Sunday, 24 November 2013

Where Next?

Apologies to anyone who reads this one, because this gets a little whiny. It's just that there's a vague feeling that things might be coming to an end for me at the moment. It is, I suppose, one of the inevitabilities of the freelance writer/editor. That there will be moments when the work isn't lined up neatly. This time last year, when my father had his first health worries, I had a nice big series of novels to write, a non-fiction thing coming up, and I was thinking about getting into creative writing lecturing.

Now, when he's gone and I feel like I can't afford to slip up, I'm coming to the end of the series of novels (I don't know whether or not there will be another. I hope I'm making the client money by being her, but I can't be sure). The non-fiction thing will also come to an end in a few months. And as far as I can see, merely having written more novels than entire English departments matters far less than the fact that my PhD is in the wrong thing (and it is in the wrong thing. I knew that at the time. I would have loved to have done one in creative writing, but by that point, I was already committed).

I have vague plans for the next little while, but they feel flawed too: a first draft of an urban fantasy novel is in the bag, even though I told myself after the last two bombed that I wouldn't write urban fantasy anymore and I don't know if I want to write things without an edge of humour to them. I've started work on a book about writing and the kind of lessons you learn in close to fifty novels as a ghost writer, but would anyone really want to read it? A first vague attempt at a page or two of script writing, which I enjoyed, but it's not something where I have the connections that I do for novels.

Oh, and various attempts to line up future gigs, but whether anything will come of them, I don't know. The fact is that people want cheap, while I need to make a living. This is what I do full time. It's all I do full time. I suspect it's all I can do. I'm not ghost writing and editing because they're all I've ever wanted to do. I'm doing them because I got to the point, being told that I was underqualified for academia while being overqualified for everything else, where they were really the only options left. I've worked hard for three years now at this, and now I need to work out where it goes next.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Mitchell Johnson

There's an interesting article in cricket blog The Full Toss, suggesting that when the Ashes start tonight, it will be Mitchell Johnson who decides them, and that picking a bowler because he is fast even if he concedes runs is a mistake. It suggests that England have had no problems with some quite fast bowlers (Tino Best and Fidel Edwards of the West Indies were mentioned), but that they have trouble with accurate ones. The suggestion is that Johnson's occasional lack of direction will make it easy to score.

I think this possibly misunderstands Mitchell Johnson's capacity for destruction. When he swings the ball around at more than 90mph, things happen. Yes, Ryan Harris dried up the runs against England earlier this year, but the reason we remember him is that he took wickets. Peter Siddle, bowling from the other end, has always been a 'tight' bowler, but it was Harris' extra pace and movement that made him really dangerous.

I'm looking forward to catching the highlights. Australia on their own grounds should be a handful. Especially with Mitchell Johnson playing.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Tendulkar

The other day, Brian Lara apparently said that Sachin Tendulkar was the greatest cricketer ever. Certainly, that's how it was reported. Now, I can see why he will have said it: Tendulkar is certainly a great cricketer. He has more aggregate runs than anyone else ever. He's in his final match, so naturally everyone is a little emotional.

It's also quite a nice gesture from Brian Lara. While they were both playing, the debate was over which of these supreme batsmen was the best, the one who was setting records for total runs and numbers of hundreds, or the one who was setting records for the highest individual score in first class and test matches.

Yet I think it's an argument that simply cannot be sustained, and I think I should say that even though I'm probably going to get shouted down by any passing Tendulkar fans. He is certainly a great, but the greatest? As a batsman, one obvious figure makes that a problem: Bradman. Sachin Tendulkar, on relatively friendly modern pitches, wearing a helmet and all the protection afforded to players these days, averaged 53.72 runs per test match innings completed before the start of his final match earlier today. It may go up a fraction, but it's only going to be a tiny fraction. Sir Donald Bradman had a much shorter career, thanks to the combination of the Second World War and the difficulties of international travel in those days, but he averaged 99.94 runs per innings over the course of 52 test matches. Or, to put it another way, he was worth very nearly two Sachins. Which just goes to show how special he was. Yes, we can make a case for Sachin having done more for the pride of his country, but please remember that Australia was emerging as a nation in its own right while Bradman was playing. He carried Australian hopes on his shoulders at least as much as Sachin. Even in the fame stakes, there are serious comparisons in the way he was mobbed by autograph hunters and fans through his career, far above his team mates or opponents.

All this is before we pick up on the other point in that comment by Lara, which is that as usual, the batters have forgotten about us bowlers. Even if we were somehow to forget about the Don, would that leave Sachin as the best cricketer ever? No. As amusing as his spin bowling is, it's a part time option. Which is problematic when we consider two of the best all rounders to grace the game: Sobers and Kallis.

Jaques Kallis is often overlooked among modern greats, perhaps because he's an all-rounder and seems to fit a different category, or perhaps because his batting has occasionally faced accusations of dullness. He currently plays all the same teams as India do, and he averages more than Tendulkar does with the bat (at 55.44) as well as taking wickets at 32.61 a piece, to make him a front line part of South Africa's bowling attack. No one else has made more than 10000 test runs and taken more than 200 wickets as well (at 288, he should go past 300). And if the reason Tendulkar has made so many runs needs more explanation, consider this: Tendulkar is playing his 200th test. Kallis, who is of the same generation of players and who is a major workhorse for South Africa, has played 164.

Finally, let's talk about the man who has the biggest claim to being the best all round cricketer ever: Sir Garfield Sobers. Gary Sobers averaged 57.78 with the bat and 34.03 with the ball, bowling a mixture of fast-medium, finger spin and wrist spin as required. He took more than a hundred catches. More than that, so many of the achievements of others, he did first. Lara's test batting record was previously held by Sobers. He was the first man to hit six sixes in an over, too. Until Kallis came along, his 200 wickets and 8000 runs left him in a join aggregate class of his own as an all rounder. He knew what it was like to be a national and regional icon too, playing for and captaining the West Indies at a time when it was an important symbol of the islands' identities.

So that's why, for me, Tendulkar is great, but not the greatest.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Things We've Learned from the Warm Up

Today is the final day of England's warm up game against Australia A, and so far, there hasn't been much play. It has rained pretty steadily, but even so, we've learned a few things from the game:

  • The obvious one is that the rain can hit even in Australia. Just a couple of weeks after wild fires were ravaging the country, we have whole days washed out. Which just goes to show that the England Cricket Team can still do the business when it comes to combatting drought wherever they go.
  • Michael Carberry. The Hampshire batsman had enough time to hit a hundred alongside Alistair Cook, and may well have cemented a place at the top of the order for the first Test.
  • Joe Root. One knock on effect of Carberry's success is that it probably tells us the shape of the batting order. There were some question marks over whether Root was going to open or bat in the middle, with commentators such as Shane Warne suggesting that the latter might be better. Of course, Warne used to captain Carberry at Hampshire, so there might be a reason for that. Certainly, it now looks like England is going with Carberry to open and Root at six.
  • The likely bowling line up. None of England's players bowled in this game (only two of them got to bat), but the selection of Broad, Anderson and Swann suggests that this was meant to be the first choice attack. So that makes it looks like Chris Tremlett, who was also selected, is currently ahead of Steven Finn and Boyd Rankin in the 'tall fast bowler' stakes.
  • Either Australia are trying to ambush England, or their bowling reserves aren't great. The bowling on the first day of this game was quite ordinary. Not bad, just not particularly special. The fastest anyone bowled was in the low/mid 80s. There wasn't any particular mystery in the spin. It was fine, but compared to a Test attack that contains 90mph bowlers like Johnson and Harris, and potentially a decent leg spinner in Fawad Ahmed, it seems like limited practise.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

A Couple of Projects

It's the first Wednesday of the month, so it's IWSG. I've got a few things on at the moment, from a romance novel I've got to finish for someone else to a memoir that's kind of a long term thing for someone. As always, the ghost writing means that it's a case of balancing projects and their different deadlines/requirements.

But I do have a couple of things of my own. I've found an illustrator for the cover of my novel 'The Glass', and I'm guessing that we're going to have it out in early 2014 now. It started life as a parody of the whole angels and demons strand of paranormal/urban fantasy, and ended up managing to fit a broadly humanist outlook into the middle of jokes about Bede and fights between supernatural powers.

I'm also working on what is currently looking like a big UF thing with lots of faeries in, but it doesn't have that many jokes for once (so it's more in the vein of Searching or Witch Hunt). But with this one it feels like it's going to need a lot of work on the second draft to turn it from something fairly standard into something interesting enough to bother with. How do you go about turning your work into something more than just the norm? Are you balancing lots of projects at the moment?

Monday, 4 November 2013

Warm Up Matches

So, England drew their first warm up match in Australia a couple of days ago. That was pretty much a given, but it occurs to me that not everyone will know that, or indeed understand any of what's going on with this cricket related stuff. Here then, is my guide to everything you need to look out for with cricket tour warm ups:

  • First, someone will complain that there aren't enough of them/are far too many of them. Because we don't go on six month tours on ships to foreign places anymore, there are far fewer games beyond the actual international ones. This is, according to some commentators, one of the reasons why our chaps have trouble with their first games of tours. Of course, that applies when they're at home, too. Others say that games against Derbyshire 2nd XI do nothing to prepare you for the realities of international cricket, and so should be dropped altogether. So we have one or two warm ups and please no one.
  • Opposition sides for warm ups will typically be depleted. The big overseas player generally doesn't want to play a friendly game he hasn't been contracted for. The older players in the club really don't want yet another game in the season. The Australian authorities might or might not have deliberately put on warm ups on the same days the sides concerned are playing other matches. The result is almost invariably an XI with plenty of faces in no one has ever heard of. Even their team mates.
  • It will not be First Class. First Class refers to the 'right' kind of cricket being played at the 'right' kind of level, according to the rules as they're set out. It matters because only First Class games count towards the averages of the players. Weirdness crops up with these friendlies because, although they feature plenty of top level cricketers (on at least one side), they often aren't played according to the rules. Extra players can find themselves substituted in for extra practise (cricket doesn't do substitutes). Teams can swap batting line ups between innings. Things like that. This can be unfortunate for some players. England played a warm up against Essex before the home Ashes series this summer. It started out as a first class game, during which a couple of young Essex bowlers, one on debut, did well. Then David Masters got injured (he opened the bowling for Essex, and was on paper their best bowler). The management asked that he be replaced to give the England boys better practise. Those debut first class wickets magically no longer counted.
  • Someone will be injured. It is a minor rule of these things that either someone on the touring team will be too injured or stiff from the flight to play ("But he'll be fine for the first Test!"), or players from the other team will get injured as the game grinds on, reducing the quality of the game, or one of the big names from the Test team will ping a muscle in a way that takes them out of the whole tour.
  • The bowl off. Touring teams take more players than they need, so that they have spares when people get hurt or forget what they're meant to be doing. There is probably nothing duller than being the second best spinner/wicket keeper on an England tour. Yet often, teams aren't quite sure what their starting XI is even when they hit the warm up games, so we have the institution of the bowl off. If there are three seam bowling spots available in the coach's master plan, and you've taken five seamers on tour, you don't play the three probable best in the warm up game. No, what you do is give the two you're certain about a few days off to relax/seize up, while the other three all play, knowing that whoever gets lucky with conditions/decisions is going to get the last spot. Occasionally, this is done with batsmen too, especially openers, but more generally with them, management works on the theory that they need 'time to bed down'.
  • The opposition will try to win, but if they can't, they will try to be frustrating. For years, English touring teams would lose to Australian state sides in the first warm up game. This is because the state sides took things more seriously than most people expected (even down to... gasp, picking their best side). They wanted to beat England. They wanted to inflict psychological damage before the first Test. At the very least, all the young players there wanted to make names for themselves at the expense of international players. Failing that, some host teams want to deprive the tourists of practise. So they'll prepare the flattest wicket they can and pile on five hundred. Thankfully, that seems to have died out a little.
  • Despite all that, it will be a draw. Well, what did you expect? First Class games are typically four days. Warm up games are three, and are played by teams preparing for five day cricket. There will be some mad, scrambling declarations, but honestly, no one expects these things to come to a real finish.