Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hayden story makes compelling read

Matthew Hayden has produced an autobiography as tough and unrelenting as his batting.

Having to battle so hard to claim a permanent place in the talented Australian side of his era, he made sure that once his chance came he made the most of it.

It is refreshing on this side of the Tasman to read a story full of all the benefits of hard work and application towards achieving a goal.

Those qualities are not so apparent in the less competitive structure of New Zealand cricket where international status is often acquired too early in the apprenticeship with the resultant downstream effects and inability to turn things around when hardship comes into the game.

That's not to say Hayden did have an answer in those situations, initially at least. But he made good use of his early support systems to build a foundation later in his career, and what a solid base he had.

That is apparent in Standing My Ground. Published by Penguin . Written in association with well-regarded Australian cricket writer Robert 'Crash' Craddock it has many lessons for cricketers the world over.

Rather than being frustrated by non-selection, Hayden used it as a weapon. "As much as I felt ready for big-time cricket and desperate for any opportunity that came my way, I also knew I was far from the finished product. I was risk-averse...People have often said to me it must have killed me to play just seven Tests in the six years after I was first chosen for Australia, but it didn't. I was so dedicated to improving myself that I actually found those years rewarding."

New Zealand featured significantly in Hayden's career, not least when he assured himself of selection for the 2007 World Cup on the back of an outstanding innings of 181 not out, much of it on one leg after breaking a toe.

"I always felt we played our best against the Kiwis when we treated them with total disdain. Eventually they would wilt under the pressure, almost as if they believed they were inferior. But they were great planners and, at times, a feisty and very willing opposition," he wrote.

"Because the Kiwis had limited resources, they felt they needed to squeeze absolutely everything out of what they had. I used to hate 'just getting by' against New Zealand, in that way that you'd take offence at being stretched by your little brother in the backyard. I wanted to completely destroy them because I felt there was not one area of the game where they were superior to us."

Hayden has shown a feel for the all-round involvement in cricket, not just as a player but through the Players' Association and now with Cricket Australia. It is a welcome trend in the modern era and as an observer he has a message for the media. Players are reading the papers less than before and there is a challenge for the media to learn to cope with constantly changing technology.

"Cricket coverage must embrace new ways of communication to remain relevant, topical and fresh," he said.

Challenged to itemise problems in the game, and possible solutions, he felt Tests deserved a bigger audience, remove the mismatches (effectively dropping Zimbabwe and Bangladesh), reduce the conflict between Tests and Twenty20, provide up-to-date venues for matches, reduce the number of confusing one-day competitions and establish a global calendar.

This is much more than another player autobiography – it is a solid, sensible read by someone with a holistic view of the game.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Older journos and an All Blacks legend

Difficult as it may be for younger people to believe there is a lot to be said for experience and it is symptomatic of that fact that three of the books to hit the sports market ahead of Christmas in 2010 are based on sporting senior citizens.

In keeping with the mood of nostalgia that appears to be gripping the world, did someone mention Depression?, the desire for knowledge of past sporting events has found a ready market with three volumes.

Cricket's itinerant septuagenarian Richie Benaud offers new angles on ground he has ploughed before in his book Over But Not Out – My Life So Far, published by Hachette NZ.

One of New Zealand's famous All Blacks captains, and a relative man of mystery to your average rugby follower is profiled in a biography by Bob Howitt A Perfect Gentleman, published by Harper Sports.

And the most famous of New Zealand's rugby writers, Sir Terry McLean is the subject of a biography, The Life and Times of Sir Terry McLean, published also by Harper Sports and written by Paul Lewis with Jock McLean.

Benaud's book is his 10th and follows a familiar vein to his more recent books with an early description of his upbringing in the game, and some more in-depth stories of his earlier playing days as he sought a permanent place in the Australian team he would eventually lead.

Another angle is provided on 'The Greatest Series', although it is not the Australia-West Indies series in which he and Frank Worrell combined in 1960-61, rather the mantle has shifted to the Ashes Series of 2005. Aspects of modern cricket come under his gaze and unlike many older fans he doesn't look back to his days with rose-tinted glasses. Benaud has never had an issue with adaptation in cricket.

One point of special worth he made was in his dealings with leg-spinner Shane Warne, the greatest bowler of them all in Benaud's mind.

"On the occasions Shane did call to discuss a possible problem, or to check how he was bowling, I always tried to avoid a coaching answer in suggesting what, if anything, he should do.

"Instead I tried to pose him a question which would make him think about why the problem might exist...To me this approach is far preferable to providing a long, involved coaching answer.

"The important thing is that the player must be able to think and solve the problem for himself – there is no coach standing by your side in the centre of the ground if things aren't going right," he wrote.

Oh that such a wise approach was taken more often.

Sir Wilson Whineray's story is a reminder of an era long gone in rugby, but one which set a foundation for the game as it is now known.

Diehard believers knew the details of Whineray's career, and those who had followed his later business achievements knew that this was no ordinary All Blacks captain.

The deeds of his playing and working life are deserving of an in-depth study of the man, but given his own reluctance to commit his story to paper, A Perfect Gentleman will have to suffice.

A perspective of his rugby-playing career is much easier achieved than his business life and author Bob Howitt has ensured the Whineray style is well described.

Whineray had significant influence, perhaps more than the general public understands, and it would have been interesting for his time at the helm of the Hillary Commission, now SPARC – the government sports funding agency, to have been assessed.

Whineray was also the person charged with making the decision about where Wellington's regional stadium should reside – he chose the waterfront – and it would have been interesting given his involvement with Eden Park to have had an assessment of what he felt was Auckland's best option.

Sir Terry McLean's story was the surprise package of books offered this year – does Joe Public really care about sports journalists' lives?

Much has centred on his affair, or not, with South African Opposition MP Helen Suzman and anyone who read Battling The Boks could not have been but impressed by the change in attitude towards South Africa that overcame McLean.

But there is more to the story than the affair, not least details of McLean's youth and upbringing and his desire to be a sports journalist.

His relationship with his employer, Wilson and Horton, and his publisher Reeds NZ is also of interest.

South Africa did loom large in the New Zealand psyche of the day, and McLean was an important gauge in changing attitudes. While it provided him with a lucrative income for his free-lance writing it also proved a vehicle for informing South Africans of views in New Zealand.

Little wonder that his great rival/nemesis Danie Craven, the former captain, coach and el supremo of South African rugby, in opening the 1983 International Rugby Media Congress in Cape Town, and various other centres over a two-week period uttered, upon seeing many well-known names in world rugby journalism in the audience, "...and I see Terry McLean is here, will he never die?"

That McLean is a central part of rugby life in New Zealand but not necessarily a pillar whose life work has entered his works into the 'hard-to-find-must-have-at-any-price' realm of rugby literature was hit home at a significant memorabilia auction.

His books failed to sell, even at bargain basement rates, and taking this up with the auctioneer later was enlightening for the reviewer who expressed surprise at the non-sale.

"Well why didn't you buy them, they would have been cheap enough?" the auctioneer asked.

To which I replied that I already had them.

"And so has everyone else who is interested," he said.

McLean was mass market material in days when television coverage made tour books a vital part of the information structure, his take on the game always a source of worth. His biography is informative and will form an important part of the understanding of his role during an important era, and it will tell more of the man than the public of his day was ever allowed to know.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Book Review: Shane Bond delivers bouncer

Shane Bond was a meteor flashing across New Zealand's cricketing sky.

Fast bowlers of his quality have been few and far between. It's not quite as rare as seeing Halley's Comet every 75-odd years but it's not far away.

You could name them during New Zealand's Test history as being Richard Hadlee, Gary Bartlett, Bond and perhaps Jack Cowie.

Looking Back, Shane Bond with Dylan Cleaver. Published by Hodder Moa

Bond was different in so many ways. He had been a first-class player for several seasons before he acquired the speed that made him such an impact player. He had a career away from cricket, as a policeman, and that training was where he recovered the stability in his fitness that allowed him to prosper for New Zealand.

He broke down regularly as his back failed to last the distance. But when he was on song, he was outstanding.

It's a measure of his quality to see some of the batsmen he regularly dismissed.

In Tests, where he took 87 wickets he had Ramnaresh Sarwan four times, Chris Gayle, Sanath Jayasuriya, Brian Lara and Virender Sehwag three times each.

But ever more impressively among his 147 ODI victims were: Ricky Ponting seven times, Brad Haddin four, Gayle, Adam Gilchrist, Damian Martyn and Sehwag three times each.

That was the beauty of Bond, he got the good batsmen out. Who will forget his effort at Eden Park against the West Indies when they needed 291 to win and were cruising at 157-1 when Bond removed Sarwan to an injury before claiming when he returned but then claiming Lara with the next ball.

He then came back after a minor recovery to end the resistance and take a five-wicket bag for a 27-run win.

It was the same in the summer of 2009-10 in his solitary Test, at Dunedin, against Pakistan when on the final afternoon it seemed the Pakistan side might be stealing a win before Bond and Iain O'Brien produced a stunning display of determination and speed to seal another win by 32 runs.

That was Bond, calm under pressure.

It must have been quite a shock for NZ Cricket chief executive Justin Vaughan to see Bond explode in Vaughan's office when he realised he had been hung out to dry by NZC after he followed the book in seeking approval to play in the Indian Cricket League.

The details of the volte-face by Vaughan are included at the start of Bond's story 'Looking Back' and they are an indictment of the methodology by which cricket operates. NZC has every reason to be grateful that Bond did not take them to court. The consequences would surely have strained the exchequer.

Sadly the ineptitude of the New Zealand administration is a reflection of that which guides the game at international level and which has so far proven unable to come to grips with the many issues now confronting the game.

But Bond, who was treated unfairly by armchair critics hiding behind the anonymity of talkback radio throughout his career, has shown his mettle and fortunately for cricket bears no apparent grudges toward the game. Central Districts' bowlers are going to be the immediate beneficiaries of his skills which will fortunately not be lost to the game.

His story will be a reminder of the fleeting moments of delight he brought to New Zealand's game, a genuine fast bowler, who had a happy knack of knocking over top-quality batsmen but also represented is the changing nature of the relationship between players and administrators, and sadly it is the players who so far appear best to have appreciated the requirements of professionalism.