Category Archives: maps and legends

Peace and war, and selection 1979-80 style

As the Ashes has waned and holidays have dawned, I have found myself watching more youtube highlights. I have gravitated to the 1979-80 summer, the “peace” season after the split by World Series Cricket ended in Packer’s Tilsit Peace. Joel Garner cleaning up Greg Chappell, that sort of thing.

It was peak cricket interest for me, I was 12 when WSC broke and almost 15 when the band got back together. Playing at school, on weekends and in the street. Old enough to work holiday jobs in the Tandy warehouse and spend the money on Marella Jubes to share with John Emburey on the fence during the lulls in the day-nighters.

I was strong establishment in the first season, a Craig Serjeant, Thommo and Wayne Clark man. The strong WA presence in the team for the Windies in 1977-78 warmed my heart, and I remember cheering Serjeant and Wood on as they got us home in the 3rd Test.

By the second season, the dreary nature of the Ashes, outside of Hoggy’s excellence and anger, made me flirt a bit with WSC. I liked “Big” Garth Le Roux and Imran. Watching Viv and Barry bat together was something else. The Australians other than GS Chappell and Lillee weren’t really much chop. Still, my priority was the Test team, the Kim Hughes thing was starting (Serjeant having a major loss of form), and the Pakistan games were riveting. The World Cup came and went with Porter a new star. We got sod all news reports about the India tour later that year but I perused the scorecards regularly and noted how consistent Hughes was.

When the peace was announced, I had mixed feelings. But I vowed to gobble it all up.

Sitting here now, I think there’s a few “truths” that underpin the narrative about these times:

  • Australia were full of stars and they all went to WSC
  • Australia was weak during WSC
  • Australia was strong after WSC because the WSC players were available.

These are all contestable. For instance, not long after the glory of 74-75 and 75-76, we were mediocre in the following season against Pakistan. Squibbed the fight in Adelaide and got destroyed in Sydney. Let England score 400+ in the 4th dig of the Centenary Test. Contrived to choose Davis, Serjeant, Hookes, Cosier, Hughes and Robinson in batting slots for an Ashes, with Pascoe and Malone uncapped and O’Keeffe and Bright the spinners. If Thommo wasn’t injured, Lillee was. Post Redpath/Stackpole/Sheahan/Chappells/Walters, we had churned through Francis, Davis, Woodcock, two Edwards, Turner, and Yallop, none of who were picked for the 77 squad.

If you look at the WSC list, there were a few categories:

  • Bonafide stars – Chappell, Lillee, Marsh (Thommo)
  • Solid test players – Hookes, Walker, Walters, McCosker, Pascoe
  • Old guys having a payday – Chappelli, Redpath, Edwards, Mallett, McKenzie, Watson
  • Uncapped guys with potential – Laird, Prior, Kent, Langer (Wessels)
  • B-graders – Gilmour, O’Keefe, Bright, Davis, Malone, Robinson
  • C-graders who were “in the club” – Trevor Chappell, Dennis Yagmich

For what it’s worth, the 77-79 Test team did better than is remembered. They won a tight series against a full strength India 3-2. They met the full might of the Windies on awful wickets, but recovered to shade the second sub-series against non-WSC players. They were closer to England than 5-1 suggests, being in position to win at least 4 matches but collapsing as an inexperienced lineup with poor captaincy and revolving door selection, a rubbish tail and some dodgy umpiring demands. They then should have beaten full-strength Pakistan 2-0, and were very honourable in a 2-0 loss from 6 against India – we would take that today!

But this story is about the third point, it’s about the selection of a combined team in 79-80. Because, as with some of the decisions today, it’s hard to see how and why decisions were made. But it’s also clear that some WSC guys were backed in – and didn’t cut it.

To get started with a benchmark, here are three teams:

Last test team before WSC: Serjeant, McCosker, G Chappell, Hughes, Hookes, Walters, Marsh, Bright, Walker, Malone, Thomson

Last test team before 1979-80 season: Hilditch, Yallop, Border, Hughes, Whatmore, Darling, Sleep, Wright, Dymock, Hogg, Higgs

Last Supertest team: McCosker, Laird, Kent, G Chappell, I Chappell, Hookes, Marsh, Bright, Lillee, Thomson, Pascoe

Two mini-series of 3 tests against each of England and the West Indies was announced. These tests would be interwined, a unique situation. And inter-intertwining would be a plethora of limited overs matches.

Christian Ryan in his Golden Boy masterpiece reports that none of the experts asked to pick their combined squads had reigning Australian test captain, Kim Hughes, in them – despite coming off almost 600 runs at 59 in India. This was the mood… the WSC heroes were going to come back and take up what was rightfully theirs.

With all bans lifted, the WSC players were free to play grade and Shield. The Shield started while the India tour was on, so some guys got a headstart.

The first test – West Indies v Australia, Brisbane

Laird, McCosker, Border, G Chappell, Hughes, Hookes, Marsh, Bright, Lillee, Hogg, Thomson

This was a reasonable compromise between the two squads to kick off the summer. Laird had a ton against NSW. McCosker however had no big scores but had some handy runs in the French Fries Cup. This team had played a one-dayer against the Windies, Hughes and Chappell getting us home, me on the Hill in full Cornetto-devouring mode.

In the test, Hughes and Chappell batted big in the second innings to secure an honourable draw. Laird with 92 and 75 laid the foundation however.

First test – England v Australia, Perth

In: Wiener, Toohey, Dymock

Out: McCosker, Hookes, Hogg

Plucked from nowhere, based on a few fifties in the Shield and Cup, was Julian Wiener. An unbelievable selection, he had played neither tests nor WSC the season before. Similarly, Peter Toohey, not even in the top 8 batsmen for the India tour, despite being a great spin player – recalled. Hookes was dropped after scoring 43 and 37, against the actual Fab 4 of Holding, Roberts, Garner and Croft.

Kim Hughes played another classic lone hand of 99 to set up a win for Australia, Border consolidating in the second dig and Dymock getting 6. Wiener got a 50 on debut.

Second test – West Indies v Australia – Melbourne

In: Hogg, Higgs

Out: Thomson, Bright

This meant there were now 6 “establishment” players, 4 WSC players and Wildcard Wiener.

We got pumped by 10 wickets, Wiener topscoring in the first, Laird and Hughes getting runs in the second and Lillee, Dymock and Higgs all getting wickets. Hogg got 0-59 off 6. Incredible stuff, Haynes and then Viv taking to him.

Second test – England v Australia, Sydney

I saw every minute of this rain-affected game.

In: McCosker, I Chappell, Pascoe

Out: Laird, Toohey, Hogg. I can’t confirm but presume Laird must have been injured?

Back from the test cricket wilderness came 34 year old Ian Chappell, 4 years after his retirement.

Lillee and Dymock skittled England on a greentop. Then Chappelli topscored with a vital 42 as we crimped a small but vital lead. Gower’s sublime lone hand meant we had a challenging 200+ chase but G Chappell aided by McCosker and then Hughes with 40s made it look pretty easy (the pitch was drying out – good toss to win!)

Third test – West Indies v Australia – Adelaide

In: Laird, Mallett

Out: McCosker, Higgs

Higgs was dropped after getting 1 over on the SCG seamer. Mallett was back, another 34-yr old veteran coming back after premature retirement. He was just an afterthought for WSC apparently, Packer being no fan of his “Straight breakers”. He had been having a purple patch in the Shield, however.

Lillee’s 5 kept us in the series despite Viv and Lloyd going ballistic. We were 3-26 in reply, but Laird with Hughes and Border got us over 200. Dymock got 5 as they set us almost 600, Laird topscored as we were 400 short in a humiliating loss.

Third test – England v Australia – Melbourne

School was back by the time this game was played in early February.

In: McCosker

Out: Wiener

8 WSC players lined up here.

Hughes ran Gooch out for 99, Lillee got 6, then Laird, Chappelli and Border all got 50s to support the skipper’s ton. Lillee made it 11 for the match then the brothers made hay to sweep the English and super-skipper Brearley 3-0 in the series.

One day teams

The following players, all former test players, played ODI’s that summer without getting a test recall: Walters, Darling, Laughlin, Walker, Yallop and Whatmore.

Pakistan tour

Three tests against Pakistan were scheduled. The squad included Hookes, and a number of players not featuring in the tests… Yallop, and Mick Malone as former test players, and Graeme Beard and Geoff Lawson, a couple of uncapped New South Welshmen (Lawson had toured India as a replacement earlier in the season). Yallop averaged 33 in the Shield without a ton. He did have some success in India the year before however.

From what I recall, Chappelli and Mallett were unavailable. Pascoe may have been injured, or smart enough to fake one, given what was ahead! McCosker was dropped. Peter Toohey, a sublime player of spin, missed out despite averaging 50+ in the Shield and peeling off 3 tons.

Australia lost 1-0 after going behind in the first despite a Hughes special of 85 out of 220 batting at 3. They prepared flat tracks for the final two games and runs flowed for most guys. Our highly variable top 6 lineups were:

Laird, Yallop (!), Hughes, Chappell, Hookes, Border


Wiener, Laird, Hughes, Chappell, Yallop, Border

We broke every cardinal rule by changing the openers nearly every test. (This would continue in 80-1 when Laird would be dropped, then brought back for the tough 81-2 series then dropped again. He and Dyson and Wood and then Wessels played roundabouts, with Wayne Phillips popping up in 83-4 but Wood and Dyson reverting for 84-5, until Digger Hilditch was reborn.)


Bizarrely, despite some solid form, Wiener was then overlooked for the Centenary Test tour – for Wood and Dyson, who had not played a test all summer. Wood originally couldn’t get into the WA squad, and didn’t make a ton all season. But he had admirers, it was rumoured WSC tried to sign him for the second year. Mallett also came back into the squad, and played in the Centenary Test, which was to be his last.

In summary, senior WSC players in Chappelli, McCosker and Mallett all returned to the test team but were gone for good from it within 6 months. There was clearly no interest from them or the selectors in building a team for the future, which would rebound on them the next year in England (when Kent, T Chappell and Wellham joined Hughes, Border, Yallop, Dyson and Wood in one of the weakest and most inexperienced lineups ever to tour.)

Guys like Walker and Malone didn’t play a test after WSC. In fact, of the 26 in the original WSC squad, 13 never played a test afterwards. Of the 13 that did play, only 5 had careers of note after the peace deal – G Chappell, Lillee, Marsh, Laird and Pascoe. Hookes had one good season and Bright a couple of good matches.

Considering WSC was supposed to have improved the games of those who partook, perhaps it’s fair to say it made stars even better. And uncovered a few new ones, in Laird and Wessels. But it did no favours to fringe or older players.

So the story of selection seems one of random choosing between two relatively mediocre squads, with no real reference to form or youth/experience. At times, almost random.

Sound familiar?


The false hope of King Arthur, the Border wars and the collapse of the Lehmann Brothers – a plea against insider training

You I know I have developed a bit of a theory. I keep seeing former players going on about how Simmo and Border identified a group of players, and backed them in. Eg G Marsh. Boon. S Waugh.

I think they don’t understand history. I think they think that’s the right way to build a team all the time. As if form, class and being able to accommodate different personalities are irrelevant.

What they miss is the crucial context. By 1987, when at nadir, Australia had had 11 years of turmoil:

– the premature loss of Chappelli, Mallett and R Edwards

– the bizarre decision to recall Simmo
– re- integration of WSC players
– G Chappell and the “yes; no” approach to captaincy
– emergence of limited overs formats, with greater emphasis on fielding
– unstaged retirement of Chappell, Marsh and Lillee
– dominance of program by Windies
– the Hughes v Hookes tensions
– the defections to Sth Africa, and then their impending return

Of course Simmo and Border were both craggy cranky self-identifiers. They gained comfort in each other.

In contrast, Australia suffers no such moment of crisis. It has an abundance of talent. There a million pathways. Modern cats are a very broad spectrum. For every Smith there are probably 10 Maxwells. Players move around between leagues and formats and teams. They balance a million expectations.

I think the Smith-Lehmann insiderism is a false reading of history. An Arthurist deviation.

Even AFL teams have moved beyond Swansification. They have integrated it, into other threads, like Balmism and Clarksonism. In people like Buckley, we have coaches able to see the positive in each and every young player.

So either these guys in Australian cricket are duds at hist0ry. Or have just found a convenient way of getting their mates into a team, against a hapless opponent.

Shane! Shane!

Warning: this is a story about Shane Watson. It’s a positive story.

Something about the criticism of Watson sticks in my craw. The injuries, the reviews, the LBs, the sort of criticism that helped hound Kim Hughes to South Africa.

Even now when I see some 8yo parrot his dad and make the all-knowing obvious retort about a review, I spew.

So, to lay it to rest, I am going to map out the glorious 2 years of SR Watson. Who batted and bowled as well as most before him, having a patch as our best allrounderer probably since Miller. Nowhere as good as Miller, but pretty good nonetheless.

It’s the Richmond 2017 approach. I am sick of hearing what he couldn’t do. Let’s talk about what he could do.

And then I will let it go.


The Watson story begins in the early 2000s when this well-built kid started trying to bowl 145km/h thunderbolts. And bat like Viv Richards. He had potential, so was fast-tracked into the limited overs team There was no spot for him in the Test team, despite a couple of very handy Shield seasons and some big runs in County.

But when we wanted to occasionally pick MacGill as well as Warne, it was thought we needed a Mitch Marsh type to bowl a few overs, take a couple of wickets. To bat 7, with Gilchrist at 6. So Watson got a few tests, in 2004-6. He got a few runs, looked classical, didn’t go on with it. Bowled fast and a got a couple of wickets. And he got a few soft tissue injuries, because he tried too hard and didn’t train as smart as Steve Smith.

They tried Watson and Symonds in that role, Symonds being eventually preferred because he could imitate Funky Miller with some seam and then pseudo-spin. And field the house down.

I didn’t pay much attention to this, we were heading towards serious stuff like buying a house and having our first kid and changing jobs and looking after a sick cat.

Then the 2008 tour to India happened. It was a bit of a watershed. We had churned through MacGill and Hogg, I think Symonds was suspended. So Cam White, who I really rated, and Watson, were picked, and played Richie Benaud era allrounder roles (as in, the teams that had Slasher, Benaud, Johnny Martin and Davo all at the same time.)

It was an interesting series, we lost 2-0 but that flattered India I thought. We made 400+ on a few occasions. Krezja got a bucketful. White got a few good scalps and looked too good for number 8 – which he was. Steve Smith predux!

I saw a fair bit of this series on pay, and it seemed Watson was intent on being like his namesake, Graeme Donald Watson, who was my first hero – and had a penchant for big moments, rather than consistency. He might take no wickets for a couple of games and then get 5-15, or seem out of form with the bat and then clout a rapid 80. Sometimes in the same game.

Watson made 41 in the first test. But his 78 in the second was a gem. He batted for 156 balls, hitting one of the best cover drives I had ever seen. Wow, I thought, he really does have the potential the insiders had been talking about. He got a 36 in a giant total in the 3rd. Failed in the 4th.

With the ball, considering he was the 4th seamer on spin-friendly tracks, he showed some of the wicket-sense that would become a feature later on – he got a 4, a 3 a 2 and a 1.

Averaging 25 with the bat and 32 with the ball, it was good, not great, but showed promise. There were still questions about which discipline was his strongest.

When they got back to Australia, they chucked Symonds in the team, too, and batted him ahead of Watson. Watto flopped, and that made it 5 single digit scores in his last 8 knocks. He got a couple of wickets, but Symonds’ pair of 20s saw him retained, and Watson sent back to the Shield.

It was a transitional summer, Hayden failing to hang on, Symonds got the heave, Ronnie McDonald got the callup for Sydney. Then they picked Phil Hughes and Marcus North. Things looked lost for Watson when Hughes tore the South Africans apart. North batted well and could also bowl. McDonald was a handy squad member. And Mitch Johnson looked a proper allrounder, smashing tons and breaking fingers. Ricky Ponting liked his new team, calling that win in South Africa with a bunch of newcomers one of his favourite series.

Meanwhile, Watson was averaging 52 with the bat and 18 with the ball in a limited Shield campaign. It was enough to get on him on the plane to England.

By then I was a regular on the Tonk on the SMH website suggesting that Watson could open. I had been saying it all summer, since they got back from India. He had a proper technique, but played shots. It got a run in the paper version one day, my obsession with this path. But with Hughes going gangbusters it seemed a cry in the wilderness.

The golden years

I won’t bore you with narrative. Because the numbers really speak for themselves. Before being recalled – as opener, as suggested – at Edgbaston for the can’t lose 3rd test in 2009, he had 1 50 and no 5-fors. Then…

v England (in England)

3rd test

62 and 53

4th Test

51 and 34

5th test


Averaged 48 opening in England in a losing Ashes

V Windies

2nd test

96 and 48

3rd test

89 and 30

v Pakistan

1st test

93 and 120*

2nd test


Averaged 60 for the home summer, opening against Roach, Taylor, Amir, Asif etc

He also took 13 handy wickets in 6 tests i.e. 1 an innings on average.

V NZ (in NZ)

1st test


So in that flurry of 11 tests in 8 months after moving to open, he scored 1 ton, 8 50’s and took some wickets.

v Pakistan (in England)

1st test


2nd test


Averaged 10 for the series. (And not much more with the bat.)

V India (In India)

1st test

126 and 56

2nd test

57 and 32

Averaged 68 in a 2-0 loss.

V England

1st test

36 and 41*

2nd test

51 and 57

3rd test


4th test


5th test

45 and 38

So scored more than 400 at nearly 50, opening against Anderson and Tremlett and Bresnan, in a humiliation.

This was the end of Watson’s golden run. Clarke replaced Ponting, Katich his partner was gone. After missing a summer with a calf, he bowled less, and Cowan had been bought into open. So Watson had to shuffle down to 3, which didn’t suit him with the pace off the ball and often a slow run rate to contend with (Cowan being Cowan).

Still, it’s worth recapping that glorious run of tests. Averaging 50 at the top of the order against quality quicks, while taking handy wickets including some bags. Fielding well. Starring in the limited overs formats too.

That’s how you win consecutive Allan Border Medals, as the best cricketer in the land.

There were to be many more highlights, but never enough to keep the knockers off his back. Clarke used him as a stock bowler, and he rarely got the chance to open, batting as low as 6, which never suited his aggressive style. And there were more injuries, for instance after Clarke used for him almost 50 over against Sri Lanka in Hobart. The days of “he has to bowl to hold his place”, despite having a batting average well over 40 at that stage.

  • The ridiculous 5-17 in Sth Africa, in that bizarre test when we made 47
  • The strong finish to the 2013 Ashes – the 68 batting 6 in the 4th test arguably better than the 178 on Day 1 in the 5th. And the solid 2013-14 return, an underrated 50 in Adelaide and then calypso ton in Perth. But the best innings was the 80* in the chase with Rogers at Melbourne, a very mature counter-attacking knock.
  • Captaining Australia in India. Not bad after being dropped for eating in class or whatever it was.
  • Double cameos in his recall test against Sth Africa, smashing them around to enable the declarations that won us the game with an over to spare. Batting 6,
  • Helping Smith with 84 overs in the India series in 2014-15, keeping it tight on the flat decks as Lyon was getting tonked seriously. He bowled almost 30 overs in Sydney, which had to affect his batting, but was still lampooned for getting out for 81.
  • Having the good grace to retire after being dropped, and allowing Mitchell Marsh a long run at it. A 20-test run in which he averaged about half with the bat and 10 more with the ball what Watson did in his first 20 tests.

So Watson’s final record is not a true indicator of his worth as a cricketer. He was pivotal in providing a winnable structure as continued to struggle in the period between dominant teams. He put his hand up to open, and smashed it. 35 with the bat and 32 with the ball is better than just about anyone we have had try that role (Symonds got 40 with the bat and 37 with the ball, but not opening). If you control for (a) opening; (b) stop-start through injury; (c) unclear role definition under Clarke (d) the lack of support eg HomeworkGate, he was good enough to average 40 with the bat and 30 with the ball. Imagine if Renshaw or Bancroft – or Burns – or anyone – could manage that!

But in that period from 2009-11 he was even better. He was as good an allrounder type as we have had, since Miller.

Which isn’t saying much – but it’s still worth saying.

Chuck didn’t chuck

Leslie O’Brien Fleetwood-Smith

More Errol Flynn than Stevie Nicks

A glimmer of left arm unorthodox

As depression gripped the docks

Centre-part and pencil mo

Formed a pair with Billy O’

He did take one for two-nine-eight

But Hammond’s scalp was on his plate

Geography, geometry and the cartography of loss.. revisiting By the Time I Get to Phoenix

It’s just over 2000km from LA to Oklahoma. Let me take you on a journey of just over 2000 words, as we explore the curves and crests of Jimmy Webb’s timeless By the Time I Get to Phoenix.

“New York, Sept 14, 1990 – BMI, the world’s largest performing rights organization, today announced the titles, writers and publishers of the 50 most performed songs in the company’s 50 year history.

    1. Yesterday…John Lennon, Paul McCartney
    2. Never My Love…Donald Addrisi, Richard Addrisi
    3. By The Time I Get To Phoenix…Jim Webb….”

There is something insidious about the geography of love and lust. And leaving.

In “Phoenix”, that geography insinuates itself. Until you become part of the journey.

I can’t really say when Phoenix became my favourite in the Webb/Campbell pantheon.

I was always a Galveston man, something about the chorus and the stories of the flood from the great hurricane of 1900. And Wichita Lineman, that great fragmented masterpiece, arguably the greatest vocal of all time. Ditto Susie, I now see it’s clunkiness, but the simplicity of the metaphor appealed, and the loss in the “if I don’t stay around” talked of passions and obsessions I had never really felt.

Apparently Sinatra agreed, Phoenix is the greatest torch song ever, apparently.

I’ve flown over Phoenix. From the air, its strategic rationale as a defence town in the SW makes sense. It’s a million miles from nowhere. But in Webb’s masterwork, Phoenix the place, Phoenix the song, becomes the centre of everything, the leitmotif of that dreaded moment in every relationship.

But more, it becomes not just the symbol of Webb’s subject’s journey. It’s America on the rebound.

Three verses… three cities… lines… lifelines… birth, work, death…. meet, mate, leave….Phoenix, Albuquerque, the high school production of Oklahoma!

When it’s not about beautiful balloons that go Up Up and Away, or 99 of them flapping across the East German sky, great pop is about love or death, or love and death, or in the context of Love Will Tear Us Apart, about love in the context of subsequent death.

Phoenix is about the death of love. Clearly, of undying love – I’ve left that girl so many times before.

Relationships as dissected plateaux, flat, but riven with crevices. Will they dig themself out of this one?

I’ve left that girl so many times before… yet you feel he has never made it to Oklahoma before. Maybe he never will, never make it to that unwinding 3rd base.

After all, this is a song of movement, but inferred movement only. He could be sitting in a café in downtown LA or San Diego the whole time, just mapping out how it will unfold. He talks a good leaving, but every time I play the song, I get a different feel. He will go, he will stay. He will go, and come back. Graeme Wood, if you know what I mean.

So Webb’s artifice is to create a magnificent canvas of journey, in a world of paralysis. It’s us that move him across the desert, not really willing him on, but certainly dragging the google map, to see where he goes after Oklahoma. And all the two-bit towns he would pass through.

Journey Without Maps.

This… map without journey…

We use “roadmap” all the time now as a catch-all in our lives.

According to Wikipedia, Webb and Campbell had first met during the production of a General Motors commercial. Webb arrived at the recording session with his Beatle-length hair and approached the conservative singer, who looked up from his guitar and said, “Get a haircut”.

One of my unfulfilled dreams is an art installation thing. I hire out a cinema. There’s a split screen movie playing – he is on the left, probably played by Ryan Gosling, but more likely Aden Young or similar local. She is on the right, played by, I don’t know, someone watchable. Got to look good rising, working, sleeping, reading post-it notes. Maybe Sarah Snook. Good sleeper.

Anyway, it’s a realtime thing. The song starts when he leaves – let’s presume it’s from LA. It could be anywhere – San Diego, perhaps. Maybe San Fran. Webb doesn’t ever say. But let’s presume LA. It’s about 600km and about 5 and a bit hours. So we’ll have him leave around 2, and arrive at 7:30.

And she will rise. And read. And laugh.

By the time I get to Phoenix she’ll be rising
She’ll find the note I left hangin’ on her door
She’ll laugh when she reads the part that says I’m leavin’
‘Cause I’ve left that girl so many times before.

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 11.19.04 pm

In another 8 hours, it’s Albuquerque. We’ll have him go by Route 60, and then I-25. Towns like Show-Low. Eagar. Pie Town.

And she’ll work and eat and ring.

By the time I make Albuquerque she’ll be working
She’ll probably stop at lunch and give me a call
But she’ll just hear that phone keep on ringin’
Off the wall, that’s all.

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 11.30.03 pm 

Another 8 hours – and an unknown number of Bennies – gets us to Oklahoma.

By the time I make Oklahoma she’ll be sleepin’
She’ll turn softly and call my name out low
And she’ll cry just to think I’d really leave her
Tho’ time and time I try to tell her so
She just didn’t know I would really go.

Crying, disbelieving. Moaning.

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 11.31.53 pm

(Thanks to google for the maps.)

As you watch it unfold, you can play every single version of Phoenix ever recorded. You can fast forward to any bit. Or go the whole hog, Renaldo and Clara style, badge of honour as you leave.

An App will help you track progress on google maps and google street view. You will be able to virtually drive the route. Frank Black knew d=r x t.

You will be able to squeeze every last bit of mystery and romance from the song.

I mean, skeletons need flesh; don’t they?

(Thanks to Jimmy Webb for the lyrics.)

Juxtaposition makes this song. It’s just him and his position. And the rest is all about her. Just doing the routine. She is Oblivious. As they head to Oblivion. We get a look into the everyday, to see what happens when someone leaves.

What happened the night before? Who did what to whom? Do we really care? It doesn’t really matter – just be thankful that they did it. (There is an Isaac Hayes prequel version, but this time I’m saying “No, Chef!)

Webb mines the universal vein in Phoenix. It’s a song about she and me.

But the geography, while purely metaphoric, is the pivot. We know those towns, we know the journey, it’s the only road he could have travelled.

You try it – try singing “By the time I get to Ballina”; “By the time I get to Watford”. You will be begging on the street before you know it.

We’ll come back to this theme.

Roads are long and life is lonely, and relationships are like truckstops.

The first time your hear the song, it’s actually only in verse 2 that we realise he is on the move, not just going to Phoenix. And then verse 3 confirms it. In subsequent listens, it’s us doing the projecting, not Webb.

This great icon of a break-up song is a slow cooker. No boilover, not even a simmer.

It’s the first ever boiled frog song about relationships

Haven’t you ever wondered, just what does that part of the note that isn’t about leaving say? Can you buy some milk and bread, please? I fed the dog?

Forget Leo Sayer, Webb is the genius un-sayer.

It’s not even “show, don’t tell”. It’s just “don’t tell”. Don’t explain, because we all get it, we have all left that guy/girl so many times before.

Wikipedia tells us Webb wrote Phoenix in ‘65, Johnny Rivers kicking off the appearances in the charts. Campbell’s signature version went to Number 2 in the country charts in 1967.

He’s a strange cat, that Jimmy Webb. Music’s Shakespeare, I reckon. Up, Up and Away was one of my favourite songs as a kid, courtesy of the Trans Australian Airlines ad. Up Up and Phoenix won 8 Grammys. Webb wrote half the first 5th Dimension album and pretty much all of the second. Macarthur Park – the genius is that it could be dribble, or genius

He moved to LA in the early 60s with 40 bucks from his dad. I read somewhere the studio chiefs saw his talent straight away and effectively begged him to stay in a caravan and write write write, they would bring him food and the other nutrition a great writer needs.

Webb had a string of hits with Campbell and others like the Supremes.

There was to be no haircut.

(thanks to Wikipedia for the facts.)

Just when did the American Dream sour? I couldn’t find that on Wikipedia. Was it already dead when Pet Sounds came out? Was Vietnam just the symptom, not the disease?

From the early 1800s, west they went, for land, water, gold, for rock and roll. For a share of the dream. Chuck’s Route 66 screams out the roll-call of staging posts as we all hurtle Westward, Ho.

But it’s Chuck’s “The Promised Land” that is the clarion, a bus-bound escape to sun and surf and fun and… anyway, allegedly he wrote it in prison in ‘65. Using an atlas as prompt. I was born the same year. And love atlases. The facts are not connected. They are just coincidences. Like points on a line.

Webb wrote Phoenix the same year, from a different kind of prison. By the time Webb had Campbell getting to Phoenix, it was becoming clear, despite Monterey et al, there was no paradise out there. Or anywhere. ’68 was just the exclamation mark.

So we head back east.

To Watergate. To E Street.

Welcome Back, Kotter.

The road as metaphor is the great exemplar of the cliché that is truth nonetheless. Easy Rider. Kerouac. McCarthy’s dystopian scrounging travelogue. Smokey and the Bandit. Duel. Convoy. TransAmerica. Broken Flowers. Kiss or Kill.

Vanishing Point.

Kowalski cremated the dream when he vanished the Dodge into the concrete.

The Band and CSNY and others tried to channel the essential California Dreamin’, to keep it alive. But it was gone, they could only capture a caricature. The music was to become sclerotic, with the Eagles et al the Walking Musical Dead.

The sense of loss is profound. The Americana movement has been searching for it ever since.

What happens after Oklahoma? Why don’t we care?

See, this is not Tangled Up In A Blue Webb. Dylan would have filled the canvas with so much colour and character and history and incident that we would have lost all interest in “she” and “I”… I married Isis on the 5th day of May, early one morning the sun was shining she was laying in bed, someone’s got it in for me they’re printing stories in the press.

30 verses and 200 encounters with svengalii and shaman later we don’t really care, we’re just thankful we survived the ride.

(Actually, there’s a fair bit of Webb in As I Went Out One Morning and even Watchtower, just fragments of stories, circularities. Might explain the revisiting that goes on.)

In the great works, there is no end. Songs, books, movies. Lines go on to infinity.

It’s only 6 Feet Under that dared to show how the next 80 years of the characters’ lives would pan out. It was fun, sad, shocking, corny but worth a crack. It hasn’t been done since.

A journey without beginning or ending. All about ending. Love’s Never-Ending Story.

Jimmy Webb’s musical was called His Own Dark City. Jimmy Webb was born in Oklahoma. The two facts are not necessarily connected.

Is he going to Nashville? Where do the roads take you?

Is it the Country Boy from that song going home to Tennessee? Is the song about Campbell or Webb? Facts don’t help.

You make your own mindmaps out here.

He leaves her a note on the fridge. He breaks up by post-it-note!

I guess you can’t really blame Webb’s villain…

Tho’ time and time I try to tell her so
She just didn’t know I would really go.

I never can say “goodbye”, said Gloria Gaynor, who clearly wasn’t trying very hard.

By the time I get to Phoenix she’ll be rising.


What a line. Stripped of context, it could be about the mythological Phoenix rising. It could be a simple descriptor – the town of Phoenix will be rising when I get there. We even know a woman called Phoenix, it could be about a person.

But we should have known better with a girl like her. This is Lamentations 101. The sun may never rise on this relationship again. The sun was going down on America. No world peace was going to rise from the fiery ruins.

All that remains is the metronome, time passing as wheels go round and round.

Onward, ever onward, on the road to nowhere.

Midwinter’s Midsummer Blues

Billy Midwinter

Debuted in the Autumn

Changed horses midsummer

He followed the sun

Got kidnapped by Grace

Frizzy Bush and The Coroner

Taken to Surrey

Dual citizen foreigner

He sailed back and forth

Australia, England, Australia

Franchise player, mercenary?

Or the system’s failure?

His initials were WE

So he played for both sides

But he knew where his heart lay

When it was time to die.

more on this unique character here:

What lies beneath the veil of Bradmania

Found this intro to a book Jonesey and I were going to write into the beautiful period of cricket before Bradman, It’s not bad! Dated 2007 so the attacks are on JW Howard, who manages to make other offspinners look good…

It’s hard to see history as a continuing, evolving stream. We like markers, a beginning and, often, and end.

In European terms, “Modern” history, at least as taught in Australian schools, begins with the French revolution in 1789. Before that, all history is “Ancient”. So, 100,000 years of human history in one category, and 216 years in the other.

You might expect that the delimiter would move forward in time with us, making what was once modern now ancient. Look in the mirror and tell me that’s not true.

In cricketing history, we choose the advent of the Bradman phenomenon as the delimiter. His first game in Sydney, for St George against Petersham at Petersham Oval, in November 1926, is the dawn of modern cricket history.

This is not to equate Bradman with Napoleon – his successes too polite, his failures so unromantic. (If we were looking for a parallel, Ian Chappell, the great moderniser, would be a better fit.)

As each year passes, and the amount of information placed in front of us grows, it becomes harder to look back into time and see what has gone before. This is especially the case with cricket, where our ageing memories shrink in direct proportion to the number of tests played, and the decreasing periods between them.

Each wave of history, each crescendo of achievement, works to obscure what has come before. Already we’re being force-fed the Clarke/Watson era as if it was a reality, and we haven’t even laid to rest the Waughs/Warne/Hayden/McGrath/Gilchrist era. Before that was the Border/Simpson era; the Chappell(s) era; the Benaud/Davo era; Bradman’s Invincibles; and Bradman before the war.

To put it into perspective, between 1877 and 1926, 50 summers, Australia played x tests, or . We also capped x players, or … And even outside of the Great War, there were still gaps of up to x months between tests (example)

You can see how Bradman’s complete domination of Australian and world cricket form 1928 to 1949 blots out anything that happened before it. It’s a cricketing blanket fog.

But there was life before Bradman. Just as there was civilisation before Napoleon, and even before the Medicis, Michelangelo, Leonardo.

We talk of how the Renaissance ended the Dark Ages, but in cricket many have called these pre-Bradman years “The Golden age”. Indeed, George Giffen wrote a book of that title.

So to ignore Clem Hill, Archie Jackson, Victor Trumper, Fiery Fred Spofforth, Tibby Cotter or Arthur Mailey would be as heinous as ignoring the Norman Invasion, the Hansa League, the Domesday Book, Magna Carta, not to mention the centuries of enlightenment that flowed out of Africa and Asia, long before Europeans started to get their shit together.

Not to mention Bardsley, Armstrong, Trumble, Murdoch, Noble, the Gregorys.

Yet all we ever seem to hear about, from our Prime Minister down, is Bradman. And what he begat.

There’s history there, lying under the silt and clay, like those skeletons at Lake Mungo. Just waiting to be uncovered.

Looking at that era gives a glimpse of the major issues cricket would face – debates over professionalism, contract disputes, constant rule changes, attempts to globalise the game. There were Aboriginal tours, games of XI vs XXII, and even the ugly face of sectarianism. It was time when it was Ok to be a Trott, and, if you were Midwinter, to change horses mid-summer.

Our problem’s not with Bradman. He WAS the greatest player ever, quite possibly of any sport. But he was not the only great player Australia ever produced. And he certainly wasn’t the most interesting –the metronomic prose of My farewell to cricket, reflecting the robotic nature of his genius, is one of the great cures for insomnia.

Just as history would suffer if we only examined Caesar, Alexander, Napoleon or Churchill, so is cricket the loser from an obsession with the Don.

His star eclipses everything.

But if we could build a Hubble telescope (rumoured to be named after WA’s spare parts paceman of the 1960s, Jim Hubble), to look past our sun back into time and place, surely it’s time to look past the Bradman constellation, to see the mystery and complexity of cricket as it was forming?