Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Jessica's Many Birthdays

Today was Jessica's actual 10th birthday, which was strange because it was pretty much the only day in the last five where she hasn't had something on to do with her birthday!
I must admit that this makes me a little sad, that there are so many other things going on to celebrate her birthday that her actual day gets lost in the mire, and almost passes unnoticed. However, this doesn't appear as though it will change in the near future, so I will carry on regardless.

On Friday night we were at Mum and Dad's, where Mum's Cupcake Tower was the star attraction. Lots of cupcakes for all in the first rendition of Happy Birthday.

On Saturday afternoon Jessica had two of her friends over from school, Ella and Sophie. They played for awhile, before we had more cupcakes in Happy Birthday # 2.

From here we took the kids out for dinner at Nardi's Italian Restaurant, where they all had a good time. Josh especially enjoyed his ravioli with cream sauce. He is really beginning to expand his eating horizons. Finally.

Josh and Maddi wanted to show how they could imitate the guy on the menu. Judge how they went!

On Sunday morning, Helen's parents came over to wish Jessie a happy birthday. Yep, Happy Birthday # 3. The morning on The Deck was quite hospitable though.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Bye Bye Joey. Thanks For Everything.

Today we had to put down our constant companion for the past 16 years, our dog Joey.

Our little dog, who was a mix of mini foxy and chihuahua, came to us by chance. Helen was studying at the time at Ryde TAFE, and on this one evening she saw a scrawny little black dog in the middle of one of the busiest roads in Sydney, looking for all the world like she was going to be hit by a car at any moment. Helen rescued her, and took her into class with her, wrapped in the front of her jumper. It made her look like a kangaroo's baby joey, which is how she got her name. She was infested with fleas, obviously mistreated and malnourished, and had had her tail cut off at some stage. We honestly believed she had run away of her own accord, looking to "seek her fortune". Though we were living in a terrace house in Erskineville at the time with a miniature backyard, we took her in, cleaned her up, and gave her a home.

As we moved from place to place, Joey was with us at all times. Through our difficulties in conceiving our own children, Joey became Helen's surrogate child, and enjoyed constant attention and love. She never took to kids, which we put down to the fact she was probably mistreated by kids in her initial environment. But she loved adults, and loved nothing more than playing before settling down on someone's lap for a couple of hours.

As our kids (finally) began to arrive, Joey went from being an indoor dog to an outdoor dog, something she never really came to terms with or understood. However, she was still a great dog as long as we didn't let her near the kids.

In her final two years old age crept up on her. She was obviously beset by arthritis, and was unable to get comfortable. Her faculties began to fail her, until such time as the difficult decison was made to lay her to rest. She had been such a great dog, a wonderful dog, and a part of our family, that she didn't deserve to go through any more pain.

It was a tough day for everyone. Before leaving for work at 6.30am I went out and had to wake her up to say goodbye. She wasn't sure what was going on, and was so stiff through soreness that it wasn't pleasant to hold her and pat her at all. I thanked her for being such a great dog, and for everything she had done for us, and let her know we loved her, before putting her back on her bed. No matter how sad, it was nice to be able to have the chance to do that much.
Helen took her to the vet, where she got to hold her as the final injection was done. Helen told me later that Joey look up at her, and then she was gone. Yes, so very sad, but what a wonderful thing to have to remember of a dog who has been so loyal and wonderful.

The days ahead will be hard, but the memories will last a lifetime.

Thanks for everything Joey. No doubt we were able to give you a life much better than you may have had, but you gave us more than we could ever repay you for.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Agar's Innings For the Ages

The amazing game that is Test Cricket raised its beautiful head to the heavens today to show once again that it is the one form of the game that can provide any result, and showcase every aspect of the great game. The Test itself over the two days has been marvellous entertainment, but what a day the second day was, dominated by the 19 year old wunderkind Ashton Agar.

A day that started with Australia just behind the eight-ball began serenely, with both Steve Smith and Phil Hughes seeing off the first half hour with aplomb. Neither looked troubled against the opening assault from Anderson and Finn. While Anderson worked furiously on the ball, looking to produce anything he could from it, Finn was replaced by Swann. Smith moved comfortably to another Test half century, and at 4/108 it looked as though a good session was in store for the Australians.
And then suddenly, the ball began to reverse swing awkwardly from Anderson, and Swann began to get some unnerving turn. After playing himself in, Smith went to hard at a good length ball and edged behind, ending his salvo just at the time it looked as though the pair could push on. This signalled the start of an almighty collapse from the Australian team, due entirely to the magnificent bowling of James Anderson and Graham Swann.
Anderson was magnificent. He is the benchmark for world cricket at the moment when it comes to fast swing bowling. Whether the ball is new or old, he is able to get it to move through the air and always at excellent pace. He worked enormously hard on the ball for the first half hour and was finally rewarded as it began to go Irish, and then he had the Australian tail at his mercy. Siddle and Starc, who had both scored half centuries in India when Australia was in trouble, were no match here for Anderson's brilliant bowling. At the other end, a sharp turner from Swann quickly accounted for Brad Haddin, while he was all over Pattinson before finally getting an affirmative decision for LBW. These two had destroyed the Aussies solid start to the day, snaring five wickets for just nine runs, and at 9/117 and still 98 runs behind it was a very bleak outlook for the Australian team.

And then a funny thing happened. England's bowlers completely lost the plot. Ashton Agar strode to the crease, and England decided to give Phil Hughes a single and to concentrate on the number eleven. What they didn't expect was that the number eleven could bat a bit. The pressure was taken off Hughes, who was then able to try and assert himself with some positive strokes in order to get a few extra runs before the end of the innings. Agar, filled with the philosophy of his father John and his coach Darren Lehmann, played positively himself, and backed himself. He showed a good defensive technique and was not afraid to put the loose ball away.
On 6, he was subject to a huge appeal for stumping, which was referred to the third umpire. After numerous viewings the benefit was given to the batsman. England players and commentators spent the next six hours whining about this decision. If they'd concentrated more on sensible tactics, then the day may have turned out differently.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Merv's Ghost and Katich's Apparition Hover Over Trent Bridge

At the start of play of the first day of the First Test in this Ashes series between Australia and England, if you had said to an Australian supporter that at stumps, you can have bowled England out for 215, and Australia would be 4/75, then I reckon eight out of ten surveyed would have said "I'll take that". Not because Australia would be in the dominant position (though if Michael Clarke had been one of the not out batsmen, you would almost consider yourself to be on even ground), but because they would have made a positive start in bowling out the English batting line-up, and because the batting scorecard for Australia wouldn't have been completely unexpected.

England's line-up was as expected, while Australia surprised most by handing 19 year old Ashton Agar his debut with cap number 434 in front of the incumbent spinner Nathan Lyon. Agar has impressed all who have seen him, with his tall frame bowling left arm orthodox away from the right hand batsmen said to have been the tipping point in his favour. Lyon took nine wickets in his final Test appearance, and is also the orator of the team victory song. That may not be a problem in the interim, but what it will have done for Lyon's confidence if he is selected sometime in July or August is anyone's guess. His must now be a troubled mindset.
Steve Smith and Ed Cowan were both preferred to the eternally overlooked Usman Khawaja who must be beginning to wonder what he has said to be constantly in this position. Still, with Dave Warner being banished to the veldt for batting practice on the Australia A tour, "Uzzy" becomes the only back up batsman left in the squad should a place become available. It may be that his wait is almost over.

Having lost the toss, Australia's bowlers were given the first opportunity to attack, and found it abnormally difficult to bowl within a line and length. Returning keeper Brad Haddin was made to earn his increased pay, constantly diving full length both in front of slips and down leg side to try and reel in the misdirected thunderbolts from his bowlers. James Pattinson recovered best, and bowled a solid first spell which snared him the vital wicket of Alistair Cook. Mitchell Starc again appeared unable to bowl his most dangerous delivery, the in ducking yorker to the right hander, and before long had one again reverted to coming around the wicket, thus deflating every advantage he has of being a left-armer. Surely one day he will learn.
Peter Siddle, whose form has been average, and looked to be a long way back in line behind Ryan Harris and Jackson Bird, was retained by the selectors for the Test, he proceeded to bowl a first spell reminiscent of former bowlers like Chris Matthews and Glenn Trimble, as he was incapable of keeping the ball off Jonathan Trott's pads, and he was consistently punished. After four overs he was relieved, and one could only imagine how much better it would have been having either Harris or Bird backing up the opening bowlers.
However, Clarke kept his faith and swung Siddle around to the other end, where he immediately beat Joe Root for pace and length in up-Rooting his off stump. All of a sudden, there was more control, and  - by-God - swing!! he kept running in hard, still throwing in the odd boundary ball, but then almost miraculously picking up wickets. he snared Pietersen straight after lunch, and Trott to a wide ball that he played on just before drinks. Trott was furious, but what this dismissal proved again is that he is not as comfortable with the ball outside off stump. This is the line that Australia's bowlers must only deal with to Trott for the next five months if they are to curb his run scoring. It is an obvious ploy, but he was handed 40 runs on the first day through thoughtless bowling. With better directional bowling, his task will be a whole lot tougher than it was on the first day.
Siddle meanwhile was not done yet, finally getting Bell to edge one to slip, and picking up Prior with a half-tracker that he bunted to short forward point. After the most inglorious start, suddenly Siddle had five of the first six wickets to fall, and was being hailed by the commentators in all media. It is not the first time Siddle has elicited memories and comparison to another fiery Victorian, Merv Hughes. Hughes often bowled some of the most rubbish spells of bowling in Tests, but then managed to snare a vital wicket when it was most needed, often with a full toss or a half tracker or a wide delivery. His career is now often hailed as courageous and brutal, it being mired in the mists of time and with many people either too young to remember, or old enough to forgive. Siddle was the epitome of Merv Hughes today, and though his five wickets were vital for Australia again today, one can't help wondering how much luck can sometimes play in the game of cricket.

Australia's batting woes continued, not without a hint of misfortune. Shane Watson again failed, leaving open the question of his future in the team. He also reportedly has yet another strain and will likely not bowl in the second innings, which again creates concerns about his durability and place in the team. Ed Cowan, who probably owes his place in this team to his former opening partner being suspended for a month, edged his first wide delivery behind. He had spent all day going back and forth from the field, reportedly being ill. His first day will not improve how he feels, illness or not. While this was going on. Simon Katich, the opener dismissed from the Australian team because he was considered to be to old and superfluous, knocked up a simple double century in County cricket. One wonders what may have happened had he still been in this team.
Michael Clarke copped a ripper, a ball that would probably have accounted for any batsmen past or present. Jimmy Anderson does produce such pearlers, and it was (for Australia) most unfortunate that he directed this one at the captain. It visibly lifted the England team, and they would have been ecstatic and believing they could almost account for the whole innings that evening.
Steve Smith and Chris Rogers showed their mettle, seeing off the immediate threat and then looking to build a partnership. Smith especially carried on his recent good form, and appeared confident and solid. When Rogers was adjudged LBW off Anderson, coming round the wicket and angling down leg side, it felt like a 50/50 decision, and one where the batsmen did not receive the benefit of the doubt. When reviewed, Hawkeye showed it clipping the stump, which is good enough if the umpire is in the affirmative. There is no real problem with that, but you feel that perhaps the home crowd was rewarded in this instance, where the opposing team could feel aggrieved.

With stumps pulled, England would feel they have restored the order after being dismissed cheaply. Australia would feel they have let their advantage slip, but would still feel they can at least finish on parity when the first innings is completed. Smith and Hughes have been touted as the future of Australia's batting for three or four years. Tonight they have the opportunity to prove why. Brad Haddin will be itching to impress with the bat on his return to the team. The bowlers did well with the bat in India, and they will probably have to do so again here. It all adds up to another fascinating day's play coming up on Day 2, with both team's looking to push home an advantage.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Ashes: Can Australia Spring An Upset?

With all of the preliminaries over, the time has come to see if this Australian cricket squad can pull themselves together from all of the distractions of the past month, and put their best foot forward in the quest to wrest the Ashes back from the Old Enemy.

Following an average Champions Trophy campaign, another brain explosion from David Warner, the coach being held responsible for all of the negativity surrounding the squad and being sacked as a response, the captain and best batsman being injured on arrival in England and not playing for three weeks, a new coach being appointed, the captain giving up his role as a selector, and the new coach taking on the majority of media responsibilities, one could be forgiven for wondering if the campaign was over before it even started. But the last two weeks has seen a change which seen all of the negativity seep away and a very businesslike attitude come in to replace it.
With Darren Lehmann dominating the cameras and news conferences with his straight forward and no nonsense attitude, the media has had nothing untoward to report. Michael Clarke has relinquished all of this part of his role, and has been allowed to concentrate on his game, his fitness and his team, which from the outside seems to be benefitting everyone.
As to the squad itself, the performances have been mixed. The batsmen have been met with half-baked 2nd XI county bowling attacks on flat decks, meaning that while the majority of them have made some runs, those runs have been just a little too easy to ensure they have had a real tough lead-up to the series. No doubt Shane Watson, Chris Rogers, Phil Hughes and Clarke will have enjoyed getting amongst the runs, hopefully they will all be fully aware that the attack and pitches they are about to face will be like chalk and cheese in comparison. On the flipside, the bowlers have faced bowling to a few decent batsmen on decks with nothing in them for their benefit, which meant the first four in the order found the going easy, but once they had been prised out the tail fell alarmingly quickly.

So what will Australia go in with for this 1st Test? And can those who are selected proved the English media and "experts" wrong in their belief the series will be won 5-0 by the hosts?

Lehmann has anointed Watson and Rogers as the openers for the Test, which to me is the best combination. Rogers may only have one Test behind him, but he has six consecutive seasons - three in Australia and three in England - of averaging over 50 with the bat. His experience is exactly what the team needs at the top of the order. My view of Shane Watson has been well voiced over the past two seasons or more. His century in the last warm-up game was lauded by those who saw it, but against the puff-pastry attack he faced it has answered no questions of his immediate future. This truly must be his final series if he is unable to dominate at the top of the order. He must score centuries if he is to survive, and if Australia is to win. Surely he can't need any more motivation. These two must find a way to see off the threat of James Anderson, to stop him from scything his way into the middle order in the first hour of the innings. Whoever is chosen from Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Tim Bresnan will also be dangerous, but it is Anderson who remains the key with the new ball. Our openers need to defuse him, before then setting off on big scores themselves.

Questions remain on who will fill the final four batting positions in the team, and in what order. Clarke is the only one assured of his spot, and as he has batted at four in the two warm-up games, one can only hope he will also fill that position in the Test. I am still of the opinion, perhaps the only on in the world I guess, that he should be batting at number three. My basis for this is that he is not only the best batsman in our team, but upon the answer to the following question - if you were England, who is the last person you would want to see coming out to bat at number three? Do you think England fear Phil Hughes at three? Or Ed Cowan? Or David Warner? Or Usman Khawaja? No chance. Clarke striding out at three makes a bold statement, and would absolutely make England's job immediately more difficult. Some people question my thoughts, suggesting that Steve Waugh rarely batted at three for Australia, even when he was probably the most dominating batsmen in his era. The folly of that is this - his team was winning Tests more than any team, apart from the Windies in the 1980's, in the history of the game. If Steve Waugh was playing now in this team in this era, he would be batting at three, and he would be loving it. We know Clarke will not bat at three, and may not even bat at four, but I think it is an opportunity missed.

Phil Hughes would appear to have done enough to retain his spot with a clutter of fifties in the warm up games. Despite technical flaws and constant pressure on him because of these perceived weaknesses, it is obvious he has the talent to succeed. I really hope he can do so. I do think that I'll be loading up at TomWaterhouse.com.au on him being dismissed at least 6 times caught behind off Anderson however.
Of the four remaining batsmen in the squad, their chances of selection will depend on what the batting order is going to end up as. If Clarke bats at four and Hughes at five, then that leaves #3 and #6 up for grabs, but if Hughes bats at three, then #5 and #6 are the spots available. The other question that needs to be asked is whether or not Warner will be considered after his suspension, and no cricket for the past month. Both Lehmann and Clarke have suggested that he has been doing all the work in the nets and that he will be 'right to go if selected', a reasonably broad hint that they want to pick him. Both have also suggested that the Australians need to be aggressive with the bat, which not only plays further into Warner's hands, but also counts against both Cowan and Khawaja. The wild card is Steve Smith, who was not originally chosen in the squad, but came in after good performances in the Australia A tour. His efforts in the last of the warm up games also boded well. What also shouldn't be forgotten was his excellent performances in the final two Tests in India, where he played better than most other batsmen and showed he has learned to adapt to the conditions available.
Whoever the selectors choose, the two to miss out will be devastated and can possibly count themselves unfortunate. The fact that Cowan has really failed to make a big score with plenty of opportunities as well as in both warm up games here, and that Khawaja only played the first warm up game, leaves me to believe that these will be the two who miss out, leaving Warner to bat at three and Smith to bat at six. I would not be terribly upset if this was to occur. But you have to wonder when Khawaja is going to get his chance, and given an extended run to prove he can make it at this level.

Brad Haddin will take the gloves and bat at seven. He was excellent on the last Ashes tour and has done well so far in his return as the number one gloveman. His experience and leadership will fill a void that was obvious in India, and hopefully will keep the team level-headed on and off the field.

The bowlers will face plenty of pressure in their attempts to dismiss the England team cheaply. We can only hope that they have been watching footage of the New Zealand bowlers efforts against their batsmen both in New Zealand in February and in England in May. Off-stump going away to Cook, up and in to Root, a foot outside off stump to Trott and nothing anywhere near his legs, off stump drifting away to Bell. If I can see these things just from watching the games, let's hope our 30-odd people in team management have also noticed them.

James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc will be the first choice bowlers, though Starc must really come to the party here. At his best, with the ball swinging in to right handers at 145kph he is invaluable. Yet he has been too inconsistent in his Test career so far, and he needs to take on responsibility for ensuring he is on his game. He is a key against Trott, Bell and Pietersen. Pattinson, apart from not finishing his homework, was excellent in India, and he shapes as a major player for the Australians.
Peter Siddle has been the senior bowler for the team for the past two seasons, but he really seems to be out of contention. he did not play in the final warm up game, he has struggled for rhythm and penetration in England, and almost all the other options appear to be in front of him. If he is selected, it will be on trust rather than form, which could be a dangerous thing.
The two who appear the most likely contenders for the final pace spot are Ryan Harris and Jackson Bird. Harris is the firebrand, bowling his beautiful in duckers and away swingers at pace, always hurrying the batsmen. his body has been his only letdown, but he appears fit and healthy to start here. While he is unlikely to play all five Tests, his back up should surely be Bird, whose McGrath-like height, length and movement seem to make him the perfect bowler for English conditions. he probably won't play the 1st Test, but he will definitely have an impact on this series at some stage.
Nathan Lyon will line-up as spinner after his Test best figures in the final Test in India, but he will continue to be under pressure for his position in the team. He was given a good long bowl in the first warm up game in unhelpful conditions, so he should be right to go. How he attacks Pietersen especially will determine how much influence he has on the series. While he needs to be attacking, he also needs to ensure he isn't bleeding easy runs. His will be an interesting series to follow. What has been interesting is the continued improvement of the impressive teenager Ashton Agar, who not only bowls left arm orthodox from a big height with good loop and turn, he also manages a bat better than most. It may be that he doesn't get a game on this tour, but by being around the team, and doing a lot of net bowling, he can only improve, and it would not be a surprise to see him make a big impression in the next Australian summer. However, if indeed he was thrown into this series, I think he would surprise a lot of people.

So, the stage is set, and the battle is about to begin. Whatever happens we can only hope that Australia stands up and puts their best foot forward, and acquit themselves to the best of their ability. England are cocky and confident - perhaps rightly so - but if the Aussies can pull together and play to a plan, then there is no reason why they can't spring a surprise. No one expected England to win in 2005. Eight years later, and perhaps the tables can be turned.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Conversation with Jonathan Creek

Had a little tweet conversation with Alan Davies this morning. I still get a thrill when actually conversing with celebrities.