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Day and Night is like black and white

Day/Night matches are synonymous with One Day Cricket. The Kerry Packer lead World Series revolution which changed the game forever, pioneered Day/Night cricket simultaneously with its efforts to promote and spread the one day cricket game.

It has been accepted over the years that the team batting second in day/night match is usually at a disadvantage. The team batting second usually has to bat through the twilight (or transition) period, when the daylight fades and the lights takeover. And it is a simple fact that no matter how good the lights are, daylight is immeasurably better for seeing a cricket ball, especially when the ball is getting old and is scuffed and grey. And in South Africa, the pitch seems to freshen and the new ball swings like a banana. In many cases, this has the chance to level out in a tournament with the toss of the coin, provided all matches are day/night.

It is the crowds that make one day cricket and they love day/night cricket. Day/night cricket is part of the game, everyone knows that and I don’t hear anyone complaining.

However, I wonder if in the most important cricket tournament of all, whether all matches should be played during the day, to ensure as level a playing field as possible. Notwithstanding that there are other factors, mostly involving weather, that can give one team an advantage, it seems to make sense to make playing conditions as equitable as possible. I think that you can argue this more so with this World Cup as there are relatively few matches under lights.

There is one semi-final under lights (Super Six position two v three) which means that just one of the four teams will be disadvantaged in that way. And there are other critical matches before then where both teams will be praying that they will win the toss.

And just a few news items from the last couple of days:

India beat England (batting second) soundly, by 82 runs and is through to the Super Sixes. That makes Pool A rather interesting. Contrary to my previous statements, that leaves England, Zimbabwe and Pakistan still in the picture. If Australia beats England, and Zimbabwe beats Pakistan (not out of the question), Pakistan is out and England and Zimbabwe finish level on points. Forget about what Channel Nine says, the first separator is head-to-head, not net run rate – which means England would be gone.

In an extraordinary last over, India went from 5-250 with 4 balls remaining to 9-250. The last four wickets resulted in four wickets! But is was too little too late.

In an equally extraordinary last over, Boof Lehman clobbered 28 runs to take Australia to 301 against Namibia. Australia dismissed the Namibians for 45, and won the match by 245 runs – the biggest margin in One Day cricket history.

Glenn McGrath took 7-15 from 7 overs – the best One Day analysis by an Australian.

Gilchrist equalled his own Australian record of six catches in an innings.

Andrew Symonds and Damien Martyn conspired to great effect in an attempt to qualify for the “dumbest run out of the tournament” competition. The winners receive a life time supply of Nikes.

I am looking forward to the next three days immensely. Channel Nine has deemed fit to televise matches on each of the next three nights, so I’ll be a mess by Monday, when fortunately I’ll be on leave. So until Tuesday, good bye.

The Warne Report

The ACB yesterday released the findings of the Anti Doping Committee in the case of Shane Warne. Such a rare act of openness on the part of the ACB should be applauded.

Having read the report and also having has some excellent discussion with some fellow cricket fans, I wish to make some more points about Warne, some which are contradictory to points that I made in a previous article.

When I penned that previous piece, my wounds were still raw. I didn’t start the article with the intention of defending Warne, but as I wrote, the hurt of an Australian being denied the right to wrest back the World record and the panic of loosing Warne from our campaigns for the next twelve months, I lost the plot. I particularly wish to revise my remarks about Warnie being the “fall guy”. That mainly came out of my annoyance at jerks like Coles and Pound making remarks which were designed to use their standing to influence the judicial system which is in place. But that should not detract from the fact that, Warne got what he deserved.

My disappointment that Warne may not now take 500 wickets and the world record, and that Australia’s dominance in Test cricket may be detrimentally affected should not cloud the real issues. The fact is that Warne did not pay enough attention to the rules set before him by the very establishment which is responsible for his opportunities and great wealth. Warne should remember that neither cricket not the ACB owes him anything. The game of cricket has made Warne rich and famous and with that comes responsibility. I don’t think anyone is calling Warne a drug cheat. However, he does have to take responsibility for his own negligence. Perhaps if others hadn’t covered for him on previous occasions (such as the ACB covering up the pitch reports scandals and channel nine’s farcical attempt for Joe the cameraman to take responsibility for Warne’s unsavoury behaviour), Warne would have become a more mature, responsible person.

Over the years, Warne has given a lot to cricket. Kids are now bowling leg spin in the play ground again. Warne is one of the reasons why Test cricket has enjoyed a resurgence in the past decade. But that “giving” has merely been a bi-product Warne’s incredible natural ability and his desire to play cricket. Warne has given very little, or nothing back to the game in terms of personal sacrifice. I was thinking about Warne’s life as a soap opera and made a list of his more major “incidents” which have been negative for Warne and cricket:

1. I think the biggest is the pitch reports for John the bookmaker
2. The fine for verbally abusing fans in South Africa
3. The phone sex scandal
4. The “Joe the cameraman” incident. The on field incident was fairly minor but the farcical cover up was the poor thing. The ridiculous things is 99% of people firmly believe that it was Warnie anyway. All Warne had to do was say “Sorry Scotty, that was a very poor comment to make in the heat of the moment. I actually think you are a fine bowler with a fine career in front of you”. (Still lying but it’s good lying (he he))
5. Pinching the camera from the kids in NZ when they busted him smoking when he was being paid $250k to give up.
6. And now the drug thing

I’m sure that I’ve missed some things, not to mention the many cases of unattractive behaviour in the way of crass and ugly “send offs” and dancing on balconies, etc.

Sometimes I lose sight of these important issues in the excitement of statistics and the game itself. Warne has been an incredible bowler and player but I don’t think that he is a person to respect or admire – and that is more important.

Perhaps, the acid test is to ask yourself “Would the Don have been proud of Warne?” I think not.

So enough of Warnie – not another word about him – we have a very good World Cup to watch.

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My paraphrase of the findings of the committee are below or you can get the full report here.

1. Warne took a diuretic. That is not in dispute. Warne admits to it. The number he took is not known. Warne’s evidence was vague and inconsistent (and he is a known liar (I added that bit)).
2. The committee states that the diuretic could not have enhanced Warne’s performance. In fact, it may have been detrimental if it caused him to be dehydrated.
3. There is no evidence or suspicion that Warne had used steroids and was actively using the diuretic as a masking agent. His shoulder had healed within normal parameters for the type of injury and there would be no benefit to a spin bowler taking steroids.
4. The committee could not be certain that Warne had not taken steroids due to the presence of the banned diuretic – that is the point its inclusion on the banned substances list.
5. Warne is sent material on banned drugs annually (as are all ACB contracted players). This includes a list of banned substances and hotlines to call for advise. Warne had disregarded these.
6. Warne attended sessions held by the ACB for the players where the subject of avoiding banned substances was covered. Warne admitted that he didn’t listen to these.
7. Warne attempted to have the charge dropped under the grounds of exceptional circumstances – he didn’t know what he was taking – it was a mistake. The board decided that exceptional ignorance does not constitute an exceptional excuse. Warne had resources at his disposal to avoid taking banned drugs and chose not to use them.
8. Warne’s sentence was reduced from the normal 24 months as he had not intended to be a drug cheat – he had not taken drugs with the deliberate intention of improving his performance, nor would those drugs have had that effect.

World Cup Fever

This World Cup continues to improve. It has been a World Cup with everything and it keeps on improving.

In recent times we have seen the fastest century scored in World Cups, made by a Canadian, no less, against the West Indies. Australian based John Davison brought up his hundred from just 67 balls. Davison’s innings was fittingly ended by a spectacular outfield catch by Vasbert Drakes, as he dived backwards and caught the ball one-handed. Lara followed up with the fastest 50 in World Cup history, raising it in just 23 balls and the West Indies coasted to victory.

Last night, Kenya beat hot and cold Sri Lanka. This isn’t just a consolation win for Kenya – Pool B is wide open now as Kenya has a good chance to qualify and South Africa are back in a big way. Provided that South Africa can win its remaining matches, they will probably qualify – their only hurdle is Sri Lanka – and anything could happen there. As Pool B currently stands, five of the seven teams are still in the race. NZ and South Africa have both dropped two matches. Kenya has dropped just one match and with just South Africa and Bangladesh to play, stands a very good chance of finishing with 4 wins (including the no show from NZ). The big matches will be Sri Lanka v South Africa and West Indies v Sri Lanka.

Assuming South Africa beats Sri Lanka, South Africa will have dropped two matches. The West Indies have already dropped 1.5 matches, so the loser of the West Indies v Sri Lanka match will finish below South Africa. But of course, there are now five teams vying for 3 places so it’s not just a matter of eliminating a single contender. My tips for Pool B are: South Africa, West Indies and Kenya. If NZ misses out, they may regret not playing in Kenya (but at least they are alive, although the Sri Lankan team seams to have survived the trip even if they didn’t come back with the points!).

Pool A is a bit less complicated. Australia, having dispatch a very spirited Zimbabwe side last night will progress at the top of the table and carry forward maximum points (8). I think that the others to go through will be India and England. The Pakis are pretty dreadful and if India puts them away – and they will be keen to do so, that’s three strikes for Pakistan. The England v Australia match at the end of the first round should be good – don’t be surprised if England causes an upset. Even though the match will not affect Australia progressing, a loss to England will mean carrying forward just 4 points – so the Aussies will be keen to win.

The big matches to complete the first round are:

England v India (Weds)
Sri v WI (Fri) (D/N)
Pak v India (Sat)
Aust v England (Sun)
SAf v Sri (Mon) (D/N)

Warne’s life as a soap Opera

Cricket is subject to drug testing, as most sports are, and, on the eve of Australia’s first World Cup match on 11 February, it was revealed that Shane Warne had tested positive to a banned substance. The test was done on 22 January but the result had only just come through. This proved to be one of the biggest cricket stories of the decade.

Warne was permitted to advise the team of the situation at a team meeting and then went home from South Africa to face the music. He was handed a one-year ban from playing all competitive forms of cricket.

Following one of the many controversial incidents that have typified Shane Warne’s existence, he commented that his life was like a soap opera. All the more so now.

When I start to think of all the factors surrounding Warne being found guilty of doping and being suspended from cricket for 12 months, it seems complicated and I am tempted to leave it to one side, in the ‘too hard’ basket. However, I can’t do that – this is a huge issue. Whether we really believe Warne is a drug cheat or not, Warne, and Australian cricket, have now been tarnished with the stigma of drug cheating.

I am surprised and dismayed that Warne received such a harsh punishment. I am very disappointed that he won’t play for 12 months, if ever again – it will be an effort of great determination for Warne to persevere at this late stage of his career. I think that Warne can be an arrogant bore on-field and off-field; his behaviour has at times left something to be desired, not to mention presenting cricket and his own name in an unfavourable light on several previous occasions. On the other hand, there is something about the likeable larrikin that seems to keep him in favour with the public. He lives by the seat of his pants with his heart on his sleeve. Perhaps it is his fallibility off the field which keeps him within reach of the people.

And, of course, on the field Warne has been a champion of champions. He was voted one of the five players of the last century. His list of exploits is longer and more illustrious than any other bowler. And it isn’t just the numbers. The numbers are good: he most likely would have been the world record holder for the most number of Test wickets by this time next year, plus his ability to perform for the big occasion is legendary. He has a Test hat trick, ‘That Ball’ to Gatting in 1993 was his first ball in Test Cricket on English soil, Man-of-the-Match in the final of the last World Cup, and the semi-final and the countless times where he has taken a wicket with the first ball or last ball of a spell or even on the last ball of a day’s play. Warne does have the ability to turn cricket into theatre.

A few points about the drug case:

1.  I look forward to reading the reasons for the findings by the ACB panel and the reasoning for the length of suspension. They are not released yet.

2.  The general public probably does not have all of the facts. I find it hard to swallow that Warne took just one pill. Taking a pill from your mum before appearing in a big match is hardly going to have an instant effect on one’s appearance. [It was subsequently revealed that Warne took at least two diuretic pills.]

3.  Does Warne really want us to believe that he is an idiot? He is an international athlete. He knows that he is drug tested. Why would he take a pill if he didn’t know what it was?

4.  There seems to be a concern that the diuretic in the pill can be used as a masking agent for other banned substances, particularly steroids. I find it hard to believe that a cricketer would benefit from long-term use of steroids and I don’t think Warne was using them to build up muscle bulk. But is it possible that he was prescribed steroids as part of the recovery process from his dislocated shoulder? I’m not a doctor, so I don’t know (but I do watch All Saints and ER). Are there any doctors out there who would care to comment? Is it possible that Warne was using the diuretic to mask something illegal even it was being used for a legitimate medical reason?

5.  The previous point leads to this one: what does constitute performance-enhancing drugs? Does a player having a painkiller before a match constitute taking a performance-enhancing drug? If he couldn’t play at all without the painkiller but can with it, then his performance must be enhanced. It is not enhanced beyond what he is capable of when fully fit but, nonetheless, in his current state of being it is enhanced. Drug cheating in sport has become rife particularly in Olympic sports. Very stringent measures are required to attempt to stamp it out. However, sometimes, things become ridiculous such as at the last Olympics when a gymnast was stripped of her gold medal because she tested positive for something in her cough mixture. That is why each case has an individual hearing so that extenuating factors can be brought to light and taken into consideration (as was the case with Sam Riley in February 1996). There is no mandatory sentencing.

6.  My main concern is that I think Warne may be right in claiming that he has been made a scapegoat. I think that it was highly inappropriate that self-righteous heavyweights, such as Dick Pound and Phil Coles, made statements to the effect that they hope Warne is dealt with severely – before his case had even been heard! Here is an extract from an interview with Dick Pound on ABC radio:

ROSS SOLLY (ABC): Do you think Australia has a reputation for being a little bit easy on their own?

DICK POUND: Yes. Yes and very quick … you know what, what would you be doing if the person involved here was a Chinese bowler or a Chinese swimmer? You have to ask yourself that. The fact that you’re dealing with an icon in one of your major sports puts the … makes the cheese a little more binding.

Australia has often been accused of taking a hard line on drug cheats – as long as they weren’t Australian – and then being soft on their own when positive tests come to light. Sam Riley is one of the most high-profile cases. For Australia to become credible in the fight against drugs in sport there needed to be a crucifixion of a high-profile sportsman. A superstar. Someone whom the loss would really hurt and the world would take notice.

So Warnie has taken the fall. Australia has now shown that it will be harsh on drug cheats – even our sporting heroes. Cricket is so far removed from the areas of sport where drug cheating was invented, and is still prominent, that this suspension has no detrimental effect on Olympic sports but, politically, it looks very good for Australia – which must please Phil Coles no end.

Warne does have some consolation: this will add a sensational chapter to the Shane Warne life story when it is written in a few years’ time.

Warne's life as a soap Opera

Warne’s life as a soap Opera