Thursday, 18 February 2016

What does the U19 World Cup triumph mean for the West Indies?

Back in December I gave my thoughts on the future of West Indies cricket, during their embarrassing tour of Australia. It wasn't a positive outlook, particularly for the notion of the 'West Indies' continuing as one team.

For much of the cricketing world, their first ever success in the Under-19s World Cup is a much needed sign of something blooming in the West Indies, a sign that maybe, just maybe, things were looking up for cricket in the region. Well, I don't mean to be a downer (even if I did, Tony Cozier got there first), but this seems unlikely.

I said in December that 'the biggest problem facing the Windies is not talent.' This is evidently true, else they would not have won this World Cup. Talent has not ever, and will never, be a problem for the islands of the Caribbean. To be honest, I doubt talent is really, truly much of a problem in any country at all. Cricket is the kind of sport that really only needs a small amount of gems to create something magnificent.

As such, this win is not a sign of a turn-around in the administration or coaching of cricket across the islands. If anything, it can be attributed to the right circumstances coming at the right time. If we hold, as I do, that disunity is the fundamental problem with the West Indies, then clearly the solution is to unite them again. So, can you think of anything that happened during the U19 WC that could have united this team?

I can.

Their win over Zimbabwe.

It is unfair on mankading to call the end of that game a mankad, but whatever it actually was, it brought the ire of the majority of the cricket community on their young heads. The language of some of said ire was actually just as poor as the incident itself, and it seems to me that few things can unite a group as much as unfair criticism (perceived or real) being heaped upon them. Keep in mind, prior to this the team had been far from impressive, with just a loss to England and an untidy win over the out-of-their-depth Fiji to their name. Prior to that they had been whitewashed by the Bangladesh U19s in a pre-tournament series. Not exactly the form of a world champion.

But after the win over their poorer full member cousins (as amazing as it is that there can be teams poorer than them), the team just seemed to click. Everything started working, and nothing could stop them. They were, like the Windies teams of old, united.

But this doesn't really mean much in the long run. It's the most short-term solution you can imagine: a one-off event for a tournament most of them will never play in again, though hopefully many will end up playing in the full version in the years to come.

It does nothing to address the fundamental issues facing the senior players, a group they will soon join. It does nothing to address the fundamental issue of total disunity at the (inter)national level. If some of these players get thrown into the national squad straight away, the likely result would be another generation of players thrown away to a war that can't be won.

It's not as though the disputes between players and board have gone away. They're right there, looming over the World T20, just waiting for another chance to interfere in the playing of international cricket.

So all the best to the winning Windies, I hope they savour the victory. But I suspect many of these young men will end up playing international cricket in colours other than maroon.

(As an aside, these are the nations that these players divided into:

Antigua and Barbuda: Alzarri Joseph
Barbados: Chemar Holder, Shamar Springer
Grenada: Ryan John, Emmanuel Stewart
Guyana: Shimron Hetmeyer, Tevan Imlach, Keemo Paul
Jamaica: Shahid Crooks, Michael Frew, Odean Smith
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines: Obed McCoy, Gidron Pope
Sint Maarten: Keacy Carty
Trinidad and Tobago: Jyd Goolie, Kirsten Kallicharan)

Monday, 15 February 2016

GameTrailers - Remember Them

Today, out of habit, I once again time 'ga' into my address bar, and clicked on the YouTube channel for GameTrailers, which was the first option.

There I saw that the last video put up on the channel was a "fixed" Bloodborne review, which was uploaded a week ago.

There was no Final Bosman this week. No Huber Hype, no GT Time, no top ten or Mandatory Update.

I still don't really want to believe what I first read a week ago, leaving me mouth agape. It wasn't that I didn't expect it, I just didn't expect it to happen yet. In the back of my mind, and surely everyone else who followed GT as well, this was always going to come. But why now? Surely, they can't have done it yet.

But the GT Reviews channel is also empty of new videos. There hasn't been a Twitch stream for a week either. It really happened.

GameTrailers is no more.

Let's be clear: This is not a surprise. At the very least since it was bought by Defy Media, GT has basically been treading water. Looking back, the signs were there well before that buyout, but when that happened in mid-2014, with half of their staff being fired...that was the beginning of the end. By my (possibly faulty) count, GT was left with fourteen staff after the buyout. Later that year, they were left with eleven, and then ten, then back to eleven and finally ten. By the end of 2015, that had fallen again to nine.

No 'big' website can possibly be run by nine staff, no matter how talented. It is actually quite extraordinary that GT managed to do weekly shows and review so many games for as long as it did with such a skeleton staff. What's even more extraordinary is that they didn't just do these videos - they did the best videos. There was not one other website that I would go to to find out about a game before I went to GT. Not one. Nowhere could you find such a variety of tastes amongst a group of people who were clearly passionate and positive about video games.

No-one sums this up better than Kyle Bosman. He was (despite probably wanting to deny it) the face of this last era of GameTrailers. He had a weekly show that was, in essence, punditry, but unlike most video game punditry on the web, it was made purely out of love and joy, even when the subject matter was deserving of anything but. Somehow, he managed to create his own lore throughout the show that didn't really make sense or go anywhere, yet was somehow still thoroughly watchable, and usually funny. As moderator on GT Time, Bosman was all too happy to acquiesce to another panellists view to keep the tone of the show light, while not giving up on points worth sticking to. 

But the one show that stuck out the most was the Twitch stream known as Dumb Game Monday. Unfortunately, most of it has been lost to history, even though the playthrough of Chicago Enforcer should be put in a museum. The show was all about celebrating the kind of games we got as kids, which weren't bad, just silly. We got to appreciate the details of games that no-one else paid any attention to, and, just for a time, learn to value games that aren't the 'best ever'. I loved watching these streams, and while I understand the logic in saying that not saving them leaves them as a moment in time, these were streams worth saving.

Bosman was hardly alone. The eleven staff that recent fans would know best created a community unmatched amongst gaming websites, celebrating the existence of video games, embracing them as a refuge from daily life that is meant to be enjoyed, rather than argued over as sport or followed as an industry. 

It wasn't that they were always right. I just finished listening to an early GT Time podcast where everyone (except the far-thinking Michael Damiani) was totally, utterly wrong about how Nintendo's Digital Event would go at E3 2014. It's that they were always worth watching and listening to.

Where now will I get my hype, if not from Huber? Who can match Bloodworth's calm wisdom about games? Who can I listen to talk accurately with a balance of emotion and logic other than Ben? Who can I double down on without Don?

I don't need to speak about how Defy made a massive mistake in not investing in a brand that was building something strong, or how Viacom basically brought about their demise through a long series of bad decisions. I can't talk about the early days, because I wasn't there. All I want to remember is the group with too many Bs in their names that I know as GT.

Matt Blair
Daniel Bloodworth
Kyle Bosman
Don Casanova
Michael Damiani
Brad Ellis
Ian Hinck
Michael Huber
Brandon Jones
Ben Moore
Elyse Willems

You've done a lot for games and the gaming community, even if it may not look like it. Hopefully, we'll see you all again soon.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Republican establishment raises the white flag

The Republican Party or, more accurately, the top figures within the party (and not the grassroots membership) has been in conniptions over a Mr Donald J. Trump for the past few months. He has been the leading primary candidate across the United States for far longer than is normal for such campaigns. He has demonstrated enormous influence through skilled manipulation of the media which has allowed him to constantly gain attention, and he is able to shake off what would otherwise be enormous gaffes with a practised ease. He has coupled this with a total disdain for the top brass of the party he is running to be the presidential candidate for.

In response to this potent combination, said brass has brought out every weapon they could use while simultaneously trying to avoid annoying their grassroots supporters more than they already have, culminating in an entire issue of the National Review, probably the most significant conservative magazine in American circulation, presenting a series of essays by 22 authors which had the sole aim of being 'AGAINST TRUMP'.

Who on Earth thought this was a good idea?

In placing themselves 'AGAINST TRUMP', the Review fails to state what exactly it is for. From the essays that the issue holds, it seems that the answer to that is 'anything that isn't Trump'. A number of essays actually contradict each other, attacking Trump from different sides of an issue. A magazine that holds that a candidate is unsuitable because of their views on certain issue, and then takes contradictory positions on those same issues, has launched their attack from a position of weakness. It makes them appear as though they only disagree with the candidate because of who he is - which, in this case, seems quite accurate.

It establishes Trump in a position of further strength, the very opposite of what they were attempting to do. He has become the candidate. No other presidential candidate is going to get an issue of an entire magazine dedicated to being against them, are they? Trump's tactic of sucking the oxygen out of other campaigns by becoming the focus of the news every week was actually done for him last week by this issue of the Review.

And then, to add to the establishment's unwise decisions, Fox News has decided to also try to use their influence as the big conservative news network to do what the Review failed to do. At the head of this attack has been Megyn Kelly, who quickly rose to being the network's number one following her tit-for-tat with Trump during the last Fox debate. She even had some of the Review's editors on her show to commemorate that they were all 'AGAINST TRUMP'.

This all in the week leading up to the last debate before the Iowa caucus. It appears this was organised so that they would be able to attack Trump just in time to push him down in Iowa, and slowly wear him out in favour of someone, anyone else. This is further supported by the new information that a questioner at the Iowa debate, invited by the hosts, was to be a prominent YouTuber with a history of attacking Trump.

This was a terrible miscalculation. Trump's biggest supporters are people who feel ignored by the establishment, and now they see the establishment attacking their candidate, who they can see has wide support. How could they expect people to support them instead of Trump? All this did was provide another opportunity for him to suck the oxygen out of any discussion that didn't revolve around him, and he duly took it by boycotting the debate, thus robbing Fox of their much wanted chance to take him down and vast amount of viewers and, therefore, dollars. They seem to have forgotten that they are meant to be a news network in their desperation to take down a man they have no control over, thinking that they could ensnare him. Sure, Trump might be affected by this - conventional wisdom seems to say so - but conventional wisdom has not helped one iota in observing this campaign. 

Instead of going to the debate, Trump will be holding an event to raise money for veterans. He just knows which buttons to push at the right time to take full advantage of whatever opportunity presents itself. This will allow him to present himself as an all-American 'good guy' once again, and if that's what he is, what, we then ponder, must Fox be? (And to top it all off, Kelly had noted American critic of America, Michael Moore, on her programme, which he spent mostly congratulating her about taking the fight to Trump. That Moore should appear on Fox at all would normally send klaxons blaring, but to do so in a totally positive context is truly extraordinary.)

Trump will probably win Iowa, and he'll surely win the Republican nomination. The establishment picked a fight with the wrong guy, and are going to have the blowtorch applied to them over and over until they fall in line. Or until they stay true to themselves and support Michael Bloomberg instead.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Nathan Hauritz and what could have been

This week, Nathan Hauritz retired.

It was not an announcement that many were surprised by, or even took notice of. Most Australian cricket fans will have barely remembered that, for two years, he was our number one spinner. History will probably not remember him fondly, perhaps as little more than a footnote between Shane Warne and Nathan Lyon.

But I will.

To be fair, even I don't remember his Test debut in 2004, a one-off in the 4th Test of a series against India that Australia had already won. Hauritz took five wickets playing as the first spinner, an impressive performance for a young tyro. This came of the back of eight ODIs played over 2002 and 2003 which were more nondescript, and was followed by a return to domestic cricket which was similarly quiet. It took a move from Queensland to New South Wales, the retirement of Warne and Stuart MacGill, and the trying out of Dan Cullen (prior to Warne's retirement), Beau Casson, Jason Krejza, Cameron White and Bryce McGain before he managed to find himself back in the baggy green, but this time, he was there to stay.

Or so it should have been. The reason I will not forget Nathan Hauritz is because I was, and still am, consistently amazed by how poorly he was treated by the media, by the public, by his captain, and - above all - by the selectors.

Hauritz's Test career is punctuated by the three times he wasn't selected. The first was his aforementioned non-selection between 2004 and 2008, mostly justified until MacGill left the scene, after which it is difficult to understand why it took so long for him to return. The second was in the 2009 Ashes, when he was dropped for Stuart Clark for the 4th Test after solid returns in the first three. Australia won by an innings, with Clark taking an impressive 3/18 in the first innings. But it is difficult to imagine Australia wouldn't have done well with three seamers at Headingley, as Peter Siddle took five wickets in the same innings, while Mitchell Johnson took five wickets and Ben Hilfenhaus four in the second innings. In what should've been a warning to the selectors, Clark went for 74 runs off his eleven overs in that innings, taking no wickets. But instead the panel continued their tradition of never changing a winning team, regardless of individual performances. This allowed England an easy, Ashes winning victory at The Oval, as the pitch was a raging turner and Australia had Marcus North as its frontline spinner.

Alas, the selectors did not learn their lesson. The career ending non-selection for Hauritz was the third occurrence, coming a year later in the Ashes squad for the first Test in Brisbane. Hauritz had performed poorly, but not unexpectedly so, against India in India, while the opposition spinners led the wicket taking charts in the two Test series. That this should lead to the humiliation of being dropped for Xavier Doherty and Michael Beer in the same series seems remarkably unfair. After picking Doherty for the first two Tests, he was dropped for Mitchell Johnson, who performed well in Perth, delivering a match-winning spell in the first innings. The selectors, though faced with a different pitch than the one in Perth, left the bowling attack unchanged, leaving Stephen Smith as the frontline spinner as England romped to an Ashes winning victory. Sound familiar?

Alas, the selectors did not learn their lesson. Michael Beer, after a decent season with the ball for Western Australia, got the call up for the fifth Test in Sydney, presumably because they were too proud too admit their mistake in dropping Hauritz. In any case, Beer played his one and only Test and didn't do a great deal in it, while Hauritz continued plugging away at domestic level. The selectors then tried to make up for it by selecting him for the ODI series, only to dislocate his shoulder in the second ODI.

And that was the end of that.

So far, I've only really focussed on the selectors, but the other parties I mentioned earlier deserve some time under our gaze as well. The media and the public worked seemingly in tandem to sap Hauritz's confidence as often as possible. The aftermath of the Warne/MacGill years were harsh for Australian spinner, and Hauritz, a naturally private person whose off-spin was more about variations and bounce than about turn, was especially susceptible to this. He quickly became a player who appeared to be just one game away from being dropped, as the media questioned his ability and the public cried out for someone who fit their ideal of an Australian spinner more closely, seemingly not realising that he was quite literally the best the country had to offer. The selectors, of course, did nothing to help in this when they managed to find such crucial moments in which not to pick him, forcing him to start from scratch again and again.

As for his captain...while Ricky Ponting was a better captain by the end of his time in the role than he was at the start, he never seemed to get the hang of how to use spinners. Being blessed with Warne and MacGill, spinners who knew what they wanted and could back it up with results, turned into a curse as spinners with less confidence, experience and ability rotated through the Australian dressing room, rather like the most daunting job interviews on Earth. Here, Ponting decided to take on the role of deciding when to bowl the spinners and what fields they should bowl to, and his decisions were not conducive to the confidence of his spinners, with a defensive mindset dominating as he tried to hang on to a legacy of dominance that no longer matched his squad.

What would Hauritz have looked like under Michael Clarke? I imagine much like his replacement has managed. His fellow Nathan, of the Lyon variety, has become Australia's highest off-spinning wicket-taker in Tests, despite starting at a similar base to Hauritz, and being of a similar personality and bowling style. But Lyon received the support he needed at the time he needed it, despite a few bumps, and is now reaping the benefits. 

This is not to say Hauritz would've succeeded to the same extent, or in the same way. I suspect he wouldn't have taken quite as many wickets, simply due to the slight differences in their bowling style. But the similarities of their records are hard to ignore, and Hauritz was decent with the blade as well.

Hauritz's career can perhaps be summed up in the story of him selling his cricket gear in a garage sale. Why? Because it was a factually inaccurate and misleading story, perpetuated and used by the public to attack him, emblematic of a lack of support from his team and the result of being wrongfully dropped. Despite its falsehood, it felt at the time like the sign that his Australian career was over. Now we know it is, and can only ponder what could have been.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Things that won't fulfil your life: your own home

Advertising is the art of selling things to people. By their nature, advertisements are going to embellish the truth to some degree or another, in order to make a product so attractive that the viewer will be willing to part with their money in order to buy that product.

Some ads will suggest that their product will make life easier. Others will emphasise the excitement they can add to life. But there are a few ads which will make a much larger claim: that their product will fulfil your life.

One example of this comes from Aussie Living Homes, as can be seen in this ad:

There are two lines of argument running through the ad - audio and visual - that begin with the same question and end with the same answer. The question is 'what is your dream?', and the answer is that owning your own home will fulfil it.

The following dreams are claimed to be fulfilled by owning your own home in the visual arguments:

Happiness forever; to live well; make our own choices; to be independent; enjoy success; embrace life; to be ourselves; to shine; to play; live in the moment.

These are accompanied by images of young, good looking couples having fun and enjoying each others' company, with the appearance of being well off.

Here are the audio dreams:

To be happy in our own home (without renting); lots of holidays; start our future and live somewhere nice (with everything close); to do what we want (with our first home); to be with family and friends; three or four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a garden; a place to relax and call my own.

Both audio and video end with the statement 'LIVE THE DREAM', with indication that an Aussie Living Home will achieve these things for you.

It is a good thing ads do not need a logical explanation behind them, because if they did, this ad would run into trouble quite quickly.

It's interesting that they should choose to make the more outlandish claims silently. This seems a clever move, in that it puts the message in the viewers head subconsciously while they are listening to the more reasonable suggestions of believable young people.

Take only a moment to consider some of these claims, and it becomes clear how outrageous they are. Happiness forever? It's a house. No matter how much you spruce it up and spend time on it, it is still just a building. It cannot offer you love of any kind, which is generally what we desire most. Also, like all building, houses are prone to decay, which rather puts the dampers on any sense of forever.

To live well? Why can't I do that in a rental?

To make our own choices? This can be done without owning your own home, and specifically buying an Aussie Living Home may well take choices away from you, as you'll be forced to get a job that pays at a certain level to pay for your mortgage, and have a small number of suburbs to choose from. 

Be independent? This is one I will be prepared to give them.

Enjoy success? Pardon? Buying a home on the cheaper end of the new home spectrum is not success of any kind. Even if you only measure success in monetary terms, this is at the opposite end of the spectrum! 

Embrace life? I'm not actually sure what this means, although it seems to be some kind of indication that those who don't own their own home have a less full life which, again, seems unlikely given owning your own home requires a mortgage to pay off.

Be ourselves? Thereby suggesting that not owning your own home forces you to be someone else. I don't think so.

To shine/play/live in the moment? Superficial nonsense.

To be sure, many ads do this kind of thing - but this ad has been especially annoying, because it's just one big lie created by a thousand small ones.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Gayle the debaucher finally meets his match

Chris Gayle's blatant sexual innuendos and general manner towards Mel McLaughlin was, apparently, a surprise to some people. I do not understand why, as Gayle has, since being dropped as West Indies captain, become the most obvious example of someone who doesn't care about anything but his own pleasure you'll find in the cricketing world. For the past five years he has more or less done whatever he wants with the big money he gets from his many T20 league contracts. Judging from his social media profiles, most of that goes towards all the pleasures this world can afford.

Knowing this, why would anyone be shocked by this happening? Gayle has been doing this for years, so there should be no excuse for turning a blind eye towards it up until now. The real shock is actually this: the Melbourne Renegades thought it was a good idea to bring Gayle into their team.

Gayle has spent a few seasons in Australia, most recently with the Sydney Thunder, but that was three years ago. Gayle's on-field performances since then have dipped, as he tours around the world on the back of his big-hitting reputation. Certainly, he doesn't offer much else that other players couldn't similarly do, without his potential to be lazy and offer nothing significant to the team. This is exacerbated by his off-field behaviour, which Chris Rogers thought was problematic when they shared the Thunder shirt in 2012/13.

You'd think there would at least be some level of communication about this between teams and players. If there wasn't, then that is a problem that needs to be rectified. But if there was, and it was ignored because of Gayle's on-field ability, then that is actually a bigger problem. This is not someone who should be playing in the Big Bash League, because what he gives is far less than what he takes away. Hopefully now he will be considered persona non grata within the league, because there appears to be little chance he will change his ways any time soon.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens - The good, the bad and the ugly

Spoilers, obviously.

The Force Awakens has now been out for a week, breaking all kinds of records and capturing everyone's attention in the lead-up to Christmas, as though the Skywalkers have replaced the line of David.

After walking out of the cinema, it took me a while to figure out what I thought of the film. It was good, but in such a way that it felt like it could've been better if some fundamental changes had been made to the design of the film. Here are the good, the bad and ugly choices made in the making of Star Wars Episode VII.


Poe Dameron: Despite the silly name (is he a ghost?), Poe is the best character in the entire film. A spectacularly talented fighter pilot, he puts his life on the line to take on the New Order time and again. He's cool under pressure, he knows exactly what he's doing, and we only see enough of him to know his characterisation is spot on. The total hand wave of his escape from Jakku when he reappears in the last third of the film feels justified, because he's just that kind of guy. 

Mixing and matching the roles from A New Hope: Rey, Finn and Poe are the Luke, Han and Leia of the new trilogy. But which one is which? Rey is the strong-willed female (Leia), who intrinsically knows everything about her ship (Han) that is the new talent in the Force upon whom events centre (Luke). Poe is a leader of the rebellion who needs to be rescued (Leia), by nature a bit of a playful scoundrel and has world experience (Han), who leads the attack on the Death Star Planet (Luke). Finn is the guy just wants to run away from everything (Han), who ends up being thrust into a central role in the rebellion (Luke), and I'm sure he has some similarity with Leia that hasn't come to mind - perhaps they were struggling a bit with it by this point. Overall, though, it's an impressive use of characters within the mould of A New Hope that they chose to use.

Han Solo: Second only to Poe in terms of best performances. When he arrives, it's unexpected (even though we knew he was coming at some point), and it's just he hasn't changed...other than that he's got old. He's still the same character, but full of the wisdom, experience, and regret that only age brings. Nothing throughout the film feels out of place with how you would expect an old Han Solo to be. 

Interaction between the new characters: Really well done, although from memory Poe only interacts with Finn, but that's okay because it's the best relationship of the lot. Rae and Finn both know absolutely nothing about the world they've rushed into, so in some ways it's not surprising that they become besties so quickly, even though it still felt forced (for reasons I'll explain later), the 'it' being the speed of that friendship, not the friendship itself. It was also refreshing to see what is clearly a budding romance begin without the two characters not liking each other. They have some misunderstandings, but only in the way you would expect given their backgrounds, and they get cleared quickly. How convenient, too, that young Ms Skywalker (as she so obviously is) will end up with a man with no last name, thus ensuring the name 'Skywalker' will continue on to another generation.

Killing off Han: There was no conceivable way all of the old three could make it through the new trilogy - not with the way this story has been set up. Using his death as the clear symbol of Kylo Ren's fall is classic storytelling. It's sad to see him go - especially this early, as I would've done it in VIII - but it was the right call. Luke or Leia dying would feel like a step too far, but Han? He's a scoundrel, it's natural for him to die first, and for him to do it by being the least like a scoundrel ever seen in the Star Wars films felt even better. 

Industrial Light and Magic: We're back to proper effects, which aren't going to age within a matter of years after the release of the film and don't exist in every nook and cranny imaginable. The graphical quality of the film speaks for itself. Just watch it and marvel.


Sticking to A New Hope like glue: This was the wrong choice. The intention seems clear: prove that the new Star Wars will be faithful to the original trilogy, and not flop like the prequels. Unfortunately they decided that the right way to do this was to copy literally every single piece of IV and use it in a slightly different way. Put the important map into a droid and sent it away, find it on a desert planet where the main character lives, have them encounter a wise old man who had disappeared for years, run into the rebellion, use what they've learnt to blow up a Death Planet which has successfully had its first test run, have the old mentor die at the hands of the evil man he turns out to be close to, have the main character successfully use the Force before getting away. Ta da! It would've been far better to do something different with the good characters they created.

Finn knows too much: If this guy, who as a character I generally like, was trained to be a Stormtrooper from birth/a young age, why does he seem so much like you and me? How he can he be so aware of things that the average person is aware of? How can he recognise right and wrong so easily? How can he play the role of comic relief so well in a way that is completely different to how the clone troopers have played it in other Star Wars media (that of being completely clueless of anything beyond fighting)? This is really noticeable in Finn, but it's actually true of everyone...

Why is everyone so human: This may seems like an odd complaint, but hear me out. I do not mean that it's a bad thing for them to be human in comparison to the prequels, because in those the characters were all robotic thanks to terrible decisions of direction (read: green screen everything). What I mean is that Star Wars is a space opera. It is not a realistic drama. I am meant to sympathise with the good guys and dislike the bad guys, like in a pantomime. The better the performances, the easier it is to do this, which is why it was so hard in the prequels. Even the complexity of good and evil (like a bad guy being good at heart) is meant to be relatively simple, ala Anakin coming back to the Light at the end. TFA ditched this in favour of complex, realistic, meant-to-be-relatable drama, and I don't like it at all. We see Kylo Ren struggling with the call of the light side. We see Finn explaining his feelings. We see everyone look like they're going to cry more than once. Why? This is meant to be a pantomime! What happened to the space opera?

What even is the Force: Seriously, what is it? Perhaps we never hear a proper explanation of it because the only characters who talk about it with any kind of knowledge are two non-Force users, but if you're coming into this film with no knowledge of the Force, you aren't going to come out much wiser. It seems to kind of help the way you fight, but not especially so, as we see two people use the Skywalker lightsabre with no Force knowledge whatsoever, and they don't die immediately - or at all. The Force has always been deliberately vague in a folk religion, mystical kind of way, but in TFA it was basically about closing your eyes and feeling better. Also, watching a guy thrust his hand out near someone's face for minutes on end is not thrilling viewing, please find a better way to symbolise what Ren is doing.

Rey is a Mary Sue: I want to like this character, but I can't, and I don't want to use the phrase 'Mary Sue', but what other way is there to describe this kind of character? Everything about her is perfect, including her one character flaw ('I want to go home'), which isn't really a character flaw at all, and which she gets over fairly quickly anyway. Pretty lady, very skilled hand-to-hand fighter, knows everything about spaceships and mechanics, everyone likes her, she picks up the whole Force powers thing basically straight away (though this can at least be hand-waved as 'she stole it from Kylo Ren') and everyone will drop everything for her wellbeing. Unlike Luke Skywalker, who, despite his circumstances, is an entirely believable head-in-the-clouds innocent figure, Rey (Skywalker) is an entirely unbelievable worldly figure who manages to hold on to only the most frustrating part of innocence (I can run away and it'll be fine). She even has a British accent, which strikes me as the kind of thing done to make a character seem different for no reason whatsoever. Remember, this is a pantomime made in the US, only evil characters should have British accents.


Phasma: What a pointless character. How much of this character was not designed for monetary purposes? She is neither a strong female character (as obviously she was designed to be) nor a cool Boba Fett type (as she talks too much and is annoying in a way the Fetts aren't). I hope we never see her again (but we will).

The way they killed off Han: Could this have been any more excruciating? We knew this was coming. The hints were everywhere, and the moment Han saw Kylo is was over. He walked onto that bridge sealing his own fate. So why did it take so long? It would have been a far more memorable seen had it been over nice and quickly, without seeing Han slowly die and fall off the bridge, and everyone slowly react. The symbolism of 'this is the moment' would've come through more clearly too. This wasn't the first time that a moment was missed either - it only becomes apparent after his death that Leia's request to bring Kylo (Ben) home was what would lead to his death, because it was the only reason he confronted his son at all.

The ending: Who thought this was a good idea? In this case, following the Episode IV script closer would've resulted in something better. For example, a funeral for Han Solo, and then finish with an award ceremony for the fighters who blew up the planet, with a final cut shot of Luke Skywalker staring out over the waters from his island, zooming out to reveal his location, then cut to credits. Instead of this ending, which wraps things up and provides a tiny tease for the next film, we got something that felt rushed and haphazard, with an awkward pacing and an odd leap in the story. In particular, the final minute (which felt like five), which consisted of Rey holding Luke's lightsabre out to him while camera kept on panning around them, was genuinely excruciating and added nothing to the story. All we needed, if indeed we really needed to see the Jedi Master at all, was a quick shot to see that he was old, alone and isolated. Making this sequence so long added nothing to the film, and actually detracted from the events that had happened just prior. It would've been much better to spend more time on the death of quite possibly the most beloved character in the series, seeing how the other characters dealt with it in the aftermath, along with where the group headed from there.

Don't get me wrong, The Force Awakens is not a bad film. But it isn't great either. There is always the sense that this is a fanfiction brought to life just lurking in the background. Perhaps this is unsurprising, as I have no doubt most of the cast and crew are fans of the series, especially of the original trilogy. But the fact that this film is as good as it is ultimately results in a feeling of genuine disappointment, as there are simply too many significant issues in the film that prevent it from being great. This is not a film that I envision too many people ranking as their favourite Star Wars in twenty years from now, and that is a shame.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

The future of West Indies cricket

There will be a lot of speculation over the coming day over the future of the West Indies. Some of this will be legitimate, pointing out long-standing difficulties that the joint cricket team has had over the past two decades. Others will be more short-sighted, and will probably disappear should the West Indies vaguely improve over the next two Tests.

It is clear that the Windies will not win this series. It is also clear that they will struggle to win. The biggest alarm bell about their performance in Hobart is that wasn't unexpected. Given the past five years of movement from the team, which has only consisted of going from bad to worse, for this once great group of nations to go from losing to a Cricket Australia XI, full of rookie players, by an innings, to losing to the Australian Test team by an innings feels almost like an improvement in and of itself – not because of their own performance, but because of the leap in quality of opposition.

This very much appears to be the worst team to tour Australia since Zimbabwe came in 2003, and we all know how far they've gone since then.

The biggest problem facing the West Indies is not talent. There is just as much potential within the peoples of the Caribbean now as it was during their heyday thirty years ago. The problem is disunity. Remember, the Windies are a group of nations. These are all independent, proud countries with their own different histories. They first came together for cricket in order to give the touring Commonwealth nations some competition, and no-one ever really thought to disband them.

By the time World Series Cricket came around, they were becoming unified not by their relationship to each other, but to that of the other nations they were up against. The West Indies cricket team was a way of getting back at the old colonial powers. It was a way for these nations to prove themselves. This was stated numerous times as being one the key factors in their unification and subsequent dominance of world cricket.

So, what happened? Well, they did it. They proved themselves on the world stage, bashed around the colonial powers and dominated cricket for years. Like all successful kingdoms and powers, they got lazy. They didn't prepare themselves for the years ahead, and seemed to presume that their dominance would just carry on.

Part of the problem, to be fair, was that much of their dominance was built on top of things outside of their control. The county championship was undoubtedly the biggest factor in getting their players to move beyond 'potential' and into greatness. As the strength of county cricket fell away during the 1990s, and the amount of West Indians entering county cricket dropped, the Caribbean domestic league was unable to take its place. Domestic cricket is not cheap to organise for the WICB, as it involves flying players to whole other countries. This, along with the region's lack of wealth, did not leave much room creating a strong domestic competition, creating a vicious cycle as the their intentional performances began to fall away, and as old greats retired. By the 2000s, the beginning of the end had come. Only in the last five years, though, has this become abundantly clear.

Today, the WICB is totally disunited, with poor domestic structures (in every way imaginable), players who aren't interested in playing for a team that isn't their own nation, players who aren't willing to give up T20 wealth for the sake of a collective group of nations, and international structures that give them no assistance other than keeping them treading water above the Associates (many of whom could beat them on a good day).

Soon, the West Indies will be no more. This seems inevitable. The question is simply whether it will happen by action, or by default. The former involves their performances collapsing to such a point that the ICC will have no choice but to prevent them from playing Test cricket, as they did with Zimbabwe, which will almost inevitably spill over into the breaking apart of the WICB. The latter will happen if cricket becomes an Olympic sport. There can be no West Indies team in the Olympics. Each nation within the WICB will be forced to compete on their own – if they can qualify at all. Should the international results continue to head south, it would not be that surprising if the collective boards decide to make this a permanent state of affairs.

The question then is what happens to these teams within the ICC. How strong would they be? Would they only be on Associate level?

It is difficult to imagine any of the individual nations within the Windward or Leeward Islands being able to put together a team that would satisfy the current ICC requirements for a full member nation, so the question is essentially being asked of four nations: Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Guyana. Here's how these teams may look at full strength if they were going to play tomorrow.


Kraigg Braithwaite
Dwayne Smith
Jonathon Carter
Shane Dowrich
Carlos Braithwaite
Shai Hope+
Jason Holder
Ashley Nurse
Kemar Roach
Sulieman Benn
Fidel Edwards


Rajendra Chandrika
Assad Fudadin
Leon Johnson
Shivnarine Chanderpaul
Vishaul Singh
Narsingh Deonarine
Chris Barnwell
Anthony Bramble+
Steven Jacobs
Veersammy Permaul
Devendra Bishoo


Chris Gayle
Kirk Edwards
Jermaine Blackwood
Marlon Samuels
Andre Russell
Carlton Baugh
Chadwick Walton+
David Bernard
Jerome Taylor
Nikita Miller
Sheldon Cottrell

Trinidad and Tobago

Kyle Hope
Lendl Simmons
Darren Bravo
Jason Mohammed
Dwayne Bravo
Yannick Ottley
Denesh Ramdin+
Rayad Emrit
Imran Khan
Ravi Rampaul
Shannon Gabriel

Each of these teams has its own strengths and weaknesses. Jamaica is essentially a Test team, with a relatively strong batting line-up, though the bowling is unimpressive. Barbados is at the opposite end of the spectrum, with good bowlers along with more all-rounders, though the weakness of their batting leaves them looking more like a top Associate nation. Trinidad and Tobago is full of experience, both at international and domestic level, but lacks top order batting and significant fast bowling, making them seem like a truly pieced together Associate team. But that is nothing compared to Guyana, whose pace bowling options are essentially non-existent, with their three frontline bowlers being spinners (albeit with the variety of off, leg and left arm orthodox spin).

These teams are at least capable. The question is whether playing for their own nation will spur them on to greater things, playing with more pride and showing more on the field than they have in their careers so far. Furthermore, will this properly spur on the next generation, knowing that they will play for their own countries? If so, then this is something worth doing. Let us hope the cricket boards of these nations are prepared for the inevitable.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

They see a red ball and they want it painted pink

The first ever day/night Test match was a roaring success.

This was, at least, the opinion of Cricket Australia (as if they would ever say otherwise) and the media (who know which side their bread is buttered on). It was also the opinion of the players...until it wasn't. 

After the Test match all the players were using words that sounded like a ringing endorsement of the concept. They may well have been only that - a ringing endorsement of the concept

Then, a few days ago, David Warner and Nathan Lyon began sounding less than enthusiastic. 

And now, the results have come in from the players who played in the Test match, and it turns out the majority of players actually don't think it worked very well at all. 

What gives?

All eyes are, of course, on Cricket Australia, who were absolutely dead-set on having the match happen, regardless of the consequences, regardless of the lack of evidence that it worked in the Sheffield Shield, regardless of the opinions of the players who had already used it.

Their reasoning appears simple: it will work well enough for people not to complain too much while it's happening, and crowds will flock as it is such a novelty. Often, the introduction of day/night one day cricket was used as proof of the game evolving and that there was nothing wrong with Test cricket doing likewise.

Unfortunately, as long as the ball doesn't work in an already widely existing form of the game, any such format should not reasonably be supported. This is why the actions of Cricket Australia should draw such ire. Channel Nine, which gained enormous ratings gains from the match, was naturally not interested in putting forward such criticism. Cricinfo, which is more or less independent, became particularly excited for the format as it approached - but it was more likely a mix of genuine belief it would/did work and a realisation there wasn't that much point in fighting this battle when there are bigger fish to fry in world cricket right now. The general public doesn't follow cricket that closely, and is unlikely to notice anything significant, other than the game finishing a lot quicker than the last two, and may even see that as a positive given how awful the first two matches were.

This leaves only the members of the public who are keenly interested in this great sport and its future to argue against the work of CA, which are almost entirely drawn from the AFL. And really, given the latter's last few years, who would want to copy that? Corruption, uninteresting results, constant rule changes, questionable administration with no watchdog and a focus on promoting the game instead of producing a good game. This cannot be cricket's long term future. It will only kill the game.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Europe's shifting status quo

Something's happening in Europe.

Sure, there's been discontent bubbling for years. There always seemed to be some group, somewhere, unhappy about something, but it has always appeared to be a minority concerned about a minor issue, and they have disappeared in time. Over the past year, though, it's become clear that the collective grievances of the European nations' inhabitants are reaching boiling point.

The first obvious sign was the European Parliament elections. Traditionally these have been a way for people to register their unhappiness with major parties at a level where the voters know it doesn't truly matter too much. But when Eurosceptic parties come first in these elections, as they did in a number of countries in 2014 (most notably in the United Kingdom), something is clearly different.

Now, the lid is off. The refugee crisis, the mixed messages from governments, the inability to absorb the latest waves of migrants and, above all, the all too real threat of terrorism have combined to create a Eurosceptic surge like never before. It isn't particularly focussed, and the beneficiaries greatly vary in ideology from country to country, but all of them have a significant bone to pick with the European Union and its associated people and policies.

Eurosceptics are rapidly rising up the polls. You can see for yourself at the excellent European polling aggregator Electograph. The most significant move in the opposite direction from this new norm is Finland, where the Eurosceptic Finns Party have dropped 6% since the most recent election. The most likely reason for this is their involvement in the governing coalition. Elsewhere, this has not been the case. Netherlands? Eurosceptic Party for Freedom is topping the polls. Sweden? Eurosceptic Swedish Democrats topping the polls. Germany? Eurosceptic Alternative for Deutschland is eating into the CDU/CSU numbers. France? Eurosceptic Front National pulling ahead. Italy? Direct democracy Eurosceptic 5-Star Movement are still as popular as ever, while Lega Nord has succesfully moved into the national sphere with its southern sister party. Poland? Eurosceptics won a general election two weeks ago. Portugal? Eurosceptics are part of a coalition government. These are not coincidental.

The shifting status quo is not that European leaders will continue to pursue the policies that they have been for the past two decades. The emerging status quo is that this will be done in direct opposition to an expanding number of people. As the borders shut one by one across Europe, it does not appear that this unhappiness will go away.