Just a normal bloke

The traffic in Melbourne is very bad. A lot of time is spent gazing out of taxi windows, waiting for the lights to change or for the delivery truck to reverse down a small lane.

Yesterday a man rode past the cab…on a unicycle. He was not wearing a red nose and there was no evidence to suggest the circus was in town. He was just riding his unicycle. Has anyone else ever seen that?

He may have been the assistant to the man who steams used stamps off old envelopes in the local collectors shop (accountants take not, you are not perceived to have the most boring jobs on earth) but the fact that he was riding a unicycle meant this was no ordinary bloke.

You can catch trams if you want to beat the traffic and there is something very olde worlde and appealing and the clanking, clunking old beasts. But you need to be with a local because the numbering and routing system was either designed by an applied mathematics graduate or somebody who drew them out of a hat. On a quiet day with plenty of spare time it’s fun to jump onto a tram pointing vaguely in the right direction and see what happens, but it’s not a gamble worth taking when you need to get to the MCG nets to speak to Graeme Smith at 2.00 pm.

Talking of captains, Ricky Ponting has been in the news a bit recently concerning the timing of his declaration in Perth.

Some esteemed writers and former players set the tone for the debate when they pointed out that, by delaying the start of South Africa’s second innings until tea on the fourth day, he had significantly increased their chances of saving the match before they had even faced a ball.

Former test players jumped to Ponting’s defence while the senior players in the team – most prominently Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist – sprang to his defence with such vigour you might have thought he’d been accused of soliciting young hookers.

Radio talk shows are popular in Australia and the ‘Ponting-in-Perth debate’ has run every day at some time or another.

“He doesn’t deserve to cop all this criticism,” said one presenter, “he’s just a decent, honest bloke from Tasmania who happens to be a bloody good cricketer and he tries his backside off for Australia!”

“Yeh, right, I agree with you mate,” said his co-presenter, briefly forgetting that he was supposed to provide a different opinion in order to generate debate, “although he is now a Tasmanian from Hobart who just happens to live in the (highly luxurious) southern suburbs of Sydney. He shouldn’t even be allowed to play for Tasmania. You’ve got to live in the state you play for, surely…”

But back to the defense of the declaration. Both McGrath and Gilchrist muttered darkly and angrily that “130-odd overs is normally more than enough time to beat teams” while Ponting, writing a column in The Australian newspaper, adopted the ‘can’t understand all the fuss’ posture while saying that 130-odd overs would be sufficient “nine times out of ten.”

And so, I conclude, Ponting is destined to be remembered as a “good bloke from Tasmania who happened to be a bloody good batsman etc…etc” for two reasons.

First, he refused to accept that any criticism of his declaration was valid even though he admitted it had been extended by at least half an hour to let Brad Hodge reach his double century, and second – he is a numbers man incapable of looking for, let alone spotting the one game or occasion that ranks one out of ten.

So the WACA pitch is normally fast and bouncy and test matches normally finish in three or four days. But just occasionally it produces something different. In 1989 Australia scored 521-9 against New Zealand and then bowled them out for 231. New Zealand followed on and batted for an extraordinary 162 overs in reaching 322-7, Mark Greatbatch prodicing one of the greatest match-saving innings in Test history, 146 not out lasting over 11 hours.

The pitch became flatter and flatter as the match progressed.

Last week Australia made 528-8 declared in their second innings. While Ponting was sitting on the dressing balcony enjoying the Brad Hodge show, did it ever occur to him that batting was looking worryingly easy against the quality of Ntini, Nel and Pollock? Did he ever think “Bloody hell, we’re going to need all the time we can get on this deck?”

No, he didn’t. He thought “nine times out of ten 130 overs is good enough.”

Next time the Australian captain comes to make a declaration he would do well to remember that some people choose to ride a unicycle to work.

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