Team VA's Wonderings

Friday, January 26, 2007

Quiet, Genius at Work

I’ve not really done previews on this blog, just the occasional ‘I’m off to do this tomorrow’, but in my last post, I gave Federer the big build up-pretty risky if you don’t believe in tempting fate. Did he disappoint? After making a record 11th consecutive slam semi, did he reach a record equalling seventh consecutive slam final? You may well know the answer, but if you don’t you’ll have to wait, as there was a little other business first.

Fernando Gonzalez bt Rafael Nadal 6-2, 6-4, 6-3
Nadal was the obvious favourite and I certainly didn’t think he could go out in straight sets. He may have been recovering from his exertions against Murray; Gonzalez certainly borrowed from Murray’s tactical approach. Gonzalez played brilliantly. At the time I thought he’d have given Federer a good test, which he may still do in the final. I lost count of the number of screamers he struck. I was pleased he won. Firstly, because of Nadal’s disrespect. He hit balls for over a minute after the umpire called time; he’d kept Gonzalez and the umpire waiting at the toss; Gonzalez had never reached the semi of a slam and Nadal was making him wait, trying to unnerve him. You can say that’s just sport, but I wasn’t the only who didn’t like it. It looked like it might have worked as Gonzalez made a nervy start, but after 4 games he dominated the match.

Secondly, I always love a winner who cries and that’s exactly what happened in his post match interview.

The previous day, John had managed to get a return ticket half way through the day session-he’d caught the end of Aussie Kim’s comeback against Hingis and the 5 setter between Haas and Davydenko. Now he’s got the bug, he was looking for tickets for today. We agreed to meet at 8 to queue up for returns for the ladies semis-no guarantee of a ticket, but we were supposed to have a good chance. After a couple of hours, a guy came up with a pair of tickets he didn’t need, which we bought off him. Always a bit of a risk, but the tickets looked fine.

We headed into the complex and stood by some statues-John has the photos, but as a preview, I can tell you that one involves me, a pink headband and Pat Cash. Then it was time to go and sit down in Rod Laver. This proved to be a bit tricky as there were people in our seats. One of my pet hates is people who are unable to read tickets at sport, theatres and on planes and sit in the wrong seat. With a sigh we compared tickets; with a sense of dread we saw they had the exact same tickets. I spoke to a steward and it was looking promising-seemed this sort of thing happened and they’d probably be able to seat us elsewhere. So we waited and a supervisor came and asked us some questions. This was starting to look bad.

We weren’t exactly removed by security, but not far off. Turns out our tickets were stolen and had been reissued-we had the duds; I have used touts a few times and this is always the risk. Once we’d been through the bar code scanner to enter Melbourne park, I figured we’d be OK. I was wrong. Luckily, there were still some tickets available-quite a few returns had come in and there were still 30 left, so we bit the bullet, bought another two tickets and headed back into Rod Laver. This time our seats were empty and we’d only missed 3 games of the men’s doubles semi. And lost $100!

Serena Williams bt Nicole Vaidisova 7-6, 6-4
Felt the Czech would need to win the first set to make her first final. She served for it, she had set point, she came back to 5-5 from 5-1 in the tiebreak, but she couldn’t win it. She suffered in the match from only playing her best when well behind. She was 5-1 down in the second set before closing to 5-4. This was when the match truly came alive and it was a shame there was no third set.

Serena was asked in the post match interview how it felt to back in the top 20 of the rankings; she jumped up and down, screaming ‘that’s awesome’. I guess it was news to her.

Maria Sharapova beat Aussie Kim 6-4, 6-2
This match started strongly and then fell apart. Kim had an early break, Maria got it back and the quality was very good. Then as Sharapova got stronger, Kim went off the boil. Evntually Sharapova did the same, serving a host of doubles, but Kim couldn’t capitalise. It was as if they both knew the match was over and lost focus. They were right. When she was playing, Sharpaova was very impressive. I hope she wins when Nicole and I go to Saturday’s final.

‘I know it’s over, but it never really began’
Not sure if Andy Roddick is a Smiths fan, but he surely echoed this sentiment last night.

Roger Federer was on a different planet taking Andy Roddick to pieces 6-4, 6-0, 6-2. I was very excited. I’d not had a lot of sleep and had struggled in the afternoon. Since then I’d had a few drinks with John, who stayed to watch the game on the big screen. I should have been a prime candidate for nodding off, but that was never going to happen. To stop myself bouncing up and down, I wrote while I waited for the players to be introduced.

This isn’t so much a tennis match, as a pilgrimage. It’s like seeing Ali, Barry John, Niklaus, Korbet, Michael Johnson, Bradman, Thorpe, Botham. Federer is in a very select band of all time greats. Just sitting here, waiting, I’m feeling very emotional about it. Surely it can’t live up to the level I’m building this up to.

In the event, it far exceeded my expectations.

Federer’s start was merely brilliant. He broke Roddick’s opening service, drawing gasps from the crowd as he immediately found his range. He had a slightly wobbly service game and at 4-4, he’d been the better player, but there was encouragement for Roddick. Then something happened. Federer went to a level that only he has. A level I believe only he has ever had. Sporting greatness is too easily bestowed in our overhyped age; pundits therefore have to use genius to distinguish the brilliant from the outstanding. I’ve often wondered if sporting genius is something that can really exist. Can you apply genius to sport? I’ve seen Warne, Jimmy, Ronnie, Woods and a number of others who’ve had label applied to them. Until last night I still wasn’t convinced. Federer is a genius.

He won the first set, and then blitzed Roddick in the second. It was simply incredible to watch. The stats tell some of the story.

I guess he could work on that first serve a bit.

It was overdrive plus some. The crowd were sitting there awestruck, applauding and wondering what Roddick could do. Nothing. No one could. It reminded me of the US Open final I saw, when Federer beat Hewitt 6-0, 7-6, 6-0. Hewitt was on a massive unbeaten run; he had won the US Open series (essentially he had been the best player in the US hard court season); he hadn’t dropped a set in the US Open; he wasn’t the favourite, but it was expected to be a match up. Federer wiped the floor with him. Hewitt never stops fighting and he won 6 games. I said that Federer would have beaten anyone, from anytime in the history of the game that night. Last night, he repeated the trick and Roddick was his victim.

I did feel sorry for Roddick, everyone did. He had the best seat in the house to watch Federer, but it was no consolation. He’s teamed up with Jimmy Connors, made massive progress and beat Federer two weeks ago in Kooyong (admittedly, this was an exhibition match, where Federer decided he’d play serve and volley for the first time in a few years as it was windy and it might come in handy). Roddick himself had said that the gap between them had closed and he had reason to hope. I have never seen a sportsman look so lost. At 5-0 in the second he smashed at a ball in frustration and the racket slipped out of his hand and nearly hit a photographer. In the past Roddick might have held his hands up and said too good, but recent events had changed his expectations and this really hurt. It was cruel, but beautiful to watch. Roddick didn’t throw the towel in, but in a boxing match it would have been stopped. Roddick was reduced to being cheered for wining points (6 in the second set) and lauded for winning games in the third.

Federer was even invincible with Hawkeye. He might as well have called the lines-he challenged 4 times and was right 4 times. Roddick’s two challenges were both wrong. It got to the stage where the crowd would shout ‘he’s missed one’. Someone bellowed ‘He’s human, Andy’, I shouted ‘barely’.

I needed to go to the toilet after 3 games. I didn’t move a muscle-it was all over in an hour and 23 minutes and I’m pleased to say I held on. When I met John afterwards, he was saying the crowd reaction at the big screen was the same. We decided that after that, we’d have to make a bit of a night of it.

When I’d known Rich for a few years he told me he’d seen Dennis Taylor beat Steve Davis in the greatest snooker match ever. I was astounded. I’d known the man for years and he’d never seen fit to mention it. I told him, it should be the first thing he said to anyone-‘Hi, I’m Richard Hughes and I was at the Crucible in 1985.’ After tonight, I shall be introducing myself ‘Hi, I’m John van de Poll and I saw Roger Federer beat Andy Roddick in Melbourne’.

To paraphrase Sid Waddell ‘When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer……… Federer’s only 25’.

Grand Slam leg one will surely be completed on Sunday. And I thought Gonzalez would trouble him. It was worth every penny of the ticket. And every penny of the two I’d had to buy earlier in the day!

So am I getting carried away? Two bits of the BBC website-John Lloyd has called it ‘the best he has ever seen’ and there’s an article asking ‘Federer-was this his greatest ever performance’? And Federer himself declared himself unbeatable. From anyone else, that would sound ridiculously cocky. With Federer, it’s just a simple statement of fact.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I love Roger Federer

I would love to have been a professional sportsman. No surprise there.

Had I been one, I'd have wanted to be bloody good.

And I've wanted to be flair, not merely a functional player who got results.

But I'd also want to have conducted myself on and off the court in the right way. So no McEnroe temper, no Gazza idiocy, not a shallow playboy (any premiership footballer), no endorsing anything that will pay me money like Tiger and I'd like to have enjoyed it, had a smile on my face when I played and realised that I was bloody lucky.

Roger Federer is everything I would have like to have been. I could have coped with being Swiss-they make Toblerone after all. He's humble, unbelievable to watch and in terms of domination of his sport, only he and Tiger Woods bear any comparison at the current time. There is a good chance that both will retire and be acclaimed as the best their sport has ever seen. I think Federer is locked on for that; Woods has a little way to go.

I don't normally enjoy sporting dominance. I like the romance and unpredictabilty of sport, which means I'm probably more a fan of losers than winners-Jimmy White rather than Hendry, Henman rather than Sampras; or players who should have won more than they did, but didn't have the iron will of Lendl-Seve, Greg Norman, Boris Becker; and those that are just in fairy tale land-Kelly Holmes, Jimmy Glass and so on. I'm not sure I've ever taken a dominant player or team to my heart before (aside from the European Ryder Cup team); I don't remember cheering for a side, whom no one can think how to beat. Federer lost to two players last year (Murray and Nadal), he's been in every slam final since the he lost to Nadal is the semi of the 2005 French. The French in 04 is the last time he didn't make at least the semis of a slam. In the last 3 years he's lost 15 times; he's won 247 times. In two of those losses he held matchpoint, in another he was 2 sets up in the final against Nalbandian, even though he was injured and was only playing because he felt the end of year Masters Cup should have the world no 1 there. It should be boring by now. It isn't to me.

I hope Federer wins every slam this year-he deserves it.

He won last night, which means he is through to tomorrow night's semi, which I have a ticket for. I am stupidly excited. I fully expect to see him despatch Roddick in straight sets (even though Roddick beat Federer in the warm up at Kooyong when Federer decided to play serve-volley for a change) and I expect to savour every moment.

While speaking of inspirational people, John is now in Melbourne. To celebrate the 5 hours sleep he has had in the past 2 days, we went out last night, had pizza and had to leave 2 bars at closing time. And it's only just begun........

Monday, January 22, 2007

Thank you

I just wanted to issue a belated, but heartfelt, thank you to everyone who wrote on the Xmas card that was done at the Juxon Street Xmas party. It's nice to know people are thinking of you! I got it when I got to Helen's last week.

I thought of you lot when I was in the most awful club last week at the Casino. I'm not sure if that says more about me or you.

Have a break

I’ve never been to all 5 days of a test match; there have been a couple of occasions when I was scheduled to, but the games had an early finish. So the last 5 days at Melbourne Park have probably been the most full on sport watching I have ever done, although the Olympics were certainly more emotionally intense. I’ve been surprised just how much I have thoroughly enjoyed it; I’ve not watched much tennis before, so I may have been lucky. The poor matches have been over quickly, while the 3 and 4 hour jobs have been enthralling. I’ve had a nice mix of seeing players I want to win and match ups, where I’ve had no partisan preconceptions. It’s nice to be having a rest today, although I am writing this while Hingis plays on the telly: I’m back on Wednesday night for what I think will be a men’s quarter, then for the men’s semis and ladies final. My predictions haven’t been much cop-Mauresmo went yesterday, so did Gasquet, Hingis is a break down and Roddick’s doing well. Still Federer’s still there. Should not have said that-if he doesn’t make the semis I will be seriously gutted. My only problem has been heavy eyelids brought on by too many late nights out.

Anyway, what happened on my last day before heading to Rod Laver? For a number of reasons I didn't start at the Vodafone arena this morning:
There was play on the outside courts, so I knew Vodafone wouldn't be full.
The Tommy Haas game on Vodafone didn't appeal.
Due to the weather I hadn't seen much on the outer courts
With the Vodafone roof shut, I'd hardly been outside at all.
My tan was suffering.
I hadn't been on show court 3.
So I headed to see Ashley Harkleroad play Daniela Hantuchova. I’d seen both of them play doubles and they'd been noticeably the best players on court in their respective matches, so this looked the pick of the matches that were up first.

This is show court 3

This is essentially court 5-Rod Laver, Vodafone, Margaret Court and Show Court 2 are all ahead of it, but this still takes 3,000. I’ve no idea how this compares to the other 3 slams, but I thought that was pretty impressive. Sat in the right spot, you also get a view of the big screen. You really need to be cross eyed, but I was aware that Mauresmo lost and that Roddick won the first. My match was quite a long one.

For the record:
Daniela Hantuchova bt Ashley Harkleroad 6-7, 7-5, 6-3
This was a cracker. 6 breaks in the first set; Harkleroad up 4-0 in the second; Hantuchova gets going, looks a certain winner; Harkleroad ups her level in the third; at a set all and 3-3 I wondered about a monster 3rd set. That wasn’t to be, but it took nearly 3 hours for Hantuchova to win and she definitely deserved it. I picked the right match, Tommy Haas won his easily.

There was a real contrast in the emotional states of the two players-Hantuchova needed to be behind to get aggressive and play her best. She was emotionally inexpressive-during the game all we got were fist clenches (not pumps); once, on a crucial point, it was a double clench. I think she needs her doubles partner to consistently get the best of her. It seems Ashley needs her doubles partner to keep her on an even keel: we had racket throwing, towels snatched off ball kids and a drama queen ending. She let her racket fall to the ground and then the tears started-she clearly thought she was a lot closer to winning than she was. Given her behaviour, which cost her the crowd, it amused me that Ricky Ponting is Ashley’s president.

You do worry a bit for Hantuchova-I remember hearing at Wimbledon one year that she’d been struggling emotionally to refute reports of anorexia, bulimia or both. She won’t be the only player to have lied about her weight on her biog (I met an Aussie, who reckoned Serena was 15-20 kg more than the programme said), but I doubt any other player is saying she weighs more than she actually does. You really do want to feed her-her legs are smaller than other folk’s arms.

Still she made it through a long match, so what do I know. So, Harkleroad stopped crying, Hantuchova went for some lunch (I hope) and I was off to Margaret Court for some Mardy Fish, great name, but no accompanying tantrum.

I missed the end, as the rain came and I headed for Vodafone. Good news for Fish fans, he went through in 4. One last note on the first match, it was the first time I saw the winner leave before the loser, who spent a lot of time blubbing in her chair. I know I’m not very sympathetic, but she did behave like a total brat.

Nicole Vaidisova bt Elena Dementieva 6-3, 6-3. Er, what was that? The 7th and 10th seeds produced a scrappy non-contest, while the equivalent men's match (Ancic and Roddick) went to 5 on Rod Laver. 3 or 4 of Dementieva's games came from Vaidisova's nerves, who was good if inconsistent. But how is Dementieva seeded 7? Watching her serve is like watching a bad no 11 bat-you feel sorry for her and a little embarrassed that she knows you're watching. It's so bad, she must be self-conscious. She won two of her 9 service games, lost her ball toss at least 10 times and hit faults that would have upset me. I felt sorry for her. This didn't hold the arse end of a cheap candle to the Hantuchova match.

Tommy Robredo bt Richard Gasquet 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4. This match was delayed by 40 mins or so as they didn’t get the roof shut before the rain came and some of the drying methods are none too sophisticated.

But they do look after the ball kids.

The roof is magic tho-when the sun is shining they constantly adjust it to keep the court in sunlight, but the line judges in the shade. I thought Gasquet would win this, he’s been so good against Monfils, with a mixture of consistency and brilliance. I knew nothing about Robredo, however. From what I saw yesterday, he’s a bad tempered bruiser who can mix hard hitting with breath taking winners. I couldn’t tell if Gasquet was a bit off, or Robredo was just too good. The bad news for Tommy is it’s Roger next.

I may have to wear my thick walking boots a bit more. No word yet if they’re getting on planes.

Speaking of planes, John arrives here tomorrow.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Allez Monfils

I'm going senile. There were 2 things that I wanted to put in last night's post that I only remembered as I walked to a rainy Melbourne Park this morning. After all the singles actions, I had a walk through the outside courts for a spot of evening doubles. Found a totally random ladies doubles match, involving 4 players I’d never heard of and settled in. Good stuff it was too and a reminder that there’s a lot more to this than the show courts. I shall do my best to follow the winning Russian/American combination. It was also cool to see the players wander off court, into the public walkways and make their dinner plans. I think the tv effects mikes are responsible for much of the Sharapova grunting debate.

By the way, today is day 5. Play has been suspended on 3 of those days-twice for rain and once for extreme heat. Just as well the rooves on Vodafone and Rod Laver makes those courts all-weather, while the lights make them all-hours.

For the record:
Novak Djokovic bt Danai Udomchoke 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-1
Even when Darren Clarke's match involves one of his big mates, I've not seen sport played in such good spirit. When Udomchoke put away the volley that won the best point I've seen, Djokovic ran to the net to high five him. There was a lot of respect and fun out there.

Twice, Djokovic led by a break in the third and he served for the match. Afterwards he showed what a top bloke he was. Here's the guy who caught the racket he threw in the crowd.

In his post match interview, he thanked the big crowd for coming 'I guess you've only come because it's raining'. When asked how far he could go, 'I don't know if everyone knows, but is Federer next. I played him twice, he won. But it's OK I won a set!'. Shame his tournament is nearly over. He's a nice all court game, I'd look out for him at Wimbledon.

Amelie Mauresmo bt Eva Birnerova 6-3, 6-1. At 3-3, Eva had had the better of it; she was playing well, had had the only 2 break points and had won more points. I began to think this might be the first match where I saw a favourite lose and a winner I'd never heard of. I think Amelie heard me, cos once she broke serve, the can of whupass was open.

After beating Mauresmo here in the 99 final, Hingis unguardedly said 'it was like playing a man'. Words which seemed more unwise, as her opponent is a lesbian. What Hingis was saying is that Mauresmo is big and powerful (at a time before almost all the top women fitted that description).

There's a great deal more finesse and shotmaking in Mauresmo's game than that power would have you think. If she and Hingis can meet in a repeat of that '99 final, it should be a pleasure to watch.

Elena Dementieva bt Maria Elena Camerin 6-1, 6-3. One set of this was enough for me and I went to watch some doubles. The men's is too much testostorone for me, but Daniela Hantuchova and Ai Sugiyama played some great stuff till I returned to the Vodafone. You get very close on the outside courts.

And get a view of the city.

Richard Gasquet bt Gael Monfils 6-0, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3. By degrees topsy turvy and sublime. Monfils didn't looked interested for a set, but seemed spurred into action when someone shouted 'are you saving yourself for the second set'. At one point the score was a bizarre 6-0, 1-5; Monfils was marginally the more spectacular, Gasquet substantially the more consistent. Two more players with pleasing all-court games. From what I've seen (i.e. no Roddick), the brute force seems more a feature of the women's game. Perhaps this is the Federer effect on the men.

Straight out afterwards with Helen and Andrew for what became a messy night, where we met a bunch of random of Aussies, who we outlasted. Only one left by the time the camera emerged.

Vince Spadea update: because of the rain he's not been knocked out of the doubles yet, tho the number one seeds will get him packing his bags. I've not had a phone call, but I did get a 'what are you doing tonight text' and Niki joined some of the mayhem. As the psycho uber-Christian nerd (?Joseph?) in Road Trip puts it, 'they all come back in the end'.

Anyone who's enjoyed sport in my company will know I have many opinions on how spectating should be done. I felt bad yesterday leaving my seat for a set and I've missed the first 3 games (of the first set) for the last 2 days; I think this is poor form when there are so many people who'd love to be in my seat. I think it's disrespectful to leave your seat empty. However, I am a small time offender as half the reserved seats in the Vodafone are empty at any one time. These are seats where people have specifically paid to be here. Perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad on day’s without weather problems, when maybe there would be empty seats in the rock up and sit down section, but there was no play on any outside court today, so the Vodafone and Rod Laver were the only places where there was any play. There were people queued all the way down the stairs and out into the rain, poor sods. I think they should have let them in, get the place full. I am convinced that the corporates are to blame.

I also wonder why some people are here at all. My neighbour today needed a lot of explanations, including match points , break of serve and scoring. When she was reading the paper, I think one of the people in the rain would have got more out if it.

For the record
David Nalbandian vt Sebastien Grosjean 5-7, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-1 This was a superb match, which was billed as the clash of two fighters. When Nalbandian was serving to stay in match and was love 40 down, the Frenchman in front of me got his flag ready. After all, you don’t often lose with 3 match points. Well Grosjean did today. Straight sets would not have been a correct reflection of such a tight contest-when the tie break started, Grosjean lead by just 5 points (and 2 sets).

Because I couldn’t use my flash, I couldn’t fully get this, but you’ll get the idea. Check out the ball MAN

Aussie Kim bt Alona Bondarenko 6-3, 6-3
Another hour long training session for a top woman. Kim was so sweet in her post match interview, I could understand why they love her so much out here. Her support was magnificent and, for some reason beyond me, included some guys who kept chanting the tune to 7 nation army.

By this stage rain had meant all play on outside courts had been abandoned for the day. Originally Nikolay Davydenko’s match was scheduled, with James Blake to follow. I watched the first set and a half of the former game-he’s the world number 3, but it doesn’t grab you-maybe that’s why he has no clothing deal and looks like he shops at Matalan.

I was weary and had a feeling that the schedulers might try and get a bonus match on at Vodafone and I thought it would be Murray. By this stage the arena was far from full, so I didn’t feel bad about leaving my seat empty. I went for a walk to liven myself up and found that Murray was on after Blake. It would be at least 2 and a half hours. So I made a decision that only someone who’s staying 10 minutes away can-I went back to Helen’s, watched a movie and the Bill (which is hilarious-I didn’t know), while using the internet to keep an eye on what was happening on Vodafone (Blake and Davydenko both won in straight sets). Then I went back to Vodafone, arriving just as the match started.

Andy Murray bt Juan Ignacio Chela 6-3, 6-2, 6-4
I was momentarily concerned as I headed to the arena and wondered if they still admitted people at half 9, but it was fine. Once in, I saw they’d cleared one stand, but there were still a few thousand people there and a good (mainly Scottish) atmosphere. Chela put Murray out in the first round here a year ago. Maybe Chela was on top form then (he beat Hewitt in the next round) and was under par here (though he had already won 2 rounds); maybe Murray was under par a year ago. I think the way Murray dismantled Chela tonight shows how much he has improved in a year; I’m sure Brad Gilbert, who I watched nodding and clapping throughout the match (bit of illegal coaching?), would tell me that there’s much more to come. Murray was very impressive, he exuded control, won the big points and the match was over when he had another touch of the Henmans, losing serve twice in the third. It didn’t really matter, as by then he was breaking Chela at will. You probably know all this, as it was at a time when it could be nicely scheduled on UK TV.

It was also fun to be getting texts from those watching back in the UK; I reckon you’ll be able to watch again on Monday, as Murray vs Nadal has Rod Laver evening session written all over it. They’ve never played before. In his post match interview, he declared he had ‘no chance’. Then again, after the previous match he had installed Chela as favourite for tonight. Just 19 and already a master of deflecting the pressure of the favourite tag that all modern sportspeople seem so desperate to avoid.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Martina, Maria and our Andy

Today's my last day here with a ground pass-I have reserved seats from now on. As the Vodafone arena today has Andy Murray, Martina Hingis and Maria Sharapova, I made sure I arrived early for a first come, first served seat (very nice it is too). Unlike yesterday, there's not a seat to be had with 10 minutes to go. Just for good measure, I think the home support for Alicia Molik will be raucous.

They had a lot more songs than their cricketing counterparts and were a lot more fun than the Barmy Army. I very much enjoyed the slow motion Mexican wave.

I'm not sure what's on Rod Laver today, but Agassi's retired and Federer's not playing, so it can't be as good.

For the record:
Martina Hingis vs Alla Kudrayautse
I really like Hingis and I think her comeback was the great lost sport story of last year. She's not tall, she's no meathead and she doesn't hit the living crap out of the ball. She caresses the ball and outsmarts her opponents. It's a triumph for skill and brains over mere natural physical gifts. It's inspiring for anyone who's not got the physique of an Amazonian. She's one of the players-along with Federer and Murray that I really wanted to see.

I'm happy to say she was a pleasure to watch-even her ball toss is graceful and precise. Hingis won 6-2, 6-2 and only lost the 2 second set games, when her brain was already back in the locker room.

I particularly enjoyed one of those moments you only catch when you’re there for the live stuff. Her opponent dropped a lob short of the net, but it bounced over and Hingis caught the ball and wandered back to serve. One of the things that Andre Agassi has left with most players is the need to examine 3 balls before serving, then discarding one; presumably so you get to serve with the very fastest ball. Yesterday I saw one player examine 5 before one serve (they’re only using 6). None of that nonsense for Hingis, she just served with the ball in her hand; I liked that in the same way as I liked seeing Shane Warne carrying his own bag.

Alicia Molik bt Kaia Kanepi 1-6, 6-3, 6-2. Good atmosphere, not the great game a lot of the crowd thought it was. Very bish, bash, bosh, hope it goes in. Hingis would have seen both off easily.

Andy Murray bt Fernando Vedasco 7-6, 7-5, 6-4. The match didn't really come alive till Murray was serving with 3 match points-he won it on the 5th. That said he hits some unbelievable shots and, crucially, plays the big points well. That said, he had a touch of the Henmans-dropping serve when 2 breaks up in the 3rd, as well as needing all those match points. Played in a great spirit-both players applauding their opponent's good play on numerous occasions. Murray thanked the support afterwards

Maria Sharapova vs Anastacia Rodionova
So, how loud is she in the flesh? Will I make it to the end of the match?

She's bloody tall.

Mismatches need more than this to interest me, although this was 6-0, 6-3 the 3 games all came when the contest was well over. Given that Sharapova was making about 2 unforced errors a game, it may come as no surprise that her opponent hit only 2 winners. I stopped noticing the grunting after a while, but maybe the volume was down as the effort was minimal. Given the nature of her play, it was even difficult to judge how well Sharapova was playing.

Patriotism to one side, seeing Hingis was the highlight of the day. Hope to catch her again. Maybe in the final………

Oh, and here’s the view from Helen’s apartment at sunset (camera sunset mode didn’t really do this justice), but still

(I'm not sure if you can really tell, but that's Rod Laver arena to the right of the MCG)

Don’t tell Helen, but I may never leave

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Australian Open, brought to you by Kia Motors

OK, as the sponsorship emphasises it's not Wimbledon, BUT it is a grand slam and unlike Wimbledon you can buy tickets as opposed to failing to be drawn out of the ballot. Every year.

A combination of factors-tickets going on sale for different courts on different dates, some complimentary ground passes and a 'I might as well go to as much as I can' attitude means I'm going to 9 days here, although some are just for the night session. In amongst that I'll see both Men's semis (so presumably Federer; maybe Murray) and the ladies final with Nicole-the day before John and I go to Big Day Out. As I'm also going to see the Killers with Helen on Feb 1, it's going to be an eventastic couple of weeks back in Melbourne. There's a good chance this blog's going to resemble sports report for a while. Again.

It says all you need to know about tennis crowds that I passed a one and a half hour queue for 'Garnier World', as I strolled to the Vodafone Arena, where I had a wide choice of seats 10 minutes before play started. Vodafone Arena is equivalent to No 1 court at Wimbledon and it's a nice touch that a lot of the seats (most I think) are available to ground pass holders on a first come first served basis. As they say here, I was first come best dressed.

For the record:
Novak Djokovic bt Feliciano Lopez 6-2, 7-5, 6-1. Funny match, which seemed closer than it was. The Serb won the points that mattered and had the loony fans, who didn't riot today. Drawn to play Federer in round 4, which looks a good match.

Nadia Petrova bt Gisela Dulko 6-1, 6-2. Awful. Petrova either won or lost the points-she made 17 unforced errors, while Dulko hit 3 winners.

Serena Williams bt Anne Kremer 7-6, 6-2. Tennis in this match was as good as it had been poor in the previous match. A very tight and entertaining first set, which Serena was lucky to win. The crowd absolutely loved Serena.

Spot the ball

Marat Safin bt Dudi Sela 7-6, 5-7, 4-6, 7-6, 6-0. What a christian name from the Israeli! Simply superb; despite his temper, Safin played some wonderful tennis-he volleys so well, I wonder he hasn't done more at Wimbledon. He made one phenomenal diving volley a la Becker in the fifth. Sela was inspired-he broke Safin when he served for the 2nd and 4th sets and had a run of 6 games, ended by a break of serve, naturally. There were so many service breaks-by set 3, 3, 5, 6 and 3. The quality of the match was superb-as well as the drama, it had the best shots and rallies of the day. The rain came with Sela 2 points from the match-Safin got play suspended to a chorus of boos. So the roof was closed-players didn't even leave the court. Safin resumed with an ace, won the tie break 7-4 and looked the man with the momentum. At 2 sets all, both players had won 136 points. The last set was anti-climatic, but closer than it may look from the score. Sela won 2 points in all 6 games, he just couldn’t win any more. There was no doubt that Safin stepped it up and the rain break did him a huge favour. I watched this game from higher up than the previous 3

But even from there, it was obvious what a massive bear of a man Safin is. And my, how the ladies love him. At the end he personally handed towels to two uber-mentalists with Safin t-shirts and when they hugged him, he was lucky to get out of there alive.

At times it was a little hard to concentrate as this was the day after our Melbourne-Sydney ‘Reunion’, a night which passed off without bloodshed or major incident. I was surprised that most people turned out. The highlight for me was ending up in a club in the casino (two places I would never normally be); I missed you guys, as I felt I was the only one in the club who understood just how funny it was. There was someone breakdancing on the dance floor and a guy on a podium. We got a dodgy band, who opened with a half hour rock medley-summer of 69, enter sandman, jump, I just can't get enough, sweet child, some Robbie rubbish to finish-wish I could remember more of them, as I laughed every other song. I swear the lead singer must have driven his road train to the gig. Very entertaining, tho not to be repeated.

Oh and a Vince Spadea update-the bastard got knocked out. Good. Hope he flies home. Now I'm just waiting for the phone call 'Oh John, Vince is such a bastard (and poor tennis player), I don't know what I was thinking'.

Still waiting....

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Party bus?

For $112 I could have flown back to Melbourne; for another $200 I did a 4 day voyage across NSW and into Victoria and onto Melbourne and I know I made the right the decision. The bus was pretty crowded, with just the one spare seat and 23 passengers. All but instantly I was in my accustomed role of being laughed at by all and sundry and staying up far too late, while having a couple of ales. I'm so used to this now that I'm even getting good at learning people's names!

About half an hour into the trip I made a mental to check carefully what I booked in future. I had been looking forward to the Blue Mountains. Bully for me, because this bus wasn't going there. It'll be something to do when I'm back in Sydney.

It was quite a strange trip in some ways, it was very much life in fast forward. The group bonded very well, very quickly. Then it disintegrated amidst some bizarre behaviour and tried hard to become an episode of Shameless. I loved it. I could discuss many characters at length, but it's late and I'm really behind on this blogging malarky so I'll try and hurry it up.

First stop was Canberra, where Sean told me not to go. 3 hours was fine tho, as it was enough to take in lunch, the parliament and some embassies. The latter are very cool, as each building is appropriate to the country it houses-so the Indian embassy is in a Taj style, China pagoda and US a sort of colonial feel. Despite having about 6 nationalities on the bus, no one saw their own embassy.

This picture marks what I expect to be a unique event-I am stood on TOP of a nation’s parliament. The new parliament building is essentially cut into a hill, and here I am on top of the two houses (system is similar to Britain, tho all are elected and both houses are in the the one building). I really enjoyed the tour of the parliament, it was an amazing building-although I believe it cost rather more than the Aussie tax payer would have liked.

We then travelled onto Lake Jindabyne, where we stayed for the evening. Having checked out the view from the dorm over the lake

I ran down and jumped in it; it was a touch bracing. You're probably familiar now with the dinner/drinking/pool/meeting people/last to bed ritual that followed. I added a new twist, when rather just than sitting next to the prettiest girl on the bus, I also shared a bunk with her. For those with base senses of humour, yes, Niki was on top.

The next day we drove further into the mountains and hiked to the glacial blue lake and gazed upon Mount Kosciuszko (once again an activity that is likely to be less physically demanding for walkers who have not handicapped themselves with a hangover and 3 hours sleep). An ideal chance for a team photo:

There were some heavy rocks up there that needed moving. Naturally, I stepped up:

Later we crossed the border into Victoria (I hope this will be the first in a series of such photos)

Without going into too much detail, there was much breathtaking scenery

That night we stayed at a buddhist retreat.

All the food was veggie-hurrah, it was ridiculously peaceful-whisper inducing peaceful and we had a meditation lesson. I quite enjoyed the meditation, as I'm not very good at emptying the old mind-there's usually too much crap running around in it. I did find the posture amazingly uncomfortable and my thumbs went weird. They feel weird now just remembering it.

There was no alcohol at the retreat, but you could smuggle it into your room and then teach everyone to play shithead. A very pleasant and quiet evening, which mixed cultures in a way I liked.

The next day is where it went to pieces. This started at the lunchtime wine tasting, which was held at the winery of an old perv, whose wife painted nudes of herself for the labels on the bottles. He let Rochelle pour the drinks. Seriously, what chance did we have? This is what happens if you let a bunch of backpackers go to a wine tasting and then put them back on the bus.

'No. Niki. Martin. Listen to me. If I just hold the camera out at arm's length and press the button, it'll make a wicked picture. Honest.

To be fair Dario, it was Insomnia on the stereo.

I have no idea why people started lying down in front of the bus like a student protest.

It didn't help that the we couldn't do the afternoon rainforest walk, as the police had closed the road. Not for a bush fire, but because a milk lorry had tipped over.

That evening we stayed at a caravan park. And behaved like trailer trash. In summary-one person was called common, some people stopped talking to each other, there were tears, I had a couple of people pour their hearts out to me, one girl stormed off for 3 or 4 hours-she stopped talking to everyone, a fight looked on the cards over some communal alcohol not being shared properly (it was actually the lemonade mixer that caused the trouble) and the toothless owner of the caravan park went totally apeshit at the muppets who were stood outside singing Wonderwall at quarter past 11. I think that's it.

My involvement in much of this was peripheral. It really wasn't good tho, and apparently some people left in the night (which was a bit over the top, since any noise was over by midnight). I do feel a bit bad, even though I wasn't outside causing trouble. Still, no point crying over split milk (geddit?).

The next day we went to the beautiful Wilson's promontory, where I did get to do a rainforest walk. Australia's only promontory at that. After the rainforest, we walked down to the beach. As with everywhere in Oz, there were dangers

Well, it made me laugh. Then it was into Melbourne. Good trip, bit weird, probably just as well it finished when it did.

Despite the strange atmosphere that persisted and my confusion about just who was talking to whom, I decided it would be a good idea to organise a night out for the evening after we arrived in Melbourne. Watch this space...........

Now that I'm in Melbourne, it's tennis time. I've been looking forward to this for ages-in some ways more than the cricket and I'm confident it will deliver more. I have found out that one of the definite downsides of the tennis being in town is that Vince Spadea will hit on my lunch date as she's on her way to meet me, and turn her head. For some reason Niki was more interested in the tickets he offered her than the ones I did. Hope the bastard gets knocked out.

I’m now staying with the ever wonderful and hospitable Helen of Pulloxhill. She’s been so kind and generous that I wouldn’t dream of mentioning the power cut or the fact I got locked out of the building when the entry keypad broke (I got in by following a single female who had a swipe card–something I learnt from the movies and the Bill). That would be churlish.

I'm so excited

I'm usually very averse to tempting fate. I did it once already today and lost out, BUT.

I've found a piece of software that looks like it will retrieve my Africa photos. It showed thumbnails of some of them before the camera battery ran out, so they are still on the memory card. I reckon if I get a card reader then I'll be sorted.

Fingers massively crossed.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

See ya Sydney

I've had 827 visitors on this. Which is weird. As I understand the counter it counts PCs-so each time I move on, it's another hit. If anyone reads this crap at home and at work, then that's 2. Still I think that must mean several hundred people have looked at this. I only sent the link to people I know. Anyway, the reason I am burbling is that I am writing this blog for two reasons-so I remember what I did and for anyone I know who can be arsed to know what I'm up to. So, I find the idea of anyone who doesn't know me reading this to be pretty perturbing.

So, focussing on my nearest and dearest and knowing what you're all like and that it's been Xmas and New Year, I'm hoping you haven't been reading much for the last few weeks, as you should have been partying hard (as well as trying to drink my share of the British booze). So to bring you up to date

I'm in Sydney, don't you know.

Much as this photo rules, I wish I had the photo taken after this. A guy from Hong Kong took this one of me, and straight afterwards two of his friends wanted their photo taken. With me. That'll be a cracker when they get home.

I've had a busy and thought provoking few days. I've been to the Rocks, the NSW and modern art galleries, the musea of Sydney and Australis, the 20-20 cricket (too awful for words), Darling harbour, the Aquarium and the Powerhouse museum (old power station, had great wall of china exhibition, which means I now want to go there).

I've been musing on modern travel, the nature of art, a number of art projects I could get going on (including collage) and racial preconceptions.

Oh and I met depressed England cricket fans in Domino's (first one since I left home and pretty good it was too).

I could jabber about any of this for ages, but it's too much typing and I'm not sure anyone would care.

I went to Bondi beach, one of the things you'd get on a Family Fortunes 'We asked one hundred people to name something Australian'; it'd probably be 4th after Rolf, the Opera House and Kylie's arse. I've never really got into beaches-there's the constant threat of sun burn, continual smearing of the sun cream, I always seem to foget something, there's not a lot to do and, resorting to cliche, the bloody sand gets everywhere. I get bored and restless basically. Or drunk. I managed a couple of hours on Bondi before taking the beatiful coastal walk down to Coogee, which I really did enjoy. Highlight of Bondi turned out to be my iPod shuffling onto Perfect Day while I gazed out over the sands and surf. It is a lovely spot.

I'm off to Mebourne tomorrow, but I did discover something disturbing about myself in Sydney. It seems I am a massive homophobe, without realising it. I was flicking the paper over dinner and saw the list of the top 50 gay icons and was perturbed by the fact that I fervently wish that at least half the list had never been born, am pretty anti another dozen or so and only postively like 4 of them (rubbish prize for anyone picking the right 4).

And how is Charlotte Church a gayer icon than Henson? I'm very confused.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Figaro, Figaro

Not sure where that comes from, but it's not Mozart's the Marriage of Figaro, which I went to see at the Opera house last night. I reckon that you'll know the overture, even if you're not familiar with the opera. Here's some clues

'Please to help with my ruck-sack.'
'Beef jerky?'
'I can walk!'
'There is something rotten in the Heritage Club'.
Denholm Elliott cooking a tasty looking breakfast.
Winthrop, fallen on hard times, dressed as Santa stuffing a smoked salmon in his jacket.
And of course, the mighty Clarence Beeks. Dressed as a gorilla.

I could go on; I already have. By now you either know the music is used for the opening sequences of Trading Places, or you need to stop reading this and go and watch Trading Places. Now.

Fortunately, this is one of the few operas I know, so being distracted for the first 5 minutes by memories of Eddie Murphy wasn't a problem. I thought it was a terrific production and very funny: it used the essential bawdy humour of Mozart, while giving it a modern edge. Musically, I thought it was superb, tho I'm far from best placed to judge. And no trace of an Australian accent in any of the performers.

The view from the bar's not bad either

Nicole told me they don't sell out and I might get a reduced price ticket on the night. Technically, I guess she was right, but I think I found a new way of doing it.

Most people buy their ticket in advance. As you all know, I'm not most people. I wasn't sure which night I'd fit the opera in and so it was a mad rush. My original plan was to get back to circular quay, buy a ticket, go to the hostel, shower, change, eat and have a drink before kick off. By the time the ferry docked, the shower, food and drink were clearly not happening. When I got to the box office, the massive queue demanded a change to a new high risk strategy-go back to hostel, change, head back and hope the queue had died down and I could get a ticket and get in before they shut the doors. Fail, and I'd have to wander Sydney's streets feeling overdressed.

It was looking good when I walked up to the box office, past the huge collection queue and stood behind the 3 people, who were trying to buy tickets, so I was a touch disappointed to learn that all 1400 seats were sold. I was to stay on the 'looking hopeful/might as well give and up go rollercoaster' for the next half hour.

The box office told me to stand by a wall in the entrance foyer, where there was a queue that people with spares were sent to. My optimism surged as the only two people in front of me had tickets almost as soon as I'd said hello.

I then stood on my own for 20 minutes.

Standing on your own, trying to look approachable, while looking at everyone who goes past (in case they're hesistantly fingering a spare ticket) seemed the best idea. I'm pretty sure the result was that I looked like the bloke whose blind date had stood him up. Especially as every time a pretty girl walked past, I'd look all hopeful that I'd be her neighbour for the next 3 hours, only to be disappointed. Again.

Finally another couple of people joined me and just as it looked like our chance had gone, a lady came over from the box office to say they had some tickets. Saved.

There were about 6 or 7 different price points for tickets, I was OK with the 3 lowest-up to $105. Not the $187 they had. I turned away, giving up. Andrew, who was in the same boat, followed me saying 'that's more than I paid for all my ashes tickets'. Without really thinking, I headed disconsolately back to the wall. And then someone offered us one ticket. For free.

Then I got all English-two people, 1 ticket, what to do? My brain must have been overloaded by an excess of manners, as Andrew made the obvious suggestion to split the cost of buying a second ticket and spend one half of the performance in each seat. We ran to the box office, got a ticket and legged it up the steps.

They shut the doors behind me as I went in; the idiot's approach to getting Sydney Opera House tickets had worked. Just. I guess it's a touch more memorable than using ticketmaster and my seat for the first half was top drawer. I enjoyed looking at the building's interior and trying to understand how it relates to the exterior. I've just realised that I missed the Barmy Army cruise: I booked this at the same time as the Xmas lunch. The idea was to cruise round the harbour on the evening the Ashes concluded. It was meant to be a celebration.....

For anyone who's been following the leit motif of John goes up to a high place and feels wobbly, I have disappointing news. I'm not going on the harbour bridge climb. It's $180, so I went to the opera instead. And kept the change.

Before Figaro, the morning breakfast with the rest of the Oxford crew was very good, even if it did cost the same as night's accomodation and 2 usual meals. I'd never heard of the famous TV chef, but that's good as it means I didn't put any money in the pockets of Ramsay or the one that looks like a goblin.

Afterwards I took a rain check on Bondi to head to Manly with Pete and Nicole, returning on the ferry to circular quay, snapping the harbour bridge and opera house like a tourist crazed on PCP, angel dust; have you seen what that stuff does to kids? By now, you're supposed to have watched Trading Places.

I spent Sunday wandering round the historic area, the catholic cathedral and the botanic gardens. At least I did till the rain got on my nerves and I went home for a nap. Hyde Park barracks was full of convict history, they even had a convict database. Inevitably, I typed in the names of several notorious n'er do wells, but only 2 came up. It was a close contest, but I can reveal the results: John Adams 4 Richard Hughes 3. Seems appropriate, really.

The British transported their citizens to Australia for some dashed funny things. Bigamy, swearing and any poor sod driven to stealing trowsers' deserves sympathy in my opinion.

The convict theme continued at the state library, which had a slightly disappointing exhibition on daring convict escapes.

In the evening (after dinner and my nap), I noticed that an Arts cinema was showing the African Queen. I hadn't seen it in a while and was struck by how very like my trip it was. There were white water rapids and animals. There was drunkeness and monsoon like rain. The bugs attacked in swarms. Bogart spent much of the movie looking like a tramp (very much my style in African). And of course, there were Germans. I assume it was a spirit of reconciliation that handed the film's best 2 lines to the German captain who sentenced Bogey to be executed

'I think I shall hang you twice'

'I now pronounce you man and wife; proceed with execution'

For the full effect you need to do it with the accent and without taking a breath on the latter.

Sydney held the 2000 Olympic games; this followed the 'games that Coke bought' in Atlanta-by common consent the worst run in history. When your plan is to demolish the Olympic stadium after the Games to make a car park for the local rounders team, I wonder what you're doing staging the games. Before Sydney there was a lot of media nonsense that this was 'make-or-break' for the Olympics: bollox-as if the world's largest sporting event could disappear. Nonetheless, the pressure was certainly on Sydney; the games were such a great success that now the media burbled about the rebirth. Less vocal, but more pertinent, were the commentators who observed that Sydney had put enormous pressure on Athens for 2004. A sports mad public was a huge asset for Sydney and I firmly believe the British passion for sport landed London its 3rd Olympics. The Aussies even left London sufficient space to add in 2012.

Olympic nerd fact: in 2012 London will become the first city to stage 3 proper modern Games, but it has only been awarded the Olympics once. Rome pulled out in 1908, after a natural disaster that I think was an earthquake; Helsinki should have hosted 1948 (postponed due to the war), but wasn't ready till 52. Both times London stepped in to keep the Olympics going; who knows if we'd still have the Olympics, had one or both of those Games been cancelled. I love stuff like that.

Today, I took the ferry ride to the main Olympic park; the Olympic village was refurbished (bedrooms converted to kitchens etc) and sold to the public. They're very lucky-I'd love to live Emile Zatopek or Merlene Ottey Street. The Olympic park handled 350-400 thousand spectators a day; the main Olympic stadium a record 110.

I went on the tour of the former Olympic stadium. Sadly the stadium has been renamed the Telstra stadium; I'm sure this is due to what the owners call commercial realities. I'm currently watching Marcos Bagdhatis at the Olympic tennis venue nextdoor (I noticed one of the Oz open warm up tournaments was on and pottered in); a steward, looking out for commercial realities, has just made some fans take their Cypriot flag down. It was obstructing a sponsor's logo you see. Who's buying stuff because the name's painted on a bit of wood? Stop it.

The cancer that is corporate hospitality and 'VIPs' infected the tour to such an extent that it focused on boxes and member's areas and ignored something like this.

The wall celebrated Cathy Freeman (Olympic flame lighter and 400m gold medalist) and commiserated with Jane Saville (Sydneysider disqualified as she entered the stadium, just 150m from the walk gold medal). Fortunately, I knew all this. By the way, the particularly good painting is by a 16 year old.

It was worth it though for 2 things-neither of which had anything to do with the marketing department or corporate freeloaders.

This is the dressing room used by England on the 22nd of November 2003. The day they won the World Cup. I think I was the only English person not to have my photo taken sat in Jonny's locker-I wanted to sit in Johnno's, but the guide didn't know which one was his. He's been here tho

In order to 'realise the stadium's business plan' capacity was reduced by 27,000 after the Olympics; I think the Aussies knee we were going to win and just didn't want yet another 27,000 English watching Johnno lift the cup.

I did make sure I had my photo taken here tho

Michael Johnson stood up here. Twice. Think he earned it more than me. Denise Lewis and Songs of Praise presenter Jonathan Edwards also picked up their gold medals here.

Outside the stadium, underneath the cauldron in which the Olympic flame burned are plaques with every medallist. Including these boys (you may need to click on the photo for the blow up)

In this case, it seems to a scale representation of their winning margin. All the paralympians also have a plaque. Tanni-grey's there and so is Sascha

I'll leave the Ultimate Olympian to leave a comment/post a link about Sascha. I wonder how many of the medallists know it's there.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Breaking news

Well, I think some of you already know. In fact there's even a party arranged, but the identity of the special visitor I trailed a few posts ago can now be revealed.

I'm sure speculation has been rife, and bets taken.

This is really very exciting.

[Opens gold envelope]

And the Oscar goes to......the Mighty Statue John, who'll be arriving in just under 3 weeks. I've had a word and have been assured there is sufficient alcohol in Australia, including Havana Club.

One word just for John-Tasmania?

I thought that was worth its own post. More cricket below.

Time to say goodbye

I'm nearly done with the cricket; I expect that's the cue for sighs of relief all round. Partly because of this-

And partly because I might actually talk about something else.

Despite England's final defeat resulting in only the second Ashes whitewash in history, Jamie and I spent 3 very enjoyable days watching the carnage at the SCG.

The SCG is a scenic ground, a place of much cricket history. Goughie took the only 20th century English Ashes hat trick here. 4 years ago Steve Waugh scored an improbable century that extended his test career till his retirement here 2 years later, which I've seen widely reported as being emotional. Shane Warne made his debut here. In his final test, Greg Chapple made a century, became the first Australian to score 7,000 runs, passing Bradman in the process, and took the catch to break the world record. In the bodyline series, Douglas Jardine walked out to bat and swished the flies away; legendary barracker Yabba yelled 'Oi, Jardine, leave our flies alone' (I'm not sure if this inspired Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the wall). Bradman scored 452* and they named a stand after him.

Today, the SCG probably saw the end of 4 remarkable test careers: it is hard to be definitive as all will play on for some time outside the test arena, but all indications are that the SCG 07 was their finale. So what did these players achieve?

Justin Langer

105 Tests, 7696 runs at 45.27, 23 centuries, 30 fifties, highest score 250.
Only Greenidge and Haynes made more runs as an opening partnership than Justin and his 'big mate' Matthew 'Haydos' Hayden, who has published 2 cookbooks over here. He's probably been hit by cricket balls more often than any other player in history. In South Africa last year he played his 100th test and was knocked out first ball when the ball crashed into his helmet: the doctor said another blow could kill him. Ricky Ponting, his captain, said he was not allowed to bat, but when it looked like the team might lose, Langer had disppeared. Ponting found him in his batting gear, getting ready to go out. Not unreasonably Ponting said he couldn't bat, as he might die. Langer replied 'Aw, mate, what's the odds of getting hit again'. In the end Langer didn't go out to bat-Australia won by two wickets. You can bet no one could have stopped him had the 9th wicket fallen.

Oddly, he didn't hit the winning runs in today's 10 wicket win: it looked like he told Hayden to do it. He never hit the winning runs in a test match (neither did Warne). For him, the team, Australia and the baggy green always came first. Class. The English paid their respect: the team formed a guard of honour as he walked out to bat; the barmy army cheered him to the rafters when he responded to their ‘give us a wave’ chant. In the middle of an over, when he was facing. A similar wave while fielding at the WACA had resulted in chants of ‘Langer’s in the army’.

Glenn McGrath

124 Tests (out of 189 first class matches), 563 wickets at 21.64, 641 runs at 7.36, 1 fifty, high score 61.
It’s no secret that I don’t like him: I’ve read things about his sledges this week and they’re pathetic for a 12 year who’s just discovered swearing. But by hell could he bowl and when they put his best bowling performances up on the big screen, about half were against England. I was sure he would see Warne through to his maiden test century yesterday-he might have done had Warne had more faith in him. His first wicket today was the 1,000 test wicket taken by McGrath and Warne in the 104 tests they played together: that’s why Australia have been nigh on impossible to best. In finishing the England innings, he took a wicket with his last ball in test cricket. As did Dennis Lillee at this venue 23 years ago.

Shane Warne

145 Tests, 708 wickets at 25.41, 3154 runs at 17.32, 12 fifties, high score 99.
Surely the greatest bowler in the history of the game. Chuck in his batting and fielding, and he’s probably the only player to stand comparison to Bradman. I saw his 700th wicket, his last match and his last ball (hit for 4 by Harmison). I was genuinely privileged. His career lacked only 3 things in my opinion:

He never captained Australia-so he was rather dodgy off the pitch, this was a massive mistake by cricket Australia. He’d have won the Ashes for them last year, and it’s only a remarkable generation of players that has meant his captaincy has not been missed.

He is not on the honours board at Lord’s as he never took 5 wickets in an innings there. That’s McGrath’s fault-by the time Warne came on at Lord’s there weren’t many wickets left to take.

He never made a test century. I saw him try him damndest yesterday and at Old Trafford in 2005. A harsh man would say this is Warne’s fault; I say it is cricket’s fault. Cricket left Bradman with a career average of 99.94; it left Warne without a test century. They may be the best, but neither could quite master the game to his complete satisfaction.

Records tend to broken and at the moment Warne holds a lot. Murali will take more wickets, but no one will ever score more runs without a test century or eat so much pizza.

Only Bradman's last ball in test cricket can begin to compare with the fame of that first ball to poor Mike Gatting at Old Trafford. Warne battered England from the first ball 14 years ago to the last. In some crazy way, we loved him for it-though the wiggle at Trent Bridge in 97 pushed it a bit. He was Australia's, but ultimately transcended nationality and belonged to all cricket lovers. He lost once to England and was the best player on either side in defeat. For me, he is summed up by two things: the Oval crowd in 05 singing 'we only wish you were English' and the George Cross held up today, which said 'Shane Warne, Cricket Legend'.

Sajid Mahmood
Comfortably the worst player in a series that featured Geraint Jones. No brains, no heart, limited ability, no room for another chance. Other England players disappointed (Andrew Strauss), but have proved themselves before; other players weren't consistently selected (Jimmy Anderson) but performed at times; other bowlers were smashed around the park (Monty Panesar), but got stuck in and tried something else; other players sometimes fielded like they had lost faith in the team (KP), but contributed at their key discipline; other players looked lost and out of ideas (Freddie), but at least kept fighting; no other player was too lazy to move to execute a run out; no other player publicly criticised the captain; no other player displayed every negative facet of England's miserable tour. Not worthy to step on the same field as the 3 above. An England fan said to me this morning, 'After yesterday, Duncan Fletcher should get Mahmood in his office and tell him he's a prick'; after the game an aussie put it more concisely-‘don't think much of that Mahmood’. Shouldn't be allowed within a mile of international cricket ever again-even if he has ticket.

For me the three Australians demonstrated something sports fans should never lose sight of: good play by the opposition is still good play and deserves applause; but it's OK to mutter 'damn him', while you clap.

Despite all the Australian success, I am happy to report that the future of English cricket is secure. As I strolled through Hyde Park, three English fans were playing cricket (the Barmy Army seem to prefer a football). They were using the statue of Captain Cook for stumps. Ashes fever lives.

In amongst the Test Match, I also enjoyed a very pleasant night with Jamie, Kate and Kate's brother and sister-in-law. We had a bbq. Gas powered. The business. It all felt very Australian-especially as some bug bit me.

Otherwise, I have booked my Melbourne trip. I've been a bit lazy really, getting a trip without being exactly sure what it covers-I'm working on the basis that I can fill in the gaps at a later date-either from Melbourne or when I return to Sydney-as I must to fly onto New Zealand. I must say I'm looking forward to getting out of the cities for a few days.

I also found this picture of Pete:

Tomorrow looks like being a breakfast with everyone else at a TV chef's place, trip to Bondi and then the opera. Howzat for variety?