Johnson ready to thwart Barmy Army

17Jun

Not even the Barmy Army will be able to stop a reborn Mitchell Johnson this summer, according to Australia’s fast bowling mentor Craig McDermott.

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Johnson has admitted the heckling England supporters’ group was his Achilles heel during Australia’s Ashes humiliation three years ago.

And relentless chants of “he bowls to the left, he bowls to the right, that Mitchell Johnson, his bowling is shite” is sure to ring throughout the Gabba again should the menacing left-armer earn an expected Ashes recall for the first Test in Brisbane.

But McDermott says the in-form Johnson is in a mental and technical position now where he’ll be strong enough to shrug off past nightmares and take an attitude of “who cares about the Barmy Army.”

“He’s in a good head space at the moment. I think it would take a lot for that to be taken away from him,” McDermott said.

“He’s confident about what he’s doing with the ball and the pace that he’s bowling so who cares about a Barmy Army.

“They’re off the field. They don’t stop him from getting lbws, caught behinds and clean bowleds so who really cares about them.”

Johnson has played exclusively white-ball cricket since the fourth Test in Delhi in March, and as a result, he’s been sent home early from the current India one-day tour to best prepare for the Ashes – missing a big series decider in Bangalore on Saturday.

The 31-year-old is set to play for Western Australia in their Sheffield Shield clash against South Australia in Perth next week.

All things going well it’s likely he will then be rested for the Warriors’ round three first-class match starting on November 13 to give him a balanced lead-in to the first Test starting on November 21.

McDermott will fly to Perth to be with Johnson throughout the Shield game from next Wednesday, before he assembles a first-Test fast bowling group in Brisbane on November 14.

Injuries to James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc have opened up a position in the attack, and highly regarded bowling coach McDermott said Johnson has stepped up when required.

“Certainly the radar guns are saying that over there and the guys are saying he’s bowling really quick,” he said.

“He has been moving the ball back into the right handers a little bit so to me his arm path and his seam position seems to be better so we’ve just got to make sure we keep it that way.

“It’s a little bit different bowling with the red ball so for him to play a Shield game in Perth will be important.

“I just want him to be relaxed. He looks in a tremendous head space at the moment, he looks confident in what he’s doing.”

McDermott is pleased with what he’s seen from front line quicks Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle so far this summer and says the likes of James Faulkner, Ben Hilfenhaus, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Coulter-Nile and Doug Bollinger are also applying pressure.

Meanwhile, Cricket Australia announced day one of the Boxing Day Test is already a sell-out, with a world record crowd in excess of 91,000 possible.

Russian PM guarantees security at Sochi Olympics

17Jun

 

In an interview with Reuters, Medvedev said Russia had taken a number of safety measures around the city, which borders the volatile North Caucasus region where Islamist insurgents wage nearly daily violence.

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“A number of threats exist in our country, so everyone is working as hard as possible – the special forces are working, and the government as a whole is trying to guarantee the absolute safety of the Olympic Games,” he said on Thursday.

“And I believe that’s what will happen. But it’s clear that we should take a number of other decisions to make sure that these Games are held without a hitch, so that they will be remembered as a spectacular sporting event.”

He did not specify what those measures were.

Spending on the February Games is expected to pass $50 billion, and they are a priority for President Vladimir Putin who wants to use it to showcase the country’s modern face to the world two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Thomas Bach, the head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), visited Sochi to inspect preparations this week and praised the work and said he was sure the Games would be “magnificent”.

Security services have installed video cameras around the city and plan to use drones at the Games to keep watch over the sprawling venues that reach from the Black Sea coast, where skating events will be held, to the Caucasus Mountains.

Russian police are also planned to be stationed along the perimeter between Sochi and the mountainous North Caucasus, where insurgents are fighting to establish an Islamic state.

The insurgency, rooted in two separatist wars in Russia’s province of Chechnya, has spread through the North Caucasus, and Dagestan, some 600 kilometres away from Sochi, has become the focal point of violence.

A deadly suicide bombing in southern Russia on October21, blamed on a Muslim woman from the North Caucasus, highlighted increased the security risks Sochi faces.

Medvedev said that the initial idea of holding the Olympics in the sub-tropical city of Sochi, had struck him as “extravagant”, but that he was convinced the Games would be a success.

“The city of Sochi is located in the subtropics, and it’s hosting the Winter Olympics. That in and of itself is quite interesting. I won’t hide the fact that when the idea was conceived, even to me it seemed rather extravagant,” he said.

“But it happened that they chose Sochi, and I am sure that they will be a very interesting Games.”

(Writing by Thomas Grove, Editing by Elizabeth Piper)

Missing ballots might lead to fresh WA Senate poll

17Jun

By Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

 

Clive Palmer has been a vocal cynic about the AEC.

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AAP/Paul Miller

In recent weeks Clive Palmer, albeit without evidence, has blackened its name at every opportunity.

Now (on the day Palmer was finally elected in Fairfax by 53 votes) the AEC has announced it has lost more than 1300 Senate votes in the knife edge Western Australian contest.

On worst scenario, this could force a fresh Senate poll in that state, which would be a huge cost, annoy voters and put the upper house numbers to a fresh test.

The WA disaster is against the background of Coalition hostility towards Electoral Commissioner Ed Killestey. The then opposition was angry when Labor re-appointed him, although his existing term did not expire until the new year. The Coalition wanted to make its own appointment.

The AEC said in today’s statement that in the WA Senate recount “a serious administrative issue” had come to light. Some 1375 votes, all counted first time round, were missing. These included 1255 formal votes and 120 informal ones.

The commissioner said he had “initiated an urgent examination into the circumstances which led to the apparent misplaced ballot papers”. He’s called in former federal police chief Mick Keelty to get to the bottom of it.

The recount came after the Palmer United Party candidate and Labor won the final spots, with the Greens and the Australian Sports Party missing out. At a crucial choke point in the complicated count, it had come down to 14 votes.

The recount will be finished (with the missing votes excluded) and the outcome examined by the AEC, which will also have the Keelty report, before it decides whether the matter should go to the Court of Disputed Returns.

The AEC, a candidate or a voter can petition the court (which is the High Court). It is hard to see it not ending up there (unless the votes suddenly materialise) but what the court would do can’t be predicted.

The government today lashed out, with Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson declaring he had “personally expressed to the Electoral Commissioner my strong view that this situation is totally unsatisfactory and that I, as the responsible Minister, view this matter very dimly.”

In opposition Bronwyn Bishop, then shadow special minister of state claimed the AEC and the then government were too close and said a Coalition government would have a review of the commission.

Palmer jumped on the WA affair today to accuse the AEC of fraud, saying the commission “may have burned” the ballot papers “or put them in a rubbish bin or shredded them”.

“There needs to be a full judicial inquiry into the AEC officers that have been involved in this fiasco,” said Palmer, who wants the original Senate count to stand.

The embattled Killesteyn was sensible to call in the former police commissioner. But it’s hard to see where he is going to get any political protection.

Listen to ALP National Secretary George Wright on the Politics with Michelle Grattan podcast, available below, by rss and on iTunes.

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

DJs upbeat but cautious ahead of Christmas

17Jun

David Jones is upbeat ahead of the busy Christmas season as the upmarket department store chain enjoys a healthy post-election boost in sales.

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Chief executive Paul Zahra said the company was waiting for consistent consumer sentiment results following a bumper month in September.

“We’re well placed for a good Christmas, however consumers remain fickle and we remain cautious as a result,” Mr Zahra told a first quarter sales conference call.

“Until there’s consistent and sustainable positive consumer sentiment it’s hard to call.”

He said the business was well prepared to capitalise on the important Christmas and clearance trading periods through new merchandise partnerships with iconic UK brands Harrods and Liberty.

David Jones plans to use a New York agency to run its Christmas advertising campaign.

Still, Mr Zahra said uncertainty around white collar jobs was concerning.

During the September quarter, luxury fashion, beauty and youth shoppers drove a 2.1 per cent lift in sales to $424.2 million.

That figure could have been healthier if it wasn’t for the underperforming electronics division.

The retailer’s shares received a 6.6 per cent lift to close at $2.90 on Friday.

Almost 80 per cent of David Jones non-CBD stores are now located in coalition electorates, while a buoyant share market and property market have helped sales.

“Households balance sheets are healthy but there’s still a level of uncertainty because people are waiting to see what new policies the government might annunciate,” Mr Zahra said.

“In the meantime, the change of government has had some positive impact to our customers.”

The luxury end of the business continued to drive good results, with double digit rises among Australian designers.

Meanwhile, online sales increased 10-fold during the quarter, but they only made up around one per cent of overall sales.

NSW and Victoria had been the strongest performing areas, with the ACT the weakest.

Mr Zahra said the online store was gaining significant traction with positive quarter on quarter results after a year of trading.

Johnson leads charge in Shanghai

17Jun

Big-hitting Dustin Johnson shot six birdies in his first seven holes Friday, while Rory McIlroy threw away three shots late on, on his way to a course record nine-under 63 at $US8.

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5 million ($A9.01 million) WGC Champions in Shanghai.

Completing a sizzling front nine of 30, Johnson took just 33 more to get home to lead on 12-under par 132.

Overnight leader McIlroy of Northern Ireland was five shots back tied for second after a level-par round that had promised much more.

The 24-year-old had threatened to repeat the heroics of his first day 65 when he had a hat-trick of birdies on the sixth, seventh and eighth.

But a bogey at 11 caused the self-doubts to creep back in and he dropped two more for a 72.

“Just one of those things,” he told reporters after, clearly frustrated. “I hit a couple of bad shots… and I started to doubt myself sometimes. Didn’t hit a lot of quality shots on the back nine.”

McIlroy was joined at seven under by two Americans, Boo Weekley (67) and Bubba Watson (69) as the Stars and Stripes started to climb the leaderboard dominated by European players on day one.

“I’m definitely happy with where I’m at,” said world number 23 Johnson afterwards, whose 63 tied the course record jointly held by McIlroy, Daisuke Maruyama, Ernie Els (all in 2009) and Martin Kaymer (2011).

“I drove the ball really, really well for two days and for me that’s a big key,” added Johnson. “I hit a lot of good iron shots and though it’s tough to get close to these holes I made a lot of nice 10- to 15-footers.”

Watson, who won the Masters in 2012, told AFP earlier this week that he thought the course and greens would suit him on his first visit to Sheshan Golf Club. He was as good as his word, shooting a second-round 69 to add to his 68 the previous day.

He said he was surprised at how similar it was to playing back home on his first visit to China. “You don’t hear a lot of English,” he joked. “But it’s about the same.

“Everything about the trip has been beautiful. Malaysia last week (CIMB Classic) and then here. It’s perfect.”

Weekley had one of the rounds of the day with a five-under 67 to tack on to his opening 70.

Unfortunately his post-round interview was more staccato than his golf and a little undiplomatic to his hosts.

Asked how he liked being in China, Weekley replied: “It don’t matter. We’re here.”

And had he seen anything of China apart from the hotel and the golf course? “You said it exactly, hotel, golf course. I’m all right. I don’t need to see nothing.”

Former US Open champions Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland is second in the Race to Dubai European Tour standings with this and just two more events remaining.

He is intent on closing the gap to leader Henrik Stenson and has shown a welcome return to form after what he described as a “rusty” performance at last week’s BMW Masters in Shanghai after taking five weeks off to get married.

His second successive 69 Friday, playing alongside Johnson, took him to a share of fifth place on six under par.

“Yesterday was very solid. Today was a little untidier,” he said after his round.

“It was kind of tough to focus with Dustin Johnson hitting it 350 yards down the middle of every fairway. But I was happy that I hung in there. Happy to shoot three-under.”