Monday Melbourne: CLII, April 2007
Russell Degnan

I know why more skyscrapers like this aren't built. I just happen to think 'they' are wrong. Taken March 2003

Melbourne Town 30th April, 2007 17:18:10   [#] [0 comments] 

Innovation and the World Cup
Russell Degnan

So, the final. After 50 games, we've reached a conclusion that could have been predicted after just four. The only two teams with the depth and dimensions of play to carry their form through-out two months of seemingly endless cricket will decide the prize. One by one the other test sides have departed.

India and Pakistan were a surprise, but the record of minnows in the past is of both crushing defeats and unexpected wins. Those two sides, with a lack of professionalism that lies in stark contrast to the seriousness with which they approach the game should have done better.

Good cup competitions carry some momentum to the final, but this one has been halting. It is a surprise then, that no team seems to have shifted gear as it has progressed. Australia and Sri Lanka started fast, and will hopefully finish the same way. England and the West Indies started at a crawl and only raised their game to farewell each other.

Good cup competitions also offer something new. And it has been to the further detriment of this one that, to date, no side has taken the game another step further. This is doubly surprising given the remarkable games that preceeded it.

It has not always been so. The 1987 tournament was won by an Australian team who perfected both their fielding, and the use of all-rounders to increase their batting depth. Waugh and O'Donnell pioneered the subtle arts of both defensive bowling and attacking batting, and one of the worst test teams in the world carried away the cup.

By 1992 England - who are always professional even as they refuse to take one-day cricket seriously - had taken this tactic to the ultimate extreme, playing no less than five all-rounders at times. England were a good side then, but they lost twice. Once to the brilliance of Pakistan, and once by the tactical nous of Martin Crowe.

The first, still underused innovation was to open with Dipak Patel, an innocuous off-spinner who nevertheless proved unhittable on dead New Zealand pitches. With Mushtaq Ahmed leading the way for Pakistan, and Warne and Muralitharan shortly to arrive on the scene, spin was back in one-dayers.

The second, while generally credited to Sri Lanka's 1996 win, was to send in Mark Greatbatch to take advantage of the fielding restrictions. In a world cup where most openers had strike-rates in the low 60s, Greatbatch's was 87.92. Except for Greatbatch no batsman hit more than one six per game. He hit 14 in seven. The value of these tactics came to the fore against England. The in-form team of the world cup was not merely beaten but crushed. In a time when most games went to the last few overs, New Zealand won with 9 to spare.

It is something of an irony - or an English bias - that Sri Lanka's world cup victory is remembered for fireworks at the top of the order, since, the mauling of England apart, the victory was as much to do with the bowling of their part-time spinners in the middle overs, and the batting of Aravinda de Silva as their attack. Nevertheless by 1999 all teams had concluded the same thing (ironically, the very thing that Pakistan won the 1992 world cup doing): it was no longer possible to build up pressure from a big score; your best bowlers had to get wickets early in order to protect the all-rounders in the middle overs. Australia did this best, on the back of McGrath, and then Warne, with South Africa, using Donald and Pollock a close second.

By 2003 though, Michael Bevan had almost single handedly changed the art of a chase. Inzaman ul Haq and Lance Klusener had, in times past, propelled their teams to improbable victories even as the required run rate tipped 8 and 9 an over. But Bevan turned this into an art form. No target was safe unless he was out. Where once teams reverted to mindless slogging to raise their total, Bevan, then later, Ponting, Martyn and then other nations, turned the middle overs into an anatomy lesson, disecting fields and running up enormous totals with a mix of controlled, well placed hitting.

Unsurprisingly, this change has coincided with a view that one-day games are predictable, boring, and frequently one-sided. The ability of players to chase any total has meant that a bowling side needs to not only get early wickets, but must bowl a side out completely (or at least 8 or 9 down) in order to win. This latter point is drawn out by the evidence, of not only this world cup, but previous ones as well, where no major team has lost a chase with less than 7 wickets down in the past 20 years (rain affected games excepted).

What this means for the final is clear. The winner will be the team who bowls the other out (or the chasing team if neither do). But what about one-day cricket generally.

In an attempt to lessen the boredom, administrators have extended the fielding restrictions for more overs, and forced players into attacking fielding positions. Yet, by the reckoning of the modern game this is irrelevant. If a team needs wickets to win, a team that tried to stop runs will lose. The fielding restrictions have, if anything, merely made it hard for captains to recognise the importance of old-fashioned things like slips or close-in fielders.

But also, the longest running restriction of all - the one that limits bowlers to a fifth of the innings length - is a major impediment to attacking cricket. It forces captains to use their "fifth" bowler in the middle of the innings, pushing them onto the defensive, and allowing chasing teams to regroup or attack. Australia - despite repeatedly failed to capitalise on early wickets and subsequently losing games they shouldn't have - benefit further from the restrictions because their fifth bowler is better than anyone else's (yes, even Watson).

One-day cricket after this world cup should not be furthered restricted - as is the remit of adminsitrators - but freed. Most fielding and all bowling restrictions should be removed. It may not make games any closer, but at least we will see good captains try and make them so.

Idle Summers 28th April, 2007 21:14:56   [#] [4 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CLI, April 2007
Russell Degnan

Slowly, the Eureka Tower - crap name and all - becomes part of the skyline consciousness. Taken February 2007

Melbourne Town 20th April, 2007 22:15:10   [#] [3 comments] 

Asserting the obvious
Russell Degnan

Planning is quite astonishing for the number of things said without any - or with very little - supporting evidence. Partly, this is a consequence of its complexity. Very few things can genuinely be proven. Public policy making is diminished however, by the persistence of arguments barely more than assertions, propogated with hat tipping to some non-existent consensus. The actions of government, taken for a variety of reasons, become painted as poorly thought out, backward, politicised, or indentured to some all-powerful lobby group - normally 'roads'.

I'm not about to argue that those factors are not important. But they are not behind the persistent problems of our transport and planning systems. Those problems are integral to the structure of the decision making, and the nature of the problem itself. The failure of government is not to plan to improve those structures; it is only marginally a failure of decision making within them.

For commentators who wish to argue that it is a failure of governance though, the existence of some straight forward seeingly logical answers is sufficient to make their claims. It therefore matters, that these self evident claims are largely wrong, and worth puncturing them when commentators like Kenneth Davidson try and use them to shift public policy to their own pet projects.

Starting from the top, is the persistent claim that the government is contradicting its own policy:

"The thrust of Melbourne 2030 (M2030) was to protect Melbourne's liveability in the context of a population expected to grow by a million people, by concentrating major change in growth centres built on an expanded and upgraded rail network."

Ostensibly this is true, because Melbourne 2030 headlines itself as a wonderful sustainable, dense, public transport city. Read the document though, and the headlines are no more than government spin. The transport directions do indeed mention improving the Principle Public Transport Network. But they do so without touching rail, which is reserved for the Activity Centres, instead:

"The rest of the network - some 40 per cent - will be added mainly through new cross-town bus routes."

Melbourne 2030 also promotes cycling, walking, better freight links (more roads), better use of existing infrastructure (less infrastructure), a better environment, more centralisation, less centralisation... good things we all agree on. And more or less nothing where they are directly contradictory. A close reading of Melbourne 2030 allows you to argue for anything. No government policy could possibly be at odds with it, because no government policy isn't covered by it.

That some people actually oppose Melburne 2030, is both a testament to the Bracks Government's ability to deflect blame from their own policies onto a strategic (bureaucratic) planning document. An an indictment of their ability to recognise changes to the density of the city as being contingent on by social, geographical and economic conditions.

It is Davidson's swallowing of the offerings put forward by the PTUA and Bicycle Victoria that really demonstrate the problem though:

"The result of rail privatisation is poorer service, higher fares disguised by fare restructures, and subsidies paid to the franchisees at twice the level paid when the service was a public monopoly."

Comparing two eras is a difficult problem, but practically no figures show poorer service. Peter Parker demolishes the argument that things were more reliable under the Met. But privatisation seems to have made no difference either way, since the important factor here is not who runs it, but how much money goes in.

Determining who runs our transport system is a task in itself. A substantial number of functions reside not in the private operators (who are, as the title implies, just operators), but in the DOI, including the setting of fares, service levels, and the development of the network through new rolling stock and new infrastructure. Subsidy comparisons given changes in Melbourne over the past two decades are ludicrous, carrying no more weight than an alternative history scenario. That the government is correctly criticised for many things should make this obvious, but there seems to be a logical disconnect between blaming the government for a lack of new infrastructure on the one hand, and arguing the problem lies in a privatised network on the other.

Not that Davidson spares the government when they try and build infrastructure:

"The Bracks Government propagates the myth that rail is constrained by lack of capacity. Thus extra services to Dandenong must wait for an evaluation of a third track when extra services could be provided with reorganised timetables and a modest passing loop."

This is trotted out by the PTUA on a regular basis arguing that incompetence is to blame for Melbourne's problems. The statistic Davidson used (comparing transport usage across eras) is too, but as even a cursory examination of the map used should demonstrate, the congestion problems lie precisely where the network didn't have frequent peak hour trains, and where large numbers of passengers now begin their journeys (that is, Oakleigh and beyond). As this extended discussion demonstrates, there are many legitimate reasons why a third rail to Dandenong is probably1 the better option (not least because the PTUA still promotes building a railway extension to Rowville).

Not that the PTUA is the only organisation producing statistics of questionable merit. Davidson is equally naive when he takes his 'facts' from Bicycle Victoria. Commenting on Tim Pallas's decision not to close a lane of traffic on St. Kilda Rd. to bicycles, he says:

"His decision ignores research that shows that both modes of transport benefit from being separated.

"Bicycle usage is inhibited by cyclists' justifiable fear of being struck by a speeding car or colliding with opening doors of stationary cars.

Yet what research is this? Extensive research (by Forester, amongst others) shows that bicycle lanes are not much safer than riding on the road. Furthermore, lanes can deceive cyclists into thinking they are safer than are - including from stationary cars - particularly at intersections where most accidents are and most cycling lanes aren't. On-road cycling lanes are mosly psychological in benefit, which is not say they aren't worthwhile, merely that no government ever removes traffic lanes to accomodate them, because in no way are they that worthwhile.

In reality, justifying the removal of lanes of traffic for cycling is a non-starter, but this doesn't stop Davidson trying:

"The decision is not even good politics, as increased road space devoted to bicycles will reduce congestion in the central business district, and postpone the need for congestion taxes, as bicycles have outsold cars in the past seven years."

I am not sure what he is arguing at the start here. He is either saying that replacing a lane of traffic with bikes will reduce congestion, or that cycling lanes have greater throughput than cars. The former may be true, depending on where the bottlenecks are. If they are on St. Kilda Rd. (and they may be, but I would guess the Princess Bridge) then congestion will be increased on St. Kilda Rd. and reduced in the city. If the city is the bottleneck, then it may make little difference, unless Davidson believes cycling will somehow make a significant indent in Melbourne's congestion problem.

His last statement implies that he does, simultaneously entertaining the latter interpretation. This is clearly wrong. Cycling along St. Kilda Rd. makes up a tiny proportion of the number of city commuters. A lane of traffic shifts ten times the number of commuters a lane of cyclists would, and the chance of a significant shift in mode share occuring in the near future is practically zero.

That bicycles are outselling cars is an interesting statistic, but this has been true for many, many years, and the only change in congestion that has occured has been an increase within people's sheds where they mostly sit.

[1] I say probably here because I don't think extending the railway system generally is a sustainable solution. But in the absence of a serious long-term plan this is sufficient.

Sterner Matters 13th April, 2007 21:15:18   [#] [0 comments]