Warne to Retire

20 December, 2006

Sad news today that Warnie is to retire after the Sydney test. Only twice more will we watch those long overs of him ripping the ball across hapless English batsmen and tail enders, running his fingers through the bleach blonde advanced hair and appealing on almost every ball.

I loved Warne in those early years, a leg spinner a novelty in my life of watching cricket and a damn good one at that. So many memorable events, the seven wickets he took against the Windies in 92/93 at the MCG, his first tour of England 29 wickets and they knew little of what to do about him. The seven wickets he took on the first day at the SCG against South Africa in 93/94. From memory for 5 consecutive overs he came on and took a wicket, including bowling Cullinan for the first time. The best spell of bowling I’ve watched at the ground.

Then there was his off field behaviour culminating in the drugs charge and slowly but surely I came to loathe the man while still admiring his cricket. It was perhaps harsh to place such judgement on him I think back now. The media pack was baying for his blood and it can’t have been easy on him but still Warnie made himself most problems you can’t deny.

I think little of the idea of sports people as role models. We expect them to play hard and fair but must realise that does not make them any more likely to be decent people off the field. He was a cricketer one of the best, and we should admire him for that and expect no more. I can’t condone his behaviour but what he does off the field is his own business.

He turned this all around for me in 2005 and once more I came to love Warnie. As the Ashes was about to begin his private life imploded around him. It was his own doing but Fleet street were also determined to trap him with whatever dirt they could dig up.

In the midst of this with McGrath out suddenly with an injury, Gillespie badly out of form and Lee only good in spells Warne stepped up and shouldered the burden. He took wickets in the first session of the tests and he knocked over openers. When Ponting looked bereft of ideas it was Warne there discussing tactics, and motivating the team, in the end they lost two close matches and the series. Warne with 40 wickets in 5 tests bowled out of his skin in my mind the best series he ever played.

Sure his tally was helped by the inability of the other bowlers to contribute, but his bowling was superb regardless. Twelve years after his first appearance in England, with his bowling scrutinized and his variations well studied he was still there making breakthroughs that others couldn’t.

Since watching that series I’ve thought it was a shame he was never made Captain, due of course to his off field behaviour. When Australia were in trouble in 2005 it was Warne who looked to be keeping them in the game. He had a fine brain for cricket, even if his batting was disappointingly impulsive at times.

There is no question that Warne has bowled well this series, but no where near his best. I had hoped to see him continue on. I’m sure if he was willing to stay fit he could have played till he was 40.

I will miss Warne and those hours of watching him work away, chip away, fizzing balls past stumps and bats, strangled cries of catch and his tentative and regular “how was that one”.

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Card Counting

19 December, 2006

This will probably be a real spam magnet but anyhow….

Some time ago, while I was still at uni, with a few friend I tried card counting blackjack. Like all casino games blackjack is in the house’s favour. However over the course of a deck (or several decks) this is not always the case for every hand. By keeping track of the cards that have come out of the deck, you can determine when the game is in your favour and increase your bet accordingly. Contrary to popular opinion you don’t need to track the actual cards that have been removed but rather keep a running tally on their effect on the game.

Certain cards are good for the player. A deck rich in aces gives more chance of blackjack with its higher pay out and a deck rich in tens gives the dealer who must hit automatically until he gets 17 or more, a much higher chance of going bust. Conversely a deck rich in 4, 5 and 6’s is bad for the player. The dealer will more rarely go bust as these cards will save him from going bust when he gets to totals of 14-16. The basics of such a system of counting and betting were first shown by Edward O. Thorpe and rely on both inferring a proportional measure of the expectation for a single bet and the use of the Kelly Criteria, in essence betting amounts proportional to your expected chance of winning.

In a small deck this is particularly effective as you get towards the end of the cards, but it’s also effective in large decks as well. Particularly if they place the cut card, which determines the point when the decks are reshuffled, near the end. Casinos of course take a dim view of the idea that someone else other than the house could be playing a positive expectation game and so try to stop it typically by banning the players in question. Counting is not illegal, but the casino is free to exclude anyone they don’t like.

The reality of the situation though is that unless you have a large bank roll you are better off working at McDonald’s, and if you are playing alone its pretty easy to detect someone with wild swings in their betting patterns, particularly if they are winning money. Still it was possible for us on many trips to the casino to sit off a table not playing until the deck was “hot” and then jump in and lay some bets. This makes you pretty obvious but if you are serious low rollers like we were when we were uni students then I doubt they are worried particularly.

Successful counters these days work in teams. A reasonably interesting book on the subject is Bringing Down the House, which although it concentrates too much on the glamour of the high-roller lifestyle and not enough on the actual scheme.

As for our little project, it slowly disappeared into nothing more than an occasional drunken trip to the casino where we would attempt to count through the haze. I note though now that the Star City Casino has put in continuous shuffle machines and the whole hope of counting is gone. I wonder whether it is actually a positive revenue deal for them. After all people like me will only play if they have the knowledge that they might just be able to have an edge even though in practice they rarely will. For the casino I guess giving this money away is worth it if it means avoiding serious counters.


Protecting us from ourselves

14 December, 2006

A friend of mine who has recently become an expectant father, found out that he needed to find out his blood type. For those not aware there can be complications if the mother has an RH negative blood type and the baby has RH positive. The complications can be avoided by some injections, but are also unnecessary if the father is also RH negative as the baby will then always be RH negative as well and there is no risk of reaction. This is the case with my wife and I who are both RH negative.

So anyhow, to avoid unnecessary treatment my friend decided to get his blood type determined only to turn up and discover that they were unable to obtain this simple test without a referral from a doctor, which would of course require an appointment and cash.

Annoyed at this waste of resources he sent off an email to a number of friends, several of whom are medical doctors, complaining bitterly at the waste of his time, his money and the government’s money that was involved in this process.

My immediate (and deliberately provocative) response was that it was due to the closed shop that doctors were running where everything has to be processed by one of the union and I think there is certainly something in that. However I want to explore the response from the doctors.
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Did Duncan Fletcher cost England the Ashes?

14 December, 2006

Any English cricket fan must be wondering right now how different the series might have been if Duncan Fletcher had shown a bit of aggression and picked Monty Panesar over Giles from the first test. It seems obvious to win a cricket match you pick bowlers to take wickets. Bowlers save more runs by taking a couple of wickets than they gain by sticking around to make a hard fought 20 runs.

Giles was a defensive move, and never looked dangerous in two tests. The Australians already had good measure of his limited capabilities. Panesar had the advantage of being good, unknown and attacking. It was a mistake to pick Giles in Brisbane, and a disaster to pick him in Adelaide.

After Panesar’s performance in the first innings in Perth it seems likely that he could have delivered England a large first innings lead in the second test and set them up for a potential victory. We’ll never know of course and judging by the short last session by Australia his contribution might not be enough to turn the Perth test either. However it requires a particularly fertile imagination to think of Giles taking 5 wickets on day one of a test match.


Food politics

8 December, 2006

An interesting piece in The Economist discussing issues around, organic food, fair trade and ideas about embedded energy, or food miles. Some of these topics I’ve mentioned in earlier posts.

On the claim organic food is better for the environment:

Perhaps the most eminent critic of organic farming is Norman Borlaug, the father of the “green revolution”, winner of the Nobel peace prize and an outspoken advocate of the use of synthetic fertilisers to increase crop yields. He claims the idea that organic farming is better for the environment is “ridiculous” because organic farming produces lower yields and therefore requires more land under cultivation to produce the same amount of food… The more intensively you farm, Mr Borlaug contends, the more room you have left for rainforest.

On fair trade coffee:

The standard economic argument against Fairtrade goes like this: the low price of commodities such as coffee is due to overproduction, and ought to be a signal to producers to switch to growing other crops. Paying a guaranteed Fairtrade premium—in effect, a subsidy—both prevents this signal from getting through and, by raising the average price paid for coffee, encourages more producers to enter the market. This then drives down the price of non-Fairtrade coffee even further, making non-Fairtrade farmers poorer. Fairtrade does not address the basic problem, argues Tim Harford, author of “The Undercover Economist” (2005), which is that too much coffee is being produced in the first place…

But perhaps the most cogent objection to Fairtrade is that it is an inefficient way to get money to poor producers. Retailers add their own enormous mark-ups to Fairtrade products and mislead consumers into thinking that all of the premium they are paying is passed on. Mr Harford calculates that only 10% of the premium paid for Fairtrade coffee in a coffee bar trickles down to the producer. Fairtrade coffee, like the organic produce sold in supermarkets, is used by retailers as a means of identifying price-insensitive consumers who will pay more, he says.

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Test Cricket never boring.

5 December, 2006

It’s not the ankle that’s hurting at the moment.

says Flintoff and I’m sure he’s right.

Well what can I say Australia crushed England today in the cricket. Crushed their batsmen and then cruised to victory on a flat deck.

To go 2-0 down after two tests, and particularly one where England must have thought that after two and a bit days they had set up for a potential victory or at worst a draw, is totally crushing. I remember how Australia reacted when India levelled the series after following on, and I suggest that England will be feeling the same way and do something similar.

I will be very surprised if they can bounce back knowing they have to win at least 2 of three games when they haven’t been able to bowl Australia out for less than 500. Hoggard has been bowling great but Anderson was lucky to get McGrath and Harmison just isn’t dangerous. Giles is a joke, never looks like getting a wicket unless someone gifts him one when they don’t quite slog him over the boundary well, except for the wicket he took off Martyn, which brings me to another topic.

What the hell was Damien Martyn doing? Needing less than 4 runs an over, and he’s already slogged Flintoff first ball so he tries to back away and hits it of course straight to slip in a manner reminiscent of catching practice. If Watson is fit and they want him in the side its Martyn that has to go, he’s old, out of form and cracks under pressure.

If you look at the Average in Games Won/ Average in Games Drawn or Lost, as some measure of how someone performs under difficult circumstances, Gilchrist is the only one of the long term batsmen who has a comparably bad ratio but at least he’s doing the keeper’s job as well.

cricketstats.jpg

This doesn’t of course measure the one day games where he comes in takes 5 overs to score 2 runs, runs out an set player down the other end and then gets out in single digits.

Martyn must be dumped. We’ve known he was a choker since this game in 1994. Six runs from 59 balls with McDermott cracking fours down the other end and victory 6 runs away and what does he do? Holes out to cover. Twelve years later little has changed. Fortunately Hussey and Clarke have steadier heads.

Update: Perhaps my blog post, convinced him but anyway I should note that Damien Martyn has retired from cricket.