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Australia v West Indies Test series: Flat pitches pass ICC test but not everyone is happy

In full swing: Adam Voges bats on and on during day two of the Second Test at the MCG. Photo: Michael DodgeCricket Australia has not received a poor rating for any Test pitch this summer despite widespread criticism curators are producing wickets heavily favoured towards the batsmen.

For the second consecutive season, bowlers have found the going difficult with massive scores the prevailing theme, though four results from five Tests is an improvement on two from four 12 months ago.

It was not a Merry Christmas for the leather-flingers in Melbourne on a track which produced only 26 wickets over four days despite the pitch resembling a green top just moments before the toss.

Less than five sessions later after a quick trim from ground staff, not to mention some poor bowling from the West Indies, Australia amassed 3-551 in their first innings.

Pitches generally become more difficult to bat on as they wear but the Australians believed the MCG strip behaved the opposite. Windies coach Phil Simmons described it as a “batsman’s paradise” after the second day.

So benign was the surface, man of the match Nathan Lyon’s haul of seven wickets was deemed superior to Steve Smith’s tally of 204 runs without dismissal or Usman Khawaja’s knocks of 144 and 56.

The trend towards docile pitches is both a sensitive topic and a cause of concern in Australian cricket.

Of the five Test wickets, only Adelaide offered encouragement to the bowlers due to the extra grass coverage to preserve the pink ball for the day-night Test.

Perth was the scene of arguably the most lop-sided contest between bat and ball. The 1672 runs scored, at a cost of nearly 60 per wicket, was the eighth highest aggregate run tally in Tests, the fourth highest in Australia and also a WACA record.

This week is SCG curator Tom Parker’s chance to buck the trend by producing a pitch asking more of the batsmen.

The venue came under heavy fire two years ago from national coach Darren Lehmann after Australia hammered a demoralised England in three days. In contrast, last summer’s Test against India finished in a stalemate with only 30 wickets falling across the five days at a cost of 52 apiece.

While both captains described the wicket as flat and slow, the pitch was graded as “good” by the ICC, Fairfax Media has learned.

“It was a well prepared pitch. As the game progressed it had variable bounce and moderate turn and there was something in it for every type of bowler,” match referee Roshan Mahanama wrote in his match review.

“Despite this marginal advantage, the batsmen too, were able to make runs. Further, the scores reflect the opportunities presented to batsmen from both teams to play relatively freely and to put up formidable score.”

Western Australia coach Justin Langer said during the Perth Test that flat tracks were “not necessarily conducive to great Australian cricket” and that curators had over-corrected a previous trend of bowler-friendly pitches.

“I will put my hand up – I think the WACA for a few years, maybe the Gabba, maybe Bellerive, went too far the other way,” Langer said.

“Maybe there were times when it was a bit of a lottery for teams batting first.

“Now it’s gone [too far] the other way. We’ve got to try to get the balance.”

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Big Bash League: Melbourne derby on track to set domestic Twenty20 crowd record

The Big Bash League Melbourne derby on Saturday could set a crowd record for domestic Twenty20 cricket, according to Stars all-rounder John Hastings, further magnifying this summer’s seismic shift in popularity to the shortest form of the game.

The Stars and Renegades will renew their rivalry in an MCG blockbuster that officials will be hoping has the venue rocking after the tepid interest and attendance at the Test match between Australia and the West Indies at the same ground this week.

After drawing solid crowds to the first three days of the Boxing Day Test, the fourth day figure dropped to just 7161 on Tuesday, following on from attendances that plummeted to worrying depths in Hobart for the first Test.

More than just the crowd figures, the general feeling that the Melbourne Test bombed as a spectacle continued an over-arching narrative in which Twenty20 has become king with crowds this summer, leaving the game’s longest form to take a back seat.

The attendance record for a BBL match is 52,633 for last year’s semi-final at the Adelaide Oval between the Strikers and the Sydney Sixers.

The crowd for Boxing Day last Saturday was 53,389 fans.

Hastings said the players could feel the rising current underneath the BBL and expected the Stars and Renegades to go close to eclipsing that mark.

“I’d love to see a massive crowd out there and break the domestic record,” Hastings said, unprompted.

“I think the Strikers have nearly sold out Adelaide Oval for New Year’s Eve, so it would be nice to see all the Renegades and all the Stars fans come down and vote with their feet and see if we can get a really big crowd there.”

As Hastings points out, the current BBL record could even be broken before the two teams get to the MCG, with the Adelaide Strikers confirming that their match against the Sixers two days earlier at the Adelaide Oval (listed capacity of 53,583) has been officially sold out.

The biggest crowd the Stars and Renegades have drawn together so far is 46,581, which came in BBL02, back on January 6, 2013 at the MCG.

Crowds have been huge for this BBL, with only one game failing to draw more than 15,000 fans at the box office, and most have been above 20,000.

In terms of this year’s Melbourne derby, whether or not Hastings will recover from a shoulder injury in time to take on the Renegades has emerged as a key on-field storyline for the Stars.

The 30-year-old said he was confident he could overcome his latest setback which occurred at training.

“I’ve been working really hard with the physio and I’m feeling really good,” he said on Wednesday.

“I’ve still got a couple of days to go and so, if it keeps improving, I will be right to go for [Saturday] and the rest of the tournament.”

Battling pain from wear and tear, the potential need for surgery on the shoulder is a factor in the bigger picture for Hastings.

“It’s just going to be one of those things where, if it keeps going well and keeps improving, then hopefully I’ll avoid surgery,” he said.

“But if it keeps popping out, or if it keeps giving me grief, then I will have to get it looked at.”

Complicating that decision, whenever it might arise, is the looming one-day international series against India and then the World Twenty20 in March.

Hastings said he “absolutely” wanted to hold off any call on surgery long enough to ensure his chances of being picked for Australia were not jeopardised.

“First and foremost, I want to make sure I play well for the Melbourne Stars,” he said.

“But in the back of my mind, I know that I’ve played the last one-day game for Australia so hopefully the selectors show a bit of faith.

“I’d love to get another opportunity to play for Australian because I think the timing would be right, and obviously the [World] Twenty20 in India is a big thing as well, so I will be pushing hard for that.”

The hulking paceman admitted to frustration when considering how he was able to get through an entire domestic season in England, but since returning home, had injured himself in training sessions.

“I’ve had a bad run since I’ve got back the last couple of months. But I’ve played five back-to-back seasons now, so the body is probably just starting to tire a little bit,” he said.

“But I still think I am bowling really well and hitting the ball well, I’ve probably just got to stay out of my own way in the nets.”

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Don’t leave Windies out in the cold

As the divide between cricket’s haves and have-nots grows, so does the tendency for the haves to keep their distance from the have-nots.

An Australia-West Indies series used to consist of five Tests and any number of one-day matches. This year they played two Tests in the Caribbean and three here, but not a single one-dayer.

Australia have played Ireland and Afghanistan more often in one-day cricket in the past three years than they have played the Windies. After the Sydney Test, they will be replaced by the money men from India for a five-game one-day series.

Contempt will breed only more unfamiliarity. Australia are scheduled to play with India in a tri-series in the Caribbean next year, but after that will have no more engagement with the West Indies in any form for the life of the future tours program, extending to mid-2019.

When and if the Windies come back to Australia, you imagine it will be for two Tests at most, both in our winter, in the far north of the country, like refugees.

Prima facie, this scant contact makes sense. The Windies are minnows now. Playing and beating them regularly by hundreds of runs will only demoralise them. Best to leave to play with their peers down the shallow end, surely?

That principle seems to have informed the fixture for this tour. The Windies had only one warm-up match, a four-dayer against a kind of colts team in Brisbane, and between Tests an even more pointless meeting with a ghost Victorian team in Geelong, scheduled for two days and rained off after 1½. It means they have had only 13 playing days on this tour.

But a strange thing has happened. The last two of those 13 days have been their best two.

On one they made Australia labour for two sessions to take their last four first-innings wickets. The next, Australia had to work after hours to get them out a second time. It is hardly Everest. It didn’t save them from another mighty beating. But for the first time this summer, they looked like something more than a sham Test team.

The moral is clear: improvement comes from playing up, bruising as it can be. Repeatedly crushing the West Indies might be demoralising for them, but not playing them at all serves them even more poorly. Before the wheel turned, Australia avoided one scheduled tour of the Caribbean for the sake of morale. It was a mistake. Driven by Allan Border, Australia kept going at the Windies until at last they succeeded.

This lesson was apparent in the World Cup earlier this year. Minor leaguers Ireland, Afghanistan and Scotland all had their moments, but they were necessarily fleeting. The talent was there, but not the tempering, and small wonder. Between World Cups, Scotland, for instance, played fewer than 30 one-day internationals, and only three against Test-playing countries. The rest was an endless round against Afghanistan, Ireland and the Netherlands, filling out the fixture but not fleshing out the talent.

Disgracefully, instead of bolstering non-Test teams, the ICC has all but shut them out of the next World Cup.

AFL football is full of stories of players who were marginal at amateur and semi-pro level, but improved quickly when backed by a club and able to train and play full-time with and against the elite. It is the way sport often works.

Cricket now is in the process of deciding what it wants to be – a sport or a club. It claims to be the world’s second most popular sport, but that is disingenuous, based on its popularity in India and Pakistan.

At Test level, its base is narrow and getting narrower. South Africa is the next to be imperilled. Cricket talks about expansion, but acts only to contract.

Cricket was better when the West Indies were good, and would be richer if they could again be competitive. Ditto Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and the so-called associates. NB, ICC: rich has a meaning other than financial.

It is not the fault of Australia, or India or England, that the West Indies have sunk so low, but it is within their power to try to rescue them, and also in their interests. That is also how sport works.

The big three have the money, they can make the time, and now there is the example of a flicker of West Indian life.

As I wrote about Scotland after Australia had smashed them in double-quick time in the World Cup, it is possible to work with the West Indies and, when necessary, to do a job on them at the same time.

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Trade Union royal commission refers Cesar Melhem, Kathy Jackson to prosecutors

Royal Commission release sparks a torrent of Malsplaining Bill Shorten escapes royal commission findings ACTU dismisses royal commission findings as a ‘blatant political exercise’

The Turnbull government will ask the Federal Parliament to urgently pass laws ensuring the integrity of unions and the construction industry following the trade union royal commission handing down its findings.

Among 45 current and former union officers referred to police, the Fair Work Commission or other authorities was Victorian MP Cesar Melhem and former Victorian union boss Kathy Jackson.

Both now face possible criminal prosecutions.

Federal opposition leader Bill Shorten had no findings against him.

In his final report released on Wednesday, Commissioner Dyson Heydon concluded Australian unions were riddled with “widespread” and “deep-seated” misconduct.

Mr Heydon referred Mr Melhem, the Australian Workers Union Victorian secretary until former 2013 and now a state MP, to Victorian prosecutors over a string of accusations relating to corruption and the creation of false invoices.

He also referred Ms Jackson, the former national secretary of the Health Services Union, to prosecutors for possible charges over obtaining property and financial advantage by deception.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the commission’s final report found widespread impropriety among union officials.

“This is not a case of a few rotten apples spoiling the whole barrel,” he said. “There are many union officials, and widespread cultures, of impropriety and malpractice.”

He pledged to introduce laws to reinstate the controversial Australian Building and Construction Commission in the first sitting week of parliament next year.

A police taskforce attached to the royal commission will also be funded to continue investigating referrals and ensure criminal allegations are dealt with.

The moves will make industrial relations a key battleground in the 2016 federal election, with Mr Turnbull pledging to make trade union governance a “major issue” if Labor, the Greens and crossbenchers did not support his new laws.

Mr Heydon’s final report stated that Victoria’s Mr Melhem had been “responsible for numerous actions favouring the interests of the union over the members which may be breaches of legal duty”.

Cesar Melhem at his electorate office after the commission handed down its finding. Photo: Jason South

Mr Melhem on Wednesday said he would fight any allegations brought against him, and would stay on as a state MP. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said.

The commission was set up under former prime minister Tony Abbott in what Labor and unions have dismissed as a political witch-hunt.

In a blistering preamble to the final report, Mr Heydon concluded the commission had probably only uncovered the most egregious examples of misconduct.

“These aberrations cannot be regarded as isolated. They are not the work of a few rogue unions, or a few rogue officials. The misconduct exhibits great variety. It is widespread. It is deep-seated.

“It would be utterly naïve to think that what has been uncovered is anything other than the small tip of an enormous iceberg.”

He said it was clear there was room in the union movement for “louts, thugs, bullies, thieves, perjurers”.

And former Health Services Union national secretary Kathy Jackson, the report found, might have “committed a crime by obtaining $250,000 from an employer by false pretences”.

The commission ran for nearly two years and held 189 days of hearings involving 505 witnesses.

The union movement roundly rejected the findings, with ACTU secretary Dave Oliver branding the inquiry a blatant political stitch-up.

Mr Oliver said the royal commission was not about finding out about potential corruption.

“The royal commission was always about prosecuting an ideological, partisan agenda,” Mr Oliver said.

And Dave Noonan, the national secretary of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union’s construction division, dismissed the royal commission as a multi-million dollar witch hunt.

“In two years of hearings, a royal commission with tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money, an army of of investigators and an army of police would find a few things going wrong in any organisation.”

In all, 45 individuals and organisations were referred for possible charges.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Employment Minister Michaelia Cash strongly indicated that many of the report’s 79 recommendations would be adopted by the government in the form of new laws, amounting to a significant tightening of union regulation.

Premier Daniel Andrews did not front the media on Wednesday, and did not talk with Mr Melhem about the allegations made against the Labor MP by the royal commission.

A spokeswoman for Mr Andrews said the recommendations made by Mr Heydon were “serious and significant”.

Asked what steps would be taken against Mr Melhem as a result of the royal commission’s findings, Mr Andrews’ spokeswoman said: “It is not appropriate to comment on something that may result in court proceedings. In Victoria, under Labor anyone who is found to have acted illegally should feel the full force of the law.”

Victorian opposition industrial relations spokesman Robert Clark demanded Mr Andrews act immediately to remove Mr Melhem from the Labor Party. “He can’t wait for months or years for the courts,” Mr Clark said.

Mr Clark said that, while there were criminal offences possibly arising against Mr Melhem, there were clearly unacceptable practices revealed by the trade union royal commission’s final report.

“If he doesn’t act he is condoning that Cesar Melhem took payments from behind workers’ backs and sold them out in wage negotiations,” Mr Clark said.

Liberal senator Eric Abetz said the report showed there had been “completely unacceptable” and corrupt activity at the highest levels of trade unions.

“Unfortunately, the ACTU and other Labor leaders were not willing to call out corruption for what it is,” he said.

The government’s efforts to re-establish the commission ABCC were blocked in the Senate in August.

With Nicole Hasham

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Carnage continues on highway of heartacheinteractive, photos

Carnage continues on highway of heartache | interactive, photos HORROR STRETCH: Robyn and Max Wake outside their Whittingham dairy farm, the scene of the latest fatality on the New England Highway. Picture: Stuart Scott.

December 29, 2015: Nicole Rayner, 29, is killed in a head-on crash with a utility at Whittingham, about 600 metres north of Range Road. Picture: NBN News.

July 14, 2010: Kevin Fritz West, 36, of Queensland is killed when the car he is a passenger in crosses to the wrong side of the New England Highway at Whittingham and slams into two other vehicles. Picture: Peter Stoop.

April 29, 2009: Kristin Munn, 23, and Tammy White, 20, are killed when Ms Munn performs a U-turn into the path of an oncoming four-wheel-drive on the New England Highway at Whittingham. Picture: Kitty Hill.

July 30, 2008: Cathy Mitchell, 41, is killed in a head-on crash less than a metre from where Lynette Beverly Davis, Glen Russell Lucas and David Peter Lucas are killed three years earlier. Picture: Kitty Hill.

December 3, 2005: Lynette Beverly Davis, Glen Russell Lucas and David Peter Lucas are killed on the New England Highway at Whittingham while a fourth man is critically injured. A Roads and Traffic Authority spokesman says the crash site is not a known black spot. Picture: Robert Whiteman.

August 11, 2004: Kearsley man Robert Ellery, 30, dies when his Holden Rodeo crosses to wrong side of the New England Highway and collides head-on with a cattle truck. Picture: Supplied.

TweetFacebookThe latest crash occurred a little further north of many of the other fatalities, with crash experts still investigating what happened in the moments before the head-on about 600 metres north of Range Road.

Ms Rayner was travelling south from Muswellbrook to Newcastle to see her sister while the Volkswagon four-wheel drive was heading north to Singleton where three of the four occupants lived.

The four men suffered relatively minor injuries and were taken to John Hunter Hospital for treatment.

The highway was closed for several hours.

“They have to find an alternative route for the traffic travelling up the highway,’’ Mrs Wake said.

“The traffic is just getting busier and busier – I was actually shocked last night about how quiet it was with the highway shut.

“Sometimes we can’t hear the television.’’

Police and local authorities have constantly called for improvements to the road, successfully getting some improvements after a series of fatalities in 2010.

In 1999, two people were killed in a head-on before a triple-fatality in 2005 took the lives of Glenn Lucas, 45, his stepson David Lucas, 40, and 63-year-old Lynette Davis.

Three years later Cathy Mitchell, 41, is killed in a head-on crash only one metre from where the three had died.

In 2010, Queenslander Kevin West, 36, died before a Mudgee woman, 63, was killed when he car travelled into the path of a truck at the intersection of the Golden Highway and the New England Highway.