T20’s Grand Obsession, ‘Sixermania’: Its Time to Restore the ‘Five’

Media & Communications, Sport

A large part of the focus in the Big Bash League, currently showing on a TV screen near you, is on the hitting of sixes. Perhaps I should say, more accurately, a large part of the commentators’ focus anyway. The fast food-spieling game-callers strive to outdo each other in exaggerated amazement at the distance each six travels (electronically measured) and lap up every crowd catch or would-be catch.

Those Goliaths of commercial cricket, Channels 10 and 9, structure their marketing of T20 and List A games around the action of big six hitting, highlight packages thrive on a roll call of sixes and the frenzied crowd reaction.

imageEverything is geared towards facilitating the hitting of sixes; the boundary rope positioned some distance in from the fence as a safety measure to prevent serious injury to fielders sliding into the boundary palings (in the manner befalling Simon Jones at the Gabba in 2002), allied with modern bat technology and fielding restrictions. The outcome; sixes have become as commonplace as cooking programs on the box, it’s all too easy for the top batters in T20.

Consequently hitting a six has been devalued as an achievement, it is no longer considered anything that special or exceptional, just something really to be expected or anticipated … this ball, next ball, next over.

imageBasil Fawlty in the ‘Rat’ episode of Fawlty Towers (many of you will no doubt recall it) takes back an over-generous portion of veal cutlet he has just served up to the public health inspector for the third time, saying to the exasperated inspector, “Too much of a good thing always leaves one wanting less, I always find.” So it is with the spate of faux sixes that pass over the rope without clearing the fence. Incidentally, I just don’t get it! How can the ball lobbing on the full on the rope be considered a six, given that when the full field was previously used in matches the ball had to clear the white picket fence to register a six (whereas hitting the traditional white pickets on the full was only four). It seems to be simply all about making it easier to hit a six … sixes and wickets, the constant flow of both is the raison d’être of the limited overs game.

My proposition is that we reintroduce the score of five to correctly acknowledge the devaluation of this lesser six. Before the Great War a stroke that cleared the boundary line or fence on the full was worth ‘five’ (a little later it was adjusted up to ‘six’ to give the shot a fairer proportional differentiation to a ‘four’). A five could be awarded for a shot that lands over the rope but does not clear the fence.

The difference between a ‘5’ and a ‘6’ might not amount to much in the scheme of an individual’s innings (below see Footnote) but it does justly reward the superior hit, a real six which truly is “hit OUT of the field of play”.

imageFootnote: Although it could make a substantial difference to a batter’s score – the great pre-WWI batsman Victor Trumper in a Sydney grade cricket match in 1903 hit 22 fives (as a six was worth at that time) in an innings of 335 in 165 minutes. If achieved under the amended value Trumper would have scored 357.

Kraków III: The Auschwitz Experience, Proof of Evil

Social History, Travel

imageWhilst I was anticipating my upcoming trip to Poland with much relish, and to Eastern Europe as a whole, the prospect of visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau site wasn’t one I was looking forward to. I wasn’t at all keen on visiting the former Nazi concentration camp … maybe I have been fed on too much of a vicarious experience courtesy of the SBS network’s televisual obsession (so it appears at times) with all things to do the Holocaust, Nazism and World War II!

To me it was an unappetising and gruesome prospect … but it was after all an option – it was my choice. In the end a combination of firm encouragement from my young Catholic Polish friend and the fact that we were going to be close to the site once in Kraków itself (75km west of the city), I decided to do it, reasoning that going all the way to Southern Poland & not including it in the itinerary seemed like something I might regret later. Incidentally, some Polish people told me that nothing raises the blood pressure of Poles like hearing Auschwitz-Birkenau described as a ‘Polish’ concentration camp, as some non-Polish tourists have occasionally and very erroneously done. To Poles it was always and unequivocally a German or Nazi concentration camp – which happens to be located within the borders of present-day Poland!

image Today, Auschwitz is a museum and a memorial to the victims of the Third Reich. There was a crowded, chaotic scene at the entrance, long lines of tourists queuing up. Eventually we got inside the building after making it past the bag checks and scanning of the heavy security screening at the gate. It was an eerie feeling walking through those notorious, infamous gates of Auschwitz I (notwithstanding that the ominous sign “Arbeit Macht Frei” we passed under is only a replica of the original one which was stolen in 2009). The incongruity of the scene was very stark, very apparent – constant streams of people milling all over the onetime prison, going from block to block, in a place that otherwise was just so barren, desolate and abandoned!

Auschwitz was a harrowing experience but one in hindsight I wouldn’t have wanted to have missed. The various barracks were full of unforgettable sights …. grim but also very, very poignant stuff, from the zoo-sized glass display cabinets of hair (incredibly, a vast room of scalps!), countless labelled but abandoned suitcases, artificial limbs, shoes, including children’s (two large rooms of shoes both 30m long x 12m wide). Each block has a thematic element (“Prisoners’ Life”, “Material Evidence of Crime”, etc).

A room full of footwear
A room full of footwear
Also displayed throughout the blocks are an amazing amount of official, incarceration documentation (Nazi reports on inmates, medical treatments/punishments, etc). This really was a surprise to me, that such a minutiae of official, day-to-day documents had been preserved. My preconceived notion would have been that such incriminating material for the Nazis would have been destroyed. I can only deduce that the sudden, rapid advance on the territory by the Soviet Red Army in 1945 caught the occupying German Army out and it hastily fled Poland before it had time to dispose of all the evidence.

Australian Cricket’s Modern ‘Lord of the Rings’ Saga

Sport

Ever since Keith ‘Nugget’ Miller retired from test cricket in 1956, Australia has searched for a replacement to fill the outstanding all-rounder’s shoes.

imageTo call Miller’s career (and life) ‘flamboyant’ seems a bit trite. World War II fighter pilot, journalist & man-about-town bon vivant, the Victorian scored almost 3,000 runs in tests (7 centuries, top score 147, averaging a shade under 37). His right-arm fast bowling was even more valuable to Australia (170 wickets at 22.97 with best figures of 7/60). The versatile sports star also found time to play 50 games for St Kilda in the VFL & represented both Victoria & NSW in the triennial national football carnivals.

After Miller exited the test arena, Australian cricket embarked on a seemingly never-ending quest to find another (genuine test standard) all-rounder. The mantle seemed likely to fall on Richie Benaud at one stage. Early on, Benaud’s batting appeared more promising than his bowling as he struggled to perfect the leg-spinner’s art. Later Benaud’s concentration on his bowling and on captaincy paid dividends – to the detriment of his batting, as his 24.45 overall test average illustrates. Benaud’s teammate, Alan Davidson, a superb left-arm fast-medium bowler, was more than a handy batsmen usually batting at 8, but his increasingly heavy workload with the ball (especially after Lindwall and Miller retired) took the edge off his batting performances.

Sir Garfield St Aubran
Sir Garfield St Aubran
Through the sixties the Australian cricket establishment watched with envy as Barbados’ Garfield Sobers developed into one of the greatest ever all-rounders for the West Indies. Similarly South Africa produced Mike Proctor, a test class all-rounder whose country’s Apartheid policy restricted his opportunities to just seven test matches and so denied him the chance to demonstrate the breadth of his all-round game at the highest level.

Players who Australia typically tried in the role at the time included Ken ‘Slasher’ Mackay and Tom Veivers – handy cricketers with both bat and ball, but not likely to dominate a test match with either. Australia’s forte seemed more to incline towards specialist batsmen who could turn their hand occasionally to spin like Bob Cowper and Bobby Simpson or batsmen who could bowl part-time medium pace like Doug Walters, Graeme Watson and much later Mark Waugh. At the same time, frontline bowlers capable now and then of a weighty contribution with the bat, were encouraged, eg, Ray Lindwall or more recently Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc.

The emergence in the late seventies/early eighties of four great all-rounders on the international scene – Ian Botham (Eng.), Richard Hadlee (NZ), Imran Khan (Pak.) & Kapil Dev (Ind.) – was an added spur for Australia to find a genuine all-rounder. The success of these four emphasised to the Australia authorities the benefit of a more balanced team with an all-rounder to strengthen both the batting and bowling when required.

imageA combination of the difficulty in finding a competent replacement for Rod Marsh and the lack of success in finding a genuine all-rounder (and the desperation it engendered in Australian cricket), might account for the attempt in the early eighties to plant Wayne ‘Flipper’ Phillips into the role of an “all-rounder of sorts”, a batsman-wicketkeeper (long before it become standard practice that a keeper had to also be an accomplished batsman in his own right). With Phillips himself talking it up, the reality that his keeping was not up to the accepted mark did nothing for his batting confidence and that was the end of Flipper’s international career.

Greg ‘Mo’ Matthews, an orthodox off-spinner with an unorthodox, quirky personality in the midst of a staid 1980s Aussie cricketing fraternity, was the next hopeful the believers turned to. As it eventuated his batting (Ave: 41.08 over 33 matches) proved of more advantage to the test side. Matthews’ test bowling largely lacked penetration except on one memorable occasion, the famous 1986 tied test in Madras.

Similarly, leg-spinner and hard-hitting lower order batter, Peter Sleep, found himself regularly in and out of the Australian XI over a 12-year period as the Australian selectors strove to find the all-rounder missing link in the team. Ultimately, both Sleep’s bowling and batting lacking the consistency and penetration to hold down a permanent place.

Steve Waugh was the next “new great hope” for the role. Waugh was elevated very early to the Australian XI after a handful of state games. Waugh was retained in the Australian side despite struggling with the bat for the best part of four years before his first (breakthrough) century for Australia (177x v England in 1989) on the promise of his budding all-rounder credentials and handy medium pace bowling (especially effective in ODIs). His progress to test-quality batsman, his recurring back problems and the traditional reluctance of batting captains to bowl themselves, saw him bowl much less frequently, and eventually rarely, for the latter part of his test career.

imageThrough the 1990s up to the present time, Australia has continued with its “Holy Grail” like search for a genuine test all-rounder. Again, other countries have provided some of the impetus for Australia’s persistence. Dan Vettori, Chris Cairns, Shaun Pollock, Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, Ravi Ashwin and especially, Jacques Kallis, have all had test success with bat & ball in recent years.

The experiment has continued with Tony Dodemaide, Andrew Symons, Andrew MacDonald, Shane Watson and (briefly) Cameron White and Moisés Henriques all getting a tryout in the role – with mostly mixed results at best. Regularly the selectors would compromise by banking on good second-change bowlers who could contribute with the bat the occasional valuable knock … Paul Reiffel and Andy “Mr 12th Man” Bichel come into this category.

Steve Smith at the onset of his first class career was thought more likely to be a test leg-spinner in the making, until he found his batting compass and soon after ascended to the captaincy of the national team. Currently, the hopes of those advocating the virtue of all-rounders in the Australian test and limited over sides lie with the likes of Mitch Marsh, James Faulkner and Glenn Maxwell.

Kraków II: Factory of Memory and a Survivors’ Arc

Travel

From the street it still looks like what it was in 1945, a small factory in an out-of-the-way industrial part of South Kraków. Inside Oskar Schlinder’s “Factory of Enamelled Vessels” (Fabryka Schindlera), it is more than a tribute to the heroic efforts of Schlinder, the factory-cum-museum is a recreation of Jewish life in Kraków in WWII under the Nazi Occupation.

Wartime streetcar
Wartime streetcar
An elderly Jewish volunteer guided us through a “rabbit warren” of narrow corridors and rooms which conveyed what the experience of Polish Jews living under the Third Reich must have been like in a city known by the German, Krakau during WWII. She showed us the museum’s permanent exhibition (entitled “Kraków under Nazi Occupation 1939-1945”) which recreates the conditions and deprivations of Jewish residents of the city. Film screenings and interactive exhibits help to convey the experience.

Impress machine & Swastika floor design
Impress machine & Swastika floor design
Among the interactives I liked the impress device which lets you stamp time-line cards which mark significant moments in the Occupation. The sense of oppression is underscored by the swastika floor design and by the other Nazi iconography on the walls (exceedingly uncomfortable feeling!). There were also displays of uniforms, a tank, a tram, even a hair salon, etc. The tour also gave us a feel for what the living conditions of the Jewish factory workers were like (crowded!).

Schlinder's Desk
Schlinder’s Desk
The final section of the factory visited is the office and desk of Schlinder himself (and that of his personal secretary with her aged typewriter still in place on the table). Oskar’s office still contains his own, original desk, a sturdy wooden one in the same working state in was in 1945. Behind it is a wartime map of Europe. Opposite the desk is the striking exhibit they call the “Survivors’ Arc”, a glass tower full of tin pots, a stark reminder of what the enslaved labourers were there to produce.

The lady guide was excellent, very informative … in the meticulous care she took in presenting the tour you could see how important, personally, the museum was to her in preserving the memory of what happened.

Survivors' Arc
Survivors’ Arc

Kraków I: The Old Town Square – Charm on a Large Scale

Travel

The road that goes south from St Florian’s Gate (Brama Floriańska) to the main plaza and then east through Ul. Grodzka to Wawel Palace bisects the historic centre of Kraców. In monarchical times in Poland this was the “Royal Road” (Via Regia), the traditional route followed for the coronation of Polish kings. The Old Town is a roughly cone-shaped area of central Kraców encircled by an attractive narrow green strip known as Planty Park (or just ‘Planty’ to locals). Before the greening of Planty this was the location for the Medieval city’s fortified walls and moat.

Most tourist activity in the Old Town revolves around the immense Rynek Glówny (the Main Square) and Grodzka street which runs off it. This central square is the heart of Krakow’s Stare Miasto (Old Town). It encompasses a massive area, around 40,000m in size. Right in the middle in a dominant position is an oblong-shaped building, tremendously large in itself – the Neo-Gothic Cloth Hall (Pol: Sukiennice). Historically a major centre for trade in textiles, today there are various commercial enterprises at street level and upstairs a Polish art museum. In the Gallery tourists can find rows of stalls selling the usual souvenir wares.

Main Square
Main Square
Aside from the monolithic Cloth Hall building in the centre of the Main Square, there are other impressive buildings around the plaza, one of the more intriguing is St Mary’s Basilica, famous for its wooden altarpiece. What got my attention however was St Mary’s facade, an unusual double tower, unusual because of the disparity between the two spires. The bases of the towers are pretty much identical but one spire is much shorter and has a different design, a real curio piece! On the other side of the Cloth Hall is the Town Hall Tower’s – its views across the city are worth the small entrance fee. Once a prison the Tower is the only part of the Town Hall to survive the demolition of the building in the 19th century. When visiting Kraców it’s more or less obligatory to take in Grodzka, one the most historic streets in the city (good for sighting churches, restaurants, cafés, lively street entertainers).

Cloth Hall
Cloth Hall
Rynek Glówny is a great spot to casually wander round looking at the passing human cavalcade. Many street performers (in clown costumes, on stilts, etc) operate in the Square and in the adjoining Grodkza street which connects back to Wawel Castle. Almost continuously through the day and evening, elegant horse-drawn carriages stream past the plaza ferrying sightseers around the Old Town. Around the edges of two sides of Rynek square there are a dazzlingly large grouping of outdoor restaurants arranged in an L-shape. Too many restaurants to choose from, but in reality most of them have much the same menu! Despite that we spent an inordinate amount of time checking out 20 different eateries before settling on one which provided us with a nice variety of typical Polish dishes washed down with several Tyskies.

By following the long Ul Grodkza and turning right you will find your way to Wawel Royal Castle, set up high on the hillside above the Vistula River which defends its southern flank. Legend has it that a fire-breathing dragon (a Smok) guards its walls. There is a bronze statue of the mythical Smok next to the River which people hover round waiting for it to unleash a burst of fire which it does at irregular intervals. The castle hill also contains a series of caves known as the Dragon’s Lair (Smocza Jama).

Zamec Courtyard
Zamec Courtyard
The castle/palace is a Renaissance structure with other architectural features incorporated (predominantly Romanesque and Gothic). From Podzamcze street you get a good view of the castle’s impressive defensive walls (Bastion) and the Tower of Sigismund Vasa. You enter the castle complex from a sloping road through a series of archway gates. At the top the castle wall forms part of an ensemble of buildings together with Wawel Cathedral and smaller surrounding chapels. Once the residence of the occupying Austrian Army and later the Nazi Governor-General, Wawel Palace is now a museum with state apartments, works of art and a Crown Treasury and Armoury to visit. The Royal Castle as a whole is an impressive structure but the stand-out visual feature of the complex is the spectacular, majestic, arcaded central Courtyard.

Częstochowa: Black Madonnas and “A Drove of Pilgrims”

Travel

The town of Częstochowa is situated in southern Poland, in the Silesian region. Jasnogórski (Pol = “Bright Hill” or “Bright Mount”) is a Pauline monastery, a shrine to the Virgin Mary which Catholic pilgrims flock to (the collective noun for a gathering of pilgrims is apparently ‘flock’ but I like the sound of a ‘drove’ of pilgrims – or – also very applicable here, a ‘busload’ of pilgrims).

imageThe Jasna Góra complex at Częstochowa, viewed as a whole, looks like a fortified city with its formidable walls engulfing the ecclesiastical buildings. We walked from the large carpark through the archway bearing the elaborate crest enscribed with the words of Pope John Paul II’s motto (“Totus Tuus”). Many, many visitors, mainly tour groups of pilgrims were streaming through its gates.

We made our way past an ancient-looking water troth to “The Chapel of Our Lady” and its adjoining Baroque interior Bazylika (basilica). We went into the Chapel to catch a glimpse of the Black Madonna picture but there was a big crowd of transfixed onlookers milling around and so we couldn’t get too close. The black-faced Madonna painting, which the faithful consider to be ‘miraculous’, gets wheeled out for public display at certain times of the week.

Basilica Noir Madonna
Basilica Noir Madonna
Personally I found it the spectacle a bit unappetising, far too much pious, self-serving “god-bothering” going on for my taste. Old Chinese saying: when in Rome, avoid drunk, one-eyed motorist gunning it in reverse through a zebra crossing … so fearing that I might break out in a bad case of devotional hives I quickly retreated through the back gate to escape the monastery.

Religo-market
Religo-market
After taking in some basic but inexpensive food at one of the unpretentious eateries located in the garden park behind the monastery, I explored the nearby street. In it there was, side-by-side, two long lines of souvenir stalls selling religious momentos of the Black Madonna and other Catholic luminaries. A few of the stalls also had children’s toys loosely based on this theme … I noticed a child’s plastic Crusader sword & shield set – this is certainly the place for crusaders!

One part of the Jasna Góra complex I would say is definitely worth a look is the Arsenal with its various items of historic interest. A great many of the exhibits in the Arsenal are gifts from European monarchs and rulers of past centuries, those from the Magyars of Hungary include Turkish weapons captured in the decisive 1683 Battle of Vienna, a seminal moment in early modern European history.

Częstochowa is also remembered for other things of a more lamentable nature in history. There is a plaque not far from the monastery which commemorates the massacre of a large group of Polish Jews in the town by the German army at the very start of WWII.image