Wednesday, August 26, 2015

the kumars at no. 57.40

Here's a quick round-up of statistical nuggetry on the retirement of two admirably nuggety left-handers, Kumar Sangakkara of Sri Lanka and Shivnarine Chanderpaul of the West Indies. Slightly different circumstances surrounding their departures: Sangakkara's planned in advance and allowing the tearful valedictory bat-wave on his departure from the crease for the last time, Chanderpaul's enforced by West Indies management (rather like Brian Lara before him) after a run of low scores, and denying him the chance to go out on his own terms, valedictory bat-wave and all.

By an odd coincidence Sangakkara, Lara and Chanderpaul occupy three adjacent spots (5th, 6th and 7th) on the overall Test run-scorers list, which means that they are also the 1st, 2nd and 3rd most prolific left-handed batsmen in Test history - Allan Border, Alastair Cook, Graeme Smith, Matthew Hayden, David Gower, Garry Sobers and Justin Langer make up the rest of the top ten. Since Langer is 30th overall on the list, you can see that exactly one-third of the top 30 batsmen are left-handed, which gives you an insight into their prevalence in comparison to the prevalence of left-handedness in the population at large (about 10%). There is a catch here, though, which is that not all players who bat left-handed are left-handed in the traditional sense, i.e. doing the "normal" stuff like writing with their left hand. Gower and Lara, for instance, were left-handed batsman and right-handed writers (and occasional bowlers); conversely, Tendulkar batted and bowled right-handed and wrote with his left hand.

Both retirements also necessitate some revision of my obscure hierarchy of batting averages: Sangakkara ends Jacques Kallis' 18-month tenure on the overall list by replacing him. It's worth re-iterating the point of these lists: for each person appearing on it, no-one who has come later has finished with a higher average.

PlayerYearAverage
Kumar Sangakkara201557.40
Garfield Sobers197457.78
Ken Barrington196858.67
Don Bradman194899.94

As you can see, Sangakkara wasn't that far from removing Garry Sobers from the list - before his last two matches against India he was averaging 58.04, and only needed to score 133 runs in his last match (rather than the 50 he actually did score) to finish with an average in excess of Sobers'. The 325 runs he would have needed to score to displace Ken Barrington would have been a tall order, and the 9240 runs he would have needed to score to displace Don Bradman definitely would have been.. Nonetheless he collapses the Sri Lankan list to a single entry, just as Kallis and Sachin Tendulkar did for their respective countries on their retirements. I should add, just for completeness, that Sangakkara's old mucker Mahela Jayawardene would have been occupying the Sri Lankan list on his own since his retirement in 2014 if I'd been scrupulous about keeping things up-to-date.

Chanderpaul still talks up his chances of a return to Test cricket, but I think we're pretty safe in assuming that that won't happen, just as we are for Kevin Pietersen of England. I therefore think it's safe to include them on their respective countries' lists. Chanderpaul displaces his old team-mate Ramnaresh Sarwan for West Indies, and Pietersen displaces everyone post-Boycott for England. Michael Clarke's retirement at the end of the recent Ashes series slots him in at the end of the Australian list.

England

PlayerYearAverage
Kevin Pietersen201447.28
Geoff Boycott198247.72
Ted Dexter196847.89
Ken Barrington196858.67
Herbert Sutcliffe193560.73

Australia

PlayerYearAverage
Michael Clarke201549.10
Mike Hussey201351.52
Ricky Ponting201251.85
Greg Chappell198453.86
Don Bradman194899.94

South Africa

PlayerYearAverage
Jacques Kallis201355.37

India

PlayerYearAverage
Sachin Tendulkar201353.78

Pakistan

PlayerYearAverage
Mohammad Yousuf201052.29
Javed Miandad199352.57

Sri Lanka

PlayerYearAverage
Kumar Sangakkara201557.40

New Zealand

PlayerYearAverage
Stephen Fleming200840.06
Mark Richardson200444.77
Martin Crowe199545.36

West Indies

PlayerYearAverage
Shivnarine Chanderpaul201451.37
Brian Lara200652.88
Gary Sobers197457.78
Everton Weekes195858.61

Zimbabwe

PlayerYearAverage
Andy Flower200251.54

Monday, August 17, 2015

will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I shoot 64

Another major, another round which equalled the major championship scoring record for an individual round but didn't break it. You might expect that a major tournament which resulted in a new record for the overall finishing score in relation to par would have been a good candidate for seeing a new single-round record as well, but we didn't get one. Best round of the week was Hiroshi Iwata's 63 on Friday, which necessitates another revision to my list of major-championship 63s. Here's the up-to-date list:

PlayerTournamentYearRoundResultWinner
Johnny MillerUS Open1973finalWONJohnny Miller
Bruce CramptonUSPGA1975second2ndJack Nicklaus
Mark HayesOpen1977secondtied 9thTom Watson
Jack NicklausUS Open1980firstWONJack Nicklaus
Tom WeiskopfUS Open1980first37thJack Nicklaus
Isao AokiOpen1980thirdtied 12thTom Watson
Raymond FloydUSPGA1982firstWONRaymond Floyd
Gary PlayerUSPGA1984secondtied 2ndLee Trevino
Nick PriceMasters1986third5thJack Nicklaus
Greg NormanOpen1986secondWONGreg Norman
Paul BroadhurstOpen1990thirdtied 12thNick Faldo
Jodie MuddOpen1991finaltied 5thIan Baker-Finch
Nick FaldoOpen1993second2ndGreg Norman
Payne StewartOpen1993final12thGreg Norman
Vijay SinghUSPGA1993second4thPaul Azinger
Michael BradleyUSPGA1995firsttied 54thSteve Elkington
Brad FaxonUSPGA1995final5thSteve Elkington
Greg NormanMasters1996first2ndNick Faldo
Jose Maria OlazabalUSPGA2000thirdtied 4thTiger Woods
Mark O’MearaUSPGA2001secondtied 22ndDavid Toms
Vijay SinghUS Open2003secondtied 20thJim Furyk
Thomas BjornUSPGA2005thirdtied 2ndPhil Mickelson
Tiger WoodsUSPGA2007secondWONTiger Woods
Rory McIlroyOpen2010firsttied 3rdLouis Oosthuizen
Steve Stricker USPGA2011firsttied 12thKeegan Bradley
Jason Dufner USPGA2013secondWONJason Dufner
Hiroshi Iwata USPGA2015secondtied 21stJason Day

A couple of further thoughts occurred to me: firstly that you can - broadly speaking - make a 63 in two ways: either by being on for a 64 and then holing a birdie putt at the last, or by needing a par for a 63 and getting it. Iwata was in the second group, and he got there by getting up and down for par from short of the 18th green. But there must be a subset of players in the second group who two-putted for a par, and therefore had a putt for a 62. I know, for instance, that the most recent two players on the list, Stricker and Dufner, fall into this category, and both putts were very makeable ones. These two interesting articles suggest that there were people who had shorter putts than that for 62s: Mark Hayes in 1977 had a six-footer for par on the last and missed, Greg Norman three-putted the last green in 1986, the crucial putt being from around five feet, and most surprisingly of all the great Jack Nicklaus had a putt of no more than two or three feet for a birdie on the 18th at Baltusrol in 1980 and missed it. That's one criterion for "closeness" to a 62, another would be how close what turned out to be the penultimate putt came to going in. Johnny Miller in 1973, Tiger Woods in 2007 and Nick Price in 1986 all had putts that got a pretty good portion of the hole before lipping out; Price claims his did a full circuit of the hole and still stayed out, though that story may have grown a bit in the telling, as war stories do.

My second thought was: at some point this 27-item list is going to be collapsed to a single item, whenever (as is pretty much bound to happen eventually) someone holes one of those putts for a 62 (or something even lower). But there must have been a point just before the 1973 US Open when there was a similar multiple-item list in existence featuring a whole host of players who'd shot 64 in a major championship. I wonder if it's possible to reconstruct that list?

Well, probably, but I'm not about to present you with anything that I'm claiming is complete or definitive. What I can tell you is as follows:
  • The first player to shoot 64 in a major championship was Lloyd Mangrum in the first round of the 1940 Masters, where he eventually finished second.
  • The first player to shoot 64 at the US Open was Lee Mackey jr in the first round in 1950; he followed that with 81-75-77 and eventually finished 25th.
  • The first player to shoot 64 at the USPGA was Bobby Nichols in the first round in 1964; he went on to win the tournament.
  • The man Nichols beat into second place in 1964, Jack Nicklaus, got there by shooting a 64 in the final round.
  • In the very next major, the 1965 Masters, Nicklaus shot another 64, in the third round this time, and went on to win the tournament.
  • Mark Hayes' 63 in the second round of the 1977 Open set a new record for that championship, beating the venerable previous record of 65 set by Henry Cotton in 1934. So what that means is that there was never a 64 shot at the Open that would have qualified for the list - needless to say there have been plenty of Open 64s subsequent to Hayes' 63, but of course they don't count.
So all of those would have been on the list, but I couldn't say whether there would have been any others. Chances are there probably were, but without trawling through the entire database of major championship results I can't be sure. It is almost certain, however, that Jack Nicklaus will be the only person to have featured on both lists. Obviously it follows that before the 1940 Masters there would have been a similar list of 65s with at least one entry on it, Cotton's round at the Open in 1934. Good luck with that one.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

incidental music spot of the day

The Stake by the Steve Miller Band during Sky Sports' coverage of the USPGA championship from Whistling Straits. Cracking tune, mildly controversial at the time because of its riff's close resemblance to that of Rocky Mountain Way by Joe Walsh, released a few years earlier. Here's a live rendition of The Stake from March of this year which demonstrates that despite being nearly 72 Miller a) still knows how to rock out and b) has more hair than I do.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

celebrity lookeylikey of the day

Diminutive Swedish golfer and 2015 Memorial Tournament winner David Lingmerth, and comedian, playwright and screenwriter Patrick Marber.


Thursday, August 06, 2015

great big number twos

I was interested to discover which songs had kept the five Queen number 2 hits I referred to in the previous post off the top slot, and, having done that, made the unwarranted inference that you'd be interested too. Well, whatever, I've done the research now so you're getting it anyway.
  • Killer Queen spent two weeks at number two, the weeks of 10th and 17th November 1974, for both of which it was kept off the top spot by David Essex's Gonna Make You A Star.
  • Somebody To Love was kept off the top spot by Showaddywaddy's Under The Moon Of Love for one week, 5th December 1976.
  • The double A-side of We Are The Champions and We Will Rock You spent three weeks at number 2, and was kept off the top spot for the first two of those (13th November and 20th November 1977) by Abba's Name Of The Game, and then, just as Name Of The Game dropped down the chart the following week, was leapfrogged by the dreaded Mull Of Kintyre.
  • Crazy Little Thing Called Love spent two weeks at number 2, 18th and 25th November 1979, for both of which it was kept off the top spot by Dr Hook's When You're In Love With A Beautiful Woman
  • Radio Ga Ga spent two weeks at number 2, 5th and 12th February 1984, for both of which it was kept off the top spot by Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Relax
Personally I wouldn't feel able to say that any of the number 1's listed there were better than the song they kept at number 2, but there's a long and glorious history of this in the UK charts, from The Beatles' Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever double A-side being thwarted by Englebert Humperdinck's Please Release Me to Ultravox's Vienna meeting a similar fate at the hands of Joe Dolce Music Theatre's Shaddap You Face. This particular injustice was voted the worst of all time in a poll by Radio 2 a couple of years ago. 

Monday, August 03, 2015

beelzebub has a blogging platform put aside for me

So there we were, the wife and I, all prepared to have an early night and watch something edifying on the TV, maybe something from our extensive DVD collection like Citizen Kane or The Seventh Seal or maybe the entire Three Colours trilogy. But, instead, we got caught up watching The Nation's Favourite Queen Song, like a high society couple on the way to a romantic dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant being lured into an alleyway by a syphilitic tramp waving a lukewarm KFC bargain bucket laced with crack.

Now obviously you'll have instant recall of my blog posts from eight years ago, so you'll recall this one wherein I cited Queen's A Day At The Races as one of the key albums of my formative years (i.e. my parents owned a copy). That album came out in 1976; my period of proper full-on Queenmania was a bit later and probably ran for two or three years between about 1983 and 1985. During that period I bought every album they'd released up to that point (yeah, even the Flash Gordon soundtrack). The Works was the only proper album that came out during that period and its major singles Radio Ga Ga and I Want To Break Free were probably the band's last great moments before the inevitable decline set in - One Vision and A Kind Of Magic are fine songs, but the accompanying album has a lot of fairly uninspiring filler off the Highlander soundtrack, and by the time of their next proper album The Miracle in 1989 I'd gone to university and had my head turned good and proper by the musical delights on offer.

Anyway, the point of mentioning this sort of TV show is always to bitch about the selections that were made, so here goes:
  • Firstly, there's far too much stuff from after A Kind Of Magic - my (possibly controversial) view is that pretty much everything after 1986 is best forgotten about, so 3 out of 20 from this period is too much, especially when two of them (The Show Must Go On and These Are The Days Of Our Lives) are clearly unavoidably associated with Freddie Mercury's death, and therefore immune from criticism.
  • I would have had Somebody To Love in my top three, or even two, or even possibly one. Number ten is definitely too low, anyway.
  • Christ knows what Who Wants To Live Forever is doing in this company; I can only assume this is another one that people have decided they like because the lyrical theme foreshadows Mercury's eventual death in some way, rather than because it's, y'know, any good. It's A Hard Life is a pretty ordinary song to be in a top 20 as well, especially at the expense of, say, Fat Bottomed Girls, which despite being toe-curlingly politically incorrect is irresistibly good fun.
  • Some minor quibbles about the order of other entries: I Want To Break Free being above Killer Queen is a bit of a nonsense, as is Under Pressure being above Another One Bites The Dust. Nice to see both entries from this list getting a look in, although to be honest Under Pressure is a bit of a horrible mess of a song. I've always thought Don't Stop Me Now was over-rated as well, but I think people like that whole I Will Survive/I Am What I Am slightly camp self-empowerment thing.
  • Since it was almost inevitable that Bohemian Rhapsody would be number one, the race was really to see what would make number two, and as it happens I think We Will Rock You is an excellent choice. The sparse instrumentation and brevity (just under two minutes) mean it's worn better over the years than some of the more overblown stuff. Obviously the magic bit is at the end, where we get a little whine of guitar drone through the last chorus, the big powerchord, and then an "all right" from Mercury as he hands the song over to Brian May's closing solo. Even the solo itself is interesting (guitar nerdery alert), since as well as being a little masterpiece of brevity it's an example of a different, cleaner, more chiming guitar sound May used on 1977's News Of The World and pretty much nowhere else. The criminally underrated minor single Spread Your Wings features a similar sound (and clearly had its video shot on the same day) as well as featuring the principal guitar solo right at the end of the song. By the next album (Don't Stop Me Now, for instance) we were back to the bigger, syrupy, chorus-y sound, as well as having the solo in the middle of the song. 
  • Speaking of things getting to number two, Queen are an interesting example of a group who had a lot of number 2 hits but precious few number 1's, during their main period, anyway. Between 1974 and 1984 they had five number 2's (Killer Queen, Somebody To Love, We Are The Champions/We Will Rock You, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Radio Ga Ga), and two number 1's, Bohemian Rhapsody and Under Pressure, and you could argue that's only one-and-a-half, really. A piece of associated trivia: Creedence Clearwater Revival had five number 2 hits on the US singles charts, but never a number 1, although Bad Moon Rising was number 1 in the UK in 1969.

land of confuzhion

The English language is a great thing, don't get me wrong, but it has its limitations. Do you mean funny ha ha or funny peculiar? Do you mean hot as in high temperature or hot as in it's got a lot of chillies in it? There's that sort of thing, but there's also some more basic stuff like being able to unambiguously render certain sounds. So any word with a "th" at the start, for instance, relies solely on prior knowledge and perhaps some context to determine whether it's a soft "th" (as in, say, "thought" or "theme") or a hard one (as in, say, "this" or "that"), whereas, for instance, Welsh can easily distinguish between them by using "th" for the soft one and "dd" for the hard ("voiced", more accurately) one.

The example which came up today was as follows: like many offices the one I work in doesn't enforce a rigid suit-and-tie regime, but equally (dress down Fridays aside) you can't just rock up in jeans and a hilarious T-shirt with some near-the-knuckle slogan on it. Some sort of casual shirt/chinos combo is the usual strategy, and the term "business casual" has sprung up to describe it. That's all fine, but there's a natural tendency to want to abbreviate, and the obvious abbreviation here is just to retain the first syllable of each word. So that would be biz, erm....well, there's a problem here, isn't there? It turns out there is no letter combination that will unambiguously render the sound of the "s" from the middle of "casual".

Those who have tried to do it have taken one of a number of approaches; well, I say "a number", I think there are three, as follows:
  • "biz cas" - just shorten "casual" without any thought to the resulting pronunciation; this is obviously highly unsatisfactory;
  • "biz caj" - I see what they've tried to do here, but it looks weird and the sound still isn't quite right;
  • "biz caz" - probably the closest sound-wise, but still not quite right, unless you happen to pronounce "casual" as "caz-yoo-wul" in which case a) this is going to be the one for you and b) what is wrong with you?
I think the answer is probably to take a cue from our Russian friends and adopt the use of "zh" to render this particular consonant sound. So you'd render it as "biz cazh", as in: Marshal Zhukov and Dr. Zhivago had a bit of leizh time, so they dressed up in biz cazh, much to their mutual pleazh.

Friday, July 31, 2015

celebrity lookeylikey of the day

Singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright and comic actress Sally Phillips. Pictures carefully chosen as they only really look alike when they're smiling, largely because they've both got a short upper lip frenulum which produces a little point in the middle of the top lip when they do a full teeth-revealing grin. I spot these little things so that you don't have to.


Here's Martha Wainwright doing a very slinky version of When The Day is Short on the David Letterman show.

the last book I read

Our Kind Of Traitor by John le Carré.

Perry Makepeace and Gail Perkins have got precious little to complain about, on the face of it. He is an Oxford University lecturer, and she is an up-and-coming-lawyer, and they've no problem affording to swan off for a holiday in Antigua, which is where we find them when the book opens.

Perry is a pretty good amateur tennis player, and has inadvertently caught the eye of a possible opponent, a mysterious, bald, portly Russian called Dima, who challenges him to a match. While Dima is quite a lot better at tennis than one might have anticipated, Perry still wins, at which point it turns out that the tennis match wasn't really the point of the whole exercise - the point being that Perry seemed to Dima like a quintessential fair-play English gentleman type to make his big confession to: that he wants to defect to the west and bring his extended family with him, an exchange sweetened by the usual handover of secrets, principally secrets relating to his extensive criminal activities as a money-launderer for the Russian mafia, and, who knows, maybe the Russian government as well.

Of course Perry isn't an actual spy, he's just some guy, so he's got to find a way of communicating what he's found out to the British intelligence services. He seems to find this remarkably easy, considering they don't exactly advertise in the Yellow Pages, and so he and Gail are placed in the care of Luke and Hector who are supposedly going to organise Dima's transit to the UK and freedom, as well as a similar escape route for his family, comprising his wife, two grown-up sons, teenage daughter Natasha, and the two young daughters of his protégé Misha, recently murdered by the Russian mafia. And of course the Russian mafia would have an interest in a bit of the old murdering if they ever got wind of Dima's intentions.

An elaborate plan is cooked up which involves Gail and Perry meeting Dima again in Paris, as if by chance, including attending the 2009 French Open final, while he is there to sign over some of his money-laundering rights to some younger successors, and thereby quite likely his own death warrant as well. The challenge for the spooks (and for Perry and Gail) is to spirit away Dima before the Russian mob can get to him, and park him and his extended family in a safe house in Switzerland where they can await the official summons to come to the UK (Dima first, then the rest once it's been established that he has useful knowledge to offer) once the relevant groundwork has been done. However, getting the official ticks in the appropriate boxes turns out to be a bit more challenging than the spooks had hoped, and even when the official word has apparently been given there's still the chance of the whole operation being sabotaged by an intervention from the Russian mafia. Or was it the UK government?

Comparing this book with the only other le Carré in this list, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, is quite instructive: that one was written at the height of the Cold War (1963) and for all its moral ambiguity and the grubby moral compromises of the major characters there's still a pretty robust certainty that the Brits are the good guys and the Russians are the enemy. By the time Our Kind Of Traitor was published (2010) the Cold War is over and those moral certainties have fallen away, indeed the whole idea of loyalty to one's own country up to the point of sacrificing one's own life for it seems faintly ridiculous. So instead what motivates the major characters here is more prosaic things like money, sex, self-interest and the desire to protect one's family.

It seems to me that le Carré is a bit more interested in people here, too - apart from the two big set pieces at Roland Garros and in the hotel in Berne, most of the narrative interest is with the characters and their background and motivations. There is a bit of a jarring shift of viewpoint after the first hundred pages or so, which have focused on Perry and Gail, to a whole load of background information about Luke, which is fine but brings the plot to a bit of a halt while it's happening. And I was left somewhat unsatisfied by the ending - I like a bit of ambiguity as much as the next man, but this left too many unanswered questions for me. It's a bit like Infinite Jest in that there's a dawning realisation, as the reader contemplates the slim number of pages remaining, that the narrative arc isn't going to be completed and the loose ends aren't going to be tied up in the way you might want them to be.

I'd say, those caveats aside, that this is a bit warmer, more welcoming and easier to read than the Cold War era novels like The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, since it doesn't have that book's grim East German setting or its focus on the minutiae of espionage, although le Carré can't resist throwing in a bit of cloak-and-dagger stuff in the subterranean spa at Roland Garros. He's probably less highly-regarded as a writer than he should be, which is almost certainly down to the same sort of genre snobbery that regards science fiction writing with a snort of sniffy disdain. For all the excellence of some of the novels which have won the Booker Prize, for instance, over the years, there's a certain kind of novel which gets on the shortlist, and science fiction and espionage novels aren't it.

There have been a lot of films of le Carré novels over the years, and apparently Our Kind Of Traitor is soon to join that list, as there's a film scheduled for imminent release starring Ewan MacGregor as Perry, Naomie Harris as Gail and various other big names. Variety, in their inimitable style, describe it as a "contempo spy suspenser", which I suppose is about right.