phil actually happening. And it is frightening and scary, but more than anything else, deeply devastating.


Why do I weep? Because an obviously terrific young bloke has been taken away from all of us before he was able to capitalise on his obvious talents, and turn himself into a cricketer to whom we could hold aloft as one of the best of his time. But more than that, I weep for a young man who had his whole life in front of him, and to be taken at the age of 25 in such a way is the greatest tragedy of all.

Phil Hughes remains on 63 not out, and I weep for an innings that will never be completed.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Phil Hughes Fighting... Again...


He burst onto the scene five years ago, a nineteen year old with all the talent in the world. A duck in his first Test innings, followed by a half century, and then a century in each innings in his second Test. His future was set.

Almost from that point, he seemed to get short shrift. In order to shoehorn Shane Watson into the Test team in England in 2009, he was sacrificed without due cause. From here, he was constantly criticism for his technique, though he continued to plunder first class bowling attacks everywhere. He fought back, made the Test team again, and was then dropped. Back again... dropped. Each time without what anyone could consider a fair chance to try and consolidate his spot.
He even ended up being moved around the batting order. Opening, number 3, number 4, number 5, number 6. From game to game. Even innings to innings. And still, he found himself discarded, dspite his best efforts, and despite some fine innings. He even made the ODI team, made two centuries, and was then dropped.


Today, it was obvious that Michael Clarke would be ruled out of the Test next week, and today's batsmen would be fighting for his place. And according to plan, he had moved to 63 not out, giving the selectors every reason to think he would be the man to make the Test squad.
And now, having been hit by a bouncer that he was far too early on, he finds himself possibly fighting for his life in a critical condition after surgery.

Through his whole career, Phil Hughes seems to have been fighting for respect, for his career, at every turn. No matter how many runs he has made, he has had to fight against the detractors. And through all this he has carried on, saying all the right things, smiling, and kept making runs.
We may never know if Phil was going to be selected for next week's Test now. Just more short shrift for a guy who has never given in. All we can hope for now is that, for once in his cricketing career, he doesn't get short shrift through this terrible accident, and that he pulls through with his life fully intact.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Cricket Notes - November 4, 2014

Asia Again a Bridge Too Far


The past two weeks has brought the Australian cricket team and its supporters back to earth and underlined some home truths about the way cricket is played, and that there needs to be a different way to approach these situations. It is perhaps not the complete doom and gloom that some are suggesting - and it is the size of the defeats that is perhaps the biggest problem - but an overview of the two Tests reveals similar problems to what occurred in India eighteen months ago.

Pakistan outplayed Australia. The conditions suited their team, and they exploited them far better than the Australians did. Pakistan won both tosses and were able to bat first on both occasions. Their batsmen showed patience early on, waiting for their opportunities, before feasting on tired bowlers late in their innings. Australia managed some good partnerships, but then often lost a clatter of wickets immediately that they were broken. For the most part the Pakistan bowlers were patient, tight and bowled to their field. Australia were unable to bowl to a plan, and the fields, while inventive, probably did not suit what needed to be done, which was build pressure.
Much has been made of Australia's shortcomings on the sub-continent, having won only one Test match (in Sri Lanka) there in all countries over the past seven years. This is true, and speaks of Australia's inability to find a team capable of squeezing out victories in such situations. Two things that have not been mentioned about this are as follows:-
Firstly, when Australia lost only one Test between 2000 and 2007 in these areas, they had the greatest team and players on the planet. Batsmen such as Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Steve and Mark Waugh, Lehmann, Martyn, and most of them superb players of spin. Then there were bowlers such as McGrath, Gillespie, Kasprowicz, Lee, Warne and MacGill, who could bowl brilliantly in any conditions. And then there was Adam Gilchrist. This team was a once in a generation or seven team, and their achievements cannot be used in comparison to the current team in any fair way.
Secondly, over that same seven year period, all of the sub-continent teams combined have only won one Test in Australian conditions, that being India when they lost 2-1 on the "Monkeygate" tour. In any fair comparison of the relative strengths and weaknesses of all teams, surely this statistic must be brought out to help explain the severe difference in conditions faced by all teams when they play away from home. Certainly, you hope to compete and win in someone else's backyard. Unfortunately, only the great teams are capable of that, and this team is far from great. The only team currently able to say they are capable of this would be South Africa, and even their quickly evolving team has some questions mark on their ability to do so.

Warner, Smith, Marsh and Johnson return to Australia with their reputations safe or even enhanced. Warner played with typical freedom and ease, and though his dismissals can sometimes be infuriating, if he keeps scoring the runs he is currently then his indiscretions can be somewhat overlooked. Smith played two wonderful innings, both under pressure in trying to save games in the second innings. He continues to grow in substance with the bat, especially against spin bowling. If only he would spend more time in the nets perfecting his bowling he would be the perfect asset. I don't play Test cricket nor practice at all, and I can still land five out of every six deliveries where I want to. Surely a guy who ONLY plays or practices cricket should be able to do the same thing. Mitch Marsh has made a terrific start to his Test career. He learned from his experiences with the bat in the 1st Test, and used them to played brilliantly in both innings in the 2nd Test. A great sign, to see a kid taking what he'd learned and using it so quickly. He was also economical and accurate with the ball, and will be very useful when conditions are more suitable. Mitch Johnson was magnificent with the ball, and well used by his skipper. He also batted well in the 1st Test, albeit with some luck, which deserted him in the 2nd Test.
The skipper was disappointing, and by his own admission, especially given his usual poise against spin. His aversion to batting at number 3, on wickets where spin was dominant, and with his ability against spin bowling, again defied logic. Was he making a statement against the dropping of Alex Doolan, who he obviously supported to retain given his comments on Test eve? Or did the selectors insist Glenn Maxwell was selected as the number three? Whatever the reasoning, Clarke had the chance to lead from the front, and did not take it. Chris Rogers made starts in both innings of the 1st Test, and two failures in the 2nd. He will know he needs to continue to make runs at home if he wants to make a return to England next year.

Will the selectors admit the folly of their disgraceful decision to dump Alex Doolan, whose career is practically finished now, to play Glenn Maxwell at number 3 in a Test match. Doolan may have failed in the 1st Test, but surely he deserved the chance for redemption, given he had scored a century in the warm up match the week prior. The arrival of Lehmann and new selectors was supposed to bring solidity and temperance to the selection process, and discard the chopping and changing of teams in quick succession which brought about so many problems in India last year. Yet, it has happened again. In any review of this series, the decision to remove Doolan and O'Keefe after the 1st Test needs to be put at the top of the list. The result probably would not have changed, but at least these two cricketers, if they had failed to make an impact again, would have just cause for believing their time in the Test arena was over. Now it probably is anyway, and unsatisfactorily so. The selection panel's obsession over Glenn Maxwell is reaching Watson-like proportions, with similarly bleak and empty conclusions. His dismissal, most especially charging down the wicket in the first innings, speaks volumes for mistaken decisions at all levels regarding his selection.

None of Lyon, Siddle or Starc improved their stock on the tour. Siddle was steady, and did as well as he could in the conditions. His immediate future may rest on what is happening back home in the Shield while he toiled on unforgiving wickets. The returning Ryan Harris in Grade cricket, and bowlers such as Nathan Coulter-Nile, Chadd Sayers and Josh Hazelwood are taking wickets and enhancing their reputations. Unfortunately for Siddle and Starc - who was again for the most part extremely disappointing - their chances may well have been buried in the desert sands of the UAE. Nathan Lyon, despite a couple of chances missed by his fieldsmen, looked tame in conditions to suit his bowling but against batsmen raised on facing it. A wrist spinner would have been better for the conditions, and both Fawad Ahmed and Adam Zampa have made promising starts to the domestic season. Lyon is a favourite of the selection panel however, and his immediate future is probably not under threat.

The chance to win in Asia must now wait for a couple more years. Whether or not Australia will be better prepared, and with better ammunition, on the next occasion is something that we can only wait and see.

"Keeping" the Faith

The ODI's against South Africa don't start until next week, but in trying to find their best combination for the upcoming World Cup, the selectors have shown most of their hand for these November trials. One selection that has been made purely in the order of resting a senior player is that of Matthew Wade, who will keep in place of Brad Haddin for the first two matches - though given his injury in the Test match it would appear Australia will need a replacement through the whole ODI series.
Is this a case of the selectors simply deciding this is not the time to blood a new keeper with an eye to the future, or are they steadfastly retaining faith in the skills of Wade as reserve keeper? His form in the Matador Cup was unexciting, especially in comparison to that of people such as Chris Hartley, Peter Nevill and Tim Paine in particular. Arguably the best of the lot is current NSW third string keeper Ryan Carters, who retains his place in the top XI simply as a batsman who fields. The irony of Wade's selection is that he would rank last as a gloveman of all the current State wicket-keepers, Carters and T20 keeper Ben Dunk included. Even more ironic is that while Wade made 59 with the bat in the Shield game against NSW, Chris Hartley scored 145 and Peter Nevill made 87 and 45 not out. Yet here he is in Australian colours again. In a world where it would seem highly unlikely that Brad Haddin will be playing in twelve months time, the queue to grab his spot in all three forms of the International game is well and truly on. At this stage, the selectors are either backing their judgement that Wade will be ready for the role, or they are in a holding pattern, not willing to choose any successor at this point in time, to give all the candidates the full season to make their charge for the position.

Cracking Start to Shield Season


With spots in the Test team likely to come up for grabs during the season, and position in the Ashes touring squad certainly available, there were some terrific performances in the first round of the Shield played over the weekend.
South Australia lost only six wickets in defeating Queensland outright, after the Bulls had posted 8/443 declared in the first innings of the match. Chadd Sayers must surely have put his name front and centre for Test selection, taking 9/82 for the match including 6/34 in the second innings, his best analysis for both innings and match, his career figures now stand at 126 wickets at 22.93, and he must be close to odds on to be in the squad for the Brisbane Test next month. Callum Ferguson made 100* and 65* and Tom Cooper 75 and 68* to push their claims for higher honours again, with both possibly in the mix for the World Cup squad and certainly in consideration for Test places down the track. Chris Hartley's 142* for Queensland would have continued to push his claims for the Australian wicket-keeping position in the near future, while Adam Zampa took 3/103 and 4/45 to continue his impressive start to the season.
The Justin Langer inspired Western Australia continue their victorious start to the season, seeing off Tasmania at the W.A.C.A. Fekete and Rainbird took all 12 wickets to fall for Western Australia between them, but apart from 100 from Ed Cowan their batting was not up to the task.
The Victorian 2nd XI defeated the NSW 3rd XI comfortably in the end, with their under strength bowling attack being taken to the cleaners, while the batsmen all got starts and little else.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

30 Years On - 1984 Killer Albums (Part 7)


Ride the Lightning was the first Metallica music I ever heard, albeit it was at the beginning of 1986 and not at its release of 1984. Thirty years on from that release date, and everything that makes it one of the best and most admired albums of the metal is still there and relevant to listeners new or old.

This album was a step up from their debut Kill 'Em All, without losing the elements of thrash that made it the standout it was. The start of the opener "Fight Fire With Fire" draws on that immediately, the clean guitar beginnings lulling the listener into a state of ambiance, before cranking into the thrash guitar riffs that envelops the speakers into the heart of the song. Just brilliant. I will never forget the day when, on a school bus trip we asked the driver to put this album on over the stereo. The beginning of the album brought responses from many of the girls on board of "Wow, isn't this nice music!"... before the anguished cries of "OH, what is THIS shit!" as the real guitars kicked in. The perfect response to the start of the album, from lovers of metal and detractors alike. The title track "Ride the Lightning" follows, and in turn moves into "For Whom the Bells Tolls". "Ride the Lightning" is dominated by the guitars and Hetfield's squealing young vocals, while "For Whom the Bells Tolls" is distinguished by Cliff Burton's bass warbling through the song, wah wah pedal on full. Great stuff.
Two tracks on this album highlight what made Metallica stand out from the crowd. The first is "Fade to Black", what some people in the mid-80's called Metallica's 'sell-out' song - how wrong they were, and little did they know what the 90's would bring in that regard! "Fade to Black" instead showed all the strengths of the band, without losing the intensity of their music. It is one of their signature pieces, because it showed that as a thrash metal band their were able to diversify without losing their roots (certainly, at this stage of their career anyway). "Fade to Black" has been the song I have played on every stereo I have bought since this time, to judge if it is good enough to stand up to my music needs. That's how I feel about the strength of this song.

Shifting onto Side 2 of the album, and the goodness just keeps on coming. Opening up with the brilliant "Trapped Under Ice", the speed returns in true style and hammers along with glee. The hugely underrated "Escape" follows. It seems to be a song that has slipped through the cracks of Metallica folklore, and I for one have never really understood that. Hetfield's vocals in particular are great in this song. Perhaps part of the reason for this song's undervalue is that it is followed by "Creeping Death", certainly one of Metallica's most favoured. Thirty years later it is still as good as it was back in the day. A gem. The closing song on the album is the second of the two songs that helped Metallica pull away from the crowd. The instrumental "The Call of Ktulu" is an amazing song, combining every great aspect of the Metallica legacy. It too combines those clean guitars with the thrash and heavy metal throughout different stages of the song, telling its own tales even without lyrics to do so. The building crescendo to finish the album is majestic, and puts an exclamation mark on what is a classic album.

Ride the Lightning still stands the test of time, and thirty years on is still as important as it was when it was released. The memories and nostalgia that it brings up for me whenever I listen to it continue to make this one of the finest albums of its genre.

Rating: Feel no pain but my life ain't easy, I know I'm my best friend.  5/5

Cricket Notes - October 28, 2014

Test Spin Woes With Both Bat and Ball


In light of the overwhelming defeat at the hands of Pakistan in the 1st Test, the usual suspects have been thrown up by journalists and fans alike as to the root cause of the demise, and the solutions to problems faced with trying to recover in four days to arrest and reverse that defeat. One thing that everyone knows won't change will be the pitch and the weather, so it is the Australians who must adapt quickly if they are to provide a better fist of the occasion.

The batting is where Australia failed to match their opponents in a situation where they should have done better. Alex Doolan ran out himself out in the first innings after a tedious hour at the crease, and then played back poorly in the second innings when he needed to consolidate on the fourth evening. Having copped a pace barrage at number three in South Africa he is now faced with spin from both ends in this series. It's a tough initiation, but one he needs to come to terms with quickly if he wants to be retained in the squad. Looming large over his shoulder is the ever present (when ever he is fit) Shane Watson, while there is every chance Phil Hughes could slot in at number three for the 2nd Test here. You would hope that the selectors would give Doolan the chance to redeem himself on Friday, given his century in the warm up match. Given the chop and change in recent times that is not an absolute given.
Michael Clarke, Australia's best player of spin, faced only a combined 22 balls in both innings. In these conditions, against this attack, the question of the skipper batting at number three should be raised again. If spin is going to be prevalent, he should be the man coming in to face it. Everyone knows he won't do this, and more is the pity. He should have done it in India last year, and he should do it now. Despite this, he needs to lead from the front in the 2nd Test. If he gets going it increases Australia's chances tenfold. Mitch Marsh was solid on debut without contributing heavily on the scoreboard. The jury is still out as to whether he can hold his spot at number six at this time, but the overs he bowls are needed on this tour to give the others a rest. A good contribution with both in the next Test will at least see him in with a chance of playing against India in December.
Warner, Rogers and Smith all batted well, though only Warner with his century in the first innings was able to go on and make a big score. Each showed the patience that is required in this setting, though each will be disappointed with the way they were dismissed in each innings. They will need to do the same again come Thursday. For once Brad Haddin was unable to save the team, and though he had a couple of lives Mitch Johnson was terrific in scoring 37 and 55.

With the ball Johnson and Peter Siddle did everything that could have been asked of them as seamers in those conditions. Though they did not appear to get the ball to reverse too much, they didn't concede easy runs and kept as much pressure on as possible. It is doubtful that either Ben Hilfenhaus or James Faulkner could have done any better than Siddle's effort. The only possible threat to his place for the 2nd Test is Mitch Starc, whose greater pace and better ability to reverse the older ball could prove to be a more potent weapon in these conditions. As he also tends to bowl around the wicket 80 percent of the time, it would not be like picking two left hand fast bowlers would be a problem in regards to similar bowling styles.
The two spinners were mostly ineffective, certainly in comparison to their Pakistan counterparts. Steve O'Keefe has never been a big turner of the ball, and has always worked on wearing down batsmen for his wickets. His selection for his Test debut was deserved after multiple successful years in the Sheffield Shield, but he is never going to be a match winner. As the second spinner, he did his job to the best of his talents in the 1st Test. Nathan Lyon was, for the most part, dreadfully disappointing again. There were a couple of half-chances off his bowling, but nothing that really inspired any great hope for the spectators. What was most frustrating was that he didn't seem to want to change his plans to try and make the batsmen have to think about what they were doing. He rarely changed his line of attack, he rarely changed his field to try different ideas. At times it was difficult to work out how he was trying to dismiss the batsmen. He only turned the rare delivery more than a couple of inches, and yet the Pakistan spinners sometimes turned it square. A lot of time has been invested in Nathan Lyon as Australia's number one spinner, and occasionally he has come through. The 1st Test proved once again that Australia needs to find a wrist spinner in order to be effective on these types of wickets, and that Nathan Lyon is still only keeping the seat warm for when the next spinner in line comes forward to take their opportunity.

The 2nd and final Test starts on Thursday, and unless some things change rapidly, it will also be the final Test in the careers of some of the Australians. The hierarchy will be desperate to slot Glen Maxwell into the team somehow, while both Doolan and Siddle will be nervously awaiting the team announcement. Whatever the makeup, if the skipper fails with the bat again, then it will be very difficult for Australia to square the series.

Positives and Negatives of October ODDs


The domestic one day season has been run and won, with Western Australia triumphing with a mix of youth and experience. Adam Voges and Michael Klinger led the way of the old guard, while the bowling of Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jason Behrendorff, Joel Paris and Ashton Agar was vital in the finish. New South Wales made the final with only three recognised batsmen and three wicket-keepers. Usman Khawaja showed he is still a big chance to resurrect an Australian career, Chris Hartley a chance to begin one. Cameron White reminded everyone that he is good enough to play at the highest level if given an opportunity. batsmen thrived at North Sydney Oval, bowlers could only wonder how to contain teams on a ground the size of a postage stamp.
Many so-called experts have criticised the tournament being played over one month, with the majority of matches in one city (and last season all in one city). Perhaps it is unfair to the visiting teams, though Queensland last season and Western Australia this season have won the tournaments away from their own home grounds. What it does do is allow players to concentrate solely on their one day skills, and that those who find form with bat or bowl (see all players listed above, and many others) are able to cash in on that form. If the schedule returned to how it has in the past - often a four day Shield game followed by a one day game between the same opponents the following day or day after - then would players have been as successful? Would Khawaja have been as dominant coming off a four day game, perhaps batting on a raging turner on the fourth day of the Shield game to batting on a road in the one day game? And what about those players who are now pigeon-holed as first class players only or one day players only? They'd be playing for their state once every 2-3 weeks, instead of every 2-3 days.
There is a reasonable argument that, in a World Cup season, the one day domestic season has now been completed, and candidates will not have any further games to push their cause for selection. In the changing climate of world (but especially Australian) cricket, this is the case with all forms. The Big Bash has hijacked the holiday season, with no Shield cricket played for two months, and yet Test teams still need to be named. It is the way of the world, and players are now more often being chosen in one day cricket on their Twenty20 form, so this argument is somewhat irrelevant in the current cricket world.

The only disappointment in the current format is the crowds, or lack thereof. Some fantastic one day cricket was played throughout the month of October, but barely anyone was at the ground to witness it. Does it need to be better promoted? Does it need to have games bunched around the Friday/Saturday/Sunday areas to encourage more people to go? 20 years ago I was a part of the consistent 15,000 strong crowds that journeyed to North Sydney Oval each season to see domestic one day games, and they were always great days and spectacles. Surely there is some way this can be brought back again? If the series was played in Perth, where massive crowds flock to the Big Bash, would the crowds be larger? Of course, that would require Channel 9 to agree, and have games played in prime time. Surely that's a winner?
I think the concept of a "carnival" is a great way to start the Australian summer. Play it in Perth, show it on TV around the country, give Perth people a chance to host it. My suggestion to make it a bigger and better tournament in 2015/16.

Matador Cup One Day Team of the Tournament 2014

Can the West Indies Survive in World Cricket?


Is there any hope for the future of West Indies cricket? They were once the most flamboyant yet deadly cricket team on the planet. They did things their own way, and they were entertaining to watch, and their individual cricketers were fascinating. Under Clive Lloyd they became ruthless, and honed their brilliance to become the finest team in the world for almost twenty years. They were almost unstoppable. They were privileged people in their home countries, but they earned that through their results on the field.
What have they become now? Their aura was finally put to rest almost twenty years ago when Australia defeated them at home in 1995, and it has been a downward spiral ever since. Still, while they had Brian Lara, Courtney Walsh and Curtley Ambrose, they were still competitive. Since their retirements the spiral has deepened and quickened, and the current problems are becoming even more to do with money and less to do with cricket.
How does it come to a point that the West Indies Cricket Board set out a Memorandum of Understanding on schedule and pay for their cricketers, which is agreed to and signed by the West Indies Players Association, and yet is disputed by the actual players to whom the Players Association is supposed to be representing? And - not only has this happened, but how has this been occurring on a number of occasions over the past few years? Sometimes they were solved, yet twice virtual second team squads have been sent for tours. The senior players tend to pick and choose when they play for their country, depending on whether or not there is a more lucrative Twenty20 tournament taking place at the same time.
Test cricket in the West Indies must be in peril. When the obdurate and unparalleled Shivnarine Chanderpaul finally calls time on his wonderful career, the West Indies will have no batsman capable of playing a long innings, of settling in and doing what is required in a Test match to win or save the game. While this is becoming more generally true in all nations, it has affected the West Indies much more. Technique has disappeared, and desire to fight for the cause has dissipated as well. Watching their ODI captain Dwayne Bravo continue to flail at deliveries when his team is in trouble and needs a leader, or keeping himself out of the bowling attack when his team needs a wicket, or loping around the field when speed is of the essence, speaks volumes for the state of cricket in the Caribbean.

Is there a real threat that the West Indies will not play in the World Cup in a few months? I would say it is highly doubtful. What is true is that the nations of the world will be looking to shrink tours to and by the West Indies, rather than expand the amount of cricket played against them. One can only say that, no matter what the players problem is with their board and Players Association, pissing off their major benefactor in the Board of Control for Cricket in India by abandoning a tour of their country is perhaps the strangest and most ridiculous decision they could possibly have made. And it may be the first step in the dissolving of the West Indies as a cricket conglomerate.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Nev's 40th Birthday - Friday


Helen and I headed for lovely Abernethy in the Hunter Valley this afternoon, on the invitation to celebrate Peter Netherclift's 40th birthday. Mum and Dad were taking the kids, so we had the weekend to ourselves.
The place Nev had found was a pearler. Formally built as a pub to service the nearby mine, it was a disaster, as the mine closed one week after the pub was opened in 1926. It was then used as a mental health respite for many years, until it was bought and restored to its former glory, and is now hired out for weekends to groups, such as ours. All the original verandahs are in place, as well as the dining room and kitchen. The bar has been converted to an entertainment room with TV, stereo, games and large comfy lounges. The beer garden is a perfect spot (as we discovered) for everyone to congregate and talk and drink. Upstairs are the showers and bathrooms, as well as 12 rooms, with magnificent verandahs (which we also discovered later).

Holzy and Nev discussing worldly matters
We arrived just before 5.00pm, and sat around and drank and talked and met and conversed with the other gathered guests. Everyone brought their own drinks, and as well as the Holz Assorted Nibblies Tray which stretched across about three tables, everyone was set for the late afternoon.
Once final guests had arrived, we piled into three maxi-taxis and headed into town to Peden's Hotel for some dinner and more drinks. Good thing we didn't delay our arrival any later, as the kitchen was closing as we walked in. Crisis averted, I had my steak, vegies and mash and could feel well satisfied.
We were kicked out at midnight (and really? Even Cessnock closes early...) but taxi's had already been ordered so it was a quick return to Abernethy. Helen and I moved straight to bed, but it was 4.30am before the final revellers left the beer garden, having created their own karaoke until that time. I slept through most of it anyway (you get used to sleeping through noisy parties where we've lived over the years), but one could only wonder how some of the own guest-mates would be faring on the following day.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Dream Becomes a Reality

It has taken about a decade for my original dream to come to reality, but finally the day has arrived. I have finally gotten around to converting my old desktop computer, adding an external hard drive, and hooking up my speakers, to form my own jukebox in the Metal Cavern.


It mightn't look like much, but now I have it set up, I can listen to any of my 2000 albums at any time, in any way I please.
The Metal Cavern moves closer to absolute completion.

Friday, October 3, 2014

TV Schedule for Matador Cup 2014

Games to be shown on Gem in October 2014


GAMMA RAY - Dethrone Tyranny / 9. 2011 [HD] *Berlin Live*

Gamma Ray - Live In Saint-Petersburg 2014 (Full Concert)

30 Years On - 1984 Killer Albums (Part 6)

Dio - The Last in Line

Trying to follow up an album such as Holy Diver, which in itself was attempting to follow up what Ronnie James Dio had produced with Black Sabbath, which was (somewhat) trying to follow up what Dio produced with Rainbow, is no meat feat. In hindsight, almost impossible. Holy Diver had sold and performed well, on the back of relentless touring from the new band, and many of the tracks on that album had already become classics. To then come out a year later, and release an album that would be as remotely well received as it was quite a task. A task that was met and matched.

There's not much you can say about the opening two tracks to the album that hasn't been said somewhere else a thousand times. "We Rock" became one of Dio's anthems, drawing the band and audience together through the lyrics and making you feel a part of the legacy. This is followed by the masterpiece that is "The Last in Line" - heavy, loud, melodic, booming. Ronnie's vocals power the song along, Vinnie Appice's heavy-handed drumming beats down hard along with Jimmy Bain's gutteral bass guitar, and topped off by Vivian Campbell's squealing guitar licks. Still an absolute classic thirty years later.
Just as awesome as these opening tracks are the follow ups. "Breathless" is dominated by Vivian's guitaring, and despite all of the brilliant songs on this album, this remains my absolute favourite. I love Ronnie's vocals here, and the rhythm ties it all together magnificently. This is followed by "I Speed at Night", which runs along at a speed that is worthy of the title. This is a brilliant example of the best that Dio can produce. While the band (and most of Dio's work in general) don't usually dabble in such fast-paced songs, this is a beauty, and one of my only regrets with Dio's volume of songs is that he, and the band, didn't do more fast songs like this. Completing side one is "One Night in the City", a more subdued song after the frantic opening, but still a great one that hung around set lists for some years.
Just like Holy Diver, the strength of this album is not just in the songs that everyone knows, it is in the heart of the album, the songs that mightn't have been heard by casual listeners of the band's work. Not every song on an album has to be an epic. It doesn't have to be that you try and fit nine songs as memorable as "We Rock" on an album. Not every song has to be absolutely unforgettable, or considered a timeless song in the anthology of the band. Not everyone would consider Iron Maiden's "Quest For Fire" or "Ganglands" as top shelf Maiden songs, but they contribute to the brilliance of the albums they are a part of. And so it is here on The Last in Line. Songs such as "Evil Eyes" and "Egypt (The Chains Are On)" may not be the first songs you think of when it comes to Dio's best, but they help to make this album as great as it is, because they meld into the fabric of the tracklist, and become enmeshed in the whole listening experience. What's more, if these songs happen to come up on a random mix at home or at a party, they immediately stand out to you, because although you may not think of them often especially in the framework of listening to the album from first track to last, when you hear them on their own out of that environment you absolutely appreciate them. I love them both.
"Mystery" was one of the singles from the album, and was often slated as one that was written directly for the commercial market. Whether or not this is true I don't know, but while it is the less heavy song on the album, I have always loved and still love it. I used to sing it to my daughter when she was little, and it still forms that bond with me when I hear it now. As a retaliator, listen to Ronnie's vocals on "Eat Your Heart Out". Heavy lyrics, which Ronnie spits out with emotion. He really dishes it out on this song especially, in a fashion like those of the two opening tracks.

Ronnie's vocals here are at their peak, soaring at velocity. Vivian's guitaring too is just brilliant, driving the songs and taking over during the solo breaks. Those that only know him through his work with Def Leppard would not believe he could be this good. He is just brilliant on this album, unbelievably excellent. And, though you may not necessarily notice them between these two legends, Vinny's drumming and Jimmy's bass are as solid as ever here, providing the foundations for the other two to work their magic.
On first glance, when balancing the worth of the tracks on the first two Dio albums, you would probably say that Holy Diver was the better album, hands down. On closer inspection and listening, there is really not that much between the two of them. The Last in Line is a creeper, because the balance of the less famous songs stands up pretty well against those of the debut album. When push comes to shove, I find it very difficult to separate the two when it comes to choosing a favourite. Suffice to say that I still think this is a brilliant and, perhaps in many instances, underrated album.

Rating: You've been hungry all of your life - so eat it out!  5/5

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Clear Essendon's Decks Before it's Too Late


So let me see if I have this straight.
  1. On Monday, Mark Thompson indicates that he is unlikely to stay at Essendon in 2015 in any role.
  2. In the same instance, he suggests that he would still like to coach, most likely as he has been reinvigorated after the season he has had.
  3. There are continuing whispers around about Guy McKenna being sacked by the Gold Coast Suns during their slightly awkward end of season review.
  4. Thompson suggests that if he were to coach again, that it would be at a team like the Gold Coast, who are "ready-made' for a premiership tilt.
  5. Gold Coast do indeed sack McKenna (most likely on the proviso that Thompson is a ready made replacement), and media all but anoint Thompson as his successor.
  6. Essendon meanwhile, have decided not to appeal their court case loss.
  7. James Hird, on the other hand, decides he is going to appeal, come hell or high water, which will continue to stretch this saga out interminably.
  8. Essendon suddenly realise their only stable coach alternative, should they finally cut Hird loose, is Thompson. However, Thompson appears all but gone to Gold Coast.
  9. Hird is asked not to attend Essendon's Best & Fairest Awards, and in his absence, Thompson extols "I don't want to leave! I want to stay!"
  10. Essendon and Hird meet on Thursday, with the coach all but sacked before it starts... however...
  11. The meeting ends, Hird is still coach, but Chairman Little suggests the board will meet again next week to consider all options.

For Christ's sake, will this merry-go-round EVER END?!

Hird is too proud to accept any blame, and will fight in courts forever to clear his name when it just can't be done. He will never quit, and yet he needs to go, for the sake of the Club and the players.

Essendon have come too far tied to the same horse with Hird, when they should have taken correct action 18 months ago and cut that rope. Now they are either afraid to sack him in case he is able to win his court case, or afraid of further backlash from fans and media, or just don't have the cash to pay him out. Whatever it is, the Essendon board have once again bungled this whole scenario. They appear incapable of making any decisions to end this story and get back to playing football. Surely they must all go, and the sooner the better.

Bomber Thompson hasn't helped any party with his comments this week - he's screwed Essendon by saying he won't be there in 2015, he's screwed Gold Coast by saying he wouldn't mind coaching a team like theirs, and so they sack their current coach to try and employ him, and then he stabs Hird in the front when he isn't there to say anything at the Club awards by basically saying he wants to stay as coach of Essendon, which also screws Gold Coast and Hird all over again!

I feel for the players and the Essendon supporters, because the way this is going, it could seep into a third straight season before it is resolved. They deserve their day to either challenge ASADA's evidence, or accept that they were injected with banned substances (knowingly or unknowingly, it really doesn't matter anymore) and accept the penalty that is offered. Either way, get this over and done with. The Cronulla saga might have been just as poorly handled by all sides, and with just as unsatisfying results for all, but at least it has been concluded, and next season will not be affected by it.

Get rid of Paul Little and the board. Get rid of James Hird. Issue the infraction notices and let players either fight them or take their punishment. Then let the club plan for next season knowing who they have and how they can go about it. All before this great and long-serving Club implodes.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Nan's 100th Birthday


Today we celebrated Nan's 100th birthday - a day after the actual event, but still a party nonetheless.

We started the day with breakfast at a cafe in East Maitland called Anoushkas. Nice setting, and the breakfast was good too.


 

Then it was back to our motel room to get ready for the day.

 

We all headed for the Beresfield Bowling Club, where the Gilholme and Clifford families have such a grand history, and lost family and friends all gathered together to celebrate.

Mum and her mother. Some pretty fair genes there.
The current President of the Beresfield Bowling Club makes his congratulations

Nan cuts her cake. And eats it too.

Nan's 25 Great-Grandchildren
Nan and her nine grandchildren


Jan, Nan, John and Wendy. Nan and her three children

Jack Gilholme, Nan's father and my Great-Grandfather. Life Member of Beresfield Bowling Club

Bob Clifford. Nan's husband and my Grandfather. Also a Life Member.
From here we all went back around the corner to Nan's house, and carried on the celebrations. The kids were able to play across the road at Beresfield Public School, where Nan had gone to school, as had Mum and her siblings, after Mum had called them and told them of the occasion.

Nan had her wall and table full of congratulatory cards and letters and telegrams.






Thursday, September 25, 2014

30 Years On - 1984 Killer Albums (Part 5)

Midnight Oil - Red Sails in the Sunset
When this was released it went gangbusters both on the music charts, and also amongst the school fraternity of Kiama High School. At the time I didn't understand the great outpouring of love for this album, and thirty years later my opinion hasn't changed. That's not to say that Red Sails in the Sunset is a bad album, but I just don't think it is as exceptional as it was portrayed at the time. It followed on from 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 which I just loved, and had worn out listening to it, and I just didn't think this was able to follow it. With the hindsight of thirty years on, it feels diminished even further given that Blue Sky Mining and Diesel and Dust were to follow.

Two tracks stand out as the best on the album, the single release "Best of Both Worlds", and the timeless "Kosciusko". These two songs announce themselves immediately that they come on, shining the best possible focus on themselves. Great vocals, great guitar licks and hard rocking drumming. These are the two songs that showcase Midnight Oil's strengths, with all parts of the band - the vocals, the guitars, the drums - coming out loud and proud, front and centre, hitting you square in the face. For the most part, the rest of the album doesn't quite match that.
There are other reasonable songs on the album. In fact, it would be unfair to say that they are not all reasonable. It's just that for me, they don't grab me like other albums. "When the Generals Talk" and "Sleep" are the other songs on this album I feel good about.
At the time of its release, I did wonder if my attitude regarding Red Sails in the Sunset was just me being set in my ways, that I couldn't possibly like this album if everyone else around me LOVED it. Having been through the act of listening to the album again on several occasions over the past few days, I am willing to say that it still just doesn't have the hooks to make me think differently. What came before and after more than makes up for this being a slightly boring album.

Rating: No end to the hostility, now they wanna be somewhere else. 3/5


Van Halen - 1984
 
It is strange to recollect now that at a time that Van Halen reached the peak of their popularity in the commercial market, they also reached the end of their first chapter. Through all of the battles and visions of grandeur and so forth, 1984 was headed for a road works sign ahead. The album is dominated by the three singles lifted from it, the real fusion of synth that inflicts itself upon most of the tracks as a constant reminder that it was released in the mid-1980's, and the spandex on the music videos that propelled the album's success,

The album opens with the eponymous "1984", an instrumental that seems to be a strange way to start things off despite it being a popular method. Once this has passed the album goes straight to it's strength, the mega-hit "Jump" and its partner "Panama". "Jump" has of course stood the test of time, still riding high in rock playlists almost thirty years on. For a band that made its name as a hard rock band, led by the arguably the greatest guitarist of his era, it is still mystifying to this day how little the guitar gets a look in during this hit song. Apart from the solo, it is the synthesizer that is the instrument high in the mix. Amazing. The lyrics are pure DLR, whose exuberance drives the song along. "Panama" is a great follow up, and in many respects I still enjoy more, perhaps solely because Eddie's guitar returns to a more prominent position in this song.
"Top Jimmy" and "Drop Dead Legs" are typical Van Halen songs, both jauntily pushed along by Alex's drumbeat and Michael Anthony's bass. Ed's guitaring here is also closer to his classic stuff. "Hot For Teacher" got plenty of repeat business on MTV and the like for it's video clip, which probably raises the profile of the song higher than its quality deserves. It's a fun song, but just not a great one. "I'll Wait" bring a return of the synth, a real power ballad that probably tickle's a lot of people's fancy, but just rate super high in mine. "Girl Gone Bad" is the equal of those songs in the middle of the album, while the closer "House of Pain" has its moments without being overly memorable.

David Lee Roth's departure from the group after this album brought a small amount of success for both himself and his solo career, and the remainder of the group with new front man Sammy Hagar. It was a changing of eras, and this album signified it as such. From the hard rock guitar band of the late 70's and early 80's, this album with its synth oriented rock paved the way for bands like Bon Jovi and Europe to make their own mark on the industry.


Rating:  I can barely see the road from the heat comin' off of it. 3.5/5

Y&T - In Rock We Trust
 
I guess this album was always at a disadvantage, given that it immediately follows the awesome Mean Streak which always was and remains my favourite Y&T album. In Rock We Trust was therefore always on a hiding to nothing.
None of that forgives what feels like a very unimaginative writing process for the album. Leave the "Rock & Roll's Gonna Save The World"-type songs to KISS for goodness sake! Such a bland and flawed opening. Unfortunately, it sets up the whole tone for the album, from which it never really recovers. Formulaic rock should really be beneath a band with so much talent in its ranks. Instead, at different times I feel like I'm listening to Hall & Oates ("Break Out Tonight"), KISS (the afore-mentioned "Rock & Roll's Gonna Save The World") and even Huey Lewis & The News ("(Your Love Is) Drivin' Me Crazy"). Scary times...
Some face is saved by the time you reach Side 2 (for those that remember vinyl...). "Lipstick and Leather" is followed by the much better Y&T feel of "Don't Stop Runnin'". Overall however, it isn't enough to shake the feeling of gloom and doom. The only way to wipe this taste from my mouth is to go back and throw on Mean Streak again I think...

Rating:  Keep on runnin' 'cause you can't catch me.  2.5/5

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

30 Years On - 1984 Killer Albums (Part 4)

INXS - The Swing

Much like Queen's The Works, this was one of the first albums I ever bought, and for similar reasons. While I had heard the odd single on the radio that INXS had released to that time, it was when "Original Sin" and "Burn For You" hit the airwaves that my ears really pricked up, and I was encouraged to spend my hard earned pocket money on this album.

Four singles were released from this album, and throughout 1984 they were on heavy rotation on Australian radio. They have been generally regarded as the shining lights of the album, and while for the most part I agree, there are some gems here that, if you have never heard The Swing, you are missing out on. "Melting in the Sun" is a great song, as is the title track "The Swing". "Burn For You", as the penultimate song on the album, brings it altogether nicely. However, the star attraction for me has always been "Johnson's Aeroplane", a nondescript song that has slipped through the cracks when the very best INXS songs are spoken of. It has always been a favourite for me.
For some reason The Swing seems to be a forgotten masterpiece in the INXS catalogue, with surrounding albums such as Shabooh Shoobah, Listen Like Thieves and Kick rated more highly by fans. For me, with the possible exception of Kick, The Swing is INXS's finest album, with a mix of popular singles and classic tracks that showcases the exceptional variety that the band had in its prime.

Rating: Four long lines one darker than the rest. 3.5/5


Dokken - Tooth and Nail

I still find it difficult to understand why it took me so long to get around to listening to Dokken. It wasn't until 15 years after this album was released that I really heard much of the band, and I still regret not having had this album while I was in high school.
This was the real start for Dokken after a couple of releases that made a ripple without starting the wave. The fabulous foursome of Don Dokken, George Lynch, Mick Brown and Jeff Pilson come together here and put together an impressive slate of high energy hard rock. Mixing Don's smooth vocals with George's at times electrifying guitar licks, and the effervescent rhythm of Jeff's bass and Mick's drumming, the basis for Dokken's rise through the 1980's is in place here.
The start of the album is just terrific. The instrumental opening "Without Warning" rides straight into the title track, a fast track emphasised by Lynch's solo work and a punchy chorus. From here the album slides straight into "Just Got Lucky" which relies heavily on Don's great vocal work, and never fails to remind me of George's solo, which in the video for the song he was playing on the side of a volcano, and his boots were apparently melting from the heat while he played. I still love this song.
The second half of the album gets itself into a good groove, though it can appear to be a bit repetitive on the surface, with songs like "Heartless Heart", and "Don't Close Your Eyes" and "Into the Fire" and "Bullets to Spare" all of a similar ilk when it comes to rhythm and pace of the song. Each has their own differences of course, but they all sound very similar in structure. Not necessarily a bad thing, and it is only a small criticism, as I enjoy each of those songs mentioned.
The power ballad "Alone Again" was the song that got some attention in the radio market, and to me is the weak link on this album. I know bands "have" to write and perform this kind of song, but they can be album killers. Probably the fact that this is the penultimate song on the album means that it doesn't detract as heavily as it may have. Also, it is followed by the impressively fast and aggressive "Turn on the Action", which makes up for the flaws of the previous song and ends the album on an upward trend.
I really enjoy this album, though I think the potential of the opening tracks is not fulfilled. It's an easy listening album, and given it has been playing at work almost non-stop for two days on this rotation, it still remains so.


Rating: You were just using someone, and I was the one!  3.5/5

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

30 Years On - 1984 Killer Albums (Part 3)

Lita Ford - Dancin' on the Edge
Lita Ford's follow up to her first solo album Out For Blood has moved away from the 70's sound that it based itself in, while still retaining the hard rock edge that she was looking for after the demise of The Runaways. The album has not been over-produced to throw in anything that is not necessary in the mix, like synths or overblown guitars. It is a straight forward hard rock album that sounds that way. The rock tracks are great, nothing extravagant, just simple hard rock lines with catchy choruses and a bit of attitude. "Gotta Let Go", "Dancing on the Edge", "Dressed to Kill", "Fire in my Heart" and "Run With the $" are my favourites
While it may have an 80's feel to it, it doesn't have the more pop/hair metal edge that her big hit album Lita, and still stays true to her roots. Lita proves here that she can sing, and she can play guitar. Whether she can write lyrics is probably open to question, because some of them here are either really silly or trying to aim directly at a young teenage audience. C'mon Lita, there are older people who like your music too! Still well worth a listen.
Rating: Don't you want to be the main attraction.  3/5.


Queen - The Works
 
Following on from the experimental haze and daze that was Hot Space, Queen continued to push ahead with their trailblazing feats with The Works, an album that mixed radio hits that reclaimed their identity as one of the world's biggest bands, but mixed style and substance with a variety of music genres that continued to allow them to market themselves to the widest possible audience.
Hot Space had divided Queen's fan base, with many unable to dissect what they were trying to achieve with the vast change in style the album contained. The Works probably did not win back all of those disgruntled fans, the ones that had been with the band since their inception. However, a new crowd of teenagers climbed on board with their radio hits, and then could absorb the different approach of the songs that make up the whole album.
Kicking off with the unapologetic pop anthem "Radio Ga Ga", this is very synth based in the style of the previous album, but comes through tougher in the chorus with a crowd-like chant which gives it a rock feel that defies it's musical background. This kicked goals for Queen on the radio as it was given huge airplay. "Tear it Up" follows, and is Brian May's attempt to revive the hard rock edge of Queen, hailing back to a style more reminiscent of their earlier albums. This is replaced by Freddie Mercury's "It's a Hard Life", which is dominated by his soaring vocals and melodies, only broken up by May's wonderful guitar solo in the middle of the song.
"Man on the Prowl" is reminiscent of another of Freddie's rockabilly songs, "Crazy Little Thing Called Love". However, on an album where I find every other song has an impact and a place, this has always been the one song which makes me a little less enthused. Even on a album that has this much variety in its song structure, I still find this is out of place. This is recovered by the unique and brilliant "Machines (Back to Humans)", a song that again has a heavy use of synths to create the robotic performance the song was looking for.
John Deacon steals the show again with his hit single "I Want to Break Free", which got mega air time on music channels with the video for the song. Like his best songs, "I Want to Break Free" juts along with his terrific bass line, while the others fall into line around it. "Keep Passing the Open Windows" is another Freddie special, where he again writes spectacularly for his own vocals, which convey all the right emotions of the song. It has always been my second favourite song on this album. My favourite, perhaps obviously, is the thundering "Hammer to Fall", which, while always sounding great in this studio version, has always been a live song, and one that grows in stature in that environment. The album concludes with the thought piece "Is This the World We Created?", which was written about the poverty in Africa, and was subsequently played at Live Aid as an encore.

Fans reactions to this album has always been a mixed bag, with many fans of the band who had followed them from the start of their career being less enthused about it than those who were only just discovering the band at this time, or had been drawn to the band by the success of the radio singles. The Works was one of the first albums I ever bought, and though I had heard earlier singles from the band on the radio in my pre-teens, it was this album that made me a fan of the group, and subsequently went looking for their earlier albums from this point. While I don't consider this to be their masterpiece (that is probably still A Night At the Opera or perhaps even The Miracle), I still have very fond feelings and memories of this album. It is still prominent in all of my memories of 1984 and 1985, and is part of the soundtrack of that time of my life.

Rating: We just wanna scream it louder and louder.  4/5