Tag Archives: Australia

Eurovision Song Contest 2016: Politics, comedy and a man in a hamster wheel

Sod the haters. The 2016 Eurovision Song Contest was actually pretty good. The Swedes were, as ever, superb hosts, there was passable comedy throughout, and the new voting system made for a genuinely exciting climax – even if the final outcome did leave a bad taste.

After three and a half relatively short hours, it was revealed – with a new voting system that split the jury and public votes – that Ukraine had pipped Australia to the post, overturning a huge deficit thanks to the popular vote – not that it didn’t go without controversy.

No politics we were told. “Come Together” they preached. Thus, why were Ukraine allowed a three-minute slot to deliver an obvious message to Russia? Jamala’s winning effort sung of the Soviet Union’s deportation of Crimean Tatars in ‘1944’, which was also the song’s title.

Officials allowed it since it was historical, not political. But two years after Russia’s annexing of Crimea. Come on, really?  It was heartfelt, passionate and all the rest of it, but its intentions were clear – previous songs have been denied entry for less. This was not Eurovision’s finest hour.

Russia is not liked here, but is tolerated (just about). However, one wonders whether they will be welcome in Ukraine a year from now. The nation is also desperate to win again. The bookies’ favourites relied on a catchy – albeit unoriginal – track with magnificent visual effects. It ended up third, behind Ukraine and Australia.

So, what to make of the Aussies, Eurovision’s unlikely insurgents? Dami Im’s ‘Sound of Silence’ was the jury’s pick by a mile, but came up a long way short in the popular vote. Perhaps the good folk of Europe disapprove of Australia’s involvement, or maybe the contest was always ordained to stick one to Russia. Should they come back again? I don’t see why not, but part of me was glad they didn’t win it. It might be time for them to go and start their own contest closer to home.

Scandinavia has pretty much owned the event lately, with Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden (twice) hosting in the past decade, with the last-mentioned proving themselves to be the doyens of Eurovision. In the legitimately funny and ever-popular PETRA MEDE, along with the affable Måns Zelmerlöw, the show had presenters who didn’t look like they’d be hung, drawn and quartered if they put a foot wrong.

The half-time act was littered with brilliance: we were whisked back to ABBA and the glory days, greeted with Eurovision darling (Cockney accent required) Lynda Woodruff and treated to a smorgasbord of the contest’s good, bad and excellent in Petra and Måns’ ultimate Eurovision mashup, ‘Love Love Peace Peace’, which executed parody perfectly. Lordi, the Russian grannies, Alexander Rybak all turned up for cameos.  Oh, and Justin Timberlake made an appearance too.

As for the United Kingdom, the less said the better. We are simply out of ideas. The jury gave us more love than we’ve become accustomed to (Malta awarded us 12!), but the televote just consolidated the known fact that Europe bloody loathes us. ‘Joe and Jake’ did what they could, but our trial with generic pop was shunned.

Now 19 years bereft of top spot, it is high time we took it really, really seriously or give up and go back to sending trash – our “proper” attempts in recent years have reflected an ungodly neediness.

But while the UK isn’t going to be staging Europe’s biggest party any time soon, Sweden showed for the second time in four Eurovisions that it’s in safe and competent hands.

Yes, it was cheesy, and there were plenty of “in” jokes, that would have befuddled those who don’t have the shameless tag of being a ‘Eurovision addict’. But in an era where the contest has developed a reputation for being a joke, to turn it on its head and embrace that was a stroke of genius.

Eurovision is something I usually love to hate, and that feeling will probably return in Kiev(?) next year. But credit where it’s due. Stockholm 2016 was fun, fresh and paid homage to what Eurovision has become. Can Sweden have it every year?

Eurovision Song Contest 2016: Revelling in the Farce

Watching the Eurovision Song Contest these days tends to be a masochistic experience. Lacking class, respect and even a couple of night-redeeming songs, it’s hard to believe that the graceful Katie Boyle hosted this contest in its infancy.

But on we plod – some of us have nothing better to do on a Saturday night – to another year, safe in the knowledge that even if the music’s crap, our eastern European geography will get a much-needed brush up. Nice and easy this year. Stockholm… Sweden.

So what’s to enjoy in 2016? Not that much in all honesty. The usually trusty Scandinavians took a battering in the semi-finals, leaving only Sweden to carry the flag in Saturday’s Grand Final. The trashy Europop that normally floods the show – providing multiple chances to sneer – is notable in its absence. Even the Greeks have shied away from sending over a bit of skirt, evidently not prepared to take even the slightest risk that they might have to host it.

Armenia, however, has followed the unwritten rules, and Iveta Mukuchyan’s risqué outfit should be enough to keep Europe’s red-blooded males until the 26th – yes, TWENTY-SIXTH – and final act of the evening.

To only enhance the farce, Australia, those adopted Europeans, probably have the best entry with Dami Im’s Sound of Silence. The bookies’, late to the news that other countries’ X Factor winners can actually sing, have slashed her odds from 20/1 to 4/1 since her semi-final performance on Thursday.

It has not gone unnoticed that the last few years have seen Eurovision become an LGBT celebration of sorts. Hence, that Russia – cue the boos – is the runaway favourite to swoop to victory adds an element of interest for those who just like to watch the world burn. Since the “anti-gay laws” coupled with the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russia has been Eurovision’s bad boys. And for that reason alone, there would be plenty amusing about seeing the carnival rock up in Moscow a year from now.

But enough about the rest, what about the best? The nation that has sent the nil-point Jemini, a half-cut Bonnie Tyler and the frankly pathetic Scooch to compete since our last victory in 1997, has cobbled together “Joe and Jake” this year – no, I hadn’t a clue either. Both took part in BBC flop ‘The Voice’ last year, but they have a chance of doing better than many of our recent entries… look, I’m trying.

Once the initial tricking of results confirm the British entry has bombed yet again, the drunken debrief can begin. Trashy song? Bloc voting? Probably a combination of both. What about if we put a transvestite up? That worked for Austria, and Israel. Suggestions, suggestions. If only Adele would bite the bullet and prove once and for all that the rest of Europe just loathes us, we could stop pouring in megabucks and FUND OUR NHS INSTEAD!

However, while the music itself – you’re not actually here for that, are you? – will be instantly forgettable, in Sweden, we have a country that knows how to put a show on.

Thankfully for us in Blighty, the Swedes’ humour is not all that dissimilar to ours, so expect popular host Petra Mede to deliver a snigger-inducing innuendo-filled performance. An appearance from another Eurovision “favourite” (she is, in fairness, mildly entertaining), Lynda Woodruff, “spokesperson for the European Broadcasting Union” is expected, as she reprises her role from 2013, the previous time the contest came to Sweden.

A pre-warning: it’s scheduled to last three and a half hours, but expect it to go on even longer. Not that it will matter if you are suitably plastered, as is Eurovision tradition. So, how will I be getting into the spirit of things? A homemade curry – to celebrate the Indian diaspora in Europe, of course – is on the menu, which will be appropriately washed down with Germany’s finest weissbiers. Any excuse.

It’s a shambles, but it’s Europe’s shambles. There’s something still relatively charming about its awfulness – and anyway, what respectable Brit would pass up the opportunity to have a 210-minute moan? And, on the off chance that you still need a reason for Brexit, it won’t hurt to give this a try.

England’s World Cup Campaign: An Optimist’s Review

Judging from much of the media chatter, you could be forgiven for thinking that England have just endured yet another horror show at an ICC event. Failure to secure a victory against a Test playing nation, and bowing out of the competition before the quarter-finals have been the headline grabbers.

However, after looking at the data, it can be deduced that England’s World Cup campaign in Australia and New Zealand has actually been a rip-roaring success. Peter Moores enjoyed his most decorated World Cup as coach – admittedly it was his first, and likely only – while Eoin Morgan recaptured the ability to reach double figures with the bat.

Let’s take a look at each of England’s matches at the event, and why the Barmy Army can make the 10,000-mile trip home in high spirits.

England v Australia – England lost by 111 runs

England’s match with Australia in Melbourne formed part of the curtain-raiser for the tournament and the Three Lions wasted little time in silencing the 84,000-plus crowd. Fearsome bowling from Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes saw them take Australia’s first three wickets for a paltry 70 – a feat unmatched by any other at this year’s World Cup! If not for Aaron Finch, and Glenn Maxwell playing in a way that’s just not cricket, England would have been chasing nowhere near 343.

James Taylor’s 98 left the Poms with much to be encouraged about, and his unfair dismissal – a run-out that screamed of umpiring conspiracy – was evidence of the opposition being terrified England would chase down the further 112 needed in 8.1 overs with one wicket in hand. All in all, a solid start.

England v New Zealand – England lost by 8 wickets

Admittedly, this was hardly the most earth-shattering performance, but there was still plenty to glean from this relatively short display at the office. Winning the toss and batting proved an inspirational decision from Morgan, as England racketed to 100 in 25 overs: well on track for the par score of 250 – wait, it is still 1992 isn’t it? From thereon Tim Southee sent the innings, well, south. But 123 was a total they should have been confident of defending.

It didn’t go quite as planned, yet England could take solace from a killer spell by Chris Woakes, who snaffled two wickets in three overs, with a maiden over to boot. There is no substitute to restricting in-form batsmen when it comes to winning games, and it was Woakes again who delivered, sending Brendon McCullum’s bails flying on only his 25th delivery. Unfortunately, by then he had already tonked 77. Can’t win ’em all.

England v Scotland – England won by 119 runs

England charged to a frighteningly easy win over old foes Scotland. Moeen Ali spanked a Virender Sehwag-esque ton at the top of the order. A day which saw the doubters well and truly silenced. No further comment required.

England v Sri Lanka – England lost by 9 wickets

In a perfect batting display, a Joe Root-powered innings saw England saunter to 309 – superlative to any targets set by the trusty Windows 2000. Root’s 121 was complimented by a late cameo from Jos Buttler, and the duo’s knocks made up for an out-of-form Gary Ballance and a stodgy effort from Morgan.

If they hadn’t spent quite so much time drooling over the soon-to-be-retired Kumar Sangakkara, England perhaps would have claimed a win here, but there were far more important matters at hand. Moeen recorded the second-most economical figures for a spinner who bowled their full 10 overs against Sri Lanka at this World Cup, leaking a mere 50 – only Daniel Vettori conceded fewer. Keeping their opponents batting until the 48th over ensured Sri Lanka were at the crease for longer than in their matches with the two tournament favourites, Australia and New Zealand. A commendable day.

England v Bangladesh – England lost by 15 runs

England narrowly avoided victory against Bangladesh in a contest which typified their tournament. Limiting the Tigers to 275 from their 50 overs – 13 fewer than they managed against the Kiwis – wouldn’t have been possible without James Anderson’s glorious bowling figures of two for 45. It was a score Moores’ side would have been confident of chasing at the interval, with the newly-purchased Windows XP stating they would win providing they scored at least 114 runs from the first 23.1 overs, and lost a maximum of 2.6 wickets.

Once again, forces beyond their control prevented England from keeping their World Cup hopes alive but the Poms had much to cheer about in defeat. England’s innings of 260 was a full 260 more than Australia accumulated against the same opponents – that match was, however, a washout. Early wickets in England’s chase meant Buttler had ample time to make an impact; his 65 from 52 gave his country much to be hopeful about in the future, playing with an aggression never previously seen in his game. Far from an ebbing low, in years to come this match will be viewed as a towering crest for English cricket.

England v Afghanistan – England won by 9 wickets

England culminated their finest World Cup showing for 23 years by pummeling Afghanistan – who will never set foot in a World Cup again if the ICC have their way. Exerting their dominance, England bundled the Afghans out for 111 – their lowest score of the tournament, before biffing off the revised Duckworth/Lewis score with a full seven overs remaining, sending the travelling fans home happily with two points.

Result: England OUT – 5th in Pool A

A mathematical irregularity resulted in two wins from six not being enough to qualify for the next phase of the tournament, something the ICC will undoubtedly try to correct before the 2019 World Cup, which will be held in England and Wales.

However, there are, as usual, many positives to take from England’s curtailed campaign. Due to their early exit, the Test side now have ample time to prepare for their series against the West Indies starting on 13 April. The month lay-off may come as a disappointment, but they say absence makes the heart grow fonder. Which is, yet another positive.

Bowlers hold the key in batsman’s utopia

This article was originally published on Last Word On Sports.

Much has been made about the dominance bat has acquired over ball in One Day cricket—a theme that has only been amplified during this World Cup. The benchmark total of 300 is rapidly being replaced by a younger model, 400—although no one seems to have told England—and in the space of five years, the triple century has usurped the double century as a batsman’s ODI Everest.

When Chris Gayle plundered a sorry Zimbabwe for 215 in Nelson two weeks ago, we witnessed the first ODI 200 that radiated inevitability instead of incredibility. As AB de Villiers shaved five deliveries off Corey Anderson’s fastest hundred in Johannesburg in January—he needed just 31 balls—we took another step towards inexorable batting perfection. David Warner then toyed with the idea of crunching three in Perth last week, as he cantered past 150 with over a third of Australia’s innings to go; admittedly he was “only” battering Afghanistan.

Of the 15 occasions where 400 has been posted by a side in ODI cricket, four have occurred this year, with three from South Africa. Interestingly, four of the five highest totals were recorded in 2006—two by the Proteas. A further 63 totals make the list when including innings in excess of 350, with 27 coming since the turn of the decade. The run-gluts are coming at an unprecedented rate.

However, in the 75 times a target of 350 or greater has been set, only thrice has it proven not to be enough. Scoreboard pressure has, at least, has remained a constant. Sri Lanka looked to be on track to challenge Australia’s 376 in Sydney on Sunday, anchored by yet another seamless Kumar Sangakkara ton, but ultimately, they still fell 65 runs shy of victory.

Analysis of individual statistics would paint a similar picture, there is little point indulging with further mind-boggling statistics. The dawn of batting supremacy has broken—for the first 50 overs anyway.

Therefore is all hope for bowlers lost? Can we conclude that all future pliers of the bowling trade are either masochists or insane? Well, despite the apparent overwhelming evidence, no. In fact, this World Cup has, and will continue to showcase that capable bowlers are worth their weight in gold, fast bowlers in particular. Granted, it is much tougher. Miserly career economy rates are long gone, in that aspect the game has fundamentally changed. Batting powerplays, bigger bats and smaller boundaries suggest this is ICC-induced change, but it doesn’t matter. The contest remains the same.  Good bowling is still good bowling, and it shines as brightly in the new game as it did in the old.

Tim Southee’s seven for 33 against England earlier in the tournament killed the game. In firing out their opponents for 123, New Zealand had killed the game. Similarly in Auckland, Trent Boult’s five wickets gave the Kiwis total command against Australia, dismissing them for 151. It was only another equally impressive bowling effort from Mitchell Starc—who claimed a six-fer—that almost pulled his side back from the brink.

It was Starc who was also vital for Australia when they played Sri Lanka. On a day where 688 runs were racked up, his eight overs for 29 with two late scalps that proved decisive. Conceding fewer than four-an-over choked Sri Lanka’s chase. Every other player in the match went for more than five; four leaked over eight. If just one bowler from the opposition turned in a Starc-like performance, Australia would likely have been restricted to under 350: a score Sri Lanka may well have got close to, considering how ably they handled the first 30 overs of their innings.

Pakistan demonstrated that small totals can still be defended, even against the batting might of South Africa. The choking tag is always bandied around when the latter loses, and in pursuit of 232 they perhaps should have fared better, but Pakistan won this match more than South Africa lost it. Aggressive, fast bowling—a Pakistani trademark—snared wickets, which allowed them to secure the win with the Proteas unable to utilise fourteen overs of their innings. Pakistan’s ferocity with the ball, albeit not at the level of cricket’s Class of ’92 (the Imran Khan-led side who trumped all the last time the World Cup was held on these shores) was a match-winner.

It is not altogether facetious to suggest that the best way to counter attacking batting is through attacking bowling. Brendon McCullum’s Black Caps are living proof. Five times New Zealand have bowled their opposition out this World Cup, five times they have won. Instead of sitting back and protecting strong starts, they have gone for the jugular—employing slip fielders well into the middle overs has not been uncommon. It’s an intriguing policy and one that could prove a trailblazer for future ODI bowling.

Forget slow bouncers and all the other “variations” that in a previous era would have been treated with the disdain they deserve, batsmen have cottoned on. For bowlers, it’s not about reinventing the wheel, but perfecting their original art. Attempting to contain batsmen has become a largely fruitless exercise, although pacers would be well served finding appropriate medication for their yorker allergy. In modern ODI cricket teams must seek to bowl the opposition out at all costs. It’s a high-risk strategy but if a side bats 50 overs they’ll most likely end up well into the 300s anyway—a score that is rarely chased. In this World Cup alone, only three times out of 18 has a 300-plus score been successfully tracked down.

So, working from these musings, who is best placed to take the plaudits at this cricketing carnival? New Zealand are the obvious candidates. McCullum’s men are playing like their rugby counterparts have so often. His brazen approach with the bat has paid dividends so far while Boult and Southee are spearheading the bowling attack with great aplomb: they are currently first and second respectively on the list of leading wicket takers for the tournament.  However, the hosts are yet to break their semi-final duck at World Cups and this run is very much mirroring their 1992 run, the year they last hosted the event, where they topped their group before exiting in the last four.

Australia possess extraordinary batting depth, to an extent where Brad Haddin can come in as low as eight, but they came unstuck against New Zealand in Auckland, and also looked shaky at times with the ball against Sri Lanka: Starc has bailed them out somewhat. Moreover, batting first in all four games has done little to assess their versatility credentials. That said, home advantage and a winning know-how will stand them in good stead as the competition reaches the knockout phases.

Claiming that South Africa have underachieved in the One Day arena would find almost unanimous agreement, and despite the compelling argument for them to break their World Cup duck in 2015, the seeds for another choke are already in place. Untouchable when given first-strike, they have looked a side confused chasing, falling 130 short of India’s 307 in Melbourne, before being skittled for a paltry 202 against Pakistan. Once again, an ICC tournament looks like being South Africa’s kryptonite.

As goes the saying in the sub-continent: “If India and Pakistan never partitioned they would never be beaten,” for the former has the batting might while the Pakistanis have historically reigned supreme with the ball. Alas, we will never know if that presumption would hold true but both have reasons to be optimistic ahead of the latter stages.

Unfancied by many, especially after their tri-series with Australia and England, India have once again turned up to an ICC event and performed. Unbeaten so far, their quick bowlers dismantled West Indies and convincing all-round displays against Pakistan and South Africa gives the defending champions much to be confident about. A likely quarter-final with Bangladesh is an added bonus for MS Dhoni’s men.

Meanwhile, Pakistan announced their revival with a blitzing of South Africa’s power-packed batting lineup in Auckland. They may no longer have the Wasims and Waqars, or the Miandads and Inzamams, but it appears that Misbah-ul-Haq’s men have found some belief. Pakistan’s two ICC victories (1992 World Cup and 2009 World Twenty20) arose following hapless starts. In beating South Africa, we saw glimpses of the old Pakistan. The fiery trio of Mohammad Irfan, Wahab Riaz and Rahat Ali caused chaos with the ball while Sarfraz Ahmed’s inclusion brought a world-record six catches behind the stumps as well as a mood-setting 49 at the top of the order. Their bowling makes up for what their batting has so far lacked—strength in the former may prove vital. A long shot maybe, but the mercurial Pakistan can never be discounted. They thrive on adversity.

Cricket may be hurtling towards a batsman’s utopia, but in a perverse way, it makes a star bowler all that more instrumental. The ability to thwart the McCullum assault is a far rarer trait than being able to blast the ball beyond the boundary, as is the nous to protect a sub-par total. No, the bowler is still essential. It is far too soon to be scribing their obituary.

David Warner century gives Australia command against India

A quick-fire century from David Warner led Australia into a strong position on the opening day of the first Test against India in Adelaide, as they played their first match since the death of Phillip Hughes.

The home side finished on 354-6, but the day was marred after a recurring back injury forced captain Michael Clarke to retire hurt whilst batting on 60. Three wickets in the last five overs prevented Australia from taking total command, with the Indians finally rewarded for their efforts on what was an arduous pitch for the bowlers.

The day began with a 63-second applause for the life of Hughes – the score he was on when struck fatally by a bouncer – before the Adelaide Oval attempted to restore some normality to Australian cricket.

After winning the toss and electing to bat on a supreme batting deck, Warner immediately went on the attack. Crunching seven boundaries from his first 15 deliveries – all through the offside – Australia waltzed to 45-0 from the opening five overs, giving stand-in captain Virat Kohli an early headache. With the line outside off stump being slaughtered, Varun Aaron resorted to the first bouncer of the series, a snorter which was greeted with genuine claps from the stands.

With the new ball pairing of Mohammed Shami and Varun Aaron proving costly, Ishant Sharma was called upon to restore some control, which he did in his second over as an edge from Chris Rogers flew straight to Shikhar Dhawan at second slip.

A belligerent Warner continued to milk the attack at more than a run a ball, reaching his half-century from just 45 balls, but an under pressure Shane Watson was unable to settle, and a tame effort to run an Aaron ball behind point, brought his demise for just 14 as Dhawan snaffled another.

If there is one significant milestone for a batsman en route to three figures, for the foreseeable future Australia will have two. Upon reaching 63 with a controlled sweep, an emotional Warner looked to the heavens as rapturous cheers reverberated around the ground. Hughes was selected as a special 13th man for this Test match, one imagines he will be with his teammates long past their playing careers.

Only a paltry 24 overs were bowled by India before lunch, which saw Australia manage 113-2, and after the 40-minute interval Warner and Clarke pushed on, scoring with consummate ease as the pace bowlers remained expensive. Continuing to accumulate at almost five runs an over, it wasn’t long before Warner registered his fifth Test hundred of the 2014, reaching the landmark from just 106 deliveries, in an innings consisting of 14 fours.

It was when all appeared to be going swimmingly – Clarke’s 50 up and the century partnership raised – that the brightening mood at the Oval was dampened. An unassuming delivery that sailed down the legside would have been forgotten if it didn’t bring with it a twinge to Clarke’s back. As he sunk to the ground in evident discomfort. it soon became clear the captain would not be able to carry on. Forced to trudge off after a well made 60, one could only wonder just how long the chronic injury will sideline him for this time.

Clarke’s exit brought Steve Smith to the crease, who, along with Warner, calmly guided Australia to an imposing 238-2 by the time tea was called. Six overs beyond the interval, Warner’s knock finally came to an end as debutant Karn Sharma picked up his maiden Test wicket, but a devastating 145 from 163 balls, had put his team firmly on top.

The slow over rate over the first two sessions meant a mammoth 40 overs had to be bowled in the day’s third session, not a problem as it was a typically bright, clear, South Australian day. Mitchell Marsh joined Smith at the wicket, the latter rock solid in progressing past 50, and 63, on his way to an unbeaten 72 by the end of the day.

It looked like Marsh would be joining him in the pavilion with Australia three down and in a position of complete dominance, but his dismissal for 41 in the 85th over, sparked a mini collapse.

Night watchman Nathan Lyon was bowled for three, before Brad Haddin nicked off to wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha, as Shami picked up two late wickets, ensuring the Aussies finished the day six down – effectively seven with Clarke almost certain not to bat – for 354.

The trio of wickets at the end provided a twist in the tail in what was otherwise a poor day for India, and a fantastic one for their opponents. Concerns will swirl over Shami and Aaron who leaked over five runs an over combined, but they were redeemed by their three wickets at the end, which has giving their side a foothold in the contest.

If they can skittle the tail out early tomorrow morning, a brilliant pitch awaits their batsmen. Ishant bowled tightly, restricting the Australian batsmen well, while spinner Karan Sharma improved on a very nervous beginning.

After a day where no one was quite sure what would occur, as cricket looked to move on from what has been one of its darkest fortnights, once again we can talk about the sport we all love in a brighter context. A sport which today proved, we can all be very proud of indeed.