Monday, 25 June 2012

NZC is like a box of chocolates...

It's true, you never quite know what you're going to get from New Zealand Cricket (NZC), and neither do the players. NZC have recently released their list of contracted players for the 2012/2013 season. Each year cricketers eligible to play for New Zealand are ranked by NZC, and the top 20 ranked players are awarded contracts for the season. The value of the contracts varies from $181,000 plus match payments for the top ranked player down to $73,000 plus fees for the 20th ranked player. The actual rankings remain a secret, but it is likely that the captain, Ross Taylor, will be somewhere near the top of the list.

This year the contracted players are: Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Dean Brownlie, Andrew Ellis, Daniel Flynn, James Franklin, Martin Guptill, Chris Martin, Brendon McCullum, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Tarun Nethula, Rob Nicol, Jacob Oram, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Kruger van Wyk, Daniel Vettori, BJ Watling and Kane Williamson.

The list has a fairly predictable sameness about it, which is a reflection of our relatively limited pool of top class players. Most of the contracted players have pretty much selected themselves, but as always the list has raised a few eyebrows, especially in the bowling stakes. Some commentators have wondered about the inclusion of Doug Bracewell at the expense of Mark Gillespie, but for me this is a sensible decision. Both have only played a handful of tests but Bracewell is younger, has a better record, and seems to be less injury prone. Injuries or personal reasons have ruled out a few other high profile players who would otherwise likely have made the cut, notably Jesse Ryder and Hamish Bennett. There has also been some surprise at the omission of Neil Wagner, but he has only just become eligible to play for New Zealand. He has been included in the team to tour the West Indies, and if his international performances live up to the promise of his domestic record he is almost certain to be offered a contract in seasons to come, but I have no issue with NZC not offering a contract to a player untested at international level.

But other contracts around the fringes are a bit more questionable. I remain unconvinced with Andrew Ellis and Rob Nicoll, and Jacob Oram, as fine a servant as he has been, must be nearing the end of his international career, especially in light of recent injuries. The problem, as always, is who to replace these players with if they were to be omitted. Andy McKay and Brent Arnell haven't really impressed when given a chance, and other bowlers on the domestic scene don't appear to offer more than the contracted players. At least Ellis and Nicoll are all-rounders, so if they have a bad day with the ball there is always a chance they can contribute at the batting crease, and vice versa.

Certainly the list of contracted players has a strong limited overs feel about it, which is hardly surprising given the Twenty20 World Cup to be played in Sri Lanka starting in September. For me tests are still the pinnacle of the cricketing world, and in a season where we have a lot of test matches coming up I'm not sure that such a strong focus on limited overs cricket is in the best interests of the team's future. T20 and One-dayers are good money spinners, but most fans and players still hold our test performances and rankings as being the most important achievements. But if the miraculous happens, and the team comes home with a trophy from Sri Lanka, I guess nobody will really care about test match performances. Sadly.

As an aside, NZC are likely to announce a successor to John Wright as coach sometime around July/August. Stephen Fleming has already ruled himself out, citing family reasons. I think in years to come, when his children are a bit older, and when none of his former team-mates are still playing for New Zealand, Flem will make an excellent coach of the Black Caps. Former coach Steve Rixon has been suggested by some commentators, and I'd welcome his input; his record with NZ last time was excellent. It would mean the aussie invasion of NZC would be complete though, but if we could be as dominant as the aussie team in years past I guess that would be ok.

Monday, 18 June 2012

On imminent fatherhood and the generosity of good friends...

One of the core subjects about which I intend to ramble on here is the adventure of becoming a dad for the first time, so I should probably set the scene a little more comprehensively. 

My lovely wife Julie and I are expecting our first child some time around the end of this month. At our second scan (around 20 weeks in) we were informed that it was 90% likely that we were having a wee girl. I'm not especially bothered about the gender of our little Peanut, so named because when we found out we had achieved some measure of success in our quest to start a family the cluster of cells destined to be our baby was only the size of a peanut. The name kinda stuck. As long as Peanut is happy and healthy I'll be content, although I'd not be completely honest if I didn't admit that in the early stages I was convinced that we were having a son. I think all blokes want a son, possibly in some archaic caveman desire to teach him how to use power tools, how to kick a rugby ball, how to fish, and do all those other manly things. The reality is, though, that I'm still looking forward to teaching my daughter how to do all those things. Plus, given our slightly nerdy predilections, she is probably going to grow up as a bit of a geek, albeit one that can wield a fearsome cricket bat :)

The odd thing about being expectant parents is that it seems to give friends, family and sometimes complete strangers carte blanche to share all their gruesome stories and experiences about birth, poos, vomit, and so on. It is as if they take a perverse delight in frightening you when it is too late for you to do anything other than grin and bear it. It all seems to be pretty good natured stuff though, and we've had plenty of laughs, tempered occasionally with trepidation, fear and disbelief. I've also heard that it isn't uncommon for little old ladies to approach heavily pregnant women in the supermarket and rub their bellies approvingly, although so far this hasn't happened to my wife. Mind you I've had a big tummy for years, and no complete stranger has approached me for a belly rub either, so perhaps reports of this behaviour are grossly exaggerated.

The other really gratifying aspect of impending parenthood is the incredible generosity of those who have already travelled down this road. People have not only been free with their horror stories, but also with advice, offers of assistance, and vast quantities of baby gear. I think we probably have enough clothes and other bits and pieces for several Peanuts, although I'm assured that babies are pretty good at getting their clothes dirty, especially during a poo explosion. 

So I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all the folk who have been so generous, be it with gifts of clothes and other baby gear, or with offers of support. We both really appreciate your generosity, and you've helped smooth the road untravelled. Becoming a parent is a scary thing to contemplate, and we are very fortunate to have such awesome family and friends. Thank you.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Science denialism - is it the new black?

Before I begin my diatribe I feel I should apologise for my tardiness in drafting this post. Despite my best intentions sometimes life just gets in the way :) Now to resume normal service, at least until our baby arrives. And I urge my handful of readers to comment if you so desire.

I remember a time, and it wasn't that long ago, when we as a nation looked up to scientists and respected them for their knowledge and expertise. The news media would seek their opinion on matters about which they could make relevant comments and we would nod sagely as we listened to and, for the most part, believed what we were hearing. Today it has become fashionable to scoff at those who dedicate their lives to the pursuit of knowledge, a state of affairs which for obvious reasons perplexes me.

There are some very apparent symptoms of this shift. A couple of high profile examples are proponents of "intelligent design" and deniers of climate change. But there are others. The internet abounds with wacky conspiracy theories which survive not in the presence of any real proof, but in fact proliferate by actively opposing those who provide evidence to the contrary, and by suggesting that those who follow scientific method are somehow the patsies, unwitting or not, of big evil corporates or war-mongering governments. I'm thinking here of theories like that the US govt is causing earthquakes and freak storms around the globe by misdirecting the relatively puny power of the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Programme (see HAARP conspiracies), that the contrails left by airliners are not water droplets condensing rapidly from jet exhausts, but that the aircraft are seeding the atmosphere with barium and aluminium salts for nefarious purposes (see chemtrails), that the HIV virus is not responsible for Aids but that the cause may be, among other things, recreational drug use (see aids denialism), and the list goes on. These are the same people who believe that what is possibly humankinds greatest achievement, landing astronauts on the moon, never happened and that the whole event was faked at a sound stage in Area 51. There is considerable cross-over with the folk who think the world is going to end this year because of the shortcomings of an ancient calendar commonly attributed to the Mayans, but which was likely devised by the Olmec people.

Why is it that such a vocal sub-group prefer not to accept knowledge earned and/or theories devised by science? These are the same folk who in earlier times felt deeply threatened by Darwin and Galileo, and who for reasons known only to themselves are deeply fearful of the world being a rational place, guided by natural and predictable laws. They commonly spread their dogma via the internet, blissfully unaware of the irony that the means by which their message is being propagated would not exist but for the exploits of the very scientific community which they continuously mock. In the past all of these folk would have been drawn to the church, where they relied on the power of prayer to protect them from demons and boogie-men. But organised and structured belief doesn't seem to be du jour, so many have fled the church and instead today seek solace in the companionship of fellow conspiracy cultists.

Scientific denialism may not be the new black, but it is certainly akin to a new religion. Don't get me wrong, it is ok to question science. Scientists do this all the time, it is part of the peer review process, and the way in which the body of scientific knowledge evolves and grows. But do it with sound evidence gathered by experimental findings and proper research. To do anything less demeans not only the great works of scientists past and present, but also ourselves.