SXSW 2007

This is my travel blog. It started as a way for people to keep up with my trip to Australia to watch the 2006/7 Ashes series, and continued with my trip to SXSW 2007 in Austin, Texas, and Las Vegas in March '07.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

End of tour analysis.

The worst thing we could do now is do the usual England media inspired new broom approach. I guess the media back home are calling for Fletcher's head (as usual with any England coach in any sport who fails to win). I think this would be stupid. When you look dispassionately at what has occurred several things come to mind.
Firstly this is a very good Aussie team. No, make that a great Aussie team. In terms of how they dominate their sport they are up there with the West Indies from 1975-95, the Brazilian football team of the early 1970's and the current All Black rugby team. To give you some idea of the amount of experience in the side that just beat us, Moz and I were watching a rerun of the Oval Ashes test in 2001 on TV (it was raining in the S.Africa vs India game) last night.Of that Aussie side, 8 played in this series - Langer, Hayden,Ponting,Martyn, Gilchrist, Warne, McGrath and Lee. Only the Waugh twins have retired and Gillespie is still on the fringes of the team. That's over 5 years ago. No-one from the England side was still around for this series. Tufnell was still playing for God's sake! When you have that sort of continuity you have a massive body of experience to draw on.

Secondly, this series was closer than the 5-0 scoreline would suggest. Just as 2005 could have been 4-1 to Australia, this series could have been 3-1 to the Aussies or even at a pinch 2-2. In every test bar Brisbane there has been a point at which the test was right in the balance. And each time some Aussie player stood up and produced a wicket or innings when required. We didn't. That has been the difference. Make no bones about it, we competed in this series, just not for long enough in each test to force the Aussies into errors.
Thirdly, despite all the naysayers England are still 2nd in the Test rankings, slightly above the pack chasing Australia. No-one else has looked remotely like challenging them - they are on a run of 10 or 11 consecutive wins since the Ashes defeat in 2005. They have just beaten S Africa home and away. The last team to manage a series draw here in Oz was India in 2003, when they had their very powerful batting lineup at full strength and (more crucially) both McGrath and Warne were unavailable through injury and a ban. That is what faces the Aussies now those two are gone. The inability to bowl teams out in pretty much any conditions.
Fourthly, England's team is young. Of the current lineup all should be available for the 2009 Ashes series in England. A good proportion of them are in their early to mid twenties. Cook, Bell, Pietersen, Anderson, Madmood, Panesar are all young and learning. This will have been a tough time for them all but they SHOULD take something from this defeat. It should give them the hunger to improve, give them a standard to aspire to. Indeed if I were England coach I would be looking at those young players for the signs that it has hurt them and that they want to improve. Those would be the ones I would want to keep. Anyone who was prepared to think that the status quo would be good enough, as you don't play Australia all the time, would be out on his ear. There must be a hunger to win.
Finally, as good as this Aussie team is, it's finished. Four members have gone this series - Martyn, Langer, Warne and McGrath. Before the next Ashes series both Hayden and Gilchrist will have gone too. As good as Ponting and Hussey are they will not be able to carry the batting lineup totally themselves. No-one could possibly repeat what Gilchrist has done at number 7. It's unprecedented to have a wicket keeper who can average 50 in Test cricket. As for Warne and McGrath, what more can be said. Over 1200 test wickets between them. Even if you found two players with equal talent they would take time to bed in. And you are not going to get replacements, especially for Warne. He is a once in a lifetime, even century, kind of player. So the Australian side faces a tough few years of retrenchment. You can see how tough it will be by the manic insistence in the Aussie press that everything will be alright and no-one need to panic. Everything will continue as normal. Well, I don't buy it. Right now I would rather be in England's shoes. Yes we are low, but the path is upwards. The Australians are standing on the edge of a high cliff looking into the abyss, with no idea how far the bottom is away. In 10 months time, when they play their next test series, they will have to step off that cliff and see what occurs. I for one shall be watching with interest.

Friday, January 05, 2007

At least the end was mercifully quick. As McGrath removed Pietersen in the first over of the day there was never any faint hope of a lead over 150 and a potential banana skin run chase. A few edges and the odd slog from Harmison and the target was only 46 for Australia to chase to win the series 5-0 and repeat the 1920-21 scoreline. McGrath took the last wicket with what would be his last ball in Test cricket.
Harmison and Anderson did their best and Langer wore a Hamison short ball on the chest but the inevitable happened soon after midday. Hayden smacked Mahmood over long on for 6 to level the scores and hit an easy single next ball to win the game. This seemed rather selfish on his part as Langer had apparently never hit the winning runs in a test. It would have taken only one dot to give Langer the strike and let him score the winning runs. But I suppose that's the Aussie way - never give in to emotion, just win the game. Perhaps England should follow the example.

So we now have 3 spare days to kill before our return. Moz has booked up some tours - the Blue Mountains for one. I plan to go to Manly on the ferry one day, and into the blue Mountains by train to the Zig Zag railway tomorrow. It's a preserved steam railway travelling through some spectacular countryside so I should get some good photos. A bit of shopping on our last day on Monday and that's it! Back to damp, cold, dark evenings etc etc. All good things come to an end......................

Thursday, January 04, 2007

If only England had as good fortune as I have managed on this tour. Not only have I survived a train wreck without a scratch but today managed to score a ticket to day 3 at the SCG for face value. Due to a ticketing mix up we had no tickets for today. Moz decided to take the day off from cricket to do some sightseeing while I maintained the cricket hardcore stance and set off early to see if I could find someone with a spare ticket. After wandering up and down outside the ground for a good 15 minutes without even seeing a tout I was beginning to wonder if I would get in. Just then 3 guys wandered past, one pulling the tickets out of his pocket and passing them on to his mates, saying "Well that means I've got 1 ticket to get rid of then." I don't think I've ever moved so fast! Before anyone else could get in there, the deal was done and a ticket in the Bill O'Reilly stand was mine for face value. Result! Now all I needed was for England to come up with the goods as well.
Jimmy Anderson came up trumps and dismissed Hussey in his first over caught behind. Some attritional cricket followed with several close shaves as Gilchrist rode his luck, skying one off Harmison between all the fielders. Then a stupid shot by Symonds 2 short of his fifty, and he was bowled by Panesar. Warne came in to a standing ovation to what will probably be his last test innings. First ball went for 4, swept down to fine leg. Second ball for 6 over mid wicket. He then survived a very confident appeal for caught behind off Panesar. Radio confirmed he had gloved it which led to some heavy sledging from behind the stumps by Read. This led Warne complain to the umpire.Very ironic given his history when bowling himself! Gilchrist looked in good form and ready to take the game away from England when he got a bit of a shocker from Bowden - given out caught behind off Anderson, when it looked like he had hit the ground. Lee fell immediately after lunch caught behind again giving Read 5 catches in a innings for the second time in a row. At this stage Australia were 325-8, 36 in front. Stuart Clark played and missed repeatedly but England could not get the wicket. Warney played his shots as always and Clark began to hit a few as well. Mahmood made a schoolboy error by not getting behind the stumps when bowling when he could have run Warne out easily. It proved a costly error as the runs mounted as did the lead for Australia. It began to look as if Warne might get his much desired Test hundred in his last test! At least that ignominy was spared for England when eventually Clark skied one off Mahmood and Warne soon followed, well stumped by Read off Panesar, going for one big hit too many. Read ended up with 6 dismissals in the innings, equally the record for Ashes tests, again for the 2nd time in succession. If only he could bat..................
So England went in for their 2nd innings 102 in arrears. Cook fell with only 5 on the board trying to pull a ball from Lee that was too wide for that shot. Strauss then got poleaxed by Lee, being hit on the side of the helmet. For while it looked like he might have to go off but seemed OK and carried on. But not much later he was lbw to Clark, Bell following soon after as well leaving England 60ish-3. Collingwood and Pietersen ground it out to just about par, batting stoutly against very well directed bowling. Nothing to hit was given and eventually Collingwood drove loosely at another Clark delivery and was caught in the gully. Freddie and Pietersen seemed to be seeing it out til the close when that man Warne lured Freddie ever so slightly too far forward and was stumped by a very alert Gilchrist. With that, any chance England had probably vanished. Monty was sent out as nightwatchman and did his job, facing out Clark with every fielder around the bat.
So the end should come fairly quickly tomorrow, unless Pietersen can summon up a miracle. I keep going to games involving England and Australia which require a miracle. Maybe tomorrow will be the 1 in a 1000. Who knows?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

It's nip and tuck in this game so far. Despite England's failure to manage reach even 300 this morning, they are still in this game.
Collingwood went early, caught behind, Read soon followed that, having never looked like getting in. Mahmood went first ball, completely flummoxed by a Lee thunderbolt. Harmison hung around with Freddie who got within 11 of his century. After Harmison was out Freddie rather threw it away when faced with just Panesar and Anderson to bat with. England closed on 291 all out.
Australia set off like the proverbial, Langer especially. He was strangled down the legside by Anderson, but Ponting and Hayden looked really set to grind England into the dust when, completely out of the blue, Hayden flashed at a wide ball from Harmison and was caught of the toe end in the slips. Not long after Ponting pushed the ball straight to Anderson at mid on, set off and Anderson hit direct with a rocket throw. I could tell from my position at deep mid wicket that it was out, and England's body language said the same. Sure enough the 3rd umpire confirmed us all correct and Ponting was on his way. After tea the rain clouds threatened us several times but seemed to pass around the ground. Then, just as a dark bunch of clouds promised us a heavy shower , Harmison produced a lifter to remove Clarke. Before Symonds could even reach the wicket the umpires were on their way off. The covers soon followed and for about half an hour the drizzle set in. Then as it cleared the umpires came out and were very decisive for once. The covers were slowly (in my opinion) removed and play resumed with 11 overs or 55 minutes to finish the day. Despite tight bowling from Harmison and Anderson England could not force another wicket, despite a poor shot from Symonds in the last over, bowled by Panesar. Having just lofted him over the infield for 4, he tried to repeat the shot, a skewed the ball just over points head. It's that sort of headstrong behaviour in a crucial point in a test match that will prevent him from becoming genuine test all rounder.
With Australia on 188-4 at close, tomorrow looks set to be a good day with all to play for. Unfortunately we don't have tickets due to a mix up over tickets. But we will try to get some from the touts outside in the morning. Failing that we'll just have to watch it on the TV. We've got tickets for day 4 and day 5 should be OK, so lets hope it goes to the wire!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The after effects of the NYE celebrations are still being felt by certain members of our group. There was no movement by anyone before midday on New Years Day. I spent most of the afternoon sorting out my photos and uploading them to this blog and the online album. Moz eventually surfaced and went for a walk to Bondi beach. Later we both met up with John Shiner (another ex-Nationwide expat), who had sorted out our tickets here, for a curry, which is the Morris tradition on New Years Day. It turned into a bit of a farce, as despite making a booking, the restaurant cancelled it and gave our table to other customers. So we were standing around for ages to wait for a table. They then messed up our order and Tutes didn't get his main course, and various other dishes never showed up either. The food that did arrive was very good though. I think we ended up paying about $15 each (£6) so at least we weren't too out of pocket!

On the the CRICKET! Another damp start to a test, with the start delayed by over an hour. It had rained heavily overnight and the drizzle was enough to stop play. When things got underway England won the toss and batted - a reasonable decision given the conditions vs the obvious problems of batting last at the SCG. Despite another solidish start Strauss and Cook failed to push on and both fell close together, either side of 50 runs. A solid partnership between Bell and Pietersen ensued. Play was pretty slow at times in the afternoon, but they batted through unbeaten til tea. Unfortunately they both got out (to that man McGrath) soon after. Despite an obvious opening Australia didn't seem to really push their advantage and by the close Freddie and Collingwood had moved on to about 240-4. Honours even for day 1, loads to do on day 2.

Our seats were in Barmy Army central. In fact our seats were directly in front of the trumpeter Billy Cooper, and "Jimmy Saville" the cheerleader. So we were involved in all the singing and chanting and general chitchat between the Barmies and the Aussies. Today we are in the same sort of area but higher up in the stand.

Monday, January 01, 2007

There are 3 ways to get the best views of the NYE celebrations in Sydney Harbour - Firstly queue for hours to get the best spots around the harbour. You can count on at least an 8 hour wait, probably 10-12. Secondly own your own boat. Then you can sit in it in the harbour and enjoy the show at your leisure. A bit of an expensive option. Or you can take the third way as we did and book onto a cruise boat that takes you around the harbour all night and gives you great views of the city and the fireworks. It's not cheap but in terms of bang for your buck it's worth every penny. We were booked on to one of the paddle steamer type boats, and were on an all in ticket. All food and alcohol included. I think Moz and Tutes took this as a challenge. As I write its about 12:30pm here and Moz is still in bed. I suspect he maybe there for a while yet. I have a great picture of him sprawled on a bench in the metro on the way home. I'll try to upload if I can. As for Tutes, well I left him at Jason and Fizza's hotel in Darling Harbour. They were drinking champagne as a celebration of Jason getting engaged to his girlfriend earlier in the evening, also on one of the party boats. Tutes had to get back to Kings Cross where his hotel was so I hope he made it.
Our evening started when we met Tutes in the metro as we were heading towards the quay to find our boat. Only he was heading in the opposite direction.
"Where are you off to Tutes?" "Oh I've forgotten the booking sheet. I've got to go and get it" "You won't need that, come with us. You won't make it in time" "Yes I will. Don't worry, I'll be back."
So off we go to the quay, find the boat, find out we don't need any booking number. Ring Tutes "Come back Tutes you don't need it" Eventually he makes it back about 15 minutes before the boat was due to set off. Under questioning admits would not have made it back in time if we hadn't rung when we had. Not the best way to have spent NYE - on your own, knowing you should be out on the harbour having a ball.
Anyway, everything went very well after that. The food was excellent - I had expected nothing too fancy but we had a 4 course meal, served in stages over the evening. The alcohol, well that flowed freely as you might expect. One strange thing that occurred was as our boat left Darling harbour, we were standing up front outside. A catamaran passed us and as I looked down on it I saw a bloke standing at the front of it that looked just like Monty Panesar. "Oy Moz that looks like Monty Panesar" "Yes it is. OY MONTY MONTY PANESAR" yelled at top volume. I've never been so embarrassed in my entire life, the situation not improved by the fact that it was actually Monty, together with the rest of the team. Well I assume so, as we saw Freddie, Jimmy Anderson and Geraint Jones as well. Amazingly Monty gave us a wave anyway. Perhaps if they got a pissed as Moz and Tutes did last night they might play a bit better!
The fireworks were superb, with 2 shows, one at 9pm and the other at midnight. The theme was A Diamond night in Emerald City. So called because the bridge is celebrating its diamond (75th) birthday in 2007, and Sydney is also known as the Emerald City. So lots of green and white fireworks, all the boats decorated with diamond and emerald shapes. All in all a great show.
Back to more mundane matters the news has just announced that Justin Langer is retiring as well after the SCG test. So that makes 3 retirees after this series. Just Hayden and Gilchrist to go.