Sunday, 22 December 2013

Three Cricketing Surprises

Three bits of cricket related stuff to chat about. First, Graham Swann has retired from Test and first class cricket with immediate effect, pulling out of England's tour to Australia. That was a shock, although looking at his performances in the last two Tests, it now seems obvious that his body wasn't up to it. It brings to an end a 60 Test career in which he took 255 wickets.

How good was he? Where does he sit amongst England's spinners from history. Well, it's probably fair to say that the likes of Laker and Underwood were better, but honestly, he's probably only a step or two down from that level. He was the no.1 bowler in the world at one point, after all, and the cutting edge of England's attack for several years. Swann spun it more than any other orthodox finger spinner in his prime, and he had the happy knack of taking early wickets. Yes, he was probably helped a bit by the development of DRS, which showed umpires that deliveries they would previously have given not out were in fact out, but Swann still had to be good enough to capitalise on it.

To some extent, that's just down to when his career was, but that's true of a lot of things. Former England fast bowler Steve Harmison made the point that Swann is probably the last world beating orthodox finger spinner we'll see, and that's largely a matter of timing too. Swann came up in a world where Muralidaran and Mustaq were starting to create a more wrist-spinning type of off break bowler. He ended his career in one where Jack Iverson's pet delivery of the 1950s has been rebranded the 'carom' ball and is an essential part of the new style off spinner's skill set. For any young bowler not to have it in future will be a failing, even if they don't fancy the risks Murali's doosra poses to the action, so Swann is likely to be the last major offie not to have at least some form of disguised leg break.

Since his retirement speech said nothing about T20 cricket, I assume that there's still a chance we'll see Swann doing the travelling cricketer bit for a few years. Which is the second thing. I've been watching the Big Bash in Australia, and it's like all my favourite players from yesteryear have been brought together, cricketing old age notwithstanding. Brad Hogg is still bowling his left arm wrist spin at 42. Brett Lee, who retired from Tests years ago, is still firing them down (even if it's ten mph slower than his 95mph best). Murali is there, which seems quite amusing in a country where he was repeatedly called for throwing in his Test career. Even Shane Warne is around somewhere. Oh, and there's Dirk Nannes, the cricketer about whom it is obligatory to mention the phases as a former skier who is fluent in Japanese and plays the saxophone.

Interesting cricket, unlike the end of the South Africa v India Test earlier. These are officially the two best sides in the world, and for a lot of the day South Africa played like it, fighting their way back from a massive deficit in pursuit of 458 in the last innings. Which would have been a record for a successful chase. They got so close, so very close. Which is why it makes me so angry that they didn't even try to get over the line at the end. With seven overs left, they needed 30 runs. They had wickets in hand. And they blocked. They blocked to make certain of the draw, rather than going for the win. India were no better, with all their fielders on the boundary to stop runs, rather than trying to take wickets. The commentators say that neither team deserves to lose. Well, perhaps the team that loses the series when they lose the next match should remember that they had the opportunity to go in front, and they threw it away.

A possible writing market

As part of the on-going process of apologising for a rather badly thought out and put together article I published earlier in the year, I'd like to point anyone who hasn't seen it in the direction of Lightspeed Online's all women SF issue "Women Destroy Science Fiction". The link is to Alex Wolfe's note on it over at the wrywriter, partly because she explains it all nicely, and partly because her site is also well worth checking out.

Friday, 13 December 2013

The Ashes So Far

Watching the Ashes, England not managing to get through the Australian batting line up, and I thought I'd talk about how the series has gone so far. England have lost the first two tests, so what has gone wrong?

The first point I should make is that it says a lot that we now think in terms of things going badly wrong when England aren't winning in Australia. We expect them to win there, where once we expected them to get beaten 5-0.

A lot of what is happening is down to Australia doing things right, not England's failures. Mitchell Johnson's pace (and even his batting) has been crucial. Indeed, the generally high pace of the Australian attack means that they can take wickets in conditions that make other seamers look ordinary. The aggression of their batting line up has been able to take games away effectively.

And yet, there are worrying signs from England. Their fast bowlers remain consistently slower than Australia's, despite having picked their pace up a little since the first Test. Their default setting seems to be to bore people out, too, which rarely produces cheap wickets. Graham Swann seems not to be getting the turn that Nathan Lyon is for Australia, when before this tour it seemed so obvious that Swann would be the superior bowler.

Several England players look, frankly, a bit old and tired. Anderson feels like he is coming to the end of his best. Broad feels like he never showed more than flashes of it, settling for being a grumpy mid-80s bowler rather than the fast bowling hope we thought he might be and not producing consistently with the bat. KP's batting has become more inconsistent, with the result that he now averages the high forties of a good test player rather than the mid-fifties of a potential great.

England's batting line up has been blown away at least once in each of the previous two games. Their lower order hasn't handled Johnson's pace, but that's understandable. What's less understandable is the way the top order has crumbled. There are promising signs, in Carberry's form and Root's score last time around. They'll certainly need to bat well in Perth.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Cover news and editing

Exciting news. I have the first sketches/workups of Duncan Eagleson's cover for my novel 'The Glass', which I'm hoping to bring out in the early part of next year. It's looking good. Now, I could do with some advice on how to go about promoting this kind of thing when you're putting it out yourself. Apparently, cover reveals are over? Oh well, consider this me deliberately not revealing anything.

On the editing front, here's a thought for anyone reading through someone else's work: tell them everything. No matter how basic it is, or stupid, tell them. Because there really are people out there who haven't heard all the stuff you have yet. Who still head hop, or plot by numbers, or pace things badly. Tell them. It might feel like insulting them, but it isn't. It's helping them to make it better.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

December IWSG

This one is for the IWSG for December. For me, because it contains my birthday as well as all the usual year ending stuff, December tends to be about looking back to think about what I've done in the year. Often, I wonder if I could have done more, but this year is actually quite a weird one:

On the one hand, I've probably written fewer books than for the last three years or so, because I gave up working for a book packager this time last year. My volume has dropped considerably as a result. I've also found that it's quite hard to break back into the academic life from the outside, which is annoying because done right, it could be exactly the sort of regular work that complements my writing.

But I've still done quite a bit this year. I worked on three collaborations with Eve Paludan (Witchy Business, Witch and Famous, Witch Way Out), I wrote five or so romance novels with a client I'm not going to name. I've worked at editing a few novels, helped to produce outlines for a couple, produced one major piece of non-fiction, gotten thirty thousand words through another... oh, and in the meantime I've finished one novel of my own (The Glass, which I'm planning on putting out myself some time at the start of next year), and got through the first draft of another (although it feels like it's not quite the book I want it to be yet).

That is, sort of a quieter year for me, but it's about where I want it to be. How did your writing year go?