Friday, October 26, 2007

Murali is last hope for Wallaby wannabe.

Mike Ticher
Friday October 26, 2007


Don Bradman was a total bastard, a grumpy, greedy tight-arse, who could not even score one run the last time he played.

This is not my view but that of a satirical TV programme that recently made headlines here in Australia with those lyrics in a song suggesting various dead celebrities were not quite the "top blokes" portrayed in their eulogies.

Bradman is the ultimate sporting hero of our prime minister, John Howard, who identifies as much with the buttoned-up style of the hypochondriac Adelaide stockbroker as with his cricketing achievements. In the middle of an election campaign, which Howard seems certain to lose, he has found time to announce funding of A$6.5m (£2.9m) for the museum dedicated to Bradman in his home town of Bowral - which is not even in a marginal seat.

So he took great offence at the description of Bradman, calling it "distasteful and despicable". Perhaps it was not just the part about being a grumpy, greedy tight-arse Howard hated so much but the reference to Bradman's duck in his last Test innings, since more than one commentator has suggested Howard's own career may be about to end in a similar deflating way.

If it does, international sport will lose one of its all-time great coat-tail grabbers and shameless opportunists, not to mention the worst bowler in the history of photo opportunities. Howard unwisely put his cricketing abilities on display when visiting Kashmir in 2005. As readers of the Clip joint on this page yesterday will know, his first ball, delivered with an unconvincing off-spinner's action, failed to reach - let alone trouble - the unimpressed local batsman. Worse, after he lets go, it trickles towards an onlooker at silly mid-off. From about a metre away he chucks back the ball, which Howard drops.

Undaunted by his incompetence, the PM has appeared at every possible sporting occasion in his 11 years in office, easily surpassing Tony Blair as a statesman capable of surfing on any national triumph and souring any setback. When England won the Rugby World Cup in Sydney four years ago, Howard stomped down the victors' line all but throwing the medals at them, in a performance that led armies of compatriots to write to the papers complaining of his "lemon-sucking grimace", "worthy of any discontented five-year-old at a birthday party".

Not that such ringing endorsements have prevented him donning national sporting garb at all times, above all the Wallabies tracksuits that adorn his daily pre-breakfast power walk. So iconic has the Howard style become that it recently forced a startling change of policy on the Chinese government through what can best be described as tracksuit diplomacy. When the premier, Wen Jiabao, went walking with Howard in Canberra last year he was humiliated by the contrast between his plain outfit and Howard's sparkling Melbourne Commonwealth Games get-up. Wen's advisers have since kitted him out in Beijing Olympics gear for his jogging commitments on a tour of Europe.

Howard's application of clunky cricket analogies to politics is as elegant as his bowling action. In the last election he claimed at one point his Liberal Party was "three for about 268 [in the campaign] but the right-hand opener is still there." This time it needs several hundred to avoid the follow-on, and is wishing it had dropped the right-hand opener before the series started.

Howard is struggling to turn round ominous opinion polls, secure a fifth straight election victory and, most importantly, make sure he will still have the use of his personal RAAF plane to take him to and from the Boxing Day Test at the MCG (cost to the taxpayer last year a mere £5,700). He needs a distraction, a circuit-breaker such as the Tampa refugee crisis he exploited so successfully in the 2001 election. And at this desperate late stage there can be only one contender for the sports-mad PM: Muttiah Muralitharan.

Murali has two Tests before the election in which to snare the nine wickets he needs to overhaul Shane Warne as the leading Test wicket-taker. Howard has form. The last time Sri Lanka visited, in 2004, he was instrumental in Murali's refusal to tour, when he branded the spinner a chucker with the words: "They proved it in Perth too, with that thing." That thing, to be more technical, was the biomechanics test that showed Murali straightened his arm to an extent that was then illegal when bowling the doosra.

Howard might have to bend the truth by only about, say, 14 degrees, to whip up a wave of anti-Murali sentiment. It is an edgy time. The visitors have already had anxious meetings about likely crowd reactions, and plain-clothes police are to be deployed inconspicuously (presumably dressed in body paint and watermelon helmets) to weed out the kind of troublemakers who have targeted Murali in the past.

If Howard could only harness that sentiment, then hold up Warne as the iconic national figure who represents everything good about Australia . . . no, you're right, he's a goner.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

God Save Our Gracious Queen

"God Save Our Gracious Queen"

Today I sung the above words at Islington Town Hall as part of my UK Citizenship Ceremony.

All very formal, with an address from Col. Kay, the Council's Deputy Lieutenant, an oath of allegiance to the Queen, acceptance of certificates and passport wallet, followed by a rousing rendition of The National Anthem.

Well, there you go, I'm now a dual citizen. Unlike Rupert Murdoch. Hah! Oh, and an avowed republican. Sorry, Queen.

Oh yeah, and a big shout to my Grandfather, Henry Plimpton...born 140 years ago in Hackney. Without him, I wouldn't be over here today!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Hitz on the web.

The group I'm involved with over here, ALP Abroad, has been getting a fair bit of press over the last week or so, as the election mill starts to get up to speed. Here's a few articles where we have gained a mention: