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.

No comments: