Thursday, January 19, 2012

Future Australian Captains: let’s not have any.

1 Corinthians 13:9. For we know partially and we prophesy partially...

And we never bloody learn, apparently. For goodness’ sake, one Test ago we (meaning The Press and a few bloggers) were agonising over whether Clarke’s appointment as Future Australian Captain (FAC) made him unpopular and  whether or not he is now popular enough to have a bandwagon. If he does, 329 runs and beating India will get a lot of people on it.

For the last six? seven? or so* years, Clarke has had to work in the blinding intensity of the public focus that came with that early anointing. Despite all the afore-mentioned angst, it has taken mere days for David Warner to emerge as the next FAC, helped along by Mickey Arthur. Do they not have the Future Saffer Captain issue in SA, or is Arthur already peddling the official CA let’s-anoint-someone-who-does-well-in-the-focus-groups? The perception of favour didn’t help Clarke on the field or in the press, whatever it did for his bank account, and it may well have hindered him in both.  My favourite theory as to why Clarke was hard to connect to, coming across in press conferences as bland and party-line, is that he was well aware of the damage that could be done to chances at captaincy with a stray comment or controversy.

The perception is that Clarke has had a number of controversies, but once you eliminate the FAC status, speculation about form slumps, and stories that do or don’t match his allegedly-bogan background (they usually involve money and subtle snobbery, reverse or otherwise), you’re left with a relationship that went wrong (he who is without sin, etc) and a fight with Simon Katich which he didn’t start. Katich, let’s remember, left a burgeoning cricket career in WA to further his own chances, so he’s not exactly the shining cricket purist himself.**  Clarke hasn’t (that we know of) been in fights in nightclubs, talked to bookies, had dodgy drug test results or in fact done anything except perhaps be a bit too controlled in press conferences and too much / not enough of a bogan to fit stereotypes. I was actually rather relieved when he took a bit of personal leave because it showed that he was, in fact, human.

We don’t know, and never will, what harm Clarke’s status did to any other potential FACs in the team.  For all Steve (we are not worthy) Waugh’s team had a miraculous collection of talent, it also had a number of blokes he could turn to in the field for thoughts on the game and its state at any given time.  How many of the next generation never bothered to develop the mythical and terribly clich├ęd cricket brain because they never expected to be captain, with the golden boy constantly in front of them?  How much of Katich’s angst came from that frustration?

Look, I don’t love Clarke.   I was pretty cynical about his declaration at 329, thinking he must have known that would play as humility. He has since said that wasn’t the case, and he was focussed on winning, so we’ll go with that. To be fair, no good captain would put their own milestones ahead of the team’s, and, love him or no, I do think he is a good captain. I can’t quite decide whether the changes in opinion come from a greater freedom to be himself, an improved PR firm (no streaks in the hair, I note, and Channel 9 playing Western Sydney backyard cricket footage), some stunning cricket, or all of the above.

Passing the FAC mantle on to David Warner, though, is not good for Warner, the team, or the next generation of cricketers. Surely they should all aim for captaincy, at least at first, and think they have a chance? Why saddle a talent like Warner with all that expectation and extra focus? Does he not have enough to do, working out how to be a T20 star and a Test opener? Why make him also work out, all at once, how to: 

  • comment on the current captain’s form in press conferences, 
  • balance relationships in all of his dressing-rooms, 
  • deal with people calling for his head at the slightest slump in form, 
  • shut off the glare of the spotlight, and the positive and negative things that go with it, 
  • enjoy the fruits of his success without being called a tosser
  • respond gracefully when the person who called you a tosser calls you insecure for wanting respect,  
  • and, somewhere in there, have a life? 

He'd learn those things eventually anyway, being an Australian cricketer, a Test opener and playing in the IPL. Shouldn’t we be rewarding his talent with room and respect and space to grow?  We have Warney to satisfy our national quota of cricket stories in the social pages, not to mention some fresh international imports thanks to the BBL - how about we just let Warner be Warner, and worry about who will be captain next when we actually need one?

* vagueness due to Wikipedia blackout, cricinfo not having FAC appointment as one of its stats

** YES I’m still bitter.  

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Experiments with Sloe Gin, or, Things I Get Up To When Not Studying.

Speaking of things I like, possibly a bit too much, I was recently introduced to sloe gin. Straight sloe gin works in late-autumn London as an aperitif or digestif or omni-if, but if taken unadulterated in early-summer Melbourne is a bit too warm and sticky to be its lovely tart self, not unlike the rest of us. This is a shame, as it is better for you than regular gin, because 1. it has a lower alcohol content and 2. it has fruit in it, and therefore vitamins.

I asked the Frenchman selling it to me at the fancy wine store if it could be served on ice and received a slightly disdainful look and a raised eyebrow. He deigned to suggest that I try it with bitter lemon or with tonic.  A barman recently asked if I'd like it on the rocks, so I may have been a bit too sensitive about the Frenchman's lack of interest in my drinking dilemmas.

Thanks to some duty free liquor and some spare time, I ended up trying it with a few different things (not all in the one night, I'd like to add):

Sloe Gin and Bitter Lemon
This was the first combination I tried, is still my favourite (after sloe gin in autumnal London, and the Millionaire Cocktail in Edinburgh, that is), and is highly recommended for a warm day. The lemon undercuts the sweetness of the sloe a little but is balanced by the bitterness, so at the right proportions (somewhere around your regular G&T mix, possibly a little stronger) there is a great balance of sweet / sour / bitter. It's terribly refreshing, and since lemon is another fruit, even more delusions of healthiness.

Sloe Gin on Ice
I might need to give the Frenchman some credit here: sloe gin on ice is great at first but when the ice began melting it got too weak and watery for me. Not sure if this is due to the lower alcohol content, or perhaps that it has a less intense flavour than the digestifs I am more accustomed to drinking on ice. I've also only just thought of keeping the bottle in the fridge, which I might try with the next one.

Sloe Gin and Tonic
Not a huge fan of this: I prefer the emphasis in my G&T's to be, unsurprisingly, on the G. At regular proportions the sloe gin was overwhelmed by the tonic, so it ended up a pink, slightly fruity quinine drink. Even at my proportions, (G&t) the tonic was still the stronger element and the sloe flavour was decidedly washed out. Having said that, I prefer my tonics on the stronger side to compensate for lots of gin, so a lighter tonic might produce a different result.

Sloe Gin and Lemonade
I ran out of bitter lemon, but had lemonade left - much too sweet for me, but I might experiment on some friends who prefer their cocktails sweet and fruity. It did, however, inspire me to further fruit experiments.

Sloe Gin, Lemon Cordial and Tonic
Somewhere along the line I realised that Bitter Lemon was basically tonic + lemon, so I attempted constructing my own. This, although better than the straight tonic, was not entirely succesful, as the lemon cordial / tonic combination was simultaneously sweeter and bitterer than Bitter Lemon.

Sloe Gin, Cointreau and various mixers
What with all the back and forth to my liquor cabinet, and thinking about the sloe and lemon combination, I  realised that Cointreau is orange, and since sloe and lemon was working out well, how about sloe and orange? Cointreau has its own sweetness, though, and so these combinations tended to be too sweet for me. Bitter lemon worked best as a mixer with these two, (citrus = vitamin C, yes?) although I also tried tonic, soda and lemonade at various points. This is a much stronger combination, as I made it with a shot of each.

Unsurprisingly, this is about where my bottle of sloe gin ran out. However, during the slow recovery from post-trip work-trauma disorder, I found this photo

I only remember the name because I found the
bill as well. It was that kind of night.
and remembered the ridiculously lovely Millionaire Cocktail I'd had at the Bon Vivant in Edinburgh, a cocktail bar that could've been anywhere in the world, except that they deep fried all of their tapas just so we'd remember we were in Scotland. I'd ordered it because of the sloe gin, and was surprised I'd forgotten it - well, until I remembered how many cocktails we'd had after it. The Millionaire is sloe gin, apricot brandy, Jamaican rum, and lime juice (vitamin C again). Given a faint edge by the rum, this sweet, tangy combination works - and how.

In researching the Millionaire, I've discovered at least ninety cocktails using sloe gin.  I'd dreamed up some particularly evil combinations after being inspired by sloe gin and Cointreau*,  but, as usual, the internet has shown me what an amateur I am.  It can (apparently) be combined with every fruit liqueur known to man, not to mention everything from bourbon to pastis to the ultimate hangover partner, tequila.  I suspect my liquor cabinet is about to get surprisingly fruity.

* I'm still thinking of trying the liquor fruit salad: Sloe Gin, Limoncello, Cointreau, Peach Schnapps and Midori.