Sunday, April 19, 2015

AFL Power Rankings: Round 3 2015

Hawthorn re-takes the top spot on the rankings from Sydney this week. The Hawks had a big win over the Bulldogs which gained them a few ranking points even after accounting for the Dogs being one of the lower-rated teams, while the Swans could not similarly put away the Giants.

Speaking of the GWS Giants, they are breaking their record week after week for their best ranking in their short (mostly dismal) history, and are so far the most improved team of the season. At the other end of the improvement spectrum fellow newbie team the Gold Coast Suns have gone backwards the most of any team, followed by Geelong, Brisbane, and Carlton.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

AFL Power Rankings: Round 2 2015

When going through where the AFL Power Rankings indicated each team was likely to finish in 2015, I said ‘don’t overrate a team’s final performance or two in 2014’. While I indeed meant this comment in a general sense, the case of Sydney and Port Adelaide was prominent in my mind.

Looking through predictions for this AFL season, I saw a lot of people were rating Port Adelaide as one of the top two teams, above Sydney. In part, this may be because Port has a relatively young team that would be considered likely to improve, which is fair enough. But I suspect it was also in part because Port ran Hawthorn close in their Preliminary Final, while Sydney unexpectedly got blown away by the Hawks in the Grand Final.

Port definitely played better in their last game for 2014 than Sydney did, and at a significant time of the season. However, at least according to the Power Rankings, Sydney has still generally been better over recent matches. This point was highlighted when the Swans easily accounted for the Power on the weekend.

Another point here is that just considering final ladder positions can be misleading in gauging the gaps between teams. The Hawks and Swans were separated by one spot after the finals, as were the Swans and the Power. But according to the rankings the gap between the former teams is much smaller than the gap between the latter, and the rankings say there is as much difference between Sydney and Port as there is between, say, Port and Essendon.

Of course, since I have just cautioned on putting too much weight on one performance, I should also say not to put too much weight on Port being done by Sydney by as much as they were, since there are still many weeks in the season left to close the gap. And by the way, because the match was in South Australia, I did tip Port.

Anyway the Swans are on top of the rankings again. The Swans held the number one spot for the final seven rounds of the season in 2014 before they surrendered it with their big Grand Final loss. But their impressive win in Adelaide, coupled with Hawthorn’s narrow loss, puts the Swans just on top.

Monday, April 6, 2015

AFL Power Rankings: Round 1 2015

Welcome back to the AFL Power Rankings for 2015: it may be one of many AFL power ranking systems, but it’s the only one on this blog.

These rankings continue on from where they left off at the end of last season. Hence, Hawthorn, Sydney, and Port Adelaide are still the top-ranked teams, while Melbourne and St. Kilda remain at the bottom.

One of the big movers for this week, in the wrong direction, is North Melbourne. Following on from their big loss in the preliminary final last year the Kangaroos had another big loss to open up this season against Adelaide. This week they dropped from seventh to ninth in the rankings, which is their lowest position on the rankings since Round 14 in 2013.

Geelong has also hit a trough after its big loss to Hawthorn. The Cats fall to tenth spot, which is their lowest position since these rankings began in 2011. After many false finishes this may finally be the end of being at or near the top for one of the most successful modern football teams.

Adelaide, meanwhile, looked pretty good in their win on the weekend, although these rankings already rated them highly towards the end of 2014. The Crows remain in fourth place, but close the gap slightly with the third-placed Power. They are at this stage, according to these rankings, the team most likely to replace North Melbourne in the final four this year.


In other news, the Footy Maths Institute’s AFL rankings have also kicked off again, with some content and format changes for 2015. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Wooden Finger Five - April 2015


5.First Light – Django Django

This song has been out for a few months now, but I’ve grown more attached to it over the past 30 days. Remember U2 singing in ‘Beautiful Day’ about seeing the oilfields at first light? Well replace that with the power lines you see on your street and stretch that feeling out over a whole song, and you get a sense of the mood this song brings out in me.

4.Lampshades On Fire – Modest Mouse

I featured a song from Modest Mouse’s new album last month (‘The Ground Walks, With Time In A Box’), but on further listens this has emerged as my favourite track, albeit a more conventional Modest Mouse one. The lyrics seem to have an environmental bent, suggesting that humans manage to ruin any habitat they are in. This being Modest Mouse some lines seem to veer off from the main message (‘Our ass looks great inside these jeans?’ …), still the music chugs along with enough momentum that even the most abstract lines manage to get me humming along.

3.Dancing In The Corner – Monarchy

Could there be a more typical example of gloomy, us-against-the-world, teenage angst than the lyrics to this track? ‘We’re not welcome anymore … They don’t want to set us free/Fuck it we don’t need them… They can’t see/Born with dulled out eyes/They don’t understand who we are …’ Billy Corgan would be proud. Nevertheless, this slice of synth-pop is still able to draw me in, staying just the right side of sounding like Hurts.

2.Should Have Known Better – Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens seems to re-enter the nostalgic territory of ‘Casamir Pulaski Day’ on this song, as he travels back to his childhood, and the time his mother left him in a video store as a young child. It’s a sombre, pretty song, the kind that Stevens’ has done many times more, but few times with as good a melody as this.

 
1.King Kunta – Kendrick Lamar

Some of favourite hip-hop/rap albums are those that get a bit creative/weird and sound a little less like hip-hop; for example Kanye West’s ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Family’, and Outkast’s ‘Speakerboxxx/The Love Below’. Kendrick Lamar’s latest album, ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ fits that category I think, and I like it more than his previous one. Although I don’t like it quite as much as this reviewer. I don’t get Kendrick’s narratives as much as others seem to, so I couldn’t really tell you much about what ‘King Kunta’, my favourite track on his new album, is meant to be about. I gather than the reference to Kunta is meant to be a symbol for ‘black empowerment’. Regardless I love the beat, and the backing vocals (“what’s the yams?”), and so it’s been the track I’ve returned to the most over the past month. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Which Is Australia’s Best Cricket World Cup (Winning) Team?

Last Sunday Australia won its fifth Cricket World Cup final, having won the tournament previously in 1987, 1999, 2003, and 2007. This Australian team was clearly very good – losing only one match out of nine, and by a close margin. But is it the best of Australia’s cup winners? Let’s consider each winning eleven in turn.

1987

Record: 7 wins, 1 loss.

Team: David Boon, Geoff Marsh, Dean Jones, Allan Border, Mike Veletta, Steve Waugh, Simon O’Donnell, Greg Dyer, Craig McDermott, Tim May, Bruce Reid.

Australia’s triumph in the 1987 World Cup was a bit unexpected, and so I was surprised to discover that their record for the tournament was seven wins and only one loss. However, several of those wins were very close results, including the final against England. Also, while several of these players were very good I would say better versions of them came along later – Boon and Marsh were eclipsed by Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden, Border was eclipsed by Ricky Ponting, O’Donnell by Andrew Symonds, and McDermott by Glenn McGrath. In the end then, while this side took an important step for Australia on their way to becoming the world’s best one-day cricket side, I would rate it at the lower end of Australia’s World Cup champions.

1999

Record: 7 wins, 2 losses, 1 tie.

Team:  Adam Gilchrist, Mark Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Darren Lehmann, Steve Waugh, Michael Bevan, Tom Moody, Shane Warne, Paul Reiffel, Damien Fleming, Glenn McGrath.

This team looks pretty strong, and is the only World Cup winning team to feature both Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. Ultimately though, their record in the tournament, while still very good, is a step below other Australian squads. They lost a couple of early group matches, which resulted in them having to win – or not lose – seven matches in a row to lift the trophy (they won six, and their famous tie in the semi-final was enough to get them through). Also they could easily have lost either one of their two dramatic matches against South Africa and not reached the final at all. This squad is great on paper, but the hiccups along the way mean I cannot put them at the top.

2003

Record: 11 wins, 0 losses.

Team: Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn, Darren Lehmann, Michael Bevan, Andrew Symonds, Brad Hogg, Andy Bichel, Brett Lee, Glenn McGrath.

Now this team has a strong case to be considered the best. It won all eleven of its matches in the tournament, and barely looked in danger of losing. If you were to pick a best ever Australian one-day cricket side seven members of this team would be strong contenders for selection: Gilchrist, Hayden, Ponting, Bevan, Symonds, Lee, and McGrath. If Shane Warne had not famously had to withdraw after testing positive to a banned substance I think this team would be clearly the best (though Brad Hogg was a capable replacement). Any side that can make over 350 and dismiss Sachin Tendulkar for single figures in a World Cup final has to be pretty special.

2007

Record: 9 wins, 0 losses.

Team: Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Andrew Symonds, Michael Hussey, Shane Watson, Brad Hogg, Nathan Bracken, Shaun Tait, Glenn McGrath.

There is not much difference between this and the 2003 side. Like the 2003 team it went through the tournament undefeated, and had some mammoth wins, including smashing the number one ranked team South Africa in the semi-final. The imposing top order was the same as the 2003 team, and the middle order had a comparable level of talent. McGrath, though at the end of his career, bagged a record 26 wickets for the tournament. But if I had to split hairs I would say the opening bowling partnership of McGrath and Lee in the 2003 team would be a more frightening prospect than the 2007 team’s combination of Bracken and Tait. (Did you remember they opened the bowling for Australia in this tournament? I didn't; I assumed it was McGrath and Lee.) It’s a close one though.

2015

Record: 7 wins, 1 loss, 1 no result.

Team: David Warner, Aaron Finch, Steve Smith, Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Glenn Maxwell, James Faulkner, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood.

The personnel in the 2015 team may be considerably different from the 2003 and 2007 teams, but the level of talent is pretty close. Starc bowled as well as McGrath ever did in a World Cup. Maxwell and Faulkner were not the stayers that Bevan or Lehmann were, but they made up for it in explosiveness. I think where it falls just short of the 2003 and 2007 squads is that the opening partnership of Warner and Finch are just a level below Gilchrist and Hayden, and the changes to the middle order during the tournament made it a bit less imposing than those other teams. Let’s put them in the middle then.

Final order: 2003, 2007, 2015, 1999, 1987.  

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Get Rid of ‘… a such-and-such … ’: Name Your Sportspeople!

Few people would hold sports up as a field that generally brings out the best in the English language, even if there are some very eloquent people within the industry. But one phrase that has really irked me over the years is the use of the phrase ‘… a such-and-such …’

I mean phrases like the following hypothetical example (which I have made up based on the Cricket World Cup being on at the moment):

‘… Australia needs someone like a Maxwell, or a Faulkner, or a Watson, to make some quick runs here …’

The example is hypothetical, but many sports followers have heard something like it before. Why use the ‘a’? Why not just say ‘Australia needs Maxwell, or Faulkner, or Watson, to make some quick runs here … ‘ I can think of two main reasons.

Not wanting to single someone out: This explanation seems more likely if the speaker is an actual sportsperson, given that the speaker may be reluctant to single out a player on his or her team. Still it’s almost always wrong. Sports figures: you generally don’t have more than one player with the same name on the team, and even if you do your comment probably only refers to one person. Show some ownership of your comments!

Verbal shorthand: What the speaker really means is people with ‘such-and-such’ general traits; in the example above ‘a’ is being used as shorthand for ‘powerful, middle-order batsman’. The usual problem with this though is that, in using the ‘a’ list, the speaker ends up naming all or almost all of the sportspeople that fit the criteria he or she is attempting to describe. So, again, why not just specifically name the people?

It irks me – maybe more than it should, but it does. Similarly I can’t stand it when sportspeople are referred to in the plural form, such as ‘the Maxwells, the Faulkners, and the Watsons’. For people who do this, you mean a particular person or persons: name them!