The Ashes phoney war: notes on leadership

Put this in your tour diaries, Michael

Put this in your tour diaries, Michael

One of the dominant narratives in the run-up to the return Ashes series has been – thanks to Shane Warne and a press pack grateful for headlines – the contrasts in leadership espoused by Alastair Cook and Warnie’s mate, Michael Clarke. The former is pigeon-holed as ‘negative’ and ‘reactive’ while the latter is praised as being ‘positive’ and ‘proactive’ – on the field of play, at least.

It’s rare in professional sport nowadays for so much leadership responsibility to be vested in playing, rather than coaching,  personnel. It’s one of the many things that sets cricket apart.

Anyway, Gideon Haigh always seems to sum up the majority perspective better than anyone else around. Here are his thoughts on the matter:

The Art of Captaincy 2

Cuts and Glances Blog | 11 November 2013| 4 Comments

On a good thing, Shane Warne is sticking to it, taking his critique of the respective Ashes captains into print in the Daily Telegraph.  But the inference to be drawn is simply that Warne is on a roll.  His candidates to captain England?  Kevin Pietersen, because he has ‘the best cricket brain in the team’, and Graeme Swann, because he is ‘a good reader of the game’.  But, at the risk of repeating an obvious point, this is a reductive view of leadership, as analogous to a chess grandmaster plotting move and countermove.  Captaincy is every bit as much about the blending of personalities, the motivation of individuals, the setting of a personal example – especially in these days when the game is analysed so closely by coaching staffs, one might even say that ‘tactics’ trade at a discount.  That is before we even get to Warne’s alternative skippers.  In Pietersen’s case, his ‘cricket brain’ is harnessed to a nervous system of unpredictable impulses; in Swann’s case, he turns 35 in March, and may here be on his last lap.  Both players have long-term injury concerns.  They are fine, experienced cricketers.  Are they really superior candidates to a twenty-eight-year-old with twenty-five Test centuries?

Perhaps more interesting are the parts of the column where Warne invokes the example of his own career. ‘I played for 15 years in one of the best teams of all time, winning in all conditions against all opposition,’ he says.  ‘We had some great players, sure, but we also needed a good captain with imagination.’ I love that ‘sure’.  ‘Oh yeah, we had me, McGrath, the Waughs, Ponting, Gilchrist, Hayden, Langer, Martyn but really it was all about leadership.’ For one thing, this rather flies in the face of everything he’s ever said about the leadership qualities of Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting, who led him in two-thirds of the Tests in his career.  For another, it overlooks that Warne, perhaps the most powerful ‘cricket brain’ of all, was capable of making a contribution without being captain.

Then there’s this observation: ‘England won the Ashes in 2005 because Michael Vaughan was imaginative and proactive. He came up with different fields, attacked with the bat and challenged the opposition batsmen all the time.’ The field settings I remember from Vaughan eight years ago are the boundary sweepers he employed from early in the innings to arrest Australia’s boundary flow – smart captaincy, I grant you, but hardly ‘aggressive’.  And where are the England players in this remembrance of events?  Frankly, England briefly repossessed the urn in 2005 because they had Flintoff, Harmison, Pietersen, Trescothick, Jones and others playing he cricket of their lives, not because of a short cover Vaughan set somewhere or other.  Warne’s reading also underestimates Vaughan in ascribing his success to on-field inspirations.  Vaughan’s real triumph, I thought, was as a man manager, inculcating such a sense of self-belief in England’s dressing room, despite eight consecutive Ashes defeat.
Of the Australian dressing room, of course, Warne has said Clarke needs to foster a ‘happier team environment’.  Having last week expressed confidence that his ‘best friend’ Clarke and ‘good mate of mine’ Darren Lehmann are making progress in this respect, he here cites as evidence that during ‘the recent one-day series in India, there were a lot more Australian players smiling and in form’.  Perhaps he’s right.  But it’s not mere pedantry to point out that neither Clarke nor Lehmann were actually in India, that the team was led by George Bailey and coached by Steve Rixon.  Bailey has yet to join the Test team, and rumour abounds that Rixon is about to part ways with it.

Finally, there’s this, which surprisingly has not featured in any of the quotebacks from the Telegraph column: ‘To me Australia have to improve in more areas than England if they are to regain the Ashes.’ Oh, OK.  But it seems to undermine all the foregoing, and also Warne’s Twitter prediction of 3 November: ‘I think Aust will regain the Ashes Urn in Aust 2-1.’ (which by the way was Warne’s prediction for the series in England). There as usual lurks a solid point behind this column – that England in their determination simply to stifle and frustrate Australia have missed opportunities to really put the skids under them.  But you need to work your way through some slightly chaotic thinking to find it.

From: http://blogs.theaustralian.news.com.au/cutsandglances/. Accessed 14 November 2013

His first piece on the subject is accessible through The Australian newspaper’s paywall: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/sport/opinion/entertaining-shane-warne-is-not-always-on-the-ball/story-fnb58rpk-1226756183545#mm-premium

Counting the cash cows

More of this and Uefa might be on to something

More of this and Uefa might be on to something

As I contemplate getting up at 4.45 on a Saturday morning to watch Bayern vs. Chelsea I not only question how I get my kicks, but also the status of the European Super Cup, and where it sits in the pantheon of recurrent non-events on the sporting calendar. After roughly two and a half minutes of concerted thinking time, it makes it into my top five.

What follows is a shortlist of damp squibs. To qualify it has to take the crème de la crème of professional sport in a particular discipline, and then make them perform in an event so devoid of meaning that it renders their efforts – and those of the watching public – almost futile.

European Super Cup

We begin with this annual fixture between the previous season’s Champions League and Europa League winners. Staggeringly, the Uefa equivalent of the FA Community Shield has been running, in one shape or form, since 1972.

Last year, Chelsea – as Champions League winners – treated the game against Atletico Madrid with utter contempt, lazily going 3 nil behind to a Falcao hat-trick in the first half, before saving a modicum of dignity in the second stanza and coming away with a 4-1 loss.

This year, the only reason I’m contemplating the early rise again is because of the José and Pep element. In popular folklore, José is the villain and Pep is the shining white knight. But, I’m an avowed follower of the cult of José; his prickly charm and insolent attitude trump Pep’s holier than thou persona for me.

That doesn’t hide from the fact that the event itself is a virtual dead rubber. Yes, there’s a trophy up for grabs, but the main baubles are handed out in May. At least the World Club Cup has an intercontinental edge to it. This is just an inconvenience to clubs whose attentions are now focussed on their domestic league campaigns.

NFL Pro Bowl

Can’t say I know much about this event but any game that ‘borrows’ elite sportsmen to play for a team they have no real affinity for, in what is essentially an exhibition match, has to be pretty prominent in this list.

Indeed, the annual match-up between the best players from the two NFL Conferences is in danger of being seen as a bit of a farce. Every year the biggest concern of teams is to avoid injuries to the star players. The Associated Press wrote that players in the 2012 game were “hitting each other as though they were having a pillow fight”, which can do little to aid the spectacle.

Other examples of all-star games can be found in the MLB, NHL and NBA. Thus this is what happens when obscure sports are propagated within national borders; there’s no foreign foe to vanquish (the presence of Canadian teams in the MLB and NHL doesn’t seem to provide that source of rivalry) so the deep well of nationalist fervour lies untapped.

All of which brings us nicely to the next event on our shortlist.

International Rules Series

Nice try, Tadhg. I'm still not buying.

Nice try, Tadhg. Still don’t care.

If no-one else in the world plays your sport why not just find the nearest equivalent, create a hybrid of the two, and manufacture a showcase event? That’s what the Australians and Irish did in the sixties when their own unique brands of hand-football were stewing in their own domestic juice.

To the uninitiated (99.9% of mankind), this bastard of a game takes representative players from the disparate worlds of AFL and Gaelic football and creates a mash-up which at least has the benefit of being as violent as it is meaningless.

It’s played twice every three years and, despite dwindling interest in the game, has been stubbornly propped up by the AFL in direct response to the success of the representative competition of their local football code arch-rivals, the NRL; whose State of Origin series is vastly more popular (and lucrative), sustained as it is by the mutual hatred between Queenslanders and New South Welshmen.

2005 ICC Super Series

This event at least has the virtue of having been recognised as a failure and has been scrapped. The ‘Super’ Series pitted the undisputed world champions Australia against a Rest of the World XI in three ODIs and one Test match.

The principle behind the event was that the Australian side had become completely dominant in world cricket, and had a reputation of being unbeatable. This basis was undercut somewhat as it was staged one month after the Aussies were beaten in the 2005 Ashes.

Suffering from a noticeable lack of intensity, the drab matches were played out in the half empty MCG and SCG and were all won comfortably by the home side. The Rest of the World XI, featuring stars such as Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Muttiah Muralitharan and, er, Steve Harmison, were a model of disunity.

Geoffrey Boycott described the series as a “bunfight” and said that there was “nothing that resembled cricket” in it. Wisden summed up the Test match as: “a terrible game of cricket. It had a small crowd, little meaning and was forgotten quickly.” Its first-class status has since been revoked.

The World XI players seemed to be there more for fun than anything else. Freddie Flintoff came up with some refreshingly honest opinions amidst all the bullish official statements: “I’ve got the Super Series in two weeks’ time. I can’t think of anything worse,” he said, adding on arrival; “I’m only here for the food.”

Presidents Cup

Suffering in direct comparison with the passion of the Ryder Cup, this event too struggles with the lack of pride that comes in representing a ‘Rest of the World’ (minus Europe) team. Worse, as any get-in-the-hole enthusiast will tell you, it’s not as if the Americans themselves are often galvanised by representing their country. This truly is a dead duck tournament, though you wouldn’t know that if you spoke to a South African or Australian golf nut.

Inaugurated in 1994, the Yanks have won seven of the nine tournaments, losing once and tying on the other occasion. But, really, who cares?

The Science of Selection

England Chairman of Selectors Geoff Miller, looking rightly satisfied with his lot

England Chairman of Selectors Geoff Miller, looking rightly satisfied with his lot

It’s a job I’ve long coveted. What could be a cushier gig than being a national cricket selector?

If you’re lucky enough to be employed by the ECB, you spend the early part of the domestic season touring around county grounds gorging on cucumber sandwiches and warm beer, all the while your centrally-contracted mainstays are wrapped in cotton wool for the international rigours to come.

Once the touring teams arrive and the proper cricket starts, you find a nice seat amongst the members, sit behind dark glasses, and occasionally discuss who’s next in line for the coveted 13th man position behind Steve Finn/Tim Bresnan. Then there’s the exotic jet-setting during the winter months, with all the five star luxury sports administrators have come to expect.

For the four-man[i] panel that have the responsibility of finding eleven good men and true to don the baggy green, however, the job is not so enviable. In the space of two overseas trips to India and England (and Scotland, officially), they have taken a total of 22 different players on tour, all of whom will have played a Test by the end of this current trip (Matt Wade has not played in England, but got three games in India; James Faulkner will debut today at The Oval). That statistic alone is enough to highlight how onerous a job the Aussie selectors are faced with.

Here’s another: Mitchell Starc has played four of the eight Tests against India and England this year, none consecutively. How does that help either his rhythm or confidence?

So, while the selectors are not faced with an embarrassment of playing riches, they’ve hardly helped the team bed in and build a rapport while facing two of the three best Test playing nations.

But to really nut out farce that the selection panel’s work has become, consider the chopping and changing in the batting order in the past 16 Test innings:

Position Players selected against India and England in 2013 Tests, as at 20 August Number of players selected in each position
Openers EJM Cowan; DA Warner; SR Watson; GJ Maxwell (yes, really); CJL Rogers 5
No. 3 EJM Cowan; DA Warner; PJ Hughes; MJ Clarke; UT Khawaja 5
No. 4 PJ Hughes; SR Watson; MJ Clarke; SPD Smith 4
No. 5 SR Watson; MJ Clarke; SPD Smith; NM Lyon (nightwatchman) 4
No. 6 DA Warner; PJ Hughes; SR Watson; MJ Clarke; MS Wade; GJ Maxwell; BJ Haddin 7
No. 7 MS Wade; MC Henriques; GJ Maxwell; BJ Haddin 4
No. 8 MA Starc; PM Siddle; GJ Maxwell; AC Agar; MG Johnson 5
No. 9 MA Starc; PM Siddle; JL Pattinson; RJ Harris 4
No. 10 MA Starc; PM Siddle; JL Pattinson; NM Lyon; RJ Harris 5
No. 11 JL Pattinson; XJ Doherty; AC Agar; NM Lyon; RJ Harris; JM Bird 6
The confused face of Australian cricket

The confused face of Australian cricket

New cap James Faulkner will play at seven today and Starc – the poor lad – will come back in again and play at either eight or nine. Shane Watson will move up to three, a position he has not played in since the Aussie summer, while Khawaja finds himself again cast into the wilderness alongside Phil Hughes and Eddie Cowan; a player who, in the mould of Chris Rogers, they could have persisted with after his horror show in the Trent Bridge Test, in which he was suffering from a virus.

Australia, we are told, need to win this dead rubber so they can build momentum for the return series in three months time. Even if they do so, who can say with any confidence what their XI will be in Brisbane? At this stage, the chances of them fielding the same team in that next Test seem as likely as the four-man selection panel remaining unchanged.


[i] John Inverarity (Chairman), Rod Marsh, Andy Bichel and Darren Lehmann (since June 2013)

To tweet or not to tweet

A cyber troll, earlier

A cyber troll, earlier

There’s a question that’s been gnawing away at me for a while now: why would a professional sportsperson – or any celebrity for that matter – maintain a Twitter account? A vibrant social media presence seems to be an expected and accepted method of communicating with the public, but when it so often invites negative comment from ‘trolls’, the whole exercise seems to be fraught with too much aggravation.

Twitter, above all other social media sites, seems to attract a disproportionate number and level of vitriolic comments from its users. What drives this is usually a complex mix of jealousy, tribalism, idiocy and the ubiquitousness of the smart phone.

Take the recent example of Lee Westwood. What was notable for this tale of sporting cyber-bullying was that he chose (on the back of a conviction-aiding shandy or two, no doubt) to strike back. When abuse and ridicule is heaped upon star performers in the normally genteel world of golf, then something is badly wrong with society.

Football is often considered to be in the vanguard of advertising society’s ills and, indeed, it is in the cash rich super-stardom, otherworldly plain of the top-flight football where Twitter really gets out of control. For many, following a game via both TV and Twitter is an ingrained pastime. To do this without going bonkers one must choose who they follow very, very carefully. Any deviation from a stringently vetted set of followers into the broader Twittersphere will quickly reinforce the suspicion that the vast majority of football fans should be locked up for their own health.

Some of these people see getting a rise out of a famous, otherwise aloof, footballer as almost as much of a sport as the game itself. Any moron can self-justify their abuse of footballers with the catch all excuse of ‘banter’; that horrible term which encompasses inane, lowest common denominator analysis between experts on the pundits’ sofa as well as spiteful ridicule by a lonely man sitting at home in his boxer shorts typing away on an iPad.

What possible reason could there be to mock this man?

What possible reason could there be to mock this man?

Poor Michael Owen. Who did he hurt? Maybe some Newcastle United fans’ noses were put out of joint by his expensive injury-ravaged time on Tyneside. For sure, Liverpool fans don’t easily forgive a former player turning out for Manchester United. But the mocking tweets he received in response to his retirement genuinely saddened me. This is a man who is behind only Sir Bobby Charlton, Gary Lineker and Jimmy Greaves in the England goal scoring charts for heaven’s sake.

He must have a thick skin. Certainly thicker than that worn by Darren Gibson, who famously lasted all of four hours on Twitter before the abuse became too much and he sensibly jacked it in.

The Ball Control guide to surviving on Twitter

There appear to be two separate approaches to maintaining a Twitter account in the face of unavoidable hostility. One option is to post anodyne comments along the lines of “great win from the boys today, the fans were brilliant as always, blah, blah, blah” and steadfastly refuse to interact on any other level with followers (other than to block anyone who gets a bit nasty).

The second option is to don the metaphorical Wellingtons and wade into online debate with ill-informed nincompoops. This is the preferred modus operandi of a minority of the blue-tick brigade; the likes of Joey Barton, Piers Morgan (not technically a sportsman, he wishes) and – God love him – David Warner. It obviously takes a particular type of individual to choose this course.

Probably the only sportsperson who successfully navigates a way between these two options is Graeme Swann. He has the wit and brashness to call out ignoramuses while also posting pithily waggish updates.

However, it’s also in @Swannyg66’s Twitter stream that we can most evidently see the reasons why sportsmen and sportswomen put up with all the inevitable hassle. Endorsements of Jaguar cars and high-end golf courses must be a decent little side-earner for a man with over half a million followers. Suddenly I don’t feel so sorry for Michael Owen after all.

The Breakfast Club

VegemiteBoof: [cracks open a tinny] Good morning, gentlemen. Thanks for meeting me for breakfast this morning. I know you’ll have today’s game on your minds but before we get to the ground I think it’s important we thrash out a few of the issues that have come up these past couple of days.

Pup: No worries, coach. You know I respect you as a man, as a leader and as a humanitarian. I’m at your beck and call.

Watto: [looks up from his organic bircher muesli] There’s a game today?

Boof: Yup, a rather big one, Shane. Don’t worry, you’re opening the batting.

Watto: I should bloody well hope so. Don’t think I dobbed in Davey boy for no good reason. I only had the team in mind, you know; my capacity to reach 40 before loosely nicking off far exceeds his ability to race to 30 before doing likewise.

Boof: I know, I know. We’re all very grateful. Aren’t we, Michael?

Pup: Oh yes, coach! Anything you say, coach!

Boof: Call me Boof.

Pup: Of course! Sorry about that!

Watto: What exactly is a ‘Boof’ anyway?

Boof: Back to what I was saying, the media have been having a bit of a merry old time with you two over the last 48 hours. We need to get this sorted right away…

Pup: Permission to speak, boss.

Boof: [sighs and slumps into his seat] Granted.

Pup: Look, I was just thinking that, what with everything’s that happened, maybe it would be for the best if, well… what I mean is that… you know… Watto – great guy and all – heck, he is a bit of cancer on the team, isn’t he?

Watto: This is what I’m talking about! He’s always had it in for me! Everyone else thinks I’m great, why does he not like me?! I just want to be liked! [sobs into goji berry and roasted partridge semen smoothie]

Boof: The way I see it, you two are the best chance we’ve got of beating the Poms and for us all to return to the colony as heroes. There are 22 million Australian men, women and children imploring you to put aside your differences and focus on what matters – wiping that smug look off Broady’s irritating face.

Pup: Now you’re talking, boss! That Stuart Broad is the real enemy. Why, when he refused to walk in the first Test I was so angry that I stomped so hard I almost crooked my back up. Of course, when I referred my caught behind decision you must understand I really didn’t think I edged it.

Boof: I don’t care about that, Michael. In fact, if you ever walk without being given out I’ll not only strip you of the captaincy, I’ll also make sure you never wear the hallowed baggy green again and are forever forced to carry Warnie’s bag around depressingly cavernous casinos. Is that clear?

Pup: Yes, got it. Am I allowed to apologise for not walking on my Twitter account though? That got me over 5,000 retweets during the Adelaide Test in 2010.

Boof: Absolutely not!

Watto: You know I’d never tweet, Boof. I prefer to say what I have to say behind someone’s back! [cackles]

Boof: Look, we’ve got to leave for the ground soon. I need both of you to look me in the eyes and tell me these issues are all behind you.

Pup: Everything’s fine, boss.

Watto: I’ve forgotten what we were fighting about.

Boof: Good.

Watto: I mean it, what was the problem again?

Boof: Shake hands, both of you.

[Pup extends his hand, Watto puts down his hairbrush and shakes it]

Boof: See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Watto: No, surprisingly soft and tender actually. Like shaking a limp orchid.

Boof: Great. That’s a load off. I really feel we’re shaping up quite nicely to give those Poms a good buggering now. There’s just one more thing I need to resolve before we set off.

Pup: Can I help with that, boss? Please let me help.

Boof: Actually, yes you can, Michael. Go over to Eddie’s table and tell him he’s cut.

Pup: I’d do anything for love, boss. But I won’t do that. I mean, look at his sad little eyes. It’s cruel.

Watto: [grins and rises from table] Leave it with me. It’ll be a pleasure.

*Advertise Here*

Give me something I can sell

Give me something I can sell

Branding. It’s a word heavy with meaning in sport. To those in club boardrooms it’s the lucrative differentiation of their product. For fans, its invocation evokes a weary response laden with the growing detachment many feel with the teams upon which they invest so heavily (emotionally and financially).

When Luis Suarez was caught in his race storm with Patrice Evra last year, Liverpool FC instinctively rushed to his defence. Kenny Dalglish stated it was “bang out of order” to suggest he had done anything wrong. In the aftermath, it was recognised by the American owners that the club had botched their response, resulting in significant PR damage. Dalglish was fired a few months later. When Suarez lost his head against Chelsea this season, Liverpool’s support for their player was notably more nuanced.

In the pursuit of more fans – and more of their disposable incomes – teams will go to great lengths to appeal to the masses. Every Premier League team has a community foundation funding local projects and arranges copious hospital and school visits by its players. They hire ex-pros as “Ambassadors” to tour the globe reciting the virtues of their great club. These initiatives undoubtedly have an impact on the balance sheet. The clubs’ commercial departments must be telling them so.

But, in an arena where everyone’s looking for an edge, are there any shortcuts to success?

It was instructive to hear one ABC sports reporter this morning lament why his young son had turned his back on his local AFL team. Who doesn’t think supporting the Lions is more exciting than cheering on the Magpies? Whereas Collingwood won the flag in 2010, the lad still chose mediocre Brisbane to barrack (or should that be roar?) for.

The ‘4 Ps of Marketing’ are Product, Price, Promotion and Place. Get these four elements right, the marketing gurus will tell you, and you can watch the profits roll in. In sport, perhaps ‘silly nicknames’ should be added to the mix. To call the Australian national football/soccer team the ‘Socceroos’ seems to make absolutely no sense unless a highly paid FFA suit has robust data stating it will attract more young fans to the sport.

I’m talking about official team names rather than individual’s nicknames. Though, it has to be acknowledged, in a highly competitive field, darts has produced some standouts in this regard*: Mark “Frosty the Throw Man” Frost, Scott “Scotty 2 Hotty” Waites and, who could forget… Steve “The Bronzed Adonis” Beaton.

An unlikely villain

To my mind, this whole sorry business is the fault of Emilio Estevez. The National Hockey League had teams boasting some great nicknames – New York Devils, Los Angeles Kings and the Montreal Canadiens – then, in 1993, on the back of Disney’s hugely successful Mighty Ducks movie (one that genuinely made me cry at the end), the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were born. The ridiculously-monikered Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild subsequently joined the league. It’s almost enough to remove all the credit Estevez had in the bank for Young Guns.

If there’s any semblance of moral integrity to that episode it is that the Mighty Ducks venture occurred after the release of the film so at least it wasn’t predicated on hawking cinema tickets (I’m conveniently forgetting about the disappointing sequel, D2: The Mighty Ducks, as anyone who’s seen it must). Sadly, there are examples of sports teams who have merrily adopted a new name so as to promote the wares of a third party. The New South Wales one-day cricket side are now known as the ‘Speed-Blitz Blues’, and the New York MetroStars MLS team now only answer to the ‘New York Red Bulls’ (but, like the F1 team, as a result of a takeover).

If you’re finding this all a bit disheartening, fear not. To find evidence of the enduring Corinthian spirit that draws us to sport in the first place, one must look, as ever, to the grassroots. Look, for example, at Centennial Park this Sunday to find the CACC Metrosexuals continue their unstoppable march towards the Sydney Morning Cricket Association winter title (Division 6)!

*It’s almost as if the less athletic the individual pursuit is, the more likely its protagonists are to adopt an entertaining nickname. See also, golf and snooker. Perhaps this correlation can be explored in another article, thereby providing a simple means of categorising ‘games’ and ‘sports’. For instance, the International Olympic Committee could employ a simple formula when deciding upon the merits of a sporting body’s application for membership; if, say, over half of their professional players have stupid nicknames: no dice.

Crystal Balls-up

I didn't see it coming either, Bob

I didn’t see it coming either, Bob

Nine months ago, your correspondent boldly/stupidly made his predictions for the upcoming Premier League season.

Among the pearls of wisdom was that City would comfortably win the league (finished eleven points behind United), Big Sam would be the first manager to lose his job (just been given a new contract) and Swansea would fall apart (top ten finish and League Cup winners).

Good job!

Only one prediction came to pass; but it hardly took the skills of Nostradamus to foresee Wigan would struggle this year – although they did, of course, win the FA Cup.

Thank goodness I didn’t put in print that I believed QPR would be pushing for a European place.

All this leads me to confidently state that Australia will definitely win the Ashes.