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Soup of This Day #97: Another Man There Was Made The Trains Run On Time

November 10, 2011

2005 YU55 Closest Approach
2005 YU55, a 400m diameter asteroid, roared past the Earth at around 8:30am AWST on Wednesday 9th November 2011. It was technically a wideImage: NASA, 2011. NASA is not affiliated with Longworth72 and probably wouldn’t select him as an astronaut. Image cropped by Longworth72 from an animated GIF.

I used to tend apple trees. I’d thin crops and then as the harvest ripened I’d pick fruit. Mostly I did so in solitude – Those harvest scenes you get sometimes in movies, where it’s kind of a boisterous social event, generations laughing and trading wisdom across the tree tops, didn’t happen for me. Nope, I mostly worked alone, atop a Squirrel, a motorized cherry-picking machine that you steered with your feet like some sort of 15 foot anthropomorphic robot extension to your legs.

At morning smoko we’d drink our coffee in silence, numb from 3 hours of diesel fumes and the repetition of fruit picking. When I broke for lunch I’d eat alone, most often slumped at the base of a tree, idly bowling fallen apples at neighbouring trunks. Invariably my only company would be a flock of ducks who liked to follow along some distance behind me, picking at the crushed and partially fermented apples I left in my wake.

Yep, I spent long days with a group of drunk ducks. They seemed to get upset when I stopped, like I was cutting off supply.

Quack addicts.

There were occasional interruptions to this routine. Some days I’d poke my head above the tree-tops at the same time as another picker across the valley. We’d wave, maybe take the chance to stretch a little and then get back to work.

1 season there was a golden-haired girl in a sun-dress but she eventually broke my heart. Another time a dog comically stole my focaccia, then much less humorously took a bite out of 1 of his owner’s kids and so got shot. Ironically I think his name was Bullet.

Eventually though it just got back to lonely me, the sozzled ducks, the ‘Get away from her, you bitch’ Squirrel and Test match cricket.

Cricket made my summer days. In a time before iPods I had a Walkman. I couldn’t get decent FM reception and the tape player had ceased to work so I was stuck with AM radio, talkback and easy listening from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. For long summer days though the Captain and Tenille took a back seat to cricket. Short, punchy One-Day Internationals (ODI) were good but a real treat was a Test match. 6 balls an over, 90 overs a day, 5 full days of metronomic sport – Each ball a subtle escalation of a contest that you could saviour and analyse. Whole days just flew by, lost in the sound of a cricket bat smacking a leather ball or even a commentator discussing why the seagulls had clustered to the Vulture Street end of the Gabba.

I love Test cricket.

It’s not a common view. Test cricket is 6 balls an over, 90 overs a day, 5 full days of metronomic sport. That’s not easy to love. Particularly if you have other things on in life, such as a someone more fulfilling than an alchoholic wood duck to talk to.

Last week 3 former Pakistani cricketers, Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir and Butt’s agent, Mazhar Majeed were found guilty in a London court of fixing events in a Test match such that it benefitted certain pundits who had made ‘spot bets’. In short, Butt and Marjeed convinced Asif and Amir to bowl 3 no-balls at pre-determined times. Butt as the then Pakistani captain was in a unique position to impose his will. Now he is celebrating the birth of his 2nd child with 2 years and 6 months in an English prison. Amir, a brilliant talent, is just 18 and he stood to make approx. $7,000 out of his part of the deal. Now he is in jail for 6 months, probably still not sure how it all went pear-shaped.

In the case against the 4 Pakistanis the judge, Mr Justice Cooke, said in his final statement:

‘The image and integrity of what was once a game, but is now a business, has been damaged in the eyes of all.’

True your honour, although I think you’re a little late on that call.

Cricket has always been susceptible to fixing – 6 balls an over at 90 overs means that there will be 540 balls bowled in a day. Each of these balls can result in a large number of defined outcomes – For instance there are 9 ways for a batsman to get dismissed as a result of a delivery (There are 10 in total but 1 involves being given out because you didn’t make it out to bat within 3 minutes of a dismissal so isn’t the result of a ball being bowled). This means that there are 4,860 possible outcomes just in 1 day and just for dismissals. Yep, it’s a bookie’s paradise right there.

In 1817, just 2 years past Napolean meeting his Waterloo, William Lambert was the 1st to score a century in each innings of a match. It was to be his last outing as the dominant all-rounder of the era was soon banned for life for ‘trying less hard than he might’. Former English captain and cricket writer Plum Warner wrote:

‘It may be that the charge was false. A cricketer’s skill is not always at one level of excellence: he has his off-days, and even weeks when out of form. should these coincide with an important match, on which there was heavy wagering, the atmosphere created by disappointment and anger might well preclude an accurate judgement on a particular player’s failure.’

So wagering could tarnish even the innocent.

Hanse Cronje was not innocent. In 2000 the revered South African captain admitted taking money for the purposes of fixing games. His confession implicated Mohammad Azharuddin, himself the 1 time captain of India. Both were banned for life, although in Cronje’s case that was to be only another year or so – He was killed in a plane crash in 2002 – He was the sole passenger on a charter flight. Insert your own conspiracy theories here and they probably won’t be too outlandish so as to be plausible.

A desire to dodge all bookies aside, 1 thing I take from this is that Cronje, Azharuddin and Butt were all captains of their national teams. If the leaders are in on the fix…

In Australia right now there is a debate going on about gambling and sport. It’s not about match-fixing or trying less hard than 1 might. Instead it’s around sporting clubs deriving income from pokie machines (aka slot machines). There are 200,000 of them – 1 for every 110 Australians.

The clubs claim that they pour money back into the fabric of the community, that grass-roots sport wouldn’t be possible without their cash. The Mounties Club in Fairfield, New South Wales, derives an income of $87m per year. $67m of that came from pokies. And a significant chunk of that income comes from problem gamblers, addicted to the bright flashy machines that eat up money at an astonishing rate. It turns out that there are 130,000 problem gamblers in Australia. A lot of them, 86% or roughly 110,000, are addicted to pokies.

If each of those 110,000 has 10 connections afflicted by their addiction (family members, friends or just associates) then we get a figure of 1.1m Australians affected out of a population of 22m, exactly 5% or 1 in 20. By contrast the chance of you winning the top prize on a modern ‘virtual reel’ slot machine can be as high as 1 in 3m.

Yep, in Australia you have a much greater chance of being hurt by problem gambling via pokies than you do of winning it big on the actual pokies. Advance Australia Fair-ish-not-really.

As I write this I am listening to Australia play South Africa in the 1st Test at Cape Town. Australia knocked out 284 in their 1st dig, thanks in no small part to a fine captain’s knock of 151 from Michael Clarke. South Africa then went cheaply, collapsing for 96 after going to lunch today, Day 2, at 1 for 49. Advantage Australia.

Except I’m witnessing 1 of the most extraordinary days of cricket you’ll ever find. In it’s 2nd innings Australia is 9 for 29. They have just avoided the lowest ever score in an innings – That was 26 by New Zealand – and are still 7 shy of the lowest total by an Australian team ever. The truly astonishing figure is that even with this dismal show Australia still lead the match by over 200 runs.

At least I’m not out picking apples. It’s dark and a little cool out there and I’m not sure this game will go long enough to keep me happy. Something that will keep me warm and satisfied tonight though is this:

Western Australia only allows around 1500 pokie machines in 1 place, our sole casino. Despite this lack of gaming income the fabric of our community is untorn and our sporting clubs do ok. In 2008 the Western Warriors played South Africa in a tour match at the WACA Ground in Perth. Chasing 8 for 320 declared the locals were not disgraced, notching up 280 as the match was drawn. The tourists would go on to play the Australian team in a test at the WACA the following week, winning with a sparkling 414 run 4th innings chase. Their coach then was Mickey Arthur. He must have enjoyed himself because nowadays he’s the coach of the Warriors

Another Man There Was Made The Trains Run On Time

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