Friday, 27 May 2011

Privacy laws and the celebrity culture

Does anybody else find this whole matter of Ryan Giggs, tabloid press “revelations”, super injunctions and civil disobedience ridiculous? When I say ridiculous, I mean, not just the furor, but the entire process…

I agree that injunctions should not only be available to the rich and famous, however, why should we be concerned with tittle-tattle in the first place? Why is the media being so “holier-than-thou” on the matter?

Why does anybody care about the private lives of the rich and famous anymore than the private lives of anyone else? Because it compensates – that’s why. It compensates for the fact that people like Jordan, Big Brother contestants and other such wastrels have nothing else to offer, other than the machinations of those they bed.

The media would claim that “celebrities” use positive media coverage to build their fame and fortune and so it is in the public’s interest to know when they are morally lacking. Surely a better process, rather than allowing newspaper editors to be moral guardians, would be to deny them pointless airspace in the first place? As for the general public – the only reason they are interested is voyeuristic escapism, nothing to do with inflicting moral superiority. An affair conducted between two unknowns is no better or worse than one conducted between two actors, for notoriety is neither here nor there. It remains a regretable, bad thing.

Why can’t we return to the days when fame was earned by excellence and achievement, rather than infamy? Personally, I don’t care if someone is flawed, providing they are not setting a bad example and (more importantly) they do their job. Give me Winston Churchill over Dennis Skinner any day; however, if the media do not bother to set these people on a pedestal in the first place, none of this legal shuffling would be necessary…

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The perfect online experience – Mean & Green

I was recently sat at home one Sunday morning, I happened to browse the web for “camo trousers” – as I felt the need to join the TA (not really - I just wanted to take cover whilst stalking cats in the garden)… so I typed in “camo trousers” into Google, and “Mean and Green” seemed to be what I was looking for. I clicked through to the site and was taken to a category page with lots of camo trousers. I clicked on the one in the middle as it looked along the lines of what I wanted and was rrp discounted – but I was still 50/50 when I noticed a Facebook app towards the bottom that had a promotion based around Friday 13th to offer a further 15% off ALL orders, including ones already discounted (this offer doesn’t show at present as it’s expired). I added the trousers to my basket, added the promo code and went through to checkout to complete the order. However, I had a question about the inside leg measurement that I wanted to confirm (but didn’t want to wait for it to be answered unless I missed out on the promotion), so I asked a question and added it as a comment to by basket before placing the order…

So… on the Monday, not only did I receive a dispatch note, I also received an answer to my question, confirming what I wanted to know and ALSO – they added my question and the subsequent answer to the bottom of the product page for future users (like Ebay do). I then received the trousers on Tuesday, well-packaged, neatly presented, with a returns slip, neat catalogue and a thank you note. I then had an email asking for feedback and an invitation to join the email newsletter.

I’ve never heard of Mean & Green before and nor I suspect have many others, so they have to work extra hard to get these things right – which they do. There are a lot of small cogs to this experience, but if you want any outdoors clothes, equipment, or you just want to join the army and need the look – then check them out.

I might order a beret next...

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Twenty One - An Indian Summer

I remember it as if it were yesterday. Twenty one summers ago, through the sands of cricketing time in which mediocrity has been punctuated by greatness and excitement are indistinguishable intervals, there arrived on these shores an Indian squad to take on the England cricket team for three Test matches.

Just to expand the picture a little, this was an England side captained by Graham Gooch, having already played a three match series against New Zealand and before that having returned from a tour of the Caribbean in which their batsmen had taken the usual pasting at the hands of Bishop and Walsh. The glory days of the eighties (sans the unavoidable blackwashes) had just passed, with Botham having missed the previous couple of years due to his back injury (he was never the same player again, even when he returned the following year) and Gower facing a brick wall in the form of his troubled relationship with his puritanical captain. Whilst Gooch was in the form of his life and would go on to break numerous records that summer, their only other world class player in that line up was the emerging Robin Smith.

However, whilst England were in transition, India also faced certain dilemmas. The likes of Ravi Shastri and Kapil Dev were not getting any younger, they still had problems in the fast bowling department, whilst their only real spin threat came in the form of the untested Hirwani. Azharuddin was always an explosive talent, but it was a young batsman who was drawing all the media attention to the touring party. When I say young, I mean young - for he was barley seventeen years old and had, the previous year as a sixteen year old, required written permission from his headmaster in order to represent India in an One Day match in which he went on to score 89 against a pace battery led by Malcolm Marshall.

His name was Sachin Tendulkar.

I recall how young he looked - in those days his hair was a lot longer and he bore a lithe, youthful frame that has since filled out and understandably become a little less athletic in the process. For the first two Tests, in which Gooch bored his way to hundred after hundred, Kapil Dev smacked sixes like they were going out of fashion and Eddie Hemming waddled in to bowl over after pathetic over, Tendulkar achieved nothing of note other than to take a memorable one-handed running catch in the outfield. In the third match at the Oval, however, he constructed a quite magnificent, almost flawless century to save the Test, proving his quality in the face of the world's media and wowing all those who watched.

It was his first century in International cricket. That figure now stands at 99 - fifty one of which have been Test centuries. If that statistic is not staggering enough, then let's explore further. He has a Test average of over 56, he has a One-Day average of over 40, he has scored over thirty thousand International runs in both form of the game combined and is the only player ever to score an International One Day double hundred. All this has been done in the face of huge daily pressure from over a billion Indian cricket fans. It is extraordinary...

So, twenty one years later, he comes to these shores once more, this time having won a World Cup and after a tour of the West Indies in which he could well hit his hundredth International hundred. Perhaps, however, it would be right and fitting for the 100th century to be forged at the Oval, where he hit his first. The home of so many extraordinary feats over the past century would be a rightful location for the world's greatest batsman of the modern age to claim his own record century.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The Daniel Cure Greatest XI

With the cricket season already in progress, I was musing on several articles and came across the Richie Benaud Greatest XI. Whilst most of the faces are certainly worthy of inclusion, I couldn’t help but feel inclined to tweak accordingly. In short, there were a few specific selections that seemed either biased towards his home country, or blinkered via simple stats.

So…here’s my effort...

Opening batsmen

Of all the leading candidates, I have to agree with Richie that Sir John Berry Hobbs must be the first name on the list. Having had his career interrupted by World War One, his average of 56.94 from 61 Test Matches belies the fact that he was a record breaking batsman having to open the batting without adequate body protection on uncovered pitches against some tremendously dangerous bowlers. The late playwright Ben Travers was once asked what the greatest innings he ever witnessed was and he replied that it took place in the final days of 1928 in Melbourne. The wicket was uncovered and had been subject to a monumental tropical rainstorm, followed by a day’s baking in the blistering Australian sun. Having inspected the surface, Hobbs returned to the dressing room and proclaimed to the rest of the team that they would be bowled out within a session. By the tea interval, he and Sutcliffe were unbeaten and Hobbs had 49 to his name. “That 49,” Travers stated, “must have been the greatest innings ever played. I walked out to the middle at the end of the days play and the pitch was like concrete, with broken lumps sticking out and huge cracks you could put your fist in – it must have been totally impossible to bat on.”

To partner Jack Hobbs, I have to be controversial and disagree with Benaud. Whilst Gavaskar bears all the stats to suggest that he is the choice, I can’t help but feel that he was not an extraordinary player. This is the greatest eleven ever, so we must look beyond mere accumulators and to the true greats. I could mention Herbert Sutchcliffe (who partnered Hobbs for many years) owing to his test average of over 60, or the likes of Boycott, Hutton, Greenidge or Hayden. However, I am going for a man who only played 4 Tests owing to the apartheid ban on South Africa and yet who averaged 72.57 in the process. Barry Richards was regarded as a phenomenal talent to all those who watched him play and one of the greats of the game. He could and did open the batting and what a great partner to Hobbs at the top of the order.

The middle order

Here is where I do agree with Benaud in terms of the selection, but not the order.

Play your players in the positions to which they are accustomed, I say, and to that end I would have the masterblaster at 3, where he did his damage for the Windies, the Don at 4 (always have your best batsman at 4 in Test Matches) and Tendulkar at 5, where he has been comfortable for much of his career.

Again, a combination of stats and gut-feel influences my

selection here, for after the man who smashed England for a 56 ball ton in 1986 is followed by a man who average 99 in Tests and a man who has broken almost

every batting record in an international careers running into its fourth decade…

The all-rounder
Assuming that a bowling attack was able to prise out four batsmen, they would be greeted by the sight of Sir Garfield Sobers, a man whose status as the greatest all rounder of all time could never be in doubt.

Not only did he finish with a Test average of 57.78 from 93 Tests, but he took 235 wickets – extraordinarily via a combination of orthodox left arm spin, fast new ball bowling and medium pace seam. In the famous tied test in Brisbane, he hit a six during his celebrated hundred that hit the mid-on fielder on the shoulder before clearing the stands. Commenting upon

Sobers' six sixes in an over against his team in 1968, Glamorgan captain Tony Lewis said: "It was not sheer slogging through strength, but scientific hitting with every movement working in harmony". For those of you who are interested, he was also an outstanding ground fielder, but then this team would be beyond fielding…

The wicket keeper

I’m agreeing quite a bit with Benaud here – worrying isn’t it! As much as I’d like to go for the “best” keeper, I’m not sure that we have sufficient information on this as athleticism has developed hugely throughout the course of the past twenty years and one has to consider the bowlers to which a keeper has faced. Knott was great but can’t have had the ferocious challenge of Dujon, whilst Dujon never had spin to contend with.

As such, I cannot help feel that spin has to be considered and if one is to combine this with the fact that he was the ultimate “keeper-batsman”, then Adam Gilchrist must be number one.

The bowlers

Here’s where I go off on a tangent to Benaud. With Sobers already in place as a first change left-armer and possible back-up spinner (as well as Richards with his tweakers” and Tendulkar with his session-breaking medium dobblers). We have the opportunity here to bring in four destroyers. We are not interested in just “stats men” here, or line and length merchants. I want some nasty-bastard men in to wipe out a line up in a session. I want to launch the four horsemen of the apocalypse and unleash hell upon our opponents. I want the four most lethal bowlers of all time.

So, my spinner, has to be Shane Warne. It was only ever going to be between him and Muralitharan, but if I wanted a man to take wicket with one ball – a life-or-death ball, it would be Warne, as he could live with the pressure. It also helps that he took over 700 Test wickets, at an average of 25 and could turn the ball square on glass.

We also have the legendary Sydney Barnes. There are few meticulous accounts of his bowling style, but this is a case where stats simply force a man’s inclusion. His bowling average was an amazing 16.43, delivered via the use of devastating medium pace leg-cutters along with other variants. On almost any pitch, this offered something else and when one thinks of the flatbeds delivered by groundsmen these days, his inclusion would be vital.

Which leaves us, readers, with the opening attack (as I lick my lips with relish). For me, Dennis Lillee was a great bowler, but not a man to send shivers down your spine. The man I am choosing to open the attack is a man capable of swinging a cricket ball at any length on any wicket at 95mph and whose scud missile bouncer was as close to unplayable as can be. In a nucleur quartet of pace that, for two decades destroyed the finest batsmen in the world, he stood out above all others with his ability to out-think a batsman on any surface. At 5 feet 11 inches in height, he dwarfed by Garner, Croft, Walsh, Bishop and Ambrose and yet Malcolm Marshall ended his Test career with 376 wickets at a staggering 20.94 – staggering none the less as from 1975 through to 1995 the great Windies bowlers usually had to share the spoils.

He never lost a Test series. He succeeded in every challenge on every pitch – including Asia. His bouncer skidded and regularly skulled batsmen as Andy Lloyd and Mike Gatting would testify. He routed England in 1984 with one arm in plaster. Here, I insert a clip from Cricinfo:

“… he broke Mike Gatting's nose as he plunged gamely forwards with a helmet but no grille in the one-day international at Kingston in 1985-86. The Test which followed at Sabina was Apocalypse Now: a broken pitch, and Marshall stirred by the introduction of Patrick Patterson to prove himself the fastest bowler alive. You would not believe the barrage which was put up by the pair of them from the George Headley Stand end, and unfortunately there is no television film to prove it. Gower squirted a semi-voluntary six over the slips; it was cricket at its most red-meat raw. … determined to break England's spirit for the rest of their tour, and successfully so.”

The man was the greatest fast bowler of all – of that there can be no doubts – and we were prematurely deprived of his presence so tragically in 1999.

To partner Marshall, I leave my hardest decision until last. My second opening bowler. Now again, I am going to be honest and state categorically that I want blood and guts here. I want the opposition to back away to leg before the run up has began, and for that reason I exclude McGrath, Ambrose, Lillee, Hadlee, Trueman, Lindwell and others, as they don’t have that out-and-out pace. I have considered many players here. Frank Tyson was supposedly lethally quick. Larwood was perhaps even faster. In the modern era, we have experienced a young Ian Bishop, Waquar Younis, Wasim Akram, Brett Lee and Shoab Akhtar. But, they have been inconsistent and perhaps never really became greats, other than Wasim (though we already have a left arm all-rounder, so unfortunately I have to turn him down). I want a nasty, nasty bowler with serious pace and so two that sprung to mind were Colin Croft (a man who hit batsmen for fun) and Patrick Patterson (whose spell at Sabina Park in 1986 is thought to be the fastest anywhere, ever – perhaps consistently over 100mph). But they, too, enjoyed very brief careers and can I really include them in a greatest-ever eleven? No, I think the choice must be Whispering Death.

I take you back to The Kensington Oval, Bridgetown in 1981 with Boycott and Gooch marching out to bat on an uneven pitch in response to the West Indies modest first innings total. I quote Cricino..
“Holding's first ball was a three-quarter-pace loosener which nevertheless rapped Boycott on the gloves and dropped just short of the slips. Each succeeding ball after that was quicker than the previous one. The second beat Boycott outside the off stump, and the third cut back and struck him on the inside of his right thigh. The fourth and fifth both hurried Boycott, but he just about managed to keep them out. "He middled none," wrote Gladstone Holder in The Nation, "but any lesser mortal would have been out." And Ian Botham recalled that Boycott was "jumping about like a jack-in-the-box".

Then came the final ball, the coup de grace, delivered at a fearsome pace ("It went like a rocket," Boycott recalled), which was pitched up and sent his off stump cartwheeling almost 20 yards as he desperately and belatedly brought his bat down. "The hateful half-dozen had been orchestrated into one gigantic crescendo," wrote Frank Keating. After a momentary silence, the crowd erupted. "Boycott looked round," observed Keating, "then as the din assailed his ears, his mouth gaped and he tottered as if he'd seen the Devil himself. Then slowly he walked away, erect and brave and beaten."

The greatest over cannot be bowled by an average bowler and for that reason, Michael Hodling makes the final slot in my team.

* * *

So, two Englishmen, a South African, an Indian, three Australians and four West Indians. No Pakistanis, no New Zealanders and No Sri Lankans. However, based upon their averages, this side would score over 500 (most batting line ups of the modern age would struggle to top 350 and that is with averages at their height with flat pitches, big bats and fast outfields) each time.

Jack Hobbs (England)
Barry Richards (South Africa)
Don Bradman (Australia)
Viv Richards (West Indies)
Sachin Tendulkar (India)
Gary Sobers (West Indies)
Adam Gilchrist (Australia)
Malcolm Marshall (West Indies)
Shane Warne (Australia)
Michael Holding (West Indies)
Sydney Barnes (England)

Captain – take it in turns
Coach – me (I doubt this lot would need coaching so I could just sit back in the stands and enjoy)

Monday, 2 May 2011

On this day, 400 years ago, the King James Bible is "launched"...

On this day, 400 years ago, the world-renowned King James Bible is published for the first time in London, England, by printer Robert Barker.

Contrary to popular belief, this was actually the third time the Bible had been translated into English; however this version adhered to the rather testing brief of King James, with the ecclesiastical principles of the Church of England being at the heart of this book’s conformity.