Crowd ire focuses on Clarke as light goes out in final Test

It was a goldfish moment that enveloped the vast majority of 23,500 spectators in London for the final day of the Ashes.

The person primarily responsible for rescuing the match from the tedium generated by home team England, Australia captain Michael Clarke, became an undeserving lightning rod for supporters furious at the decision to curtail England’s near-successful run chase due to bad light, resulting in a drawn Test match.

Clarke was roundly booed as he led his team off the field following the umpires’ decision to call off the match with England needing only 21 runs from the last four overs.

The cacophony intensified soon after when he was called for interview at the post-match presentation. Master of ceremonies Mike Atherton remarked he had predicted, incorrectly, that “gratitude might be the order of the day for the declaration which gave everybody a game”.

“You do your best, you try and set up a game and, unfortunately, home fans [criticise you for it],” Clarke lamented over the din. But he was not overly critical, admitting he thought “Australian fans would be exactly the same” in the situation of England fans.

Had it not been for Clarke’s decision to instruct his batsmen to bat aggressively in their second innings and then declare at tea, setting England a target of 227 in the final session from 44 overs, the match would likely have been called off at least 90 minutes earlier than it was, officially at 7.40pm local time.

England’s chase was given a solid basis from Alastair Cook (34) and Jonathan Trott (59), but it was a swashbuckling 62 from Kevin Pietersen that saw Australia’s hopes of victory evaporate and England’s soar.

The chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Giles Clarke, damned the way the match ended as “totally unsatisfactory”, and said he expected ICC rule changes to be made as a result of it.

Clarke’s main gripe, once the momentum dramatically shifted in England’s favour, was an apparent double-standard in the enforcement of bad light rules.

In the third Test, in which Australia was well on top, play was halted due to bad light just before 4.30pm local time. A rain-soaked final day ensured the match ended in a draw.

At The Oval, however, umpires Aleem Dar and Kumar Dharmasena did not begin using the light meter until about 7.34pm, which prompted a mild physical altercation between Dar and Clarke. Only four more deliveries were bowled before play was halted, for good.

“The concern from our players was that the [light] reading was taken so late. I think the reading in Manchester was 8.1 [lux], and today it was a 5.7,” Clarke explained.

“When you can see your own shadows, just going on what’s happened in the past throughout this series, you know it’s getting to around that time when umpires have consistently taken us off the field.”

The ire of the England fans as Australia employed some subtle stalling tactics late in the match also ignored England’s dawdling over rate in the field and run-rate with the bat. On day three the home team scored just 215 runs from 98.3 overs.

Former Australia Test batsman Greg Blewett said on the Sky Sports TV coverage the umpires should have halted play about four or five overs earlier, while retired England paceman Bob Willis complained the umpires “made a rod for their own back by coming off for bad light on Friday”.

England captain Cook acknowledged the widespread disappointment in the crowd but did not share its negativity towards the umpires.

“Of course you understand the frustration, but you can also understand the other side … you understand the rules and regs,” Cook said.

“Unfortunately the officials sometimes have to take emotion out of the game and do their job of being consistently fair to both sides.

“If it was the third day no one would be moaning about it. If the boot was on the other foot we’d probably be asking the same questions [as Australia].”

Despite the public haranguing Clarke did not attack the behaviour of England supporters, instead expressing his hope he and his team had “given them something to smile about by setting up a game today”.

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Big double a possibility for MCG

There would need to be up to four hours break between matches to take care of the various logistics. Photo: Paul RovereMCC chief Stephen Gough says the MCG would be capable of hosting a double-header if the AFL opts to schedule four finals at the famous venue on the opening weekend of September.

The AFL has asked Gough whether two finals on a Saturday could be scheduled, with one beginning early afternoon and the second at night.

There are likely to be four Victorian-based teams hosting a first final – Geelong, Hawthorn, Collingwood and Richmond – and each has a large enough supporter base to insist its match be held at the MCG, rather than at the smaller Etihad Stadium.

“The question was asked: ‘If it had to be, could it be done?’ Well, subject to a whole lot of things which are very difficult, it’s a possibility,” Gough said on Monday.

“We just had to outline what are those issues. I wouldn’t be reading much more into it than that.”

There would need to be up to four hours break between matches to take care of the various logistics. These include ensuring spectators of the first match have enough time to leave, the car park and changerooms emptied, and the venue cleaned before ticket holders of the second game are allowed in.

“The AFL probably just wanted to collect some data on if it had to be, could it be? But I think they recognise there are a whole lot of issues in that are a bit risky. But that’s their (the AFL’s) call,” Gough said.

“All we had to do was identify the issues.”

Another issue would be the impact on the stadium surface, particularly if there was heavy rain over the weekend.

Etihad Stadium has the contractual right to host one final in the opening two weeks of September, but stadium management has been willing to trade finals for more matches through the home-and-away season.

An AFL spokesman said the league would probably wait until next weekend before making a call on the venues, while Etihad Stadium spokesman Bill Lane said management was hopeful of an answer this week.

”At this stage we haven’t been advised one way or the other,” he said.

”We are certainly available if we are required to host a final.

”It’s the AFL’s call – they determine the fixture and where finals will be played.

”We have said this before publicly — if we miss out there is a mechanism for us to negotiate with the AFL for a couple of extra games for 2014.”

The first VFL-AFL double-header was held at the MCG on Anzac Day, 1986. A poor crowd of 40,117 attended to watch Melbourne host Sydney, with North Melbourne and Geelong clashing in the second game. Supporters were able to use the one ticket for both matches.

Gough said any double header in the finals would require separate tickets.

The AFL remains keen to clinch a deal to buy Etihad Stadium. The AFL will take ownership of the stadium on March 8, 2025, for $1, but the league is keen to get hold of the stadium and its lucrative management rights earlier — a move that would allow greater funds to be distributed to clubs.

This would help to solve the problem of poor venue returns for Etihad Stadium tenants the Western Bulldogs, North Melbourne and St Kilda, although Etihad Stadium management says it is tired of the criticism and maintains there is more to the story.

It’s understood Melbourne Stadiums Ltd wants more than $250 million for the remaining 12 years.

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Australia backs Englishman to take over from McQuaid as UCI chief

Cycling Australia will vote for Englishman Brian Cookson to become president of the world governing body, rather than support the re-election of Ireland’s Pat McQuaid.

CA’s position was decided on Sunday after the CA board heard an address from Cookson in person in Sydney on Saturday morning, then held a teleconference with McQuaid in the afternoon.

The vote in favour of Cookson was unanimous, CA president Klaus Mueller told Fairfax Media on Monday. Ten out of 11 board members had attended the meeting, which extended into Sunday.

Mueller, who announced on Saturday that he would stand down as CA president at the end of September, said it was likely that Oceania’s collective position would be the same.

The Union Cycliste Internationale presidency will be voted on by the UCI Congress at the world road titles in Italy next month. Of 42 votes, Oceania’s three go to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. “We are supporting Cookson. It was unanimous with all [CA] board members present,” Mueller said.

Cookson, who arrived in Sydney on Friday, is on a world tour to garner support for his candidacy, in an election fight that has seen McQuaid remain defiant in his efforts to be re-elected despite growing calls for him to step aside following the Lance Armstrong doping scandal.

In a tight vote, the support of Australia, New Zealand and Fiji could be critical for Cookson, British Cycling president, or McQuaid, who no longer has the nomination of Ireland or Switzerland, but is still seeking nomination of the Moroccan and Thai federations through his membership with them.

Mueller said there were two key points in Cookson’s address that convinced the CA board he was better suited to be UCI president than McQuaid, who has held the post since 2006.

“We felt [Cookson] was in a better position to restore the reputation and integrity of the UCI and the sport internationally,” Mueller said. “Also he agreed he would do everything in his power to improve the governance structures, to make those more accountable and efficient and reflect what a modern sporting body should look like.”

Mueller said CA believes the UCI structure should be changed to comprise a president and board that works on creating policy and another board that implements policy and runs the sport.

“We think the system of having the president also performing an executive role is a flawed system,” Mueller said. “There ought to be a president and board to provide the policy framework. And there out to be a separate executive administering that framework.

“Pat did not agree, [he] didn’t consider that sort of reform appropriate; whereas Brian Cookson was of the view that there needs to be that change. Like all bodies, whether he can get that through is another challenge, but at least he is committed to doing his utmost to implement those changes.”

Mueller is confident the collective voice of the Oceania region will reflect CA’s position at the election.

Asked if he has a gauge of where New Zealand and Fiji stand on the presidential issue, Mueller said: “Yes … they can speak for themselves and they will ultimately. But I am confident in the discussions we had that [CA’s position] will be the unanimous position of Oceania.”

Mueller said CA plans to inform McQuaid of its position “as quickly as possible” because “we did have a good relationship with Pat as well …”

Mueller also said his decision to quit CA presidency was unrelated to the UCI presidential issue.

Twitter: @rupertguinness

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Specialty bounces despite tough market

Specialty Fashion Group, which owns a portfolio of women’s fashion banners such as Millers, Katies, City Chic and Crossroads, has bounced back into the black with a full-year net profit of $13 million despite choppy conditions marked by low consumer confidence and industry wide discounting.

The retailer actually recorded a loss for the June half of $5 million, but strong momentum from the first half of fiscal 2013 driven by comparable store sales growth, better lease terms and keeping a hold on business costs helped push the company into profit territory.

It posted a $2.8 million loss in 2011-12.

Revenue for the year was $569.5 million, down 0.5 per cent, but it recorded underlying positive comparable store sales growth of 0.4 per cent flowing from a net decrease of seven in its store numbers.

The return to profitability was also bolstered by widening margins, despite being in the midst of a retail environment dominated by intense price competition and discounting, with the highest gross margins achieved in the company’s history at 61.8 per cent.

The company said it had rationalised underperforming stores, fulfilling a promise to exit costly or uneconomic store locations and pour more resources into its online channel, with 40 new stores and 47 closures executed during the year. This has taken its total store count to 886 at the end of 2012-13.

Specialty Fashion has declared it would close up to 120 of its stores over the next three years as it recalibrates its business to move away from pricey rental locations in shopping centres in favour of online sales.

Specialty delivered Earnings Before Interest Taxation Depreciation and Amortisation (EBITDA) of $41.1 million, compared with EBITDA for the prior year of $21.7 million. It said it was in a very strong financial position with cash levels of $38.6 million, its highest level in seven years.

Specialty Fashion chief executive Gary Perlstein, said: “Specialty Fashion Group grew profit in financial 2013, despite difficult economic conditions that affected the entire retail industry, particularly during the second half.

“This improvement is in large part due to significant operating enhancements that drove a record gross margin, along with flat costs of doing business. We are pleased with the progress we have made with our omni-channel strategy, with online becoming an increasingly important contributor to future growth.”

The retailer’s online store was again a standout performer within the group, with online sales up 50 per cent to $21.9 million, against $15 million the year before. Its online sales now represent 3.8 per cent of total revenue.

A final dividend of 2¢ per share was declared, taking the total payout for the year to 4¢ per share. No dividend was paid in 2011-12.

Shares in Specialty Fashion were down 1¢ at 87¢ at noon.

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Coles loses $50,000 payout battle against man wrongly accused of eating stolen raw prawns

A Sydney artist has been allowed to keep a $50,000 defamation pay-out, after he was wrongly accused of stealing raw prawns in a north shore Coles supermarket.

Philip Clarke, 50, successfully sued Coles after he alleged the store manager at the Lane Cove store came at him “like a pit bull” and wrongly accused him of eating the prawns so he did not have to pay for them.

District Court Judge Leonard Levy found Mr Clarke had been defamed because some of the shoppers may have been neighbours and the accusation could have spread along the “grapevine”.

Coles Supermarkets appealed the decision on several grounds, including that the trial judge erred in deciding the words of the store manager were “published”, describing that finding as “glaringly improbable”.

On Friday, the Court of Appeal upheld Judge Levy’s decision, finding that while the manager, Shant Tatosian, denied accusing Mr Clarke of theft, he agreed he said the words: “You have eaten the prawns and you haven’t paid for them.”

“The acceptance by him of the words set out … is sufficient acceptance of a material and defamatory part of the words alleged by [Mr Clarke],” Justice Carolyn Simpson said in the appeal court decision, with agreement from Justice Fabian Gleeson and acting Justice Ronald Sackville.

The trial heard Mr Clarke ordered about 500 grams of raw green prawns from the delicatessen on September 4, 2009, before he realised there would not be enough for a Father’s Day celebration.

He opened the package and returned to the counter to request it be topped up to one kilogram.

Mr Tatosian, along with some other staff members, confronted Mr Clarke and accused him of eating some of the prawns.

A heated exchange followed in which Mr Tatosian claimed Mr Clarke had eaten some prawns, dropping the shells on the floor and secreting the wrapper in the freezer section.

Mr Clarke said he tried to point to his package of prawns sitting on the freezer counter.

He told the District Court the incident left him feeling “under siege” from Coles employees and “tut-tutting” onlookers.

He said it upset him “to the point of terrible disillusionment, depression, feeling that this was the way Sydney had become now”.

Mr Clarke alleged Mr Tatosian said things like “I will keep you here until I see those prawns”, “You ate the rest of those prawns in my store and that is stealing” and “You are not free to go until you admit that you have stolen from Coles.”

Mr Tatosian denied saying those words.

However, he conceded he said things like “Have you forgotten those prawns?”, “Sir, I’ve seen you eating those prawns”, evidence the appeal court found had established Mr Clarke’s case.

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