Our nation reels under our greatest cricketing controversy since Trevor Chappell’s infamous underarm bowling incident.
And yet, amid the howls of outrage from the public, I am reminded of another cricket controversy – the day my own team was accused of ball tampering.
I was the star batsman of the mighty Pryde Under Nines. Our captain was “Booger” Jones. He got his name after someone allegedly saw him picking a winner during the interschool carnival.
Of course, in the heady days before Facebook and smartphones, there was no actual evidence that he had picked his nose. It was his word against his accuser’s … and, naturally, according to the laws of the playground, everyone sided against “Booger”.
I mention this only to emphasis that “Booger” already had form as a controversial, possibly Shakespearean figure.
The arch enemies of the Pryde Under Nines were the South Pryde Under Nines. The enmity between us was mutual. Their cheersquad – consisting of their diehard dads, bored mums and the morbidly obese – would shout “cheater, cheater, mango eater” whenever we went on the field.
For our part, we swore we’d never seen so many “eight-year-olds” with moustaches before.
Even today, Southie adults will shout out  “cheater, cheater, mango eater” to anyone they see on the street from Pryde.
And we have to swallow the insult … because of our great shame.
We had just batted an abysmal 55 against South Pryde in the last match of the season. Hackles were up because just last week one of the South Pryde dads had “accidentally” run over Booger’s BMX with his Land Rover.
Booger pulled us into a huddle. “We’re getting thrashed here. I’m captain, and I say we … tamper the ball.”
Tamper the ball? We would be a disgrace to the “baggy mauve” … our uniforms being mauve because Booger’s mum had left our uniforms in the washing machine too long with pink socks.
“Our dads would kill us!” I said.
“What are you kids talking about there?” asked a “Southie” dad.
“I’ll buy you a pack of musk sticks,” said Booger.
“Damn you!” I cursed. He knew my price. No child under 10 could resist the lure of musk sticks. He had corrupted me. “OK, so how are we going to do it?”
“With this,” said Booger, holding up a One-Metre-Long Licorice Roll, saved from an Easter Show bag by “Typhoid” Timmy. “We’ll wrap this around the ball.”
“You can’t put one metre of prime licorice around a cricket ball!” I shouted.
Booger considered this. “You’re right. Make it 50cm.” He turned to me. “You do it. You’re our worst bowler. They won’t suspect you.” Booger’s eyes lit up like a demon’s. He wanted to win at all costs. His ambition scared me.
I picked up the 50cm of licorice … then stuffed it down my pants.
“Alea iacta east,” said that weird kid who previously went to a private school.
We could tell right away that the plan was working.
Thanks to the licorice, the ball had no “roll”. What would have been easy fours turned out to be singles. The Southie batting attack was blunted. Southie dads yelled in anger.
We could win this thing after all.
Disaster struck in the 10th over. “Bomber” Brown blocked a ball rather than swinging for the fence. The ball stopped in front of him. And the licorice peeled off.
“Perfidy!” he shouted.
We were busted. It was on for young and old. Fistfights between dads in the car park. Social snubbings between mums in the supermarket. BMX tyres were slashed.
“Will we ever learn to trust again?” proclaimed the school newspaper, printed off the MicroBee computers.
Our principal immediately called for “Booger” to stand down as captain.
“It is unbelievable that our cricket team would be involved in ball tampering,” he thundered. “Don’t you know that you are role models for the under eights?”
As we hung our heads in shame, he continued. “The entire team will be on schoolyard clean-up duties for the next month. Now go and take a long, hard look at yourselves.” “Booger” was never the same afterwards. He gave away all of his Star Wars toys – including the extremely rare Boba Fett with accessory rocket launcher, a sign of his mental torment – before his family moved out of the district.
We had tarnished Under Nines cricket forever.
One could say the shame of the “Licorice 11” lives on to this day.

My thriller Game Of Thrones: The Spartan is out now as an ebook and paperback.

In the event China went to war with the United States, the Chinese military had prepared a list of American targets it called “the irreplaceables”. These “irreplaceables” were the best of the best of their enemy: brilliant men and women whose genius-level talent and brainpower could potentially sway any conflict.

Sourced from all races, colors and creeds, “the irreplaceables” had the ability to win battles, create entire industries from scratch, plan trillion-dollar economies, out-think the world’s smartest people, imagine the future and forge the technology and circumstances to bring a country there.

They were once-in-a-generation types, the flukes of nature that sprang up at random, the prodigies that even China – with its own gene pool of 1 billion-plus very smart, very hard-working people – feared. They were the Isaac Newtons of their eras, the Einsteins, the Marie Curies. They were threats to China’s future hegemony.

Their skills and abilities were so impressive that they would be impossible to replace: hence the name.

America would bleed if the irreplaceables bled.

The leader had seen some of the names of the irreplaceables.

Now he decided to act against them.

Game Of Killers: The Spartan is out now as an ebook and paperback.

He’s the special forces soldier taking down his country’s enemies around the world.
He’s an irresistible force of patriotism and violence that leaves a trail of bodies in his wake.
He’s a loose cannon who plays by his own rules.
But he’s not Rambo. He’s Len Feng.
And his latest story – Wolf Warrior 2 – has earned more than $US800 million in China, making it the biggest-grossing Chinese film in history.
It is also the second-biggest movie of all time in a single market after Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
With the Chinese box office rivalling Hollywood’s for the first time ever, Tinseltown is sitting up and paying attention.
Which leads us to ask: is the world ready for a Chinese Rambo?
If you ask the box office, then the answer is emphatically yes. Chinese audiences have enjoyed seeing arrogant Western mercenaries being taken down a peg, particularly chief baddie Big Daddy (Frank Grillo from the Captain America movies).
“Like Sylvester Stallone before him, and John Wayne before Stallone, star Wu Jing (who also directs) has successfully exploited the crowd-pleasing potential of enhancing militaristic action-adventure heroics with a heavy dose of flag-waving patriotism,” says Variety’s Joe Leydon.
On the surface it’s Rambo with a Chinese twist: Hollywood action meets Eastern patriotism in a violent ballet of gunfights, fistfights and tank battles.
Yet Wolf Warrior 2 also tells the story of a rising China, ready to defend its various interests and national pride around the world. The tagline for the poster reads: “Whoever attacks China will be killed no matter how far the target is.”
Not only is Wolf Warrior 2 a sign of the new power of the Chinese movie market, it’s a sign of an increasingly muscular Chinese cinema, eager to project its soft power. In a world where Australia’s Foreign Police White Paper expresses concern with Chinese island building in the South China Sea, China needs a propaganda win.
Looking ahead, one could imagine future movies where China must its send heroes to defend its One Belt One Road investments from possibly Western-themed threats.
But back to Feng.
He has taken the metaphorical baton – or machine gun – from that disillusioned agent of empire, Rambo.
Once Rambo was a symbol of American military assertiveness writ large, fighting its battles by proxy on the big screen.
Rambo transcended his sympathetic origins as a troubled war veteran in First Blood to become an agent of propaganda in Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rambo III, rather shamelessly rewriting history so that America “won” in Vietnam in Part II.
The last time we saw him in 2008’s Rambo he was as tired as the American Empire itself, a victim of age and imperial overreach.
If Western heroes have become less confident and less jingoistic – take a look at Hugh Jackman’s magnificent swansong for Wolverine in Logan – Len Feng has no such problems. Nor does the actor who plays him, Wu Jing: “Why do only foreign nations get to have superheroes?” he told press. “In Hollywood, the hero can take on a whole army. Why can’t my character take on a dozen mercenaries?”
Wolf Warrior 2 also has another message: that we no longer exclusively need white, male Western heroes to save the world.
The trope of the great white saviour is in retreat in popular culture everywhere. Television shows such as The Defenders represent the idea that diversity is strength: that a blind man, a bulletproof African-American and a superpowered female detective can team together to save New York. (We’ll leave out mentioning Iron Fist, Exhibit A in the Western White Saviour/Cultural Appropriation wars).
Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is more than just a role model: she’s a bona fide box-office smash, topping the $800 million mark worldwide.
We finally have, after much fanboy wailing, a female Doctor Who.
Then there’s the rise and rise of multicultural films such as Lion, aka the fifth-biggest Australian film of all time at the local box office.
In such a diverse world, perhaps there is room for a Chinese Rambo.

My military thriller Game Of Killers: The Spartan is out now as an ebook and paperback.

Don Corleone
Job for life (literally)
Silicon Valley
Job until you’re 30 (so old)

Don Corleone

Must kill
Silicon Valley
Must code

Don Corleone
Job for life (literally)
Silicon Valley
Job until you’re 30 (so old)

Don Corleone
Workplace full of aggression
Silicon Valley
Workplace full of microaggression

Don Corleone
Must pay obeisance to all-powerful father figure
Silicon Valley
Must pay obeisance to all-powerful tech guru

Don Corleone
Co-workers mostly dudes
Silicon Valley
Co-workers mostly dudes

Don Corleone
“I loved that movie”
Silicon Valley
“I loved that TV show”

Don Corleone
Boss has a place at Lake Tahoe
Silicon Valley
Boss has a place at Lake Tahoe

Don Corleone
Johnny Fontaine sings at your office party
Silicon Valley
Demi Lovato sings at your office party

Don Corleone
“Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes”
Silicon Valley
“Luca Brasi sleeps in the office nap pod”

Don Corleone
Make people offers they can’t refuse
Silicon Valley
Make companies offers they can’t refuse

My military thriller Game Of Killers: The Spartan is out now as an ebook and paperback.

Belief.

It’s something in short supply these days.

I’m not talking about casual, commonplace, ersatz belief – like the belief that your pizza will arrive in 30 minutes or it’s free. Or that your favourite toothpaste will give your mouth a minty-fresh glow. Or the self-belief that motivational speakers spruik, quick fixes that last mere days because their foundations are weak and spurious.

There is no danger – or risk – in holding such beliefs.

No, I’m talking about the type of belief that our ancestors once had. The wild, fundamental belief that something is an absolute certainty despite a complete lack of proof. The belief that hundreds of years of science and technology has virtually wiped out in the modern world.

The belief that if you don’t pray to the gods, make the right sacrifice or live by the right moral code that you and your family will starve, that a rival tribe will destroy you or that your very existence will be shattered into a million pieces.

I’m talking about adamantine, rock-solid, bullet-proof belief.

As an entertainment journalist I’ve met a few A-list Hollywood stars who possessed such a bullet-proof belief. Such belief was mesmerising to observe close-up. Considering that Hollywood is one of the most competitive industries in the world, a powerful belief in one’s own star power is almost a pre-requisite.

But such belief isn’t something you see too often outside of Hollywood.

I realise now I first saw it in Billy Graham.

I was only eight when the late US evangelist visited Australia, preaching to thousands of the faithful at Randwick Racecourse.

As a mere youth I don’t remember much about that day. Certainly I stared up into the faces of all the adults and wondered why they were so mesmerised by Graham and his words. No … what I remember most is what happened when handfuls of people left the event prematurely, heading out across the track and into the distance.

Graham noticed.

I don’t remember what he said to them over the microphone, except that they should come back. And no, they didn’t suddenly turn around and return.

I found it funny at the time.

Now, as an adult, I have a different take.

No … what I now remember is the absolute certainty of Graham’s faith.

I believe he sincerely believed that the immortal souls of those stragglers were at risk if they didn’t return and embrace the Lord. He truly believed in the power and the words of his gospel. He truly believed he could make some type of difference in the world.

I’m not a religious person. The only time I attend church is Easter and Christmas, like the rest of lapsed Christendom.

As a cynical adult living in a world of technological marvels and scientific explanations, I don’t share in the belief of his gospel.

I studied postmodernism at university, which taught the belief that there is no such thing as absolute truth, religious or otherwise.

The only truth my First World generation believes in is that there are no real truths. We don’t believe in governments or corporations or even free will separated from the shackles of biological instinct. Our God is technology.

We barely believe in ourselves.

Perhaps that’s why as an adult I admire the adamantine faith of Graham because I know it’s something I could never have.

Perhaps I am like Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard, who wisftully longs to be a 19th-century man seething with anger, full of the type of questions the modern world has already solved.

In the First World, we may never see the likes of Graham’s adamantine belief again.

All we can do is mourn its passing, as if it were an endangered tiger.

Which, in a way, it is.

My new thriller Game Of Killers: The Spartan is out now as an ebook and paperback.

Forget about season eight of Game of Thrones.
The real battle in Sydney featuring majestic flying creatures is the Game Of Bins.
And the players? The legendary “bin chickens” you see every day: on uni campuses, in public parks, on the streets of our fair city.
Only one ibis will ultimately sit on the Iron Bin.
As the Battle of the Bin Chickens heats up, we take a look at the front-running ibises that just might one day perch on the Iron Bin.
Which noble house will you support?

Lord Eddard Aark
– Stupid but honourable
– Favoured among Arts students
– On the rugby union team
– Notorious for “dad jokes”

Jon Crow
– Constantly surrounded by the hottest women on campus
– Super brave: will eat a hot chip right out of your hand
– Always watching from on top of a wall
– Went to a public school and slightly ashamed of the fact

Cersei Bannister
– Hits the “bin juice” pretty hard
– Coined the phrase “you bin or you die”
– Surrounded on all uni quads by enemies
– Her inexplicably hot brother is always hanging around

Prancer Aark
– Used to be besties with Cersei until they had a fight over a necklace
– Will have those lemon cakes or cheeky Nando’s you’re eating if you’re finished with them, ta
– Member of House Jacaranda, eternal enemy of House Flametree

Daenerys Faarkgaryen
– Queen of the Law students
– Strong sense of entitlement because she grew up on the North Shore
– First boyfriend was a “westie”
– Untrustworthy around a Webber

Littlebeak
– Creepy mature-age student who always sits up the back during lectures
– Studies economics or engineering: his answers are always cryptic
– Always running for Students’ Representative Council but never elected
– Hasn’t moved for a while

Gendry Barhoppean
– On the rowing team
– Says his dad used to be a “king” or an investment banker: “same thing”
– Never around when it’s his time to buy a round

Tyrion Bannister
– Rich dad
– The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads – they all adore him
– Fellow “bin juice” connoisseur
– Who you really want to sit on the Iron Bin but won’t because reasons

My new thriller Game Of Killers: The Spartan is out now as an ebook and paperback.

Designed in new, non-phallic shapes

A quieter crunch to reduce the social awkwardness of loudly crunching in public

“Lady Doritos” polled better with groups that “Suffragettos”

Optional “sparkly unicorn” packaging

Doubles as a body scrub and exfoliant

Introduces identity politics into chips

Comes in pink

Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce ran their ruler over it and could see nothing wrong with the concept

“This is the best marketing decision since New Coke”

Will probably cost more than “Gentlemen Doritos”

My new thriller Game Of Killers: The Spartan is out now as an ebook and paperback.