BBL06: The Good, The Bad, The Bizarre

The Good: Perth win three from five

Perth collected a third title from five attempts against the Sixers in the Big Final, an incredible strike rate for a competition just six years old (cue the Brian Fantana “60% of the time…” jokes).

BBL06 was one of the best, with over a million fans attending game, plenty of sellouts and big ratings for Channel Ten. With Australia belting an unpredictable Pakistan 7-1 across Test and ODIs, the BBL injected some spark into the summer and overshadowed the Australian Open.

It was one the closest competitions, with two games separating first (Perth Scorchers 5-3) and last (Sydney Thunder 3-5). The Big Final was an anticlimax, with Perth cruising to a nine-wicket win, chasing the Sixers’ 142 inside 16 overs. It was so easy that parochial Perth fans had some fun with cult hero Nathan Lyon, chanting “Garry, Garry, Garry!” when GOAT bowled.

Michael Klinger and Mitchell Johnson were the statistical standouts for Perth. Klinger scored 334 runs from 10 matches (averaging 37.11), including 71 not out from 49 balls in the Big Final, while Johnson took 13 wickets from nine matches (averaging 15.46). His 3/3 in the semi-final destroyed the Melbourne Stars. There were even rumours of a Twenty20 international comeback, quickly denied by Johnson.

The Bad: Nevill’s woes

Poor Peter Nevill.

Starting the summer as the first-choice Test wicketkeeper, Nevill was dropped after the Hobart capitulation for Matthew Wade. Despite 179 not out against Tasmania, he was unable to force his way back in, seemingly on the scrapheap (some might say Wade’s only decent contribution has been the “Nice Garry” phenomenon).

Nevill’s summer got far worse when his Melbourne Renegades played Adelaide Strikers on January 16. A Brad Hodge pull shot went awry when the bat flew from his hands and the handle striking Nevill (who was busy watching the ball) in the face. Luckily it missed his eye, hitting his cheek, but he was still left with a nasty bruise. That was the end of Nevill’s BBL campaign, leaving his immediate future in doubt as the second half of the Sheffield Shield begins.

The Bizarre: Howie’s unintentional “coaching”

Wiring up players to talk to commentators has been a part of Twenty20 for a long time. It’s a good way for fans to hear from the players (and probably a better option than a reporter sticking a microphone in a player’s face after they get out).

The January 18 game between the Strikers and Thunder showed the unintentionally bad side of the technology.

Commentator Mark Howard was talking to Hodge and mentioned that Ben Laughlin had the wood over Thunder batsman Shane Watson (insert your own Shane Watson joke here…). Funnily enough, Hodge put Laughlin on next over. While he didn’t get Watson out (Jake Lehmann got him), the conversation caught the attention of Cricket Australia.

According to the Fox Sports website, “Cricket Australia’s integrity unit is looking into the matter further to ensure the comments made during the broadcast did not jeopardise the integrity of last night’s match,” a CA spokesperson said on Thursday.

http://www.foxsports.com.au/cricket/domestic-cricket/big-bash/cricket-australia-investigating-onair-exchange-between-mark-howard-and-brad-hodge/news-story/9d43f6987659e01254d74eac5b1a8477

While betting and match fixing has been a huge issue in the game, Mark Howard’s intentions were not malicious. Though it will make commentators think twice about what they say to players.

A game of cricket broke out…

Friday night’s North Melbourne v Hawthorn T20 game in Tasmania (Ricky’s Biggest Game of Cricket) was meant to be a hit-and-giggle fundraiser for the Ricky Ponting Foundation, raising crucial awareness for cancer.

Live streamed on the Cricket Australia website and app, the game featured past and present Kangaroos and Hawks players – including Jarryd Roughead, recently given the all-clear to return to AFL after his cancer battle. To round out the teams, Ponting and Peter Siddle played for North and the Bowlologist himself, Damien Fleming (while he only bowled one over of off-spin, he did score 22 runs), represented the Hawks, with Tim Paine and George Bailey guest “umpires”.

Amongst all the goodwill, a decent game of cricket broke out, with Hawthorn posting 174 from 20 overs (a score to rival some of the better BBL games this summer) and North chasing it down in the last over with three wickets left – Siddle belting Hawks four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson for two sixes to win the game.

While the standard of the AFL players’ cricketing skills varied (Roos veteran Mick Martyn is comfortably the worst bowler since Mark Taylor, with a mixture of double bouncers, triple bouncers and ugly full tosses), some players shined: Luke Hodge (40), Grant Birchall (26) and Jack Gunston (26) top-scored for the Hawks, while Isaac Smith (2/9) opened the bowling with some decent left arm swingers. For North, Boomer Harvey looked comfortable making 27 and Leigh Colbert scored 25.

The obvious star was Ponting. Technically, he was out three times early, but some “charitable” umpiring from Paine and Bailey saved him. When Ponting got in his stride, it was easy to forget he hadn’t played since 2013. His 33-ball 62 (with six fours, four sixes and a strike rate of nearly 200) was a joy to watch and put North on track for victory.

Cricket Australia did a fine job with the coverage, with Mark Howard – dedicated to giving fans the best view possible – commentating from the slip cordon at one point. While that cosy relationship is unlikely to transfer to more serious cricket , it was an interesting approach (I wonder how many wanted to secretly see Howie cop one in the field?). Incredibly, this supposedly light-hearted charity game was more entertaining than Australia’s recent ODI romp against a hopeless Pakistan.

For more details about the Ricky Pointing foundation, see the link below.

http://biggestgameofcricket.com.au/about

Are the Auckland Nines worth it?

Next weekend (February 4-5) is the fourth Auckland Nines tournament. While meant to be a fun way to open the season, others are not convinced.

Commentator/Swedish Chef look-a-like/five-year-plan implementer Phil Gould is a vocal opponent, saying he doesn’t care about it and injury risk is a concern, labelling it as a “money-making venture” (of course, his employer Channel Nine are such pure clean skins who put the welfare of the game above their own ratings).

So are the Auckland Nines worth it?

Yes they are.

While the Nines doesn’t have the pure fun of the World Sevens, which featured NSWRL clubs and international teams in a massive tournament, it’s still pretty good.

For footy fans, the Auckland Nines is the first taste of footy since the previous year’s grand final (unless you count the Four Nations); after four months without footy, it’s a fun welcome back to the new season. It also allows the NRL to experiment with new rules. If they work, fantastic. If they don’t, then no big deal. There’s also the “entertainment” of the interesting jersey designs. Some are decent, others are horrendous.

One of the big criticisms is the lack of big name players strips the tournament of any real appeal. Does it really matter? It’s an opportunity for fringe players to get big game experience and soak in the atmosphere. With teams playing two of their three pool games on day one, clubs who choose not to send their big names will be out of contention by Saturday evening. No harm, no foul.

Another criticism is the inclusion of retired players, with Ruben Wiki (Warriors) joining previous veterans Brad Fittler and Braith Anasta (Sydney Roosters), Steve Menzies (Manly), Ken Nagas and Jason Croker (Canberra), to name a few. Cynics would say this demeans the tournament’s credibility and is a pure publicity stunt. It’s not like these veterans are charity cases, they’ve all taken the tournament seriously and done pretty well. I imagine Ruben Wiki will make a positive impact for the Warriors.

Another big plus of the Nines is the exposure for women’s rugby league, with the Jillaroos and Silver Ferns playing a three-match series.

For teams who take it seriously, are the Nines decent preparation for the real thing?

North Queensland won the first tournament in 2014 and were NRL premiers the following year, beating Brisbane in the Nines final and the 2015 grand final. Souths followed their 2014 premiership with the 2015 Nines title. Parramatta’s win last year led to a strong start in the premiership before the men in suits destroyed their season and the Nines title was stripped.

The Nines have been a success and is unlikely to be going anywhere. So if you want to watch it, go for it. If not, do something else that weekend and wait for round one of the proper footy in March.

So what was the point of that?

After an intriguing Test series against South Africa and Pakistan – where Australia verged from feckin’ awful to quite decent – Australia played an unremarkable ODI series against Pakistan. Australia’s 4-1 margin wasn’t the problem (Australia beat India last summer 4-1 in an entertaining series, with both teams passing 300 four times), it was the ease of Australia’s wins (by 92 runs, seven wickets, 86 runs and 57 runs) that was the problem. Up against a brilliant Big Bash League 06, it was hard to get excited watching Australia flog a terrible Pakistan again.

Recently, Kevin Pietersen criticised Cricket Australia for pulling star players from BBL commitments and he’s got a point. It’s ludicrous to watch Adam Zampa doing nothing on the sidelines during the first three ODI’s when he could be released to play actual cricket for the Stars.

Test cricket has the balance right; squad members who aren’t in the first XI are sent back to Shield duties, rather than running drinks for five days. It gives local players priceless opportunities as sub fielders (like Mickey Edwards and his beautiful hair).

If it’s not a World Cup year, it’s hard to get excited about one day cricket. Australia invariably bully their way to big wins at home (the poor old Black Caps, who made the last World Cup final, were monstered 3-0 late last year), or crumble overseas. Cricket Australia have made their feelings on the domestic version clear, shovelling it in October where it’s forgotten in the aftermath of the footy finals.

The Big Bash is a behemoth. Deservedly so. Huge crowds, exciting cricket and Ten does a fine job with the coverage (even looking past the regular promos for I’m a has been local celebrity stuck in the jungle and desperate for attention). The BBL is pitched perfectly in the Christmas to Australia Day holiday period, allowing families to attend and wide-eyed kids to enjoy the game without worrying about missing bedtime. It’s wonderful to be able to watch cricket every night.

So what’s the answer? Moving the ODIs to early November – and reducing them to three games – is a good start. Playing the series against Australia’s earliest Test opponent (for example, South Africa) would help the tourists get some quality cricket under their belts. It may give the Matador Cup more relevance, as form in that comp would aide Australian selection. Channel Nine would have a wonderful time hyping everyone up for the upcoming Test series. Imagine next November, with England playing three ODIs before the Ashes.

The best part? Test players would be available for the Big Bash. Imagine David Warner teeing off for the Sydney Sixers infront of a packed SCG? We’ve seen Nathan “Nice Garry” Lyon make an impact with the Sixers after the Test series, so the transition is possible. How good would an uninterrupted Big Bash would be, flush with Test players? Ten would need Scrooge McDuck’s mansion to count all the money.

It’s worth a shot.

Big Bash flashback

On Saturday night (January 28), the Perth Scorchers and Sydney Sixers play in BBL06’s “Big Final” at the WACA.

If it’s anything like their epic finish to BBL04 (2014/15), then we’re in for a treat.

The 2014/15 Final was important for a couple of reasons: it was the first decider played at a neutral venue – Canberra’s Manuka Oval – and it was legendary fast bowler Brett Lee’s final competitive match.

In an incredibly close round robin season, both the Scorchers (second) and Sixers (fourth) finished on 10 points, separated by the third-placed Melbourne Stars, also on 10 points, with Adelaide comfortable minor premiers on 13 points.

The Sixers pulled off a minor upset in Adelaide, beating the Strikers easily in the semi-final. After making 4/181, Doug Bollinger took 3/21 to dismiss the Strikers for just 94. Perth easily covered the Stars in the second semi, winning by 18 runs in Perth, dismissing the Stars for 126 after posting 7/144.

So it was a Perth v Sixers Final in Canberra; Sydney searching for their second title and Perth seeking revenge after losing to Sydney in 2011/12.

Batting first in the Final at Manuka Oval, captain Moises Henriques scored 77 from 57 balls, supported by Ryan Carters’ 35 not out from 25 as the Sixers posted 5/147 from 20 overs.

Perth began their chase positively, with openers Shaun Marsh (73 from 59) and Michael Klinger (33 from 37) compiling 70 in 11.3 overs. A second wicket stand of 43 with Marsh and captain Adam Voges (20 off 13) looked to have Perth cruising towards their second BBL title. With less than four overs left, Lee and Nathan Lyon gave the Sixers some hope. Lyon dismissed Marsh and Ashton Turner in the 18th over, with Perth still 16 runs short.

Entering Lee’s dramatic final over, Perth needed eight runs with six wickets left. Surely they had this won. When Michael Carberry hit four, two and one from the first three balls, the scores were tied and Perth needed just one run…

…Lee bowled Nathan Coulter-Nile with the fourth ball, pulling out his trademark chainsaw celebration, then bowled Sam Whiteman with the fifth ball.

The dramatic final ball was hit by Yasir Arafat, who scrambled for the winning run as Henriques missed a simple run out chance backing up the bowlers end stumps.

While it wasn’t the victorious farewell Lee deserved, it was definitely memorable.

What next for Australia?

On Tuesday morning, Australia surrendered the much-anticipated series against South Africa before lunch, capitulating for 161 in 60.1 overs.

The sad thing was, Australia had worked hard to get back in the game on the third evening. Trailing by 241, Usman Khawaju scored a half-century as Australia reached 2/121 in 36 overs. There was finally hope: if Australia batted all day, they could set South Africa an awkward last day target. Then, who knows?

Yes, this is a great South African side; recovering from AB De Villiers and Dale Steyn’s absence and thrashing Australia inside eight days.

Now what’s next for Australia?

Getting rid of Rod Marsh was a good start. He was not popular with the public. At the very least, Marsh’s sacking shows fans that Cricket Australia are willing to change.

Regardless of what the Channel Nine cheerleaders say, this team has an image problem, which is a shame as Darren Lehmann is one of the most likeable coaches and Steve Smith (judged by his 48* in the horror first day at Hobart) shows more fight than some teammates. Fans have little respect for Adam Voges, Shaun Marsh or Mitch Marsh and are laughing at David Warner’s OLED TV ads rather than marvelling at his batting. 

Maybe that’s the problem, they lack fight. Not counting last summer’s walkover against NZ and West Indies, Australia lost the 2o15 Ashes 3-2, lost 3-0 in Sri Lanka and 5-0 in the ODIs against South Africa. It’s a far cry from the late nineties to early noughties, when Australia were arrogantly untouchable home and away.

Adelaide will be crucial. Australia – with a few changes no doubt – must play better to get the public back onside. If Australia surrender again, the Pakistan series will fade away while the Big Bash dominates the hearts, minds and wallets of the public over the Christmas/New Year holidays. No amount of PR/marketing magic will convince fans to follow a broken team.

The future of Origin 

With summer approaching and the 2017 rugby league season almost finished, it’s a good time to examine the game’s showpiece: State of Origin.

Every so often, doomsdayers love to predict the format’s demise, though the conjecture is usually forgotten when the next series arrives.

While Origin will never die, it’s in danger of getting stale, for a number of reasons.

If any other bilateral series had one team dominate for nine of the last 11 years, questions would be asked. Yet, you can’t deny the Queenslanders’ passion: no chance to humiliate NSW is passed up. For non-Queenslanders, their dominance is boring. Yes they have an amazing side, but how many times can you say “Qld were too good”, before getting bored? 

One of the best things for Australian cricket was the 2005 Ashes loss. The Aussies dominated England for 16 years and it got boring for all but the most hardy fans. How many fans remember Australia’s wins from 1990 to 2003? Everyone remembers 2005. It was the best thing for Australia as it fired them (and the fans) up for the 2006/07 whitewash. It made Australia hungry again. Those were the days…

So how does that relate to Origin? Well, Queensland keep winning, NSW flop between almost but not quite to getting thrashed. Whenever NSW win a game, the Channel Nine cheersquad gets all excited only to come back to earth three weeks later. Even NSW’s dead rubber win this year was tainted by controversy.

Some have suggest including a NZ or Pacific team to offset the struggling Blues, but that won’t happen.

Eventually, NSW will start winning again, if only because Queensland’s champions have to retire sometime. The huge crowds at Homebush proves Blues fans still care, but how patient can they be?

To keep interest alive, there is the option to spread the game outside Brisbane and Sydney. We all know Melbourne will support Origin (helped by Queensland’s Storm contigent), but what about Perth or even New Zealand? Traditionalists will scoff, but Origin is the NRL ace, it makes sense to share it around.

Another problem is Nine’s Origin telecast. At times it feels like Nine are using Origin for their own self-indulgence rather than the good of the game. The kickoff is a big problem. Games are meant to start at 8pm, but usually start closer to 8:30, which means Nine’s pre-game show goes for almost an hour. The game usually ends by 10pm on a Wednesday night – way too late for a work and/or school night. Shifting the kickoff to 7:45pm (like Friday Night Football), would solve this problem and let Nine continue their rampant self-indulgence. Just keep Shannon Noll away from the pre-match entertainment…

The biggest issue is the player drain. A strong Origin representation should be an honour for any NRL club, but at times it feels teams are being punished.

Since 1998, the Broncos have boasted a heavy Origin contingent. Of course, around July/August, the hangover kicks in and the Broncos slide down the ladder. It’s cost the Broncos many promising seasons.

This year’s round 18 game was a prime example of the Origin drain. The Monday night game between Canberra and North Queensland at Bruce should have been a cracking contest between two top four teams. Sadly for the Cowboys, their Origin players were missing and Canberra (not burdened by Origin commitments) won easily. Ok, Raiders fans weren’t complaining, but it wasn’t the same…

Fans have been demanding proper Origin byes. While the NRL has scheduled a Sunday night Origin for 2018, with Pacific Tests, it’s only a small step. Stand-alone Origin weekends need to be permanent to make it fairer on Origin-heavy teams. Take a leaf from the May rep round, play the Pacific Tests, under 20s Origin or even women’s Origin on the weekend then have the main game Wednesday night.

Marsh’s shock switch 


Shaun Marsh has announced a shock move to Major League Baseball, motivated by Rod Marsh’s demotion from Chairman of Selectors.

“Now that ol’ ‘Iron Gloves’ is gone, I’ll never play for Australia again, so I may as well try something else. If it’s good enough for Jarryd Hayne…”

Marsh hopes to play in the 2017 MLB season and is shopping around for a team.

“Any team who can carry a player that dines out when it’s easy will be a good fit.”

He was hoping to convince brother Mitch to join him, but it wasn’t to be.

“Mitch said he’s focused on becoming Australia’s next Shane Watson: full of potential but a horrible dissapointment.”

The Origin Revolution

New NRL CEO Todd Greenberg has announced a bold reboot of the State of Origin series, to begin in 2017.

“NSW are gone! They’ve been hopeless since 2006 and it’s getting boring. Their best players are too busy getting maggotted on the piss, so they obviously don’t care enough. Tell me the last time a Queenslander got into strife?”

The new format features Queensland against a Word XIII side in the three-game International Origin series at Suncorp Stadium. The World XIII comprises the best non-Queensland NRL stars from Australia and overseas, opening the door for Semi Radradra, Benji Marshall, Gareth Widdop, James Graham and Sam Burgess. The games will be held on Wednesday nights with NRL matches to be replaced by Pacific Tests and  Origin under-20s games on the pre-Origin  weekends.

“Origin is our great game’s hallmark and it’s a travesty that our international stars can’t play.Why should we have to watch the Queenslanders destroy hopeless s******ts like Mitchell Pearce or Robbie Farah when – instead – we could watch them be tested against  real footy stars like Semi Radradra or the Burgess boys?”

The games will be telecast Australia-wide through Channel Nine Queensland, with an all-Maroon commentary team anchored by Nine news’ Andrew “Lofty” Lofthouse and Melissa Downes. Yvonne Sampson, Wally Lewis, Karl Stefanovic, Mal Meninga, Ian Healy, Darren Lockyer and Fatty Vautin will call the match.

The Suncorp Stadium crowd will be entertained pre-game by highlights of NSW’s best Origin bloopers, put together by the Australia’s Funniest Home Video crew, complete with wacky sound effects.

“Over 50,000 Queenslanders will go home happy, and that’s all that matters,” said Greenberg.

While looking forward to the new concept, Maroons legend Chris Close says State of Origin still has some legs.

“I appreciate Mr Greenberg’s foresight, but watching the mighty Queenslanders humiliate the hopeless Blues never gets old!”

NOTE: this is a parody article. Nobody’s messing with Origin.

WORLD TEAM WINS ALL STARS

WORLD TEAM WINS ALL STARS

By Andrew Pelechaty

The World All-Stars have won their first NRL All Stars match, beating the Indigenous All Stars 12-8 at Suncorp Stadium tonight.

With big name players pulling out before the game, there were concerns the All Stars fixture had lost its relevance. Those fears were temporarily put aside in a close match infront of over 37,000.

Sam Thaiday was strong for the Indigenous All Stars.

After a deadlocked first quarter, Konrad Hurrell opened the scoring on the 31st minute for the World All Stars. Leilani Latu tied the scores just before halftime.

The World All-Stars dominated the third quarter with Semi Radradra scoring just after halftime. A penalty goal to Adam Reynolds extended the lead to 12-4 with 25 minutes left.

Dane Gagai set up an exciting finish early in the first quarter, closing the Indigenous All Stars’ deficit to four points.

Image result for nrl all stars 2016

Errors let down the Indigenous All Stars, completing 21 of 34 sets (compared to the World All-Stars’ 30/39) and making 12 errors to six.

James Graham won the Preston Campbell Medal for best player.

There was some concern for the Indigenous All Stars’ Jack Wighton, who left the field with concussion.

Image result for nrl all stars 2016

The decision to substitute a World All Stars team for the NRL All-Stars seemed justified, with eleven players from New Zealand (Martin Taupau, Jordan Kahu, Jeremy Smith), England (Graham, Gareth Widdop, Tom Burgess) Fiji (Radradra, Kane Evans), Samoa (Matthew Wright), PNG (Nene Macdonald) and Tonga (Hurrell), joining the nine Aussies in the squad. In a unique touch, the country’s flag were displayed on the players’s numbers with their club logo on the neck of every player’s jersey.

Earlier the World All Stars comfortably beat the Indigenous All Stars 24-4 in the women’s fixture.