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From Cats to Dogs

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Back on track: Matthew Scarlett and Cameron Mooney at Western Bulldogs training.COACH Brendan McCartney hopes the development of the Western Bulldogs’ novice forwards and defenders will be hastened by the recruitment of recently retired Geelong greats Matthew Scarlett and Cameron Mooney to his coaching panel.
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McCartney’s previous development role at the Cats was instrumental in persuading Scarlett and Mooney to commit to part-time specialist coaching roles at the Bulldogs in 2013.

On Wednesday, Scarlett and Mooney completed their maiden training sessions at Whitten Oval. They joined a panel that included not only McCartney but also former Cats teammate Steven King, the midfield and stoppages coach.

While McCartney regularly highlighted the Bulldogs’ lack of playing experience throughout his first year at the helm, he agreed that was most stark at either end of the ground, which was exacerbated by full-back Brian Lake’s trade to Hawthorn.

“We’re certainly building, at present, a new defensive group and a new forward-line group,” the coach said.

“Probably what’s been lost in the past 12 months [in the public analysis of the Bulldogs] has been Barry Hall’s retirement, injuries to really key players like [Dale] Morris and Tom Williams.

“The upside to that is we know we’re teaching them well and that we’re educating them the right way, so the end result will be favourable. The younger players, in particular, are so excited to have them [Scarlett and Mooney] here.”

McCartney said the limited coaching roles – each will spend one day a week at Whitten Oval – suited the club, as well as Scarlett and Mooney, and was not simply a compromise to get them on board in any capacity.

“The one thing you can’t have is too many good people in a footy club,” he said.

“Both Matt and Cam are good friends of mine . . . and are probably putting their toe in the water [to determine] if coaching interests them.

“It’s a good way to start, where you’re here one day a week and you’re not involved in that day-to-day grind of football.”

Mooney said he was confident that he would have a positive impact at the club, especially since he used to be a key forward and full-time Bulldogs forwards coach Shannon Grant was a smaller forward who relied more on pace and guile.

“It’s pretty good, every now and then, to hear another voice, to get some other ideas,” he said.

As part of the role, Mooney, who retired in 2011 and whose subsequent first year in the media was notable for his frank appraisal of players, has been assured he will not be expected to curtail his commentary on Bulldogs players.

“That’s why I was lucky to have a great mate [McCartney] who understood where I was heading with my career, and also understood I was keen to get my foot in the door as a coach,” he said.

While Scarlett was typically reluctant to discuss his new role – he last month eschewed a press conference when he ended his revered career after 279 matches – Mooney insisted the three-time premiership player would have no qualms conveying instructions and advice to the Bulldogs’ young defenders.

“You’re talking about one of the greatest full-backs to ever play and, without doubt, one of the smartest men I’ve ever come across on a football field with his direction and knowledge of the game,” Mooney said. “While he’s not a person to stand in front of 1000 people and give his overview of the game, one-on-one or in a small group of defenders he’s absolutely brilliant with what he says and how he says it.”

The Bulldogs’ defensive stocks have received a boost, with injury-plagued Morris this week completing a five-kilometre run and, significantly, pulling up well without any repercussions from the broken leg that sidelined him for the entire 2012 season.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs also announced that promising forward Zephaniah Skinner had quit the club and effectively retired after choosing to remain in Noonkanbah, a remote community east of Broome in Western Australia.

“We really didn’t want to lose Zephi as he is a well-liked person here, but we respect his decision to return home to his family,” list manager Jason McCartney said.

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Masters of their domain

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Robert Allenby practising on Wednesday.AFTER Adam Scott held a four-shot lead with four holes to play at this year’s British Open, somehow blew his chance to win a first major, then handled the inquisitions about his game, and even his character, with almost unearthly calm and dignity … what happened next?
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No, says Scott, he did not sink a size 12 slipper into the family feline. He did not turn the offending clubs into expensive Frisbees. He did not howl at the moon or curse the game’s sadistic gods.

”Yes, I had moments in the days after when I started reflecting on it, but it wasn’t for very long,” he says. ”It wasn’t a good feeling to do it, so I tried not to.”

Such was Scott’s equanimity in the moments after he swallowed that most bitter pill, those of us at Royal Lytham were left wondering if he had taken the defeat too well. Whether his gracious response betrayed a sense of denial or even a lack of desire. But Scott insists it was merely his way of making the most of a bad situation.

”I just wanted to get on with it,” he says. ”I was just playing so good. I turned up there having not won a major. I left having not won a major. Status quo.”

Which is not to say Scott underestimates the opportunity that was lost. ”Yes, I should have [won]. But I just wanted to get to the US PGA and keep playing well. That was my mindset … that’s how I had to try and take it. Just think about how incredible I played that golf course pretty much the whole week. I wanted to leave with that confidence and not let it bring me down, and I think I did a good job of that, because I played pretty well at the PGA.”

But Scott did not get into a winning position at the PGA. You suspect the real test of whether he was enriched, or traumatised, by events at Royal Lytham will come when he is again in contention late on Sunday at a major.

”I think it is only going to affect me well ultimately,” he says, claiming, paradoxically, that the British Open was the highlight of his year.

”It is a hard lesson to learn, but if I get back into that situation again, I’ll know to do a couple of things differently and hopefully it will fall right into place.

”Some people are fortunate because they win the first time they are in that position. Others, like Phil Mickelson, didn’t. But he eventually did and then the floodgates opened As far as I look at it, I’ve only had a chance to win two majors. Charl Schwartzel kind of took one away from me [at last year’s US Masters], and I’ve given one away. Maybe the next time it falls into place.”

Scott’s appetite for success might be gauged by his performance in this week’s Australian Masters, and then the Australian Open. Some measure their performance by their bank balance. Scott is one of an elite few who measure it by victories, and he has not had one this year. So he has worked hard over the past weeks.

Success has not been far away. Yet, as always, putting was the main topic at his Masters press conference. How well was he using his belly putter and, as pertinently, whether it should be banned. Scott claims that if good putters have had their advantage diminished by long putters – and he believes there is no evidence they have – then his ball-striking advantage has been diminished by improved technology. Why are authorities not addressing that?

As you might expect, Scott makes his point without rancour. After all, if you can lose a British Open after leading by four shots and react as if you have misplaced your watch, you can endure most things fate throws your way.

AUSTRALIAN MASTERS KINGSTON HEATH, NOVEMBER 15-18

THE FORECAST THURSDAY 20 degrees, shower or two developing FRIDAY18 degrees, shower or two clearing. SATURDAY19 degrees, partly cloudy. SUNDAY20 degrees, partly cloudy.

THE TOP CONTENDERS Adam Scott (QLD) $4 Ian Poulter (ENG) $4.50 Graeme McDowell (IRE) $8 Richard Green (VIC) $17 Stuart Appleby (VIC) $19 Robert Allenby (VIC) $26 Alistair Presnell (VIC) $26 Aaron Townsend (NSW) $41 Peter Senior (QLD) $51 Andre Stolz (NSW) $61

THE COURSEAdam Scott, current World No. 5: “The guys that are going to be up there are going to be the ones who putt well. It’s a course where you can make a lot of putts because the greens are pure.” Graeme McDowell, 2010 US Open Winner: “Tee shot placement is a huge key, especially on the front nine. You start missing fairways and you are in huge trouble. There is only about six holes for drivers on this golf course.” Robert Allenby, two-time Australian Masters Champion: “On this golf course, every hole could be a tough hole depending on the wind and obviously we’ve got strong winds, so it’s one of those courses where you’ve got to show a lot of respect to it.”

THE HISTORY BOOKS The past winners of the Australian Masters since 2000. 2011 Ian Poulter 2010 Stuart Appleby 2009 Tiger Woods 2008 Rod Pampling 2007 Aaron Baddeley 2006 Justin Rose 2005 Robert Allenby 2004 Richard Green 2003 Robert Allenby 2002 Peter Lonard 2001 Colin Montgomerie

TRIPLE THREAT Australia’s newest elevation to the US PGA Tour, Victorian Alistair Presnell, takes us through the three holes at Kingston Heath that will test the field the most. The 4th Par 4, 378 metres: “With the bunker in the middle of the fairway there, I think that is pretty strong, however it’s going to be down breeze so maybe a number of guys can take it on.” 15th Par 3, 141 metres: “Back up the hill, again it will be prevailing southerly down breeze, but it’s a real centre of the green kind of shot with some real penalising bunkers to play with.” 18th Par 4, 418 metres: “They have moved the tee back 25 metres to really make sure that the left bunker is in play and you certainly can’t leak the ball right because of the foliage.”

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AUDIO, POLL: Council tensions boil over

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NEWCASTLE lord mayor Jeff McCloy said ongoing frustration with political opponents prompted a voicemail blast which accused a fellow councillor of acting like a ‘‘petty little schoolgirl’’.
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The message, left for Cr Jason Dunn last week and obtained by the Newcastle Herald, exposed a divided council chamber less than two months into its new term.

Cr Dunn has since lodged a code-of-conduct complaint.

He said in an email to councillors yesterday that the call was ‘‘threatening, intimidating and completely inappropriate’’.

Responding to questions about the voicemail, Cr McCloy released a statement last night that pointed the finger at opponents on the politically divided council.

“In the two months since winning office, it is clear to me there are councillors who are operating with a self-serving and petty political agenda, which, if allowed to go unchecked, will lead to the continued demise of our city,” the mayor said.

His voicemail message to Cr Dunn was left after the latter had twice questioned general manager Phil Pearce about the authority of Josh Hodges, the former Port Stephens councillor.

Mr Hodges had been working as the mayor’s chief of staff, though he was not yet employed in any official capacity by the council.

‘‘I’ve just seen with your note to Phil Pearce, you’ve had a second go at me now over something so petty I just can’t believe,’’ Cr McCloy said in the message.

‘‘You want to behave like a petty little schoolgirl, I’ll treat you like one. And I’m just about sick of it. Now I won’t miss you. So you keep it up Jason, and you’ll get what you deserve. I won’t talk to you about it again.’’

Cr Dunn emailed councillors yesterday morning with a copy of the recording and the details of his code-of-conduct complaint.

‘‘While I was not intending to circulate or discuss the message with you, it has come to my attention that the lord mayor has spoken to one or more councillors about my complaint,’’ he wrote.

‘‘As a result, and in the interests of fairness, I feel you should know exactly what was said.’’

When contacted by the Herald about the voicemail, Cr Dunn said the mayor should set a better example for the city.

‘‘Regardless of the issues involved, intimidating or threatening behaviour is totally and utterly unacceptable in any workplace,’’ he said.

Cr McCloy said he left the message out of frustration, having already tried to contact Cr Dunn several times and ‘‘because the council has enough problems working together without that sort of pettiness’’.

‘‘My time is being bogged down with entry to swimming pools when we’ve got a $20million deficit,’’ he said.

In his statement yesterday, the mayor said councillors must focus on the big picture.

“I didn’t stand for lord mayor for political glory, I stood to revitalise our city and its suburbs and for fiscal responsibility,’’ Cr McCloy said.

FRUSTRATED: Lord mayor Jeff McCloy has clashed with Cr Jason Dunn.

NOT HAPPY: Cr Jason Dunn has laid a complaint against the lord mayor.

Staff strike out on after-hours tipple

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CRACKDOWN: The Duke of Wellington hotel at New Lambton has been caught breaching trading hours.THE decades-long tradition of after-hours staff drinks appears to be over with Newcastle licensing police vowing to crack down on suburban pubs supplying alcohol outside of their trading hours.
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The Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing yesterday revealed that New Lambton’s Duke of Wellington Hotel was one of five venues across NSW to be listed on the “three strikes” public register for breaching its trading hours in August.

The pub now faces closer scrutiny, with further breaches potentially putting the business in danger, after it paid the $1100 fine.

It is understood the breach occurred when four staff and a handful of friends, who were waiting for a lift home, had remained inside the venue, some still drinking at 2.20am, as some staff continued to clean up following a busy Saturday night.

The release of the breach yesterday prompted licensing police to warn other licensees that they face action if they supply alcohol after their normal trading hours or if people other than employees remain on their premises more than 30 minutes after closing.

Sergeant Wayne Buck, of Newcastle licensing police, said the legislation stated that any alcohol being handed over, whether paid for or not, was deemed as supply and would be in breach.

“They have got to be aware that staff cannot drink in the bar area of the hotel after closing time,” Sergeant Buck said.

“It is fair to say we are now looking at the suburban hotels – the city hotels are now no longer our primary focus.”

The crackdown means that the traditional “staffy”, where staff sat around and had a drink while either cleaning up or debriefing after the night, would attract a breach under the legislation.

Australia Hotels Association Newcastle and Hunter president Rolly de With said a relatively minor breach attracting a strike could potentially put the future of the premises at risk.

“The three strikes policy was introduced to deal with rogue or recalcitrant offenders that continually failed to comply with liquor licensing requirements,” Mr de With said.

“It was not supposed to be the country or suburban pub that is consistently well behaved.”

The Duke of Wellington licensee did not wish to comment.

Obama plays tough on taxes

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US PRESIDENT Barack Obama will begin talks with congressional leaders on Friday with a plan to raise $US1.6 trillion in new tax revenue from the wealthy – making clear that, at least at the outset, a wide gulf remains between congressional Republicans and the White House on the most contentious point in the negotiations.
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While Mr Obama said last week he was not wedded to every detail of his proposals, the White House said it did not intend to provide any new plan or make any concessions before the start of negotiations.

Rather, Mr Obama will present his 2013 budget as his starting point, a plan aimed at reducing borrowing over the next 10 years by $US4 trillion.

”We know what a truly balanced approach to our fiscal challenges looks like,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

Mr Obama has said that the election validated his approach to tax policy.

His previous proposal called for raising $US1.6 trillion in new taxes on the wealthy by allowing tax rates to increase, imposing a new special tax on millionaires and limiting deductions for the wealthy.

He also proposed $US340 billion in healthcare and entitlement savings, continuing $US1.1 trillion in spending cuts already passed into law and generating another $US1 trillion in savings through the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

After the election, Republican House Speaker John Boehner signalled a fresh openness to raising taxes on the wealthy, though under what precise circumstances is not clear. He said he opposed raising tax rates, but has left open the possibility of increasing revenue by limiting deductions.

In last year’s budget negotiations, Mr Obama considered two major changes to entitlement programs, tentatively agreeing to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 and to slow Social Security spending. While he may not be closed to the ideas in the coming negotiations, he is not opening the talks with such concessions.

”He does not believe that reducing deficits and debt are values unto themselves,” Mr Carney said. ”He believes that they are part of an approach that is driven by his No. 1 priority, which is economic growth and job creation.”

WASHINGTON POST

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Prince Charles uses website to set the story straight

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PRINCE Charles doesn’t order seven boiled eggs for breakfast in order to choose the one he likes best, his office said in a statement designed to dispel myths about the heir to the British throne.
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The claim was made by BBC television presenter Jeremy Paxman in a 2006 book. The website of the Prince of Wales was updated to dismiss that assertion and other commonly held views about the prince and his family.

”Does the Prince of Wales have seven boiled eggs cooked for his breakfast but only eat one, as claimed in Jeremy Paxman’s book On Monarchy?” reads one entry on the site. ”No, he doesn’t and never has done, at breakfast or any other time.”

As the Queen celebrated 60 years on the throne this year, courtiers are gradually managing the process of succession. The prince celebrated his 64th birthday yesterday. Charles has a reputation for eccentricity. In 1994 he was mocked in the press for revealing he talks to plants.

He has been a critic of some modern architecture and criticised traditional science in a 1996 speech that said it had assumed a ”tyranny” over ”our understanding of the world”.

The website also explains why, despite his environmental interests, he is driven in a Bentley and owns a classic Aston Martin that Prince William used on his wedding day last year.

”The prince does not own or choose to drive around in a Bentley,” it says. ”The car is required for some engagements for security reasons” and is owned by London’s Metropolitan Police.

It points out that the prince’s cars have been converted to run on biodiesel or bioethanol.

The website also denies that Charles advocates dangerous and untested medical therapies, saying that he favours a ”wider, preventative approach to health care by addressing the underlying social, lifestyle and environmental causes”.

It also poses the question: ”Does the prince dislike all modern architecture?” It answers: ”No. The prince has been the patron of several contemporary architects, and has provided training to young architects through his charity, the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community.” BLOOMBERG

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New faces to sit at China’s top table

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THE stakes are so high in Thursday’s leadership transition that many Chinese analysts are framing it in terms of the rise and fall of dynasties, amid accumulating social, political and economic stresses.
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After a year of scandals and rising public cynicism, the administration of General Secretary Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao begin the handover to a new team led by their deputies, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, at 2pm Melbourne time.

The identities of another five, or perhaps seven, leaders in the Politburo Standing Committee – the inner sanctum of power – will be gleaned by the order in which they walk on stage at the Great Hall of the People.

Analysts, including global investors from Sydney to New York, will be looking for the names of two key potential reformers, Li Yuanchao and Wang Yang, as they gauge the likelihood that the party can deal with growing challenges to the way it dominates political and economic life.

They will also be watching whether Mr Hu hangs on to his post as chairman of the Central Military Commission, as did his irrepressible 86-year-old predecessor, Jiang Zemin.

Mr Hu’s complete retirement might indicate the ascendancy of factional rivals led by Mr Jiang, analysts say.

Alternatively, it could suggest Mr Hu has begun to institutionalise the winner-takes-all norms of elite combat that have governed Chinese politics for two millennia.

”A lot of Chinese think of political development in terms of the dynastic cycle,” said Feng Chongyi, a political scientist at the University of Technology, Sydney. ”The Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang leadership is the last opportunity for the party to start a transition to constitutional democracy to break away from the dynastic cycle.”

Dr Feng, an insider and activist, has ceased paying his party membership fees but is yet to have his membership formally revoked.

China watchers, analysts and pro-democracy advocates are fiercely debating whether Mr Xi is at heart a reformer or a stalwart product of the ruling party system.

Some contend that Mr Xi will bide his time and consolidate his power before embarking on a bold political restructuring of the country’s Communist-run political system. Others see an inherently cautious operator who has no interest, and certainly no power, to dramatically reform the system.

At most, they say, he might offer token reforms to stave off dissent and maintain the party’s ironclad grip on power.

About the only one in Beijing who has not offered a view of any kind is Mr Xi. Keeping with protocol, he has said little during the past months or years that would reveal even the slimmest hint of his intentions. His public speeches have largely been typical jargon laced with Communist fare, urging the party to maintain ”purity”.

Mr Xi’s silence on political reform has made the portly 59-year-old a veritable walking Rorschach test, allowing observers to project onto him whatever views they choose, or perhaps hope, to see.

”Compared to Hu Jintao, Xi is more like a reformer,” said Mao Yushi, an economist, offering one commonly heard sentiment. ”China is a country under dictatorship, but the new leadership group, I don’t think, will take active measures to change the situation. It’s too difficult.”

Li Datong, a journalist and reform advocate who was fired from his editor’s job at China Youth Daily for pushing against official censorship, said he believed Mr Xi realised the imperative for reform but might be hamstrung by a Communist Party that is fearful of losing its power.

”The CPC is facing an unprecedented crisis of credibility, which is fatal for them,” Li said.

”The party has already lost its credibility because of the long time of one-party dictatorship. The regime will collapse like the last few years of [the] Qing Dynasty if the new leaders don’t catch this chance to reform.” With NEW YORK TIMES

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Testing the boundaries

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Mark Taylor, Michael Slater, Greg Chapell and Richie Benaud.THE absence of Tony Greig was conspicuous as Channel Nine began its 36th year broadcasting Australian cricket last week. Along with Richie Benaud, Ian Chappell and Bill Lawry, Greig is synonymous with Nine’s coverage of the nation’s summer sporting pastime.
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For hundreds of thousands of Australians, those four are no less than the soundtrack to summer, their idiosyncrasies and catchcries aurally documenting the game’s triumphs and disappointments.

This week Greig, who is battling lung cancer, began chemotherapy. When the group gathered at the Gabba in Brisbane for the first Test in the blockbuster Australia-South Africa series – the second Test starts on November 22 in Adelaide – the inimitable Greig was sorely missed.

Former Australian opening batsman Michael Slater, who along with former teammates Mark Taylor and Ian Healy form the ”younger” core of Nine’s on-air cricket team, sent him a text message: ”It’s not the same without you, Greigy.”

”The challenge in front of him is very sad,” Slater says.

Late on Friday afternoon, Nine crossed to Greig’s Sydney home. The 66-year-old, who has revelled in his on-air role as devil’s advocate since he relocated for Kerry Packer’s World Series Cup in the late 1970s, was plainly emotional.

He pledged to fight his cancer. After the cross aired, he teared up, pointedly telling his colleagues off-camera: ”It’ll come one day that you don’t go to the cricket, so don’t ever take it for granted.”

Choking up, host Mark Nicholas excused himself from his commentary duties for a minute. Not that the day in the box was morbid. As Healy says, these men simply get on with it.

”Hard is never a word we use around here,” he said. ”We just move on. That’s how we’ve been trained. It’s really different without his presence … He’s the most global out of all of us in his game knowledge.”

The next day, Nine’s head of sport, Steve Crawley, summed it up best.

”That’s the family thing with this group,” Crawley said. ”Greigy is not a softie. He is a big, tough bastard. But yesterday him [choking up] was a big insight into the feeling of cricket in this joint.”

That feeling may be about to be tested further. Nine’s seven-year agreement to cover the Australian national cricket team’s home games, worth about $300 million, ends at the conclusion of the summer. There is a sense that Cricket Australia, having watched sports such as Australian football and rugby league accumulate billion-dollar broadcast deals, is after its own profound payday.

”I’m hoping we’re here doing this again next year,” Taylor says. ”But I know that no one has an absolute right to broadcast the game forever.” On the second day of the Brisbane Test, November 10, rain fell on the pitch. Eventually, play would be called off. Yet Nine’s storied team remained busy in the stands, awaiting play to resume.

Nicholas spoke with network statisticians in the box. Chappell sat at a desk writing a newspaper column. Benaud was perched at his laptop, mulling over statistics. Taylor was busy entering a fishing competition online. Healy was introduced to a group of Nine sponsors touring the boxy Gabba studio.

An hour later, as they queued with production staff at bain-maries for a lunch of roast beef, baked potatoes and salad, the banter flowed freely. When asked individually, all concede talk of future broadcast rights is prevalent among the group.

”We keep asking each other when a deal is going to be done,” Slater says. ”At the moment, there’s no news.”

Of course, a few months ago, Howzat!, a dramatised telling of the story behind former Nine boss Packer’s takeover of World Series Cricket – and the commercial broadcast rights for the game locally – encapsulated the relationship between the game and the Nine Network.

To the outsider, the two appear intrinsically attached. Rugby league is the pillar around which Nine’s winter sports coverage is built; cricket is the summer schedule bedrock. As recently as a few months ago, it seemed unthinkable Nine could lose the cricket.

Sources say a decision will be made in early January.

”We have a great relationship with Cricket Australia,” Crawley says. ”We’re confident. It’s part of our DNA. That sounds like a cliche, but it’s true. Our original commentators are still working on the team. One’s 82. Another’s deep into his 70s. Without being arrogant, I don’t know if anyone can do the cricket as well as us. I don’t think they could.”

Either way, changes are ahead. Although next summer’s mouth-watering Australia-England Ashes Test match series is a massive drawcard (and guaranteed ratings hit), just as crucial will be the rights to the sport’s new growth centre, Twenty20 (T20).

Chappell, who as the captain of the rebel Aussie side portrayed in Howzat! has an almost four-decade relationship with Nine and the Packers, is a voice of dissent when it comes to Howzat!.

While happy with actor Clayton Watson’s portrayal of him, he is critical of the dramatisation of the story. He was incensed, for instance, by the depiction of former teammate David Hookes and felt Packer was ”hard done by”.

”There was another side to Kerry,” Chappell says. ”He wasn’t the only one dropping F-bombs.”

Chappell is indicative of Nine’s crossroad with its cricket coverage. Five-day Test match cricket, the most prestigious and pure form of the game, but also arguably its toughest sell, has been outshone by the hyperactive T20s.

When Nine began broadcasting T20 in 2006, it split up its commentary team. The old firm of Chappell, Benaud and Lawry were left out in favour of younger, exuberant talent such as James Brayshaw. Removing Chappell and co from T20s was difficult for Nine.

”It was,” Crawley says. ”They’re competitors. When you tell someone like that they can’t do something, they don’t like that. They might be respectful, but you know those decisions burn. But that’s the sort of people we want to be working with.”

For his part, Chappell remains diplomatic. ”They made the decision, so you learn to live with it,” he says.

For the first 25 years or so of Nine’s coverage, Benaud was the onscreen leader. He would host the coverage from an inside studio. Chappell would lead the team’s captain out for the coin toss. And Greig would deliver a pitch report.

However, the shift to Nicholas as host has coincided with a shift in style. There’s more filmed outside, for instance. ”We are living the game more,” Taylor says. ”The technology and the broadcast have evolved massively.”

The generation gap in the box is pronounced. Lawry is said to watch every ball of play intently. Like Chappell, whose wife complains when she watches sport with him at home that he commentates too much on the couch, Lawry instinctively calls the action whether on or off camera.

In contrast, during Shane Warne’s breaks while commentating at Nine, he was said to sit on his laptop playing poker.

”The older fellas were never coached,” Healy says. ”They just went and played, whereas we had coaches and the younger players now expect feedback. If the older guys thought they had a good day, it was a good day.

”Now, players want to know why it was a good day and how you went. Television traditionally doesn’t really tell you what it wants or how you’re going. Feedback is not big in TV. They just react to the public. You have to find your own niche.”

Crawley is consistently looking at younger former players to join the team. As well as Warne, Adam Gilchrist has featured sporadically in recent years and Glenn McGrath was in the box this week in Brisbane.

Is McGrath auditioning? ”Yes, it’s an audition both ways,” Crawley says. ”Because he doesn’t know if he wants to do it and he needs a taste of it. I think in years to come, Michael Clarke is ready-made for this. Whether he wants to do it or whether he is as good as we think he will be is another thing.” It’s not only the voices that have been tested. Producer Brad McNamara, a former player for New South Wales, sits at the back of the box during games and spends his winters working on improvements for the broadcast, more of which can be expected at the Melbourne Boxing Day Test.

”Boxing Day is the marquee day of the summer,” McNamara says. ”We’ll bring out our best silverware for that one. We do hold back stuff for that. We try not to bombard the viewers with all the new things at once.”

Not everything runs smoothly. The ”spider cam”, which hangs above the heads of players and is connected with wires set between the stadium light towers, was out of action on Friday in Brisbane due to jostling over player enmities.

However, by Monday afternoon, Nine was broadcasting spectacular overhead views of the players. In Adelaide, McNamara will introduce ”augmented reality”, which will take the commentators from the studio and insert them as a 3D figure in graphics or historical footage. Despite all this, the cricket on Nine is not yet shown in high-definition. ”We do shoot everything in HD and it’s actually downgraded to go to air,” Crawley says.

”We do not have the spectrum to show it as yet. The government won’t let you. We don’t understand exactly why that is … Our trucks are all HD. It’s a political thing and the same for every other free-to-air sports broadcaster. But it’s not forever. In the goodness of time, HD will be out there.”

Crawley and Healy defend the team against charges they lack punch in their call. Healy says the group discusses criticisms from the outside. ”If we see it, we talk about it and we think about it,” he says. ”We have a fair idea as to whether we know it’s fair or if the journalist is biased.”

For former players, a spot on Nine’s commentary team gives them nearly everything they miss about their playing career. They still spend their summers on the road, travelling in a team environment. The thrill of camaraderie remains.

”And you’re out of your comfort zone,” Healy says, ”so you still get nervous. Live television is a sphere where you can look very foolish very quickly.” Slater, who joined Nine in 2006 after a working for Channel 4 in Britain, admits joining Benaud’s team was intimidating.

”It was a great honour, but it took a while to feel comfortable,” he says. ”I was worried most when I started about what the guys in the room listening would think about my commentary and if it was acceptable to their standard.”

After 12 years with Nine, Taylor notes that occasionally after he has made an on-air statement, Benaud will glance intently at him sideways. ”Sometimes I don’t know if it’s a good glance or not,” he says.

When Benaud’s role will end, if ever, is impossible to say. Crawley notes drily that Benaud’s mother lived to 104.

”Richie can be sitting here in the box or at home in Coogee and he’s still the captain,” Crawley says. ”But let’s face it, it is coming to an end. We can’t keep going and going with what we’ve got. A lot of people when they get old can’t change. But there’s a reason these guys can still do this at their age. They adapt. And that’s why they have been able to move with the times.”

The second Test, in Adelaide, begins at 10.30am on Thursday, November 22, on Channel Nine.Future of cricket is no safe bet

ANOTHER challenge facing cricket, aside from future TV rights, is the question of match-fixing and betting corruption surrounding teams such as Pakistan.

”There’s a huge cloud,” Ian Chappell says. ”It’s the issue that can bring the game down. The public won’t watch something they think is rigged.”

Ian Healy says the image of cricket as a quaint ”gentleman’s game” has been altered by illegal gaming scandals. ”We’re much more likely to think that a sport is tarnished now,” he says. ”The spectre of gambling has been exposed. For cricket, the gentlemen’s game tag was probably always unfair.

”In 1994, the corruption was so brazen, they approached two Aussies. Lots of former players had bookmaker connections and many loved the punt, so you wonder how long it was going on.”

For networks such as Nine, the sponsorship money offered by betting agencies comes at the risk of polarising viewers.

”It’s a real dilemma for any sport,” Chappell says. ”There is huge money coming in but there is also a huge problem with [potential corruption]. This is not unique to cricket. It’s a big issue for all sport.”

ANDREW MURFETT

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Absurdity in the suburbs

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Sam Simmons (right) is the brains behind Problems, a confronting new concept coming to the ABC.AT A pub in Sydney recently, Sam Simmons watched a woman defecate on stage.
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”She put on a Philip Glass track, rolled out a tarpaulin and dakked herself,” says the popular comedian and Triple J presenter. ”The whole audience was going, ‘No, oh no, she’s not actually going to do this.’ And then she started having a shit.”

Simmons bites into his bacon sandwich and continues. ”I also saw Nick Sun, one of our best comedians, perform in that pub. He wanted to point out the racial stereotype that all Asian men have small penises, so he stood behind a curtain and said, ‘You can all come and have a look – but you have to line up and look one at a time.’ So everyone formed this long queue.”

All this talk of defecation and penises as performance art is not merely an aside. ”That stuff is important and it needs to happen,” Simmons says. ”It’s a reversal of the banality we see on television.”

Hence his new sketch show Problems, airing Wednesday nights on ABC1. As the creator and star of the series, Simmons is bringing his brand of absurdist humour to the masses. But don’t be fooled by the term ”sketch comedy” – or the prime-time slot on Aunty.

”The first episode is really f—ing out there,” he says. ”It’s anarchic, subversive and dark. Lazy journalists are going to say, ‘It’s like The Mighty Boosh,’ but it’s nothing like the f—ing Mighty Boosh. That’s what they’ll write, though, because we can’t get our head around absurdism in this country.”

Nothing invigorates Simmons like good comedy.

His eyes flash and his voice gets louder. Problems is his baby, and he’s damned proud of it.

Each episode focuses on a seemingly trivial annoyance: a lost Christmas decoration; favourite childhood foods that don’t taste as good as they used to; looking for ice-cream on a hot day.

”It’s not really about searching for ice-cream, though; it’s about searching for something else,” he says. ”But there’s no Scrubs-style message at the end; no ‘I learnt that I could be a good person’ crap.”

The cast of 10 includes established comics such as Lawrence Mooney and Anthony Morgan, and rising stars Claudia O’Doherty and David Quirk. The show is set in the suburbs (it’s filmed in Melbourne’s Bundoora) but it is not another parody of middle Australia.

”We’re not pointing and laughing at anyone,” Simmons says. ”In fact, we show what the suburbs really look like and the people who really populate them, not just the usual white-bread portrayal.” One thing’s for sure: there will be no ”What’s the deal with …?”-type riffing in front of a microphone.

”Those T-shirt philosophers – those twentysomething dudes standing there telling me how it is – I don’t f—ing care!” he says. ”They know the rhythm of how a joke should go but there’s no risk.

”I don’t know if I’m just an ageist Gen Xer, but where’s the anarchy in Gen Y? They’re so conservative; they don’t say anything risky because they want to get on this or that panel show. It’s just bullshit.”

Needless to say, panel shows hold no appeal. ”Being a talking head is just not my thing,” he says. ”I don’t think I’m educated or smart enough to make comments about Syria. Comics feel it’s their right to be able to do that, but I don’t. There are too many comedians on telly with opinions and it just annoys me.”

Could the play-it-safe mentality be heightened by social media? Many of Simmons’ peers, after all, have been subjected to intense online hate campaigns – often for the mildest of supposed infractions. ”I think we, as Australians, are just bored,” he says emphatically. ”There really is something not right with our culture. We’re boxed into the suburbs, into little f—ing fences, we don’t talk to our neighbours, and we’re all too scared to say the ‘wrong’ thing.”

Born in Melbourne, Simmons spent his childhood in Perth and his teenage years in the Adelaide suburb of Hallett Cove.

”It was a rough area but it was great,” he says. ”Adelaide had the most impact on me. The place where you sprout your pubes is the one you remember the most.”

He adores Melbourne but now lives in Sydney, partly because he believes its creative community is more daring.

”Melbourne is wonderful, but it is up its own art-hole. There are great comedy rooms in both cities, but Sydney is a bit less self-conscious. You’ve got these anarchic kids doing weird shit on stage – literally. That’s f—ing cool, and that’s why I live there.”

Problems starts Wednesday, November 21 at 9pm on ABC1.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Hopes rise for retail recovery

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DEEP cuts in interest rates appear to be finally gaining traction with consumers, raising hopes of a long-awaited retail recovery in the crucial run-up to Christmas.
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Shoppers are feeling more confident than at any point since April last year, according to Westpac’s index of consumer sentiment, which jumped by a surprising 5.2 per cent this month.

The rise, which comes amid the continuing malaise in the retail industry, suggests the 1 percentage point reduction in official interest rates this year has lifted households’ spirits, and could point to stronger spending over summer.

With the property and sharemarkets also showing tentative signs of life recently, some analysts predict better times ahead for the ailing retail industry.

”I think retail is going to get some support at Christmas from the fact that interest rates are lower and there has been employment growth in the last few months,” the chief economist at HSBC, Paul Bloxham, said.

While the sector was unlikely to return to the boom era it enjoyed before the global financial crisis, Mr Bloxham argued lower rates were also stimulating a recovery in housing, after back-to-back rises in building approvals.

”When people build houses they need to start filling them up with things, and those durable goods are bought from retailers,” he said.

The chief executive of retail conglomerate Wesfarmers, Richard Goyder, also said its flagship businesses Coles, Target and Bunnings, had experienced growth during the

first quarter. ”We are hopeful of a positive trading outcome in the retail businesses during the important Christmas period,” Mr Goyder said. The lift in sentiment comes after a bleak couple of years for discretionary retailers, with the collapse of consumer confidence, coupled with historically high savings, decimated sales and crunched earnings.

But despite the improvement, business confidence and the labour market remain soft. This was underlined by Australian Bureau of Statistics figures that showed wage growth slowed to 0.7 per cent in the September quarter, from 1 per cent.

JPMorgan economist Ben Jarman said he was sceptical of the lift in sentiment, which could be overshadowed by continuing pessimism among businesses, which appear reluctant to hire more staff.

”I don’t think a few months of better consumer data is going to cause the retail sector to turn around,” he said. In a further sign of slowing in the resources boom, wage growth in mining was just 0.5 per cent, the second-slowest after finance, where wages rose 0.5 per cent.

Retailers such as the leading stores Myer and David Jones have been forced to rub out their profit forecasts and replace them with more subdued outlooks.

Harvey Norman posted a 32 per cent dive in its full-year net profit for 2011-12 as price deflation, especially in the TV category, saw revenue slide and margins shrink. JB Hi-Fi, once a market darling, posted a 5 per cent drop in its full-year net profit.

But in November, 56.2 per cent of those surveyed felt it was a good time to buy major household items, the highest proportion since September 2011.

The share of households who felt their finances had improved compared with a year ago, 26 per cent, was the highest since August 2010.

Investor attention will now turn to the imminent release of first-quarter sales performances from Myer and David Jones, with the department store owners to shed more light on their expectations for the crucial Christmas trading period.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.