Clarke diplomatic, SAfrica reject claims

Michael Clarke was diplomatic as the divisive issue of pitch doctoring reared its head, while Graeme Smith denied he held sway over the curator for the second Test in South Africa.

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Shane Watson is expected to remain sidelined as Australia take an unchanged XI into the match at Port Elizabeth, which will start on Thursday.

It is understood Proteas coach Russell Domingo was disappointed with the bouncy Centurion surface for the first Test, which Mitchell Johnson took advantage of to claim career-best match figures of 12 for 127 and guide Australia to a 281-run victory.

Another defeat for the Proteas would trigger the ignominy of the nation’s first Test series loss since 2009, leading to claims St George’s Park curator Adrian Carter was being controlled by Domingo and Smith.

“I had a chat to the groundsman. At the moment the grass is 8mm high,” Michael Clarke said on Tuesday of the strip.

“He said he’s going to speak to their captain and coach before he makes a decision (on what to do with the grass).

“Hopefully it does (stay as is).

“If the wicket stays like it is today it will be a three-dayer, especially with two fantastic bowling attacks.”

Carter confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that he had thoughts on what to do with a “furry and green” surface that scared him, but would not act without Domingo and Smith’s approval.

Smith, Domingo and his assistant coaches inspected the pitch and had lengthy discussions with Carter before South Africa started training on Tuesday.

Smith rejected claims they made any demands.

“One thing I’ve learned is that when you ask for things you generally don’t get them,” he said.

“We just requested a good Test wicket.”

Clarke was not keen to cry foul about Carter’s apparent lack of independence.

“It doesn’t bother me, that’s a big part of playing international cricket,” the Australia captain said.

“It’s a big part of our game that the captain, especially, can communicate with the groundsman in his home country and produce the wicket that is best suited to their team.”

Carter will find it hard to create a strip that makes Johnson easy to play.

“Slow wicket, quick wicket – if a guy’s bowling at 150km/h it’s quick,” Morne Morkel said.

Johnson holds the key to Australia posting a victory that would seal their first Test seres win on foreign soil since defeating the West Indies 2-0 in April 2012.

The left-armer was often unplayable at Centurion, but his brutal blows to the head and body would have featured just as much in Domingo’s post-match analysis.

Ryan McLaren, left bloodied by a Johnson bouncer, will miss the second Test due to post-concussion syndrome.

Left-armer Wayne Parnell is favourite to replace fellow all-rounder McLaren, however Clarke expected selectors may opt for a batsman.

Regardless of Domingo’s instructions, St George’s Park is set to be a slower pitch than Centurion and not offer as much uneven bounce.

Water crisis as drought dries up Malaysia

A Malaysian state has declared a water crisis because of a dry spell that has parched much of the usually rain-bathed country.

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Deputy water minister Mahdzir Khalid warned on Tuesday the government was planning to carry out cloud seeding over the capital, Kuala Lumpur, and its surroundings, where water reserve levels have been critical since last week.

Negeri Sembilan, just south of Kuala Lumpur, declared a “state of crisis” on Wednesday. The central state shares its water supply with the capital and another state, Selangor, which is the country’s main economic engine.

“We have not had any rain here over the past two months, and this has caused water levels at our seven dams to reach critical levels,” Negeri Sembilan chief minister Mohamad Hasan was quoted by The Star as saying.

Natural disaster officials in the state will begin to supply treated water to about 8000 households, where taps have run dry, he said, adding the dams had not been able to draw water from at least two rivers feeding them.

The meteorological department denies Malaysia is in the midst of an unusually dry spell, insisting that warm and dry weather is normal during the first two months of the year.

But some consumers in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor have already experienced water rationing, and reservoirs in the area are reported to be half-empty.

The hot spell has also contributed to the increase in dengue fever cases, as it speeds up the life cycle of the aedes mosquito, which carries the virus, and enhances replication of the pathogen.

Deaths from the flu-like illness – which the World Health Organisation calls one of the fastest-growing viral threats, especially in the tropics – have nearly tripled to 22 during the first five weeks of 2014, compared with eight during the same period in 2013.

The 11,879 reported cases in the year to date are nearly a fourfold increase in the illness, which is marked by symptoms such as severe muscle and joint pain, and in severe cases internal bleeding, organ impairment, respiratory distress and death.

French tycoon Serge Dassault in custody

French industrialist and senator Serge Dassault, the billionaire manufacturer of fighter jets, is in custody for alleged vote buying in his former fiefdom east of Paris.

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The 88-year-old is suspected of buying votes in Corbeil-Essonnes, east of Paris, where he was formerly mayor.

He has been accused of running the suburb like a mafia don.

The veteran industrialist is being grilled in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre, a judicial source said.

Dassault is ranked by Forbes magazine as France’s fourth-richest man and the 69th-richest in the world with an estimated fortune of 13 billion euros ($A19.94 billion).

The judges suspect Dassault of operating an extensive system of vote buying which influenced the outcome of three mayoral elections in Corbeil in 2008, 2009 and 2010, which were won either by Dassault or by his successor and close associate Jean-Pierre Bechter.

The result of the 2008 vote, won by Dassault, was invalidated by the Council of State after the body which oversees public administration discovered a series of payments which could have influenced the outcome of the election.

Dassault heads the Dassault Group, which owns the country’s main conservative newspaper Le Figaro, and holds a majority stake in Dassault Aviation which makes business and military aircraft – including the Rafale fighter jet.

A lawmaker from former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, Dassault admits using his vast personal wealth to help residents of Corbeil, where he was mayor from 1995-2009, but denies any payouts were made in exchange for electoral support.

The vote-buying investigation has been linked – by the media but not publicly by the judges – to two shootings which took place in Corbeil last year and are considered by police to have been attempted murders.

The case has also triggered allegations of attempted extortion and intimidation, both by and against Dassault and his immediate family.

Proteas to ignore Johnson hype: Smith

South Africa captain Graeme Smith says his side must ignore the hype if they are to neutralise Mitchell Johnson and square the three-Test series in Port Elizabeth.

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Smith was peppered with more questions about Johnson in his pre-match press conference than balls he faced from the fiery left-armer in the first Test – four.

The skipper said the South Africa camp respected Johnson’s incredible form, underlined by career-best figures of 12-127 at Centurion, but it was important his teammates treated him like any other bowler.

“We’ve had a general group discussion on areas that we want to improve,” Smith said.

“We haven’t watched any more video or anything different to what we did before the first Test.

“It’s important not to get caught up in the hype.”

Smith was made to look like a tail-ender in the first innings of the opening Test.

He was too late evading a menacing ball from Johnson directed at his skull and popped up a catch.

Smith, whose hand Johnson has broken twice, was not worried about his two ineffective knocks in the opening Test.

“One dismissal doesn’t make you lose credibility,” he said.

“I’ve faced Mitchell a lot of times. Times when he’s had the better of me and times when I’ve had the better of him.

“I can go and watch videotapes of scoring hundreds against Mitchell, which I’ve done.

“Every player here has had success against this attack, and not so long ago, really.

“There’s a huge amount of respect in our team for someone performing well, but it’s important not to get caught up in that.”

Hollywood writer the subject of new book

The young press agent asked the famously cynical Oscar-winning actor what he thought was the key to success in Hollywood.

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“Survival,” replied Humphrey Bogart. “Stick around long enough and everybody else will die or retire.”

That young press agent, Stirling Silliphant, became a screenwriter. Not only did he survive the ups and downs of a Hollywood career, he also had a hand in writing several of the memorable films and television shows that entertained the baby boomer generation. He ended up with his own Academy Award, for the screenplay for 1967’s In the Heat of the Night, which won the best picture Oscar.

Author Nat Segaloff fills the pages of Silliphant’s biography, Stirling Silliphant: The Fingers of God, with entertaining recollections from the natural-born storyteller. There are lots of lessons, too, about writing for the screen.

God-like fingers were needed to maintain Silliphant’s pace. In the last four years of the 1950s, he wrote 68 TV episodes for series such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Perry Mason, and found time for five movies.

Silliphant’s endurance and creativity were tested when he wrote 70 of the 116 episodes of the early ’60s series Route 66. With the edgy drama shooting on location across North America, he often churned out pages from a motel room.

While he preferred original stories that drew from his own experience and viewpoint, Silliphant could reimagine another writer’s work for the unique needs of the big screen.

For In the Heat of the Night, he retooled the story to focus on the tense relationship between a big-city black detective (Sidney Poitier) and a small-town white police chief (Oscar-winner Rod Steiger). For Charly (1968) he played down the science in favour of the humanity inherent in the story of a mentally disabled man (Oscar-winner Cliff Robertson) who becomes intelligent through experimental surgery.

Silliphant, who died in 1996 at the age of 78, contributed to pop culture again by kick-starting the ’70s trend of star-laden disaster films, with screenplays for The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974).

His successful formula might be found in this description of leading characters: “In their conflict they exposed their own fears, and therefore their humanity. And as this impacted on the several other characters, we inevitably had to see them as facets of ourselves.”

His own disasters – failed projects, failed marriages, the death of a son, terminal cancer – suggest one reason why writers like to write: They exercise a degree of control over their make-believe worlds that they may never enjoy in real life. The successful ones, like Silliphant, present an overall truth that all of us can ponder.

Asian shares mixed, eyes on US data

Asian markets were mixed, with Tokyo stocks dropping after the previous session’s surge, as investors awaited US housing data and minutes from the Federal Reserve’s last meeting.

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The yen rebounded in Asia after tumbling on the Bank of Japan’s (BoJ) decision on Tuesday to boost lending to commercial banks.

Tokyo lost 0.52 per cent, or 76.71 points, to 14,766.53, Seoul shed 0.20 per cent, or 3.98 points, to 1,942.93, while Sydney gained 0.29 per cent, or 15.4 points, to 5,408.2.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index added 1.11 per cent, or 23.48 points, to 2,142.55 and the Shenzhen Composite Index – which tracks stocks on China’s second exchange – gained 0.14 per cent, or 1.58 points, to 1,157.20.

Hong Kong reversed early losses to rise 0.34 per cent, adding 76.8 points to 22,664.52.

The BoJ announced on Tuesday it would double the sum of loan schemes to banks in a bid to stimulate lending to firms and finance growth-stoking projects, such as environmental research and natural resources development.

That helped Tokyo’s Nikkei index power 3.13 per cent higher on Tuesday, before profit-taking set in on Wednesday.

US stocks closed mostly higher on Tuesday as investors weighed mixed company news and an unexpected slump in home builder confidence.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 0.15 per cent to 16,130.40 while the broader S&P 500 index advanced 0.12 per cent to 1,840.76. The Nasdaq added 0.68 per cent to 4,272.78.

“Equity indices kicked off the abbreviated trading week on a relatively quiet note,” analysts at Briefing上海桑拿, said in a client note. US markets were closed on Monday for the Presidents’ Day holiday.

Later on Wednesday investors are looking to minutes from Ben Bernanke’s last meeting as Fed chief and US housing start figures for January.

“It will be interesting to see if there was any discussion to accelerate or slow the pace of tapering,” National Australia Bank said, referring to the minutes.

The US central bank’s move to pull back on its stimulus drive has rattled some emerging economy currencies including Russia’s ruble, the South African rand and Turkey’s lira.

Eyes are also on the new US housing data after shares of home builders came under pressure.

The National Association of Home Builders said its sentiment index tumbled to 46 in February from 56 in January. It largely blamed unusually severe weather in much of the country.

On currency markets the dollar bought 102.19 yen in afternoon trade compared with 102.40 yen in New York Tuesday.

The euro slipped to 140.60 yen from 140.89 while trading at $US1.3764 against $US1.3759.

Oil prices were mixed in Asian afternoon trade. New York’s main contract, West Texas Intermediate for March delivery, rose 37 cents to $102.80 but Brent North Sea crude for April eased 26 cents to $US110.20.

Gold fetched $1US,318.37 an ounce at 1040 GMT (2140 AEDT) from $US1,315.44 late on Tuesday.

In other markets:

— Mumbai rose 0.43 per cent, or 88.76 points, to 20,722.97 points.

Adani Enterprises rose 7.04 per cent to 244.05 rupees, while Financial Technologies rose 4.99 per cent to 326.20 rupees a share.

— Bangkok lost 0.39 per cent or 5.21 points to 1,321.00.

Siam Cement fell 1.44 per cent to 412.00 baht, while Bangchak Petroleum gained 2.65 per cent to 29.00 baht.

— Jakarta closed up 0.80 per cent, or 36.46 points, at 4,592.65.

Carmaker Astra International gained 2.21 per cent to 6,950 rupiah, while Hero Supermarket lost 2.44 per cent to 2,600 rupiah.

— Kuala Lumpur gained 4.21 points, or 0.23 per cent, to close at 1,829.45.

Axiata Group rose 0.2 per cent to 6.55 ringgit, while plantation company IOI added 5.7 per cent to 4.60. RHB Capital lost 1.7 per cent to 7.70 ringgit.

— Singapore closed up 0.59 per cent, or 18.01 points, at 3,088.79.

Agribusiness firm Wilmar International gained 1.85 per cent to Sg$3.31 while Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation rose 0.52 per cent to Sg$9.60.

— Manila climbed 1.63 per cent, or 100.65 points, to 6,294.62.

BDO Unibank gained 0.99 per cent to 81.80 pesos while Ayala Land Inc. rose 5.33 per cent to 28.65 pesos.

— Taipei rose 0.24 per cent, or 20.78 points, to 8,577.01.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co was unchanged at Tw$108.0 while leading chip design house MediaTek edged up 0.35 per cent to Tw$435.0.

— Wellington gained 0.39 per cent, or 19.05 points, to 4,914.14

Air New Zealand climbed 0.30 per cent to NZ$1.695 and Fletcher Building rose 1.25 per cent to NZ$9.72.

Experiments flop for MKR gatecrashers

Gatecrashers Josh and Danielle have taken last place on the My Kitchen Rules leaderboard on Wednesday night after failing to impress judges with their science-inspired menu.

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The “experimental foodies” who “enjoy the molecular gastronomy side of things” dished out impressive snack foods such as edible soil lined down the middle of the table, edible menus and even an edible painting. However, the judges knocked them back when it came to mealtime.

The Victorian couple scored a total of 51, placing them at the bottom of the reality show’s scoreboard after West Australian friends Chloe and Kelly, and first-placed Carly and Tresne from NSW.

At their home restaurant, dubbed Alchemy, the Victorians prepared oxtail and mushroom gyozas with hazelnut oil and grape vinaigrette and apple sphere for their entree, and a technical main course of sous vide salmon with radish and pea salad, a cinnamon biscuit and vanilla mayonnaise.

Dessert was a balancing act of sweet banana parfait with salty maple syrup bacon.

Judges Manu Feildel and Pete Evans were wary of the couple’s menu from the start.

The other contestants described it as “impressive” but “risky”.

Busy in the kitchen folding gyozas, Josh and Danielle kept guests waiting for more than an hour before their entree was served.

Both judges took a few bites and questioned the flavours, with Evans later calling the entree his least-favourite dish.

It was another bump for the gatecrashers when the judges said the combination of ingredients in their main dish also bombed.

Feildel, however, did say they “cooked the salmon to perfection”.

The comments left Danielle in tears, but the 27-year-old bravely declared, “We’ve got to keep going”, before starting on dessert.

The banana parfait with maple syrup bacon generated better comments from the judges.

“I actually enjoyed it,” Evans said.

Feildel suggested the bacon could have been crispier and the parfait fluffier, though.

In the end, there was no doubt there were a couple of sad faces.

“It was extremely deflating,” Josh said.

Next in line to show off their kitchen skills are Harry and Christo.

The next episode of My Kitchen Rules airs on the Seven Network on Monday at 7.30pm.

Rebekah Brooks prepares to testify in UK

Rebekah Brooks, the former head of Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper unit, has arrived in court as she prepares to take the stand in her phone-hacking trial.

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After nearly four months of hearings, lawyers for Brooks, a former editor of the defunct News of the World tabloid, were due to begin presenting the case for the defence.

Brooks denies conspiring to hack phones while she edited the paper between 2000 and 2003, specifically conspiring to illegally access the voicemails of missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler, who was later found murdered.

The allegation that Dowler’s phone had been hacked proved the final straw in a slow drip of revelations about phone hacking at the News of the World, prompting Murdoch to shut down the 168-year-old Sunday tabloid in July 2011.

Brooks, who by then had risen to chief executive of News International, Murdoch’s British newspaper division, resigned and shortly afterwards was arrested on hacking charges.

The 45-year-old is in the dock with Andy Coulson, her deputy at the News of the World, who replaced her as editor when she moved to edit The Sun, another Murdoch title, in 2003.

Coulson, who went on to become Prime Minister David Cameron’s media chief, denies being part of a conspiracy to hack phones between 2000 and 2006, when he stepped down as editor.

Another News of the World executive, former managing editor Stuart Kuttner, is also on trial.

In related charges, Brooks is accused of hiding evidence from the police, allegedly aided by her husband Charlie, former PA Cheryl Carter and head of security Mark Hanna.

She faces a further charge of conspiring to pay a defence ministry official for stories.

Roosters largely intact for WCC

Only two players from the Sydney Roosters NRL premiership winning line-up of last season will be missing when they clash with Wigan in the World Club Challenge on Saturday.

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Roosters coach Trent Robinson named a 20-man squad on Wednesday for the Allianz Stadium showdown with the Super League champions. Only the retired Luke O’Donnell and injured Kiwi star Roger Tuivasa-Sheck are missing from the 17 who defeated Manly in last year’s grand final.

Tuivasa-Sheck, who suffered a leg injury in the World Cup final, is due back for the Roosters’ NRL opener against South Sydney on March 6.

Grand final hero Shaun Kenny-Dowall moves across to the wing to cover the loss of Tuivasa-Sheck with Mitchell Aubusson slotting into the centres.

Robinson has named an extended bench to accommodate for the absence of O’Donnell, including France international Remi Casty who is set to make his Roosters debut.

In a disrupted preparation for the NRL premiers Mitchell Pearce, Jake Friend, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Aidan Guerra, Kane Evans, Daniel Tupou and Dylan Napa all took part in last weekend’s Auckland Nines.

The rest of the squad played in the club’s big trial win over an under-strength Newcastle in Wyong.

Wigan coach Shaun Wane also named his 19-man squad on Wednesday for the first international club showpiece in Australia in 20 years.

England international lock Sean O’Loughlin returns from a hamstring injury for Wigan. His World Cup teammate Josh Charnley is back after a hernia operation.

Sam Powell is the only injury absentee for the tourists with an ankle injury.

Wigan have had a mixed preparation for match, losing their opening Super League match against Huddersfield in a big upset before defeating a weakened New Zealand Warriors outfit in a trial last week.

Roosters officials are anticipating a crowd of around 30,000 for the game.

Roosters: Anthony Minichiello (c), Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Mitchell Aubusson, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Sam Moa, Boyd Cordner, Sonny Bill Williams, Frank-Paul Nuuausala. Interchange: Daniel Mortimer, Aidan Guerra, Dylan Napa, Remi Casty, Kane Evans, Taane Milne, Kurt Kara.

Wigan (squad): John Bateman, Matt Bowen, Joe Burgess, Josh Charnley, Tony Clubb, Dom Crosby, Gil Dudson, Liam Farrell, Ben Flower, Anthony Gelling, Darrell Goulding, Blake Green, Jack Hughes, Michael McIlorum, Sean O’Loughlin, Eddy Pettybourne, Dan Sarginson, Matty Smith, Scott Taylor.

War crimes trial in Australia remembered

Few could forget the Nazi war crimes trials at Nuremberg in 1945-46 but not many Australians know of the war crimes trials of 10 Japanese officers held at the same time in Darwin.

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The three Darwin trials were just a fraction of the 300 trials of Japanese soldiers for war crimes held by Australia all across the Asia-Pacific after WWII.

Two academics who spent five years working on a project to analyse the legal and historical dimensions of the trials say most people will be surprised to hear that the trials ever took place on Australian soil.

Darwin was chosen mainly for its convenience – it was easier than transporting all the military personnel and equipment needed to East Timor, where the bulk of the crimes took place.

It was also a sensitive choice, given Darwin had been bombed by the Japanese 64 times from 1942-43, destroying swathes of the city.

Nine officers were tried at the first trial but only three captains were convicted on charges of torture and ill treatment of Australian and British soldiers.

The rules of evidence allowed the admission of unsworn statements and hearsay, and the prisoner-of-war witnesses were not required to attend the trial and be cross-examined.

Curtin University law lecturer Narrelle Morris presented her research on the trials at a Red Cross function in Darwin on Wednesday night.

She said proceedings were complicated by the fact that the official interpreter had only elementary Japanese as did some of the officers who were Korean and Taiwanese.

The first trial related to the activities of a secretive SAS-type unit, known as the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD), which dropped behind Japanese lines in East Timor to spy on and sabotage the Japanese.

The Japanese found the buried wireless and code book of one operative, and tortured him into revealing the code, which they used for two years to listen in on operation transmissions, send fake messages, intercept supplies, and to ambush, capture and kill subsequent units who broadcast their plans to that receiver.

At the end of the war in August 1945, the SRD received final signals from that wireless from the Japanese army, thanking them for all the information supplied and wishing them good health, Dr Morris said.

“It’s not surprising that the SRD did not want the fact that they were successfully conned for two years to come straight out of the mouths of their own members on the stand, given that they had been taken prisoners-of-war and tortured as a result of the SRD’s inability to detect that they had been compromised,” she said.

When one three-month and two one-month sentences were handed down by the court to three Japanese captains involved in the scam and torture there was a public outcry, said Georgina Fitzpatrick, honorary research fellow at the University of Melbourne.

“Even the Japanese were stunned by the verdicts,” she said.

One eyewitness described how “(one captain) looked incredulously at the court and then bowed in a dazed manner”.

The public fury at what they regarded as lax sentences resulted in letters to editors and questions in Parliament, because other trials being held in the region resulted in officers being executed by firing squads for more serious crimes.

None of those captains at the first Darwin trial was accused of murder, and they were acting under orders.

The second and third trials convicted the same man, Lieutenant Yutani Yujiro, first of the torture and ill-treatment of prisoners, for which he received a sentence of ten years’ hard labour, and then of the murder of the same prisoners, for which he received a death sentence.

He was transferred to Rabaul in Papua New Guinea and executed by firing squad.

Shooting was seen as a more honourable death for a military man than hanging, and therefore indicated their war crime was of a lesser gravity, Dr Morris said, which also did not impress the Australian public.

The outcry over the perceived leniency of the sentences was such that those were the last war crimes trials to be held in Australia, Ms Fitzpatrick said.