27 March 2007

Baseball v Cricket

I love this time of year and what it brings to the senses: the crack of the bat, sunlight in your eyes, the smell of the grass.

Baseball? No, cricket. Opening day is almost here, but down in the Caribbean, sixteen countries are vying for the Cricket World Cup. These two games share a common origin, but each have developed a following in different parts of the world. Typically, baseball fans know little of cricket and think their game is superior, and vice versa. You can read Wikipedia's comparison between cricket and baseball for all the details, but we are here today to decide once and for all which game is better. There are ten categories worth ten points each, plus a bonus category worth up to five points. Play ball.

Best current player
You could easily substitute one of a handful of other players here, but Albert Pujols serves as a good representative. He has a career .332 batting average and has 250 home runs in six seasons. In his career, he has been named Rookie of the Year and MVP, and last year won the World Series with the St Louis Cardinals.
Ricky Ponting is currently the number one ranked batsman in the world, so this choice is a little easier to make. He has a 59.29 batting average (his average runs scored per batting appearance) and 58.95 strike rate (runs per 100 balls). If you look at just the past five years, his batting average jumps to 74. Putting it bluntly: he already ranks as the number three batsman of all time.

Best historical player
Most of Babe Ruth's records have fallen to various players over time, but none of them had the complete package the Babe did. He is known for his batting, but remember, he was a pretty good pitcher in his time with the Red Sox as well.
99.94. Any cricket fan in the world recognizes that number as Don Bradman's career batting average. Second place is a full twenty runs less; the rest of the pack tops out at 61. And these aren't just the Australians—we're talking worldwide, all-time players. Statistical analysis by Charles Davis in The Best of the Best reveals Bradman as the most dominant player in any major sport. He says by comparison, a baseball player would need a career .392 average to equal Sir Don's dominance.

Best rivalry
Yankees/Red Sox: Love 'em or hate 'em, this is the best rivalry in the game. This intense rivalry stems from proximity, civic pride, divisional competition and the Curse of the Bambino. Fairly lopsided in the Yankees favor, but intense nonetheless, and more competitive of late.
Australia/England: This rivalry dates to 1882, when Australia beat England on an English pitch for the first time, shocking the hosts and creating the legend of the ashes. It wouldn't be the last time. This rivalry is also rather lopsided, but both sides, and much of the cricket world, closely follow the Ashes Series.

Best venue
This is another one that is up for debate, but I'll go with Wrigley Field. It's got ivy, day games and tons of history.

Lords is considered the home of cricket. Many of cricket's greatest moments, particularly in the Ashes Series, took place here. It might be iconic, but I don't care for the look of the Media Centre.

Game length
Three hours is a fairly standard time for the completion of a game in most major sports, and baseball fits the bill.

There are variations of the game, but the most popular is test cricket, which lasts for five days. Even one day cricket lasts (surprise!) a day, or about six hours of playing time, plus lunch and tea breaks. Only the new (and often maligned) Twenty20 fits within the three hour window.

You win. Or you lose. Short of a rainout, that's it.

You win. Or you lose. Or, if you score the same number of runs, you could tie, although this is very unlikely. Or you could draw (which is different than a tie) if the game is not complete after the alloted time has expired. Yes, it is possible to play a game for five days and basically get no result.

Despite last year's World Baseball Classic, baseball is primarily limited to the US, the Caribbean, and parts of East Asia. And the WBC had to get a little creative to find sixteen teams—even Australia qualified.

Cricket's strongest players are mostly within England and the Commonwealth. According to the International Cricket Council, there are ten full members, 32 associate members (cricket firmly established) and 55 affiliate members (cricket is played). By the way, the US is an associate member, but did not qualify for the Cricket World Cup.

Baseball is notorious for the phrase 'if you aren't cheating, you aren't trying'. Corked bats, pine tar and of course steroids are all issues in the game today. Players and managers arguing with umps is also common, and a player would never correct a call to his own detriment. The redeeming factor is the unwritten code of respect that requires teams to stop stealing bases with a big lead or not show up a pitcher after a home run.
Cricket players often police themselves during a game and arguing calls is rare. About the worst you get is sledging, the cricket equivalent of 'we need a pitcher, not a belly itcher'.

World Series Trophy—My little league trophies were cooler than this.

The AshesNow this little urn tells a story, and you can read a little about it here.

Personally, I like the simplicity of the home whites/road grays. But I hate the softball team look of the alternate colored jerseys.

Test cricket looks great with the whites. One Day and Twenty20 looks ridiculous with the pajamas.

Bonus: Kooky Traditions
More than a few baseball players don't step on lines, always step on bases or some variation when running onto the field.

Cricket has the Nelson, representing a run score of 111. Named for Lord Horatio Nelson, supposedly for a missing eye, arm and leg, the score is thought to be unlucky. Umpires are often seen standing on one leg while a batter is on this score.

Well, the numbers don't lie: Cricket wins 83-78. Neither game is flawless, but you can't go wrong with either one. The good news is this: you don't have to choose. So enjoy the start of the baseball season, but make an effort to catch some of the Cricket World Cup action over the next few weeks, even if they are playing in their pajamas.

26 March 2007

What's a vote worth?

Saturday was election day here in Australia. There are a few interesting things about elections in Australia that are worth mentioning here.

First is compulsory voting. Australia is one of only a handful of countries that has compulsory voting, and even fewer actually enforce it. If you don't vote in Australia, it'll likely cost you twenty dollars. A minor sum to be sure, but I'd rather vote and catch a movie than hand over twenty bones for nothing. Ninety-five percent of voting-eligible Australians agree.

Australia also employs a system of preferential voting. There are two main parties, Labor and Liberal, but there are several other smaller parties that are very active and do garner respectable attention. Because of this, voters are required to number the candidates according to their preference. A winner is declared if they have over 50% of the votes. If no one is in the majority, the last candidate's votes are redistributed to their second selection. This process continues until someone has won a majority of the votes. An example of this can be seen here, including a real case where a candidate eventually won an election in which they held only 27% of the popular vote, compared to 41% by the leader, in the first count. Also, voting order is randomised—once upon a time, a lot of candidates with last names beginning with A and B were elected.

Because this can be a complex process, political parties here distribute 'how to vote' cards at poll sites, which voters take with them into the voting booth. These cards instruct a voter how to fill out their ballot to provide the greatest benefit to their party. How to vote cards also played a role in the case mentioned above—if more Independent voters had followed their party's card, redistribution would have been different and the Independent candidate, originally in third place, would have won.

So if you are apathetic but don't want a fine, what do you do? Answer: donkey vote—simply number your ballot 1 to x and drop it in the box. Donkey votes account for roughly 2% of all votes in any given election. Subtracting those, about 93% of eligible Australians make an honest attempt to vote.

19 March 2007

The Coathanger

The Sydney Harbour Bridge turns seventy-five today. This event was celebrated yesterday when the bridge was closed to traffic and over 200 000 people walked across it. An article in the newspaper said the bridge was more iconic of Sydney than even the Opera House: the bridge represented the working masses, while the Opera House was symbolic of the elite few.
The Bridge was instrumental to the growth of Sydney. Prior to the bridge's construction, it was quite difficult to get from Sydney to the North Shore. It could take a day or more to travel west around the cape to get back to North Sydney, effectively moving a mere 500 metres north.

Yesterday's paper included several letters from readers about the bridge. The one I found most amusing was from a man written about his mother. He reported that when she was younger, she would sit on the rocks and watch as the bridge was constructed. She and her friends would sit and wonder how they would cross up and over the arch. They were quite disappointed when they discovered that the crossing was suspended under the arch.

You can read more about the bridge in the Sydney Morning Herald articles It's our bridge and A span of 75 years is a vision worth celebrating. It includes many more personal stories of what the bridge means to Sydney and its residents.

07 March 2007

Google Maps

On 26 January, Sydney celebrated Australia Day with Google Maps. On that day, Google flew an announced plane over parts of Sydney, encouraging people to get out and get creative. I decided to take advantage of the opportunity by getting a little pub for LR. The new and improved images went online last week. The image you see above is just south of the Opera House, and it's where I staked by banner at the announced time.
Unfortunately, I never saw the Google plane. Apparently there was a problem with getting clearance for the low altitude flight. The plane took off three hours late. By the time the plane got near the Opera House, I was long gone, as you can see in the map. The picture below was taken on an Aussie Rules oval at Moore Park, my stop earlier in the day, also missed by the Google plane.
You can read more about it at this Sydney Morning Herald article.

01 March 2007

Celebrity encounter

I had a celebrity encounter as I was running through Hyde Park today. I'm training for the Great Ocean Road Marathon and had to cover seven miles. I was about five and a half into it when I saw someone ahead of me wearing a maroon velvet jacket with some posterboard tucked under his arm. It took me a second to realise who it was: Free Hugs Guy.
I ran past him, beating myself up for not having my camera phone on me. I saw him around Pitt Street Mall a few times before he hit the news last September, but not once since. I decided this was an opportunity not to be missed, and turned around.

Me: I'm sweaty. How about a handshake?
Free Hugs Guy: I'll give you a hug.
Me (hugging Free Hugs Guy): Awesome.
Free Hugs Guy: Thanks.
Me: Keep up the good work.

And I've got to say, I was starting to wear down a bit. But after my free hug, I finished my last mile and a half really strong. Thanks, Free Hugs Guy!