Clark talks down Proteas

FAST bowler Stuart Clark has skittled suggestions the world No.2-ranked South Africans represent the greatest threat to Australia’s impressive home record.

The last time Australia lost a series here was in 1992-93 when the West Indies triumphed 2-1. However, with no Glenn McGrath or Shane Warne in Ricky Ponting’s attack, there is a popular view South Africa mightn’t succumb to the same pressures that have sunk them on previous tours.

Clark, who is zeroing on 100 Test wickets, confessed last year’s siege of a series against India was the toughest time he’d endured since making his Test debut in 2006.

"They’re a strong team, but they’re not unbeatable," he told The Sun-Herald , speaking of the Proteas. "There are quite a few familiar faces [in the squad]; ones we’ve beaten and played against. Some of them have a lot more confidence than the last time we met because they’ve had a little bit of success.

"But I think India last summer was a tough series. It was the toughest I’ve played here. South Africa are No.2 in the world so they’ve obviously done very well. On the previous occasions they’ve been here they haven’t been so successful … but they’ll be tough if they can play as well as India did."

Clark, whose wife, Michelle, gave birth to the couple’s second child, a girl named Sophie, on Wednesday, starts the Test series on Wednesday 10 victims shy of the 100 wickets milestone. While McGrath sweated on his personal wicket tally, Clark shrugged his shoulders when asked about the impending achievement.

"I don’t really think much of it," he said. "There’s been talk of the 100 wickets but at the end of the day it is just a number to me. It’s a personal achievement and it’s not something that’ll affect the team in terms of winning."

Since taking match figures of 9-89 on debut against South Africa, Clark has established himself as a vital member of the Australian attack. After taking 20 South Africa wickets at an average of 15.85 during his debut Test series, he has maintained his consistency and his 90 wickets have come at a skinny average of 22.97, putting him on par with McGrath (21.64).

Yet, the 33-year-old was reluctant to celebrate the type of statistic that sends cricket tragics into a headspin.

"It’s something I don’t think much about," said Clark who has been studying his Masters of Commerce degree at Sydney University. "It’s something I don’t talk about … but I’m as surprised [by it] as anyone."

While Clark might have dismissed any suggestions South Africa were the most serious threat to Australia’s home record, he didn’t follow McGrath’s psychological ploy of predicting a series whitewash. Though, he didn’t need to; the old master was up to his tricks at the SCG during a promotion for the McGrath Foundation.

"South Africa has some quality batsmen and bowlers but I still back our boys," McGrath said before predicting a 3-0 shellacking.

Cricket Australia announced during the week that the third day of the Sydney Test, traditionally known as Ladies Day, will now be called Jane McGrath Day in honour of his late wife who lost her battle with breast cancer earlier this year.

Just what the doctor ordered

A BOX of chocolates and a bottle of wine could be the healthiest Christmas present you get this year, with an increasing amount of evidence that a diet rich in antioxidants can help prevent heart disease.

Sydney GP and wine historian Phil Norrie has developed his own range of plonk specially formulated with very high doses of resveratrol, a polyphenol antioxidant found in the skin of red grapes.

Laboratory and animal studies have reported anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, blood-sugar-lowering and other beneficial cardiovascular effects of resveratrol.

Dr Norrie, who has a PhD in "Wine and health through the ages" from the University of Western Sydney, has produced a chardonnay and a shiraz under his Wine Doctor label.

The 2006 vintage has more than 100 times the concentration of resveratrol per bottle than a standard white or red wine.

Dr Norrie, of Elanora Heights, said the wine acts as a "vascular pipe-cleaner" by keeping arteries free of fatty deposits that cause heart attack and stroke.

"Wine has been used as medicine for the last 5000 years and we’ve made it healthier by enriching the antioxidants," he said.

After almost 30 years in general practice, Dr Norrie said moderate consumption of resveratrol-enhanced wine could help the incidence of lifestyle diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and dementia.

"Getting people to stop smoking, exercise and lose weight, is a nice idea but in reality it doesn’t happen. Drinking two glasses of wine is realistic, enjoyable and also good for you and I’ve made it even healthier," he said.

At RMIT University in Melbourne, PhD student Indu Singh studied several antioxidants, including cocoa, olive leaf extract and vitamin E – and found they could potentially reduce the risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

She found antioxidant supplementation improved glucose uptake in healthy people and had a positive effect on blood lipid profile (cholesterol and triglyceride levels) and combated oxidative stress-induced cardiovascular disease.

"A diet that includes a good amount of olive oil, nuts and green leafy vegetables – and some high-quality dark chocolate – will help you lower your risk of developing heart disease," Dr Singh said.

However she said the right doses for both healthy people and those with chronic disease were still unknown.

So close: ocean rower misses epic goal and wife

ITALIAN adventurer Alexandro Bellini just wanted to hold his wife, Francesca Urso, in his arms again after spending nearly 10 months alone at sea rowing almost 18,000 kilometres across the Pacific Ocean.

Mr Bellini, 30, came agonisingly close to completing his epic goal of rowing from Peru to Australia.

Having left Lima in February, he called for help after hitting stormy weather on Friday, about 130 nautical miles north-east of Newcastle.

He had planned to reach Sydney this week.

“I’ve been on the verge of giving up many times but this was one of the lowest I’ve reached,” Mr Bellini said yesterday after being reunited with his wife in Newcastle. “Being away from my wife was one of the biggest challenges. I missed her so much; seeing her again was one of the best moments of my life.”

Mr Bellini docked in Newcastle Harbour aboard a New Zealand-registered tugboat, Katea, at 9.30am.

Ms Urso could not wait for the tugboat to berth and stretched out to hug her dishevelled, thin, bearded husband as the vessel was mooring.

He had been surviving on dried food and desalinated water before his voyage went awry. He had spoken to his wife regularly via satellite phone until last month, when his four-metre rowboat capsized.

Ms Urso, 29, said her husband of just over a year had a “love for the extreme” and would not let his thwarted passage to Australia stop another attempt in the future.

“This is his first time here [in Australia] and, even though not everything went to plan, I’m glad to have him back again,” she said. “We were following his position hour by hour and our meteorologists warned of bad weather, including 30-knot winds. There was no reason to battle the weather.”

Mr Bellini ate pizza, steak, a box of biscuits and peanut butter out of the jar when rescued on Friday night after 296 days at sea.

“Physically he seemed OK but he was very skinny,” Katea’s engineer, John Coulson, said. “He had a huge appetite when we rescued him. We had no idea who he was. We thought he was just some rower from New Zealand who’d got lost.”

Mr Bellini crossed the Atlantic in 2005, rowing from Italy to Brazil, and has crossed Alaska twice on foot. He had planned to row through Sydney Heads and be greeted by a flotilla of spectators.

Australia blamed as progress on new deal fizzles

A CALL-TO-ARMS by former US vice-president Al Gore and a contentious European deal to cut its greenhouse emissions have overshadowed an anti-climactic finale to UN climate talks in Poland.

Critics said the talks made only tentative steps to a new global treaty.

Promised as a stepping stone towards a post-Kyoto climate deal to be signed in Copenhagen next year, the Poznan talks edged towards conclusion yesterday amid accusations that developed nations, including Australia, had blocked progress on greenhouse targets.

As expected, there was no deal on how to share the responsibility of cutting emissions even though developed countries acknowledged that scientists recommended cuts of between 25 and 40 per cent.

But the go-ahead was given to a number of technical projects, including a fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change, further work on a joint plan between wealthy and poor countries to cut emissions from deforestation and a legal framework for a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong, who left early for Canberra and the release of the Government’s 2020 greenhouse target and the final details of its emissions trading scheme tomorrow, said the Poznan summit had been a step forward.

"There have been encouraging signs of momentum," she said.

Much of the momentum came from a rousing appearance by Mr Gore, acting as an unofficial envoy during meetings with ministers and officials, including Senator Wong, after a lengthy briefing with the US president-elect Barack Obama last week.

A Nobel laureate for his work combating climate change, Mr Gore called on world leaders to hold several meetings next year to ensure a new treaty by the December deadline. He said Mr Obama had assured him that combating the "greatest challenge humankind has ever faced" would be a top priority of the new US administration.

Mr Gore acknowledged negotiations were "painfully slow" but noted such positive signs as pledges by Western nations to invest in green jobs and China investing $US600 million ($903 million) in green projects over the next two years.

"I believe that the causes for hope and optimism are greater than the causes for doubt and discouragement and I believe the road to Copenhagen is now clear," he said.

"We have to overcome the paralysis that has prevented us from acting and focus clearly and unblinkingly on this crisis rather than spending so much time on O.J. Simpson and Paris Hilton and Anna-Nicole Smith," he said.

His speech punctuated an otherwise pessimistic mood. Environmentalists were concerned the world had moved no closer to a new climate deal.

Greenpeace International climate campaigner Stephanie Tunmore said little had been done to set up a framework for a new deal. She blamed "the usual suspects" including Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand for not committing to ambitious targets.

The European Union was heavily criticised for watering down its ambitious climate and energy plan by accepting concessions demanded by Italy, Germany, Poland and Hungary to help their big polluting industries cope with the financial crisis.

Rich pickings as Pacific Islander trial bears fruit

SOUTH Pacific Islanders will be brought to Australia to pick fruit in the Riverina because farmers cannot get enough local workers.

The unskilled workers will come from Kiribati, Tonga, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea and will be allowed to stay for seven months under a Federal Government trial seasonal worker scheme.

Farmers will pay half the cost of the air fares and the workers will be paid award wages.

After the initial trial with 100 workers, which organisers hope will begin before Christmas, 2400 seasonal worker visas will be available for Pacific Islanders from July.

The National Farmers’ Federation said there is a nationwide shortage of 22,000 seasonal workers in horticulture alone and bringing in the Pacific Islanders was important to enable farmers to continue producing food.

Federation president David Crombie said the Pacific Islands had a ready, willing and able workforce, happy to make the trek into regional Australia to fill the positions.

"Australian farmers are ready to welcome them with open arms," he said. "They are loath to see another season of fruit rotting on trees."

Australian Workers Union assistant national secretary Ben Swan said there was a recognised shortage of labour in the horticultural industry.

"We are 100percent behind the [Pacific] Islander scheme," Mr Swan said.

He said the workers would get the same pay, terms and conditions as Australians with rates beginning at $14.30 an hour for full-timers.

Mr Crombie said he encouraged Australians to take up any of the 22,000 vacancies.

"This scheme is not a replacement for local jobs; it supplements local labour shortfalls."

Farms at Griffith and Leeton are urgently in need of pickers for valencia oranges and other produce such as melons, pumpkins and onions.

Anna Berry of Summit Personnel said the Pacific Islander scheme had been in the pipeline for some time but the previous federal government had rejected it.

Ms Berry, who was born in Vanuatu, said the problem was that a lot of Australians didn’t want to go to places such as Griffith to work in what they thought was a barren land.