Lindop tips apprentice to be at her best in Diamond

Resuming … Glencadam Gold scores for Nash Rawiller at Broadmeadow in September.IN NOVEMBER Clare Lindop was quietly excited she had found a smart two-year-old which could have a promising career.
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Lindop, one of South Australia’s leading jockeys, has always been a hard marker and doesn’t get overwhelmed by a one-off gallop.

However, this time the youngster gave her the right feel and the juvenile was entered for a barrier trial at Morphettville. Hence Lindop was astounded when another filly flew past her in the middle stages to win comfortably.

On pulling up, Lindop leaned over to Lauren Stojakovic and asked the mature-age apprentice who this nuggetty but brilliant baby was. ”With a broad smile, Lauren said to me, ‘This is a filly called Miracles Of Life and, yes, she is very good’ and I said, ‘You’re not wrong,”’ Lindop said.

But Lindop was convinced the trial at Morphettville wasn’t the first hint that Miracles Of Life had speed. The two-time Adelaide premiership winner knew much work had gone into Miracles Of Life before then.

At Caulfield, Miracles Of Life is a $2.90 favourite to win Victoria’s top two-year-olds’ race – the $1 million Blue Diamond Stakes (1200 metres).

Argument has been raging over whether a two-kilogram-claiming apprentice at the age of 29 is capable of taking on the best jockeys in Victoria in a group 1 event.

Lindop sees Stojakovic in action every Saturday at Morphettville and is convinced connections have made the right decision. ”It’s funny, whenever a good horse comes from Adelaide to Melbourne the call is to put a Melbourne jockey on and perhaps in some cases that is correct, but not this time,” she said.

”Lauren has a perfect and complete feel for Miracles Of Life. She’s been with her every day and understands every little quirky part of her make-up. In the case of major two-year-old races like this, connections have made the right decision. It’s a two-year-old race where horses can be erratic because basically they’re very new to what they are doing, and an intimate understanding of a horse’s habits is just vital whereas tactics aren’t as important.

”It’s a different story if you’re coming over for a race like the Caulfield Cup … when you’re riding a seasoned racehorse and you’ve got to plan tactics and perhaps have a ‘B’ plan if things don’t go right. But in a Blue Diamond, it’s over 1200 metres and your main job as a jockey is to make your horse comfortable and relaxed, more than other races when they get older.”

When asked if she’d given Stojakovic advice, Lindop said: ”I think she’s had more than enough advice, you can get too much information. I’ve just said, ‘You know your filly’ and ‘enjoy the moment’.

”There are some big stables involved in the Blue Diamond and they’ll pull a few sneaky gear changes, which happens every year, but … she can use her barrier one to glide up and just sit on the pace.

”She’ll need a little luck on the turn into the straight to get a run but, again, we can’t forget they’re two-year-olds, who more than likely will roll or fan off the track, that’s why the importance of having them relaxed and happy for you is more important than what the ones around you are doing.”

Lindop has a full and exciting book of rides at Morphettville on Saturday. She has ridden four group 1 winners and won nearly every feature race on the South Australian calendar. Lindop is hoping Stojakovic keeps her feet on the ground and enjoys the moment.

”I’ve got great confidence in her, sure things can go wrong but things go wrong for the very best jockeys in Australia at times, so full credit to all those involved keeping Lauren on in such a race,” she said.

At 4pm on Saturday, in the tiny women jockeys’ room, Lindop will be cheering home a good friend who has worked hard for this day.

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It’s dust in the wind as Clarke passes the Don

CHENNAI: If Michael Clarke’s heart skipped a beat at the toss of the coin in the middle of M.A. Chidambaram Stadium, he could be excused. Batting third on this south Indian dustbowl, against a coterie of hungry spinners, will be difficult enough. Chasing even 100 to win in the final innings would have been about as easy as a foreigner driving a hire car in Chenani peak hour.
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Thankfully for Australia’s captain, it went his way, a win revealed once the specially minted Board of Control for Cricket in India coin was excavated from the red soil. As the pitch began to break out inside the first hour of the first Test on Friday, it was drummed home as no small victory.

A team of barefoot ground staff, armed with straw brooms, swept the barren deck for much of the session breaks, emitting a large puff of orange dust with each pointless swipe.

Australia should barely have been surprised; they have been here for two weeks and the only sign of life were the odd grass clippings sprinkled on the deck like coriander leaves on a stir fry.

Australia’s radical decision to include only the one specialist spinner, Nathan Lyon, in their XI was met with bemusement in some sections here, and the finished product of the BCCI pitches and grounds committee demonstrated why. India chose three – Harbajan Singh, in his 100th Test, Ravichandran Ashwin and the all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy opener.

The results were immediate: they were on by the sixth over of the day and by five minutes after lunch Ashwin had four wickets as Australia, after an enterprising start, lost 2-5 to fall to 4-131.

The tall right-arm orthodox claimed the prized wickets of Shane Watson (28) and David Warner (59), both leg-before, with his first seven balls after the break. Watson was left stranded by a dud bounce, while Warner was beaten by a darting off-break. If they had any complaints about the decisions, it was no good – India’s lack of trust in ball-tracking technology means there is no decision review system here.

Given the television pictures they could have seen in their hotel rooms of the Hyderabad bombings on the eve of the match, the Australians could be forgiven for being a tad shaky on day one regardless of the treacherous conditions laid out for them. They did not appear the slightest bit on edge in the first session of the series, however, racing to three figures before lunch led by Warner’s half-century.

Australia’s head coach, Mickey Arthur, had instructed his batsmen to take on India’s spin-oriented attack in the way that Kevin Pietersen did so effectively for England late last year.

They did exactly that from the beginning, with Ed Cowan channelling his partner Warner with an aggressive 29 that featured four boundaries and a six and ended in most uncharacteristic fashion: stumped, trying to skip down the wicket to Ashwin. His replacement, Phillip Hughes, never looked comfortable in his brief stay before chopping Ashwin onto his stumps trying to cut the off-spinner to the rope for six.

Warner and Watson, swapping helmets for baggy green caps, did not back off, though, and during their 54-run partnership Australia’s innings began to look settled once again.

Ashwin undid them both in quick time and Australia’s hopes were for the latest instance left largely with Clarke.

Like most Clarke innings of late, there were records, too.

An early single took his Test runs total past Sir Donald Bradman’s tally, and with a subsequent four from Ashwin he notched 7000 for the career.

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Hunt for Aboriginal talent starts at the Top End

Field of Dreamtime … the Tennant Creek and Alice Springs teams in the Imparja Cup.AT THE age of 47, Digger has seen better days. But with his Tennant Creek side in trouble against the old foe, Alice Springs, he strides proudly to the crease, his long, wiry beard barely moving despite the late afternoon breeze. For 20 years he’s padded up to face his arch-rivals in this annual clash. Now he wields the willow like a fighting stick, a series of dashing cut shots drawing roars of approval from the modest crowd at Traeger Park. The legs don’t move as fast as they used to, and when there’s a chance of a run out, he dives full length and barely scrapes into the crease. The crowd erupts. Even the Alice Springs fans jump to their feet and, as one, will him home.
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A modest 10 runs seems like a spectacular century, and as Digger trudges back to the dressing room the onlookers rise once more, showing their appreciation of an Imparja Cup legend.

As the game unfolded on Wednesday, a thoughtful Ross Williams watched on, remembering the day back in 1993 when it all started.

”I was actually sitting in the Tennant Creek Hotel and one of my cousins, Mervyn Franey, went through. We had a quiet beer – it was 48 degrees outside. I said to him, ‘You’re a member of the Imparja board of directors – is it possible that we can have a game between Tennant Creek and Alice Springs? I said most of us are families and a lot of our younger relatives and cousins haven’t met their family in Alice and it’d be a good way to get the connections going together again.’ ”

The pair had a friendly wager on which team would win and the Imparja Cup was born.

Twenty years later and 500 indigenous players descend on Alice Springs from around the country, competing in community and state competitions. But behind the celebrations there is a universal acknowledgement that the indigenous population has been largely ignored by Australian cricket since 1868, when the first Australian touring side, made up entirely of Aborigines, set sail for England.

Of the 432 baggy greens handed to Australian men, only one has been worn by a player acknowledging indigenous heritage – Jason Gillespie. The former Test fast bowler said he always knew of his background but did not realise its significance until it was revealed in a newspaper report.

”I must admit when I was first alerted to that fact [I was the only indigenous Test player] it absolutely blew me away but then I thought about it a lot more,” Gillespie said. ”Cricket Australia would love nothing more than an indigenous player and, with all due respect to myself, they want a full-blooded indigenous Australian playing in the Test side. That would be their ultimate goal, but how do you get there?”

The women’s game hasn’t fared much better. In 1958, South Australian fast bowler Faith Thomas opened the bowling for Australia against England and took the wicket of the English captain with a searing yorker that sent middle stump cartwheeling straight over the keeper’s head. Now 80, Thomas remains the sole indigenous woman to represent her country, but it is not the baggy green that stirs her pride.

”We’ve got the maroon and white one, the first team that went to England, I call that the black fella’s baggy green,” Thomas said. ”So when I go to schools I take that and talk about the first Aboriginal team, the first cricket team that went to England, and the kids have a choice of putting on whichever cap they want, and most of them go for that one … the Aboriginal baggy green, and that really makes me proud you know, that they want to sit on my lap and have their photo taken.”

The case of Eddie Gilbert illustrates the difficulties indigenous cricketers have faced. The Queensland fast bowler terrorised opposition batsmen in the 1930s and once famously dismissed Donald Bradman for a duck. Bradman compared Gilbert’s pace to Harold Larwood and several players considered him the fastest bowler of the time. But state laws forced Gilbert to obtain special permission to travel from his settlement, there were suggestions of an illegal bowling action, and it is widely believed prevailing racist attitudes played a part in preventing him playing for Australia.

If Gilbert were to emerge today, it would be a different story. Cricket Australia officials consider it a significant goal to increase the number of indigenous cricketers in state and national competitions. Early in the week, National Talent Manager Greg Chappell spent two days casting his eye over the current crop of state representative players.

”Cricket Australia’s quite serious about it,” Chappell said. ”There’s a big contingent from different departments here this week, not least of which is game development, which is really important because we’ve got to get indigenous kids involved in the game as early as possible”

Chappell is frank about the game’s failure in the past to produce elite indigenous players. ”None of us are happy about the fact that we’re only aware of one indigenous player having played Test cricket and that’s Jason Gillespie,” he said. ”We’ve had a number, probably a handful, that have played first-class cricket, a couple playing currently in Josh Lalor and Daniel Christian. It’s nowhere near enough when you consider the talent pool that’s there.”

Cricket Australia’s commitment to improve indigenous participation leaves it trailing far behind sports such as AFL and NRL, which have long been embraced by Aborigines. There are no Ben Barbas or Buddy Franklins at the highest level of cricket to inspire the next generation to pick up a bat or ball and, particularly in remote areas, high-quality equipment and facilities are scarce and expensive.

As Gillespie noted: ”The cost of just putting together a basic kit to play cricket – it’s immense. You’ve got your bat, your pads, gloves, whites, and shoes. Footy – you put a pair of boots on and you’ve got 40 kids running around and off you go. You don’t even need boots, you just start booting a footy around.”

Over the past week, representatives from several communities said they wanted more game development officers, indigenous officers, and regular clinics and competitions for children.

”Instead of just having cricket clinics during Imparja Cup, it’d be good to see more cricket development officers go out to more of the communities and spend more time with the kids, coaching, running the clinics,” Williams said.

Perhaps one answer lies north of Darwin, on the Tiwi Islands. Last year the Tiwi Islands put together a team to compete in the Imparja Cup’s community division, under the guidance of local sports and recreation officer Mick Rees.

”We basically put out onto the table what cricket was available, what formats and said, ‘What do you want to do?’ We didn’t go there and say, ‘This is cricket, this is how you play it,’ ” Rees said. ”We worked out the best format to suit was a super eights format that the guys play at Imparja Cup because we identified early that, if we’re going to be successful in building some sort of pathway, we need it to lead to high performance.”

A year on, player numbers have tripled, the Department of Sport and Recreation runs regular cricket clinics in schools, and a high-performance pathway has emerged.

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Positive manner proves a boon for O’hAilpin

SETANTA O’hAilpin knew he was in trouble the moment he came to earth and heard a massive crack in his knee.
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The Bankstown-born Irishman, playing his first game for Greater Western Sydney against his old club, had been in a ruck contest with Carlton’s Matthew Kreuzer but a tangle of legs knocked him off balance in mid-air.

Unfortunately for O’hAilpin, his left knee was not braced to cope with the pressure of his 105-kilogram frame and it buckled on landing, badly damaging his anterior cruciate ligament – and sparking fears for his career.

”At 29, doing my ACL and being out of contract, they’re the things that go through your head,” O’hAilpin said as he prepares to make his comeback this weekend against Sydney and Carlton.

Those fears were allayed by a chat with Giants football manager Graeme Allan, who reassured O’hAilpin he had not reached the end of the road.

That O’hAilpin, a fringe player for much of his eight years and 80-game career with the Blues, has been given another one-year deal by the Giants is testament to the big man’s character.

Despite his dire circumstances, O’hAilpin refused to spend the rest of the season wallowing in self-pity. Not only did he throw himself into a rigorous rehabilitation program, but wanted to do everything in his power to support his young teammates, many of whom were in their debut season.

”I couldn’t change what had been done,” O’hAilpin said. ”It would have been selfish for me to put my head down and worry about myself. These kids, it was their first season and getting around them as much as I could was vital.”

So he worked with the Giants’ reserves side, pushed his teammates in the gym and even hit the road with Kevin Sheedy as the master coach spruiked the club around the state.

”It’s easy to do your weights and rehab and stay in the gym all year round, but when you’re out there you get a fresh lease of life,” O’hAilpin said.

He has recently been appointed an AFL multicultural ambassador, which involves visits to schools, community football clubs and government and multicultural organisations.

It has given O’hAilpin another reminder of how privileged he is to be involved in professional sport – a message his mother has constantly drummed into him.

”You get caught up in football but outside there’s a real world and you see how real people live,” O’hAilpin says.

Back in Ireland, which O’hAilpin still calls home, many of his friends have been hit hard by the global financial crisis. He has mates who have lost their jobs and been forced to move back in with their parents.

”You hear stories about jobs being cut and it’s really tough,” O’hAilpin says.

”I really feel for them. If I hadn’t had this opportunity, I’d be in the same boat as them.

”My mum always told me sport is something you dream of doing … but you have to understand it will come to an end.

”I’m a firm believer of respecting and being humble to everyone because no matter what you do in life, we’re all the same.

”No matter if I’m a footballer, you’re a builder or a plumber, we’re all the same.

”One minute you can be a footballer and next minute you can be delisted and not have a job.”

That could have been O’hAilpin’s plight this year had the Giants not recognised his value to their young list.

”Sure there were times he was beating himself up at home but the way he came to the club with the energy and excitement, it showed to our young kids you can have the worst day in the world but you still have to do the job,” says Giants welfare manager Craig Lambert. ”He’s such a caring person, he makes you a better club before he even plays.”

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Swan scooped up RBA’s $500m to shore up budget

TREASURER Wayne Swan defied objections from the Reserve Bank governor and siphoned half the central bank’s profits into the Budget bottom line to fulfil his political commitment to achieve a surplus.
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The Reserve Bank governor, Glenn Stevens, told a parliamentary inquiry that he wrote to Mr Swan, asking him to direct all of the bank’s $1 billion 2011-12 profit to its critically short reserve fund, needed to absorb changes in the value of the bank’s foreign currency holdings. Normally worth around $6 billion, the fund had dwindled to $2 billion.

”It’s a key part of our capital. It has been depleted considerably by the effects of the rising exchange rate,” Mr Stevens told the inquiry. ”I believe the prudent course is to rebuild it as quickly as we can but I am not subject to the other pressures that the government is.”

Mr Swan denied the request, and insisted on taking half the profit as a dividend to help achieve his promise of a budget surplus this financial year.

That promise has since been dumped, leading to the opposition mounting a sustained attack on the government’s fiscal credibility.

”In the end it was his prerogative,” Mr Stevens said. ”He made a judgment, and I had to accept that judgment.”

The federal government has come under fire for its management of the budget amid revelations the mining tax has so far raised only a fraction of the predicted $2 billion in revenue this year.

As revealed by Fairfax Media, the government was also warned by the Industry Department and the Tax Office that its $1 billion predicted saving from slashing the research and development concession for large corporations was also dubious.

Even so, the governor backed Mr Swan’s decision to walk away from the commitment on the budget surplus, saying if the Treasurer had persisted he could have damaged the economy.

”I think the surplus was always going to be hard to achieve this year,” he said.

”You could imagine a world where the intention to achieve a surplus led to further cuts in spending and increases in taxes in the next few months. That would have hurt the economy. There would have been nothing we could do with interest rates to offset that in the short term.

”We would have ended up with a weaker economy.”

Mr Stevens doubted that the Prime Minister’s decision to call the election early had done any economic damage, saying such claims were rarely backed by evidence. If needed, he would move interest rates during the campaign without regard for the consequences, as in 2007.

Mr Stevens told the inquiry the next move in interest rates was far more likely to be down than up, but said he wasn’t in a hurry. ”There is a good deal of interest rate stimulus in the pipeline. It is having an effect. Housing prices have been rising since last May. Share prices have also risen quite significantly, and if anything by a little more than in comparable markets overseas.”

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National school reform in tatters

VICTORIA has torpedoed the Gillard government’s school reforms, announcing plans to introduce its own plan for education funding amid fears the Commonwealth proposal would leave many Victorian schools significantly worse off.
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The federal government has said states would receive no extra funding if they refused to sign up to the federal plan, warning Victoria would miss out on $1.2 billion over five years.

But the Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu, says there was a better way to improve his state’s schools in line with the principles of the Gonski review.

Despite Ms Gillard’s repeated pledge that no school would lose a dollar under the Commonwealth’s proposals, Mr Baillieu said some schools would lose their anticipated funding over the next decade and many schools would receive less generous indexation.

”More concerning, the Commonwealth government has linked increases to funding with greater intervention in the decision making of schools and school systems, stifling schools’ ability to respond to parents, communities and local school system leaders.

”This one-size-fits-all approach to funding and standards poses a significant risk to the achievements of, and ongoing improvements to, the Victorian school system.”

So far the NSW government has maintained in-principle support for the reforms, but has repeatedly expressed frustration that a funding model has not yet been finalised. ”NSW remains committed to the Gonski principles but we are still waiting on details and an offer from the Commonwealth,” a spokesman said.

The Association for Independent Schools of NSW this week said 40 per cent of independent schools in NSW would be worse off under the most recently discussed model, while others would gain significantly. It threatened to start briefing schools on confidential discussions if a model was not made public soon.

The consequences of opting out of the federal model were formally presented to state ministers at a meeting on February 1. They were warned they would receive no additional funding, that National Partnerships’ money was not guaranteed and that they should expect a lower rate of Average Government School Recurrent Costs.

Victoria plans to phase in its own new model from next year, which it says is consistent with the Gonski recommendations that funding should be needs-based.

The model includes extra funding for disadvantaged students – similar to a voucher system – where the money follows the student to whatever school they choose to attend, regardless of whether public or private.

The Victorian government has suggested the other states and territories could adopt a similar approach, with specific funding reforms to target their areas of greatest need.

The Victorian government intends to put its alternative model, which would cost an extra $400 million a year to implement, to Ms Gillard before the Council of Australian Governments meeting in April.

The announcement comes as Ms Gillard told the Australian Education Union’s national conference on Friday that ”the big test” for the biggest reform to schools’ policy in 40 years would come at April’s COAG meeting.

”I hope the premiers will rise to the challenge,” she said. ”I can say we are much closer to the end than the beginning. In fact, we’re at the pointy end.”

Under the Commonwealth ‘s proposed reforms every student would be allocated a base level of funding – known as the Schooling Resource Standard – with additional loadings for indigenous students, students with a disability and those from poor backgrounds or with limited English skills.

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Kevin 13?

THE problem with this story is no one knows how it ends. Not the protagonists, who are still writing it. Not the pundits, stenographers to a car crash. Will Kevin Rudd come back to the Labor leadership? Will Julia Gillard – the toughest cookie we’ve possibly ever seen in The Lodge – see the threat off once again?
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In times such as this, where anything could happen, it’s best to stick with some knowns. What can we say of the present? Internal trust and cohesion in the government is badly fractured, if not broken.

Proponents and opponents of change are briefing against one another apparently without restraint. Someone this week thought it reasonable to leak against the $1 billion industry plan that was meant to be a building block of recovery ahead of the election campaign – a potent signifier of the extent of the current dysfunction, if one was necessary.

The media cycle is thundering out of control. Labor must not only manage the complex truths associated with the difficulties in which it finds itself but also manage the perceptions of the current state of play; some wild and blatantly mischievous, some devastatingly accurate.

”Ruddmentum” appeared unstoppable at the start of the week, an inelegant, squalling panic prompted by a bad Nielsen poll, which exploded into the news cycle. Timing was everything. The bad poll was only the sum of recent parts: the scrappy opening to the political year, the underwhelming performance of the mining tax, which served to reinforce perceptions that Labor can’t manage the economy despite strong fundamentals. But it dropped like a portent of looming, irrevocable disaster.

By week’s end, cabinet figures had rallied to balance not only the public messages, but the internal sentiment. Camp Kevin yanked its head in, concerned about the consequences of too much undirected chatter too soon. The Labor ship was drifting in a sea of irresolution, but not listing quite so violently.

Yet the central problem persists. What to do, whether there is anything to do, and if there’s something to do, how and when to do it? There are also deeper questions to be considered, and these are sometimes overlooked in the rush to parse who said what on The Project. Principally the question is: what are the consequences of acting versus not acting? This is a question the party comprehensively failed to ask itself in the June 2010 leadership coup. It has paid the price ever since.

Given his enduring popularity, his strengths as a performer on new and old media, his power and potential potency as a circuit-breaker, the logic of a return to Kevin Rudd seems unassailable, until you imagine what is actually required to execute it, and the ultimate consequences for Labor if peace can’t be declared, finally, once and for all; if leadership change became just another stuff-up.

A GRAND bargain. That’s the scale of ambition in the most considered quarters of Camp Kevin. Not simply cosmetic change – a new figurehead presiding over the old, riven fundamentals – but a game change.

The game-change scenario is a co-ordinated move against Gillard at the cabinet level: a majority of Gillard backers, not just the oft-mentioned Bill Shorten, switching camps and being prepared to make the shift decisive. By that they mean the obvious: Julia Gillard goes and really goes, agreeing not to recontest at the election; and Wayne Swan too.

”The consequences are there. Julia can’t stay. Wayne can’t stay,” insists one Rudd man. Labor would also likely lose its Senate leader: it’s hard to imagine Communications Minister Stephen Conroy serving in a Rudd ministry, given the extent of their mutual antipathy. Possibly there would be other departures, and, of course, elevations. Chris Bowen is said to have been promised Treasury if Rudd returns. Presumably the new-broom philosophy would be applied liberally.

The point of this transaction is drawing the line. Someone wins and someone loses, and agrees they’ve lost. The situation since the last leadership battle has been irresolution and cycles of retribution, some of them petty, some spectacular. The two combatants have remained on their feet, and like that quaint yet powerful Harry Potter scenario, neither truly lives while the other survives.

But the idea of Gillard and Swan departing the field for Rudd is, to put it mildly, hard to get your head around. A third candidate maybe, but Kevin? Colleagues close to both laugh at the prospect. Talk is swirling at the moment of a deal to accommodate the two. Without concrete details, it’s hard to assess how serious or viable that proposition actually is.

Colleagues close to Gillard and Swan insist the current talk of accommodation is deliberate, dastardly misinformation. As one person puts it: ”People don’t ride off into the sunset here while the knight rides on. That’s not how this happens.”

Gillard supporters also insist the current activity is centred on building a credible illusion of momentum both with the media, which plays along in brainless hourly blips in order to feed the insatiable 24/7 beast that prioritises immediacy and ”newness” over the coherence of the story, and to create panic in the caucus. One Gillard loyalist declares proponents of the Rudd comeback are ”constantly on the phone stampeding people, telling lies to create panic”. Left unsaid in the critique is the obvious: the nasty habit of panic becoming self-fulfilling.

People on both sides of the Gillard/Rudd conundrum can agree at least conceptually that a shoulder tap followed by the dignified exit could be a mechanism to make leadership change a genuine circuit-breaker rather than a hypothetical one. But it seems unlikely to occur in the real world. Whether a majority of influential ministers with divergent relationships, loyalties and personal ambitions would switch in concert to Rudd (a person who even fervent supporters are not convinced can change his governing spots). Whether a duo as pathologically tough and uncompromising as Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan could suddenly accept Kevin is the answer to Labor’s problems, given their (and others’) abiding belief that he, in fact, created many of the problems during the chaotic first term.

What of the Kevin factor? His loyal supporters say Rudd could lift Labor’s vote by as much as 15 per cent. His popularity with the public has been extremely resilient, and he’s a nimble communicator capable of playing the game in an era where left-field and off-Broadway delivers you a guarantee of centre-stage. Almost uniquely among our current political class, Kevin Rudd intuits how to speak to voters in an era when the conventional modes of political communication are breaking down.

Research done by Nielsen last September suggested Rudd could boost Labor’s primary vote by 10 per cent (taking votes from the Coalition, Greens and independents) – but pollster John Stirton heavily qualifies the number.

He says the boost applies only in a ”magic scenario” – a bloodless coup where everyone agrees leadership change is necessary, Kevin Rudd is the only viable candidate, and everyone rallies behind the leader. In this case, the leader would have also needed to have learnt a thing or two from past mistakes.

Magic sometimes happens. It happened when Alexander Downer handed over the leadership of the Liberal Party to John Howard in opposition. That was precisely the scenario. Asked whether history is likely to repeat itself in 2013, Stirton sounds dubious. ”And in the absence of the magical transition, it’s hard to imagine leadership change not doing significant damage,” he says.

High risk it is. Fresh in a number of minds is the horror show of the 2010 election campaign, which was characterised by acts of deliberate destabilisation. The fear is history would repeat itself – a new cycle of retribution, another slide backwards.

There are other practical problems. Rudd would no doubt position himself as a leader capable of taking on the various cancers afflicting the party – a desirable development given the radioactive murk leaching out of the corruption inquiry in New South Wales, and the Health Services Union imbroglio. That culture of institutionalised abhorrence needs to be rooted out, and Rudd is sufficiently independent-minded to want to see it done.

Electoral plus, plus for morality, necessary for Labor to sustain itself as a viable movement into the future – but then the obvious conundrum: how to campaign without the comfort of guaranteed institutional support. Would trade unions kick in the cash and resources for a leader intent on a post-election jihad?

The Australian Workers Union made a great show of public support for Julia Gillard this past week. AWU boss Paul Howes pledged 110 per cent support for the current occupant of The Lodge, then escalated, not exactly helpfully, given the internal tinderbox. ”Nothing upsets me more lately than opening newspapers on a daily or weekly basis and reading anonymous quotes from ‘senior Labor sources’ undermining our Prime Minister, undermining the leadership of our movement and this country. What a bunch of gutless pricks they are that they can’t put their names to what they are saying,” Howes declared in a closing address to a union shindig on the Gold Coast.

Prime Minister Gillard this week genuflected to Howes and to powerbroker Bill Ludwig. Not a great look from the vantage point of the general public, to be sure, a deep curtsy to the faceless men, but a gesture reflecting some basic realities of the relationship. (Some Rudd folks, of course, counsel journalists too inclined to take people at their word that union leaders professing undying loyalty to Labor leaders have been known to turn on a dime.)

And then there’s another issue: concern in some quarters that the problem isn’t so much the messenger but the message. Some ministers have looked on with concern as the strategy has contracted to rallying the base. Says one: ”Class warfare isn’t modern Labor. Is it the Scot [Julia Gillard’s communications director John McTernan]? Is it Swannie [Treasurer Wayne Swan]? Narrowing the perception of what we stand for isn’t the way to win. We need the bolder agenda. Why aren’t we talking the language of the modern economy?”

Gillard this week publicly eschewed a ”progressive” agenda, asserting Labor’s historical ties with working people. The tit-for-tat with the Greens prompted by Christine Milne’s decision this week to end the formal agreement will doubtless exacerbate a trend we have seen open in the past few days: both parties narrowcasting to the base. Not everybody is happy with that direction, but the answer to that question may not be Kevin Rudd. Not necessarily – not without gestures of contrition that mean something. Not without a decisive sequence of events rendering the status quo untenable. Not without a decisive shift that could yet happen, but hasn’t yet – not on the balance of the evidence.

One minister says: ”Is the problem the leader or the leadership agenda? I don’t know where it ends – all I know is it can’t go on like this.”

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The pool ripple that made waves

IT WOULD have been simpler for everyone if the Stilnox six had been made to write 100 lines – ”I must not be a naughty boy” – and told that they could not go to the pool again until they had handed it in, and that their parents would get a letter. It was that important, and that unimportant.
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In Manchester for a training camp just before the Olympic Games, the relay team decided one night to ”bond”, as per ”tradition”. Repeated as often as they were yesterday – presumably on advice – these two words took on a sinister meaning, doubtlessly fuelling longstanding theories about the repressed homosexuality of sportsmen in teams.

In context, they amounted to no more than code for an episode of schoolboy high jinks. They went to dinner and a movie together. They did not drink alcohol. Five of them took one Stilnox tablet each, naughtily, knowing that it had recently been banned by the Australian Olympic Committee.

Stilnox is not a half-brother to heroin, as implied by one ”j’accuse” after another in the media briefing. It is a prescription

sleeping medication, not on WADA’s outlaw list, but reflexively declared off limits by the AOC weeks before the Games because of Grant Hackett’s revelation he was addicted to it late in his career. One tablet is the prescribed adult dose. This was an Olympic athlete’s equivalent of a smoke behind the shelter shed.

Subsequently, the six made prank calls to teammates, knocked on doors, behaved ”childishly” and ”ridiculously”, each admitted in his turn, in a voice that made it sound as if he was owning up to child molestation. They were all in bed by 10.30pm.

This is to take them at their word, disputed by some teammates. But the six surely knew that however evasive they had been previously, however ”immature”, their every word this day would be tested, and if proved false would mean the end of their careers. As it is, there will be two inquiries, one by Swimming Australia’s integrity panel, one by the AOC. This has become a matter for the entire school board.

In the hazing from the floor on Friday, one question stood out: if the team had been even a little more successful, would this assembly have been called at all? Swimming Australia president Barclay Nettlefold insisted it was one of many measures.

Plainly, as indicated by two reports this week, something went fundamentally awry with the Australian swimming team in England, something ”toxic”, something requiring root and branch surgery, but it would be too convenient to sheet it all home to one mazy night in Manchester more than a week before the Games. James Magnussen maintained the tomfoolery did not affect his performance. Others say they were affected. Who knows?

Friday’s briefing was as much a question as an answer. Perhaps the Stilnox six behaved like schoolboys because Olympic athletes tend to be treated like schoolkids, with privileges and protections, but also a requirement to work within rules, unquestioningly. Unsurprisingly, even among high-profile and highly paid sportspeople, a schoolkid culture develops, with its own code, for better and worse.

On Friday, they were naughty schoolboys, standing up at assembly, apologising in a pro forma way, taking their medicine, squirming. One reporter asked those who had admitted to Swimming Australia that they had taken Stilnox to put up their hands. Two did, sheepishly. The number was not so startling as the fact they so meekly complied.

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Clarke passes Bradman thanks to umpire error

HOW THE FIRST DAY UNFOLDED
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CHENNAI: India refuse to budge on the vexed issue of umpiring technology, and their distrust is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Their stubborn opposition to the decision-review system, however, has already come back to bite them in the first Test against Australia.If there was one batsman they did not want to be let off the hook at the MA Chidambaram Stadium it was Michael Clarke.Far and away the world’s most untouchable scorer of runs during an unforgettable 2012 he has proven time and again – via three double centuries and a triple in one calendar year – that when he gets a start, he is difficult to stop.A 23rd Test century, and third in India, proved him as good as anyone against spin, with the footwork of a tap dancer.  The Australian captain’s reprieve came on Friday just before tea when, on 39, he appeared to be caught, via an inside edge, at short leg by Cheteshwara Pujura. He was given not out by Sri Lankan umpire Kumar Dharmasena, a decision that soon after was confirmed as horribly wrong by replays and a Snicko reading that showed up so clearly it was as if Clarke had clubbed the ball out of the ground.MS Dhoni, India’s captain, had no avenue for review, as is the case throughout this series. Their own choice, they can have no complaint.However, the Clarke let-off hurt more deeply as he and an impressive Moises Henriques (68), on Test debut, produced a resurrection mission on a first innings in which Australia had fallen from an enterprising 2-126 to be languishing at 5-153. The pair put on 151 together, and while India struck again late, a day-one total of 7-316 was decidedly more healthy than it might have been.Ravichandran Ashwin, the tall off-spinner who learnt his craft with a tennis ball on the streets of Chennai, was the bowler who was cost Clarke’s wicket by the umpiring blunder. It would have been his and the team’s sixth of the day, having already secured a five-wicket haul in a session and a bit as he frightened the life out of Australia’s middle order. He would get his half dozen later on, claiming 6-88, but he might well trade them all in for Clarke.”It was quite clear for me he hit the ball, that’s why we all went up,” Ashwin said. “At the end of the day it does happen, the umpire used to be an off-spinner himself.”Henriques added: “I actually thought ‘what are these guys appealing for?’ To me at first glance and the umpire must have thought it because we were only a metre away from each other, it looked like it just glanced his thigh pad and went up. But then once I saw the big screen it was a slightly different opinion. We didn’t really speak about it out in the middle but after he had a look at the replay at the tea break I think he realised he was a little bit lucky.”It was not Clarke’s first win of the day. Victory at the toss – the word ‘bat’ could not come out of his mouth fast enough – was just as important.  Batting third on this south Indian dustbowl, against a coterie of hungry spinners, could be difficult enough. Chasing even 100 to win in the final innings would have been about as easy as a foreigner driving a hire car in Chenani peak hour.If Ashwin’s success was not plain enough, the ground staff’s activities in the session breaks spelled out just how specially prepared this pitch was for India’s three spinners. Armed with straw brooms, they swept the red soil deck at length, emitting a large plume of orange dust with each pointless swipe. The only sign of life on it for the last fortnight were the odd grass clippings sprinkled on the deck like coriander leaves on a stir fry.Australia will try their own luck with reverse swing and variable bounce when they take the ball, and there was plenty of the latter around on day one to inspire encouragement.Ashwin had a bowling average of 52 in India’s series defeat to England last year but on his home track was a different performer, particularly in an almost unplayable period just after lunch. He trapped Shane Watson for 28 with the fourth ball of the session, then in his next over, had David Warner beaten on 59, also leg-before, ending a smart innings from the Australian opener – his fifth Test fifty in six innings.Australia were in strife until Clarke stepped in, as is almost custom these days, and saved the day, in the process surpassing 7000 Test runs and Sir Donald Bradman’s career tally.He was ably supported by Henriques, whose selection was wholly justified by a mature half-century ended shortly before stumps, by Ashwin.Clarke reached three figures once again with a straight drive for four right on stumps. If it seemed the wicket was less hostile for him than the rest that was misleading. In reality, his batting was just better.

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Henriques happy with debut knock

CHENNAI: Moises Henriques says he has seen enough from a spin-friendly south Indian wicket to suggest Australia’s plan to bank on reverse swing in the first Test can come to fruition.
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On debut, the NSW 26-year-old’s first-day 68 helped captain Michael Clarke (103 not out) rescue the tourists’ first innings against an onslaught from local hero Ravichandran Ashwin. While the off-spinner dominated Henriques said India’s two seamers, Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, had extracted enough reverse swing from the dusty deck to provide plenty of encouragement for Australia’s bowlers.

Clarke resumes on Saturday with Peter Siddle (1 not out) and Australia 7-316. They will be bowling before long, and have their faith primarily in three fast bowlers – Siddle, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc and all-rounder Henriques. Only the one specialist spinner, Nathan Lyon, is in the XI, with Clarke expected to provide considerable back-up.

“There was not much seam movement or anything like that but both their quicks were getting it to reverse,” Henriques said. “I think with our quicks they’ll probably penetrate the wicket a little bit more than what those guys did.

“(India) bowled with discipline and hopefully with guys like Jimmy and Peter and Mitch will have a little bit more air speed. There was certainly reverse swing so I think the key with reverse swing is to try to bowl to new batsmen with it and be smart with your fields.”

Portuguese-born Henriques finished the day with strapping around his left shin but said he would be all right to bowl on Saturday.

The presence of his state colleague Clarke, who he has batted with before at Sheffield Shield level, was a great comfort for the first-gamer.

“Luckily after the first ball the nerves died down a little bit but they were going through the roof waiting to bat,” Henriques said. “Then when that wicket (of Matthew Wade) fell and having to walk out the legs started to turn to jelly. But after that first ball and after the first run things started to calm down a little.

“(Clarke) wasn’t too different to when I’ve batted with him before in Shield cricket. He likes to smile out there and we enjoy our cricket and enjoy batting together. I think that relaxing, calming effect that he has and that confidence that he has as a batsman starts rubbing off on the people that he bats with as well.”

He was disappointed with the mode of his late exit, becoming Ashwin’s fourth leg-before victim of the day and sixth in total, but could hold his head high after a contribution in testing conditions that Australia badly needed.

“I really wanted to get through the day and make sure we finished five wickets down,” he said. “I could have been a little bit more ruthless at the end if I was going to be critical. But if someone said you’re going to have 60-odd on debut I’d take it.”

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Opposites are just as attractive

IN ALL sport it’s the contrast in styles that makes the contest, particularly when the differences between two key players in the opposing teams are so evident.
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James O’Connor is the golden boy of Australian Rugby, the blond bombshell who sells tickets and attracts the image makers as much for his looks and style as his game.

Versatile and skilful, 22-year-old O’Connor can operate anywhere in the back line, but is currently being used at full-back by the Rebels.

Jesse Mogg, at 23 a couple of months older, is far less celebrated. The Brumbies full-back has played less than half the number of Super Rugby games as O’Connor, and scored only a fraction of the points since being plucked from the obscurity of the local league by the Canberra side last year.

But his explosive pace and hard, direct running provided a tremendous variation to O’Connor’s supple sinuousness when the two lined up at opposite ends of AAMI Park on Friday night.

Their differences illustrated, in this sport as in others, that while there may be one method of play that is more fashionable or aesthetic than another, in the end it’s the style that gets the job done that is the most effective.

Where Mogg was all power, speed and straightforwardness as he attacked, O’Connor was a muscular, twisting shape as he stepped and probed trying to find space where, for most of his colleagues, none would exist.

The difference was perfectly described in two periods of play early in the game. Mogg opened the scoring with a display of scorching pace – a rugby version of Black Caviar if you like – as he kicked the ball long to launch an attack and chased his own delivery down.

On the way through he outpaced O’Connor and then hit the turbo button to get his hand to the ball before Rebels half-back Nick Phipps, who had a healthy head start in the run to the try line.

O’Connor then showed the other side of the game, exemplifying his ability to turn and dance, to find the gaps and accelerate off a short step to set up his teammates.

Launching himself under a Mogg high bomb, O’Connor palmed the ball down, roved his own knock back and set off on a jinking, slippery run that took him past several opponents before off-loading for Scott Higinbotham to score his first try for the Rebels.

Mogg took the advantage in this contrasting battle of the full-backs near the end of the first half when another rampaging run saw him brush through several challenges before his pass set in train the move completed by Clyde Rathbone, who went over in the corner.

Still, it’s not all glamour and pyrotechnics playing at No. 15. Sometimes you have to stand and take your hits, and O’Connor showed that he had the right stuff in that department, too, when he made a second-half try-saving tackle on Rathbone that stopped the winger’s break. His efforts to return to the fray after an injury time-out were overruled by the medical staff – much to his evident frustration.

He will live to fight another day as the Rebels look to get back on track against the Waratahs next Friday. With the Brumbies on the break next week, Mogg can rest and recuperate – and prepare to let the brakes off in Canberra in a fortnight when the Brumbies take on the Waratahs.

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Hurt Dragons vow to rally for daunting opener

Unplayable … Greg Inglis was in scintillating form. DEFCON-SOUTHS
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MATCH STATS/AS IT HAPPENED

MATT COOPER, Jason Nightingale and Mitch Rein started the Charity Shield but failed to finish it. Cameron King, the back-up Dragons hooker, was medicabbed off ANZ Stadium in the worst possible preparation for their premiership opener against the reigning premiers in Melbourne.

South Sydney held off a spirited second-half fightback to win the 30th edition of the pre-season fixture 28-10. The focus will be on a bulging Dragons casualty ward which already includes first-choice halfback Kyle Stanley.

Cooper suffered a calf strain while Nightingale also failed to show for the second half due to a sciatic issue in his leg. Rein was forced off with a shoulder problem while the club’s other dummy-half, King, was heavily concussed after running into the shoulder of Souths forward George Burgess. At least Michael Weyman, returning from a knee reconstruction, came through unscathed.

Cooper declared himself a certain starter against the Storm, saying he may have played only 40 minutes even if he didn’t pick up the niggle. And Dragons coach Steve Price was confident Nightingale and King would take their places for round one.

”Mitch Rein has got a bit of a burner there on his shoulder so we’ll let it settle down over the weekend and he can get scans early in the week,” he said. ”Our medical staff aren’t overly concerned.”

Despite the body count, the joint-venture club threatened to steal the contest when two tries in the space of four minutes narrowed the gap to six. But late tries to Rabbitohs youngsters Dylan Walker and Mitchell Buckett gave them a deserved victory.

Nathan Merritt was dumped for, the official line is, ”failing to meet team standards”. It’s believed the prolific try-scorer channelled James O’Connor and failed to respond to the alarm clock. Just like Ben Te’o the previous week, he will don the red and black of feeder team North Sydney in the ultimate wake-up call.

In his place stepped Bryson Goodwin, who took only 10 minutes to make his presence felt. The former Bulldogs winger crossed after a sweet cut-out pass from Greg Inglis. Every stakeholder in the game held their collective breath when the decision was referred upstairs on the slightest suspicion of obstruction. However, ”General” Luke Patten kept his head in his first decision in the video box and pressed the green button.

Inglis was again involved in the second touchdown, chipping over the Dragons’ defence, with Andrew Everingham batting the ball back to try-scorer Beau Champion.

Nathan Peats’s converted try near half-time, the result of a Canterbury-esque interchange of passes from their big men, gave Souths a 16-0 advantage at the break.

Injuries aren’t the only concern for Price. His right-edge defence was targeted with great success. And it was a mixed night for the makeshift halves pairing of Nathan Fien and Jamie Soward. Like all good relationships, this one will take time to blossom.

It is difficult to read too much into a trial. The winners of four of the past five Charity Shields have finished the season lower on the table than the vanquished. If anything, it raised only more questions, such as how good is Inglis? Others, such as what sort of a team will Price be able to assemble to take on the Storm, will be tougher to answer.

SOUTH SYDNEY 28 (B Goodwin B Champion N Peats D Walker M Buckett tries A Reynolds 2 Goodwin 2 goals) bt ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 10 (D Vidot T Merrin tries J Soward goal) at ANZ Stadium. Referees: Adam Devcich and Jared Maxwell.

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Five things we learnt from the Charity Shield

1.Souths hit the ground running
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South Sydney looked like a team ready for finals footy already. It is hard to read too much into trial form but Souths looked crisp and, most importantly, cohesive. They looked like a team that were familiar with their systems. And with Greg Inglis fit and firing behind a monster forward pack they look like they will better their preliminary final appearance of last year. For the Dragons, they seemed like a team needing a hit-out, working on combinations. Passes just missed their targets and players were crowding into similar holes with the ball. They weren’t too far away and will be much improved before their round-one clash with Melbourne.

2. Slow deal on Beale

Darius Boyd he isn’t, yet, but Gerard Beale showed enough to indicate that he has all the attributes to be the Dragons’ long-term No.1. The former Bronco was St George Illawarra’s highest-profile recruit and he showed glimpses of good touches. While some of his passes went to ground, his ability to catch and pass and become an important link player gives the Dragons a much needed attacking option to ease the pressure on halves Jamie Soward and Nathan Fien. Coach Steve Price has moved Soward back to the left side of the field, where he was instrumental in guiding the Dragons to premiership success in 2010, whereas Fien spent most of the game on the right-hand side. Trent Merrin will fill Dean Young’s vacant lock forward position, with the NSW prop playing as a ball-playing option in the middle of the field.

3. Controlling Reynolds is the key

Forget Greg Inglis, Sam Burgess or Issac Luke, halfback Adam Reynolds has emerged as South Sydney’s most important player. While Reynolds might not grab the headlines, it is what he does off the ball which makes him so valuable. He is their chief organiser and allows the likes of Inglis and John Sutton to focus on their running game. It’s no secret that Sutton and Inglis had career-best seasons last year with Reynolds taking plenty of the attention away from the duo. His deft kicking takes the strain off his big forwards and gives them a handy breather when needed. If he is in-form mid-season and Souths are riding high, he will come into NSW calculations.4. Michael Maguire is ruthless

Just a week after dumping star recruit Ben Te’o to NSW Cup, veteran winger Nathan Merritt was left out of the Charity Shield for not meeting team standards. Coach Maguire has shown he has lofty expectations of his charges and reputations won’t matter should they not follow his lead. While Te’o and Merritt were omitted for off-field indiscretions, captain Michael Crocker also felt Maguire’s wrath after starting the match from the interchange bench after a poor showing in South Sydney’s first trial against Newcastle. Merritt is expected to play for North Sydney on Saturday and may face an extended stint out of the top grade following the strong performance of his replacement Bryson Goodwin.5. Video ref ruling a winner

The on-field referee being forced to make a decision before sending a possible try to the video referee to review will be a winner and reduce endless amounts of replays. The initiative, introduced by new referees’ boss Daniel Anderson, came into play when Bryson Goodwin scored the first try in the 10th minute. Controlling referee Adam Devcich indicated a try before sending the ruling to video referees Steve Clark and Luke Patten, who deemed Devcich’s decision correct.

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