Monday, November 18, 2013

Tony Greig from a different angle

Tony Greig probably didn't set out to be divisive, but he had that effect on people.

He was best known to mainstream New Zealanders as one of the commentators on Channel 9's coverage of Australian cricket which beamed into Kiwi homes from the earliest days of the post-Packer era of World Series Cricket.

Tony Greig: Love, War and Cricket – A family memoir by Joyce Greig and Mark Greig. Published by Pan Macmillan. Price $49.99

But to cricket fans he was widely regarded as a combative captain of England, and a player who aligned himself with Kerry Packer's assault on the administrative bastion of world cricket that was something of a closed shop until 1977.

As Packer's agent, Greig was involved, while captaining England, in putting the feelers out for players who wanted to get involved in the proposed 'rebel' series that Packer wanted to run on his own television station as a result of the Australian Cricket Board refusing to give up on its rights being allocated to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Knowing that the cricket fraternity would never agree with his initiative, Packer launched his World Series that resulted in two years of upheaval before a British court ruling that the cricket administrators were guilty of a restraint of trade for cricketers forced the hand of the administrators.

Packer got his access to television coverage and the result has been reflected in cricket's re-birth since that time.

Greig became installed as one of the regular commentators, often upsetting the home bias of his Australian co-commentators, most notably Bill Lawry.

What is not so well known is the story of Greig's life. While this publication is, as its cover suggests, a family memoir, including the intriguing story of how his parents met and the implications of that on his mother's existing war-time marriage, it does help demonstrate what might have contributed to Greig's make-up.

Given the accounts of his Scottish father's war-time service in Bomber Command and the number of missions flown, above and beyond the call of duty, it was little wonder that Greig the younger was stung by The Times' cricket writer John Woodcock's comment at the time of the Packer controversy that it was understandable Greig should be involved because, after all, he wasn't an Englishman by birth but by adoption.

While his cricket career is covered in the story, what is more telling is the effect of his career, and the subsequent life in post-Packer days, that is the more revealing. Too often the personal cost of sport is not reflected but the role of family cannot be under-stated and both mother and son make poignant storytellers in this regard.

Tony Greig's influence in cricket was significant, and his views contained in his Cowdrey Lecture, which is run in full in the book, is a demonstration of how he felt about the game and its future.

Tony Greig – Love, War and Cricket is not your usual cricket biography but then Greig wasn't your usual cricketer.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lack of use by NZRU saddens Lomu

Not many New Zealand sports stars could warrant an update of their autobiography.

Richard Hadlee managed it, but then he had nearly 20 years of top-flight cricket and the likes of Peter Snell and Martin Crowe had post-career updates long after their competitive days were over.

JONAH - My Story. Published by Hodder Moa

But it is fitting that All Blacks' colossus Jonah Lomu has managed the feat.

His was a genuine international best seller which was hardly surprising given the profile he enjoyed in the sports world.

He also had some notable occurrences in his life after the publication of his first book, especially the kidney transplant he received, and which was the forerunner to his attempted comeback in the game.

Both issues are dealt with in his reissue as is the falling out with his former manager Phil Kingsley Jones.

Lomu also talks about the rough time he had after his appearance at the Rugby World Cup opening in Auckland when all in the stadium of four million could see that he wasn't at his best.

It turned out, within hours, that his transplanted kidney had gone into meltdown and couldn't be saved after seven years. And as a result Lomu has gone back on the waiting list for a new organ. His efforts to make sure he could attend the World Cup final show the level of determination that has marked the latter years of his life.

One regrettable point Lomu outlines is his lack of use by the New Zealand Rugby Union. He said it was a pity, since he stopped playing, that their relationship had not been closer.

"Unlike adidas, they just don't seem to want to have me involved. Even when I came back to rugby with North Harbour, they weren't interested.

"I never spoke to anyone from the union and it's pretty much been that way since I finished playing for the All Blacks.  Back in 2004, I would have thought maybe a get well card after the transplant operation might have been a nice gesture. Instead I got nothing. Not even a call," he said.

Lomu heard the NZRU had not been happy that he 'supported' Japan's bid for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. But he said he was asked by a journalist if he thought Japan would benefit from getting the 2011 World Cup? He said: "Yeah, of course it would be good for the world game. Asia is a big, untapped market."

But he added: "That was a hell of a long way short of me actually supporting their big over New Zealand's. No one was happier than me when we won the rights for the cup in 2011."

Lomu said with his work with sponsors he had learnt plenty and felt he had something to offer but the lack of a relationship with the NZRU was disappointing.

"Ultimately, it's their choice - we all have choices - but I would have thought they might have taken a bit of time, especially in recent years, to ask if there was anything I could do for them.

"Anyway, my door is always open. I've been loyal to the game and the jersey.

"I've never taken a handout in my life, and I don't ever expect any now. That's the way it will always be," he said.

Fulton and Southee take NZ Almanack honours for 2012-13

Batsman Peter Fulton and bowler Tim Southee were named the players of the year by the New Zealand Cricket Almanack.

Editors Francis Payne and Ian Smith described Fulton’s efforts in 2012-13 as ‘the best form of his career’. He totalled 1249 runs, capped by a century in each innings of the drawn third Test with England at Eden Park, a feat only surpassed by Martin Crowe.

The 66th New Zealand Cricket Almanack of 2013. Edited by Francis Payne and Ian Smith. Published by Hodder Moa. Price $55.00

Southee had achieved the best bowling performance by a New Zealander in India at the start of the season when taking 7-64 and he finished with 10 wickets in the Lord’s Test against England. At the start of the season he had been 33rd on the list of New Zealand’s wicket-takers but his 38 wickets during the summer saw him shoot to 17th with his total at 83 Test wickets.

The promising players of the year selected by the editors were left-arm fast bowler Mitch McClenaghan, Daryl Mitchell and Craig Munro.

One of the most interesting features of the Almanack every year is its Happenings section and just some of the details are listed below:

+ It is difficult to believe but leg-spinner Todd Astle was the 25th player to be on a winning side in his maiden Test. What is even more interesting is that the first player to achieve the feat was double international Keith Thomson, he played hockey for New Zealand, in 1968 which means that in 34 years, nearly one player a year has featured in a maiden Test win.

+ At the moment Astle shares a distinction with two others on the list, Gary Robertson and Andre Adams, of that being the only Test they played. However, Astle does have time on his side.

+ Given all the events in New Zealand cricket, it was somewhat incredible that the fact that New Zealand fielded the same XI in four successive Tests this year was the first time it had been achieved.

+ Central Districts and former New Zealand batsman Jamie How holds a unique record in the game. He is the only player to have taken part in a 400-run stand in first-class cricket, a triple-century stand in one-day cricket and a double-century stand in Twenty20 cricket.

+ Left-arm spinner Bruce Martin’s feat in playing 115 first-class games before making his Test debut is a New Zealand record.

As always, the Almanack is a fund of detail on the New Zealand season and a must-have for genuine cricket fans. There’s much more inside this 66th edition.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Armstrong's rise and fall outlined in compelling book

It is doubtful a more compelling account of Lance Armstrong's demise could be presented than that achieved by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O'Connell in their book Wheelmen.

The two Wall Street Journal writers have provided an in-depth account of Armstrong's life and it is not a pretty read.

Wheelmen by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O'Connell. Published by Hachette NZ.

Criticised throughout his domination of the Tour de France for his bullying attitude, Armstrong still managed to win support for his feats because of the seeming quality of his achievements.

The constant defence that he was the most tested rider in the world was a deliberate and calculated ploy to stave off those who wanted to know why more was not showing up in tests done on him. There was a fear he was one step ahead of the chemists and so it proved in a sport that had an on-going problem on the basis of past inaction on doping matters.

His dominance also started to hit home to others that all was not quite right.

Former Tour winner Greg LeMond recalled to the writers the first time the question of Armstrong doping was raised with him. It was in 1999 on the climb on Sestriere when the American blitzed the field on the climb.

"As Armstrong conquered Sestriere, everyone in the room, including LeMond, was cheering like mad. Except one man. A former mechanic on the Festina team named Cyrille Perrinn tapped LeMond on the shoulder and whispered to LeMond, 'sur le jus'.

"LeMond knew what this meant – Armstrong was juicing [taking drugs]. But how could the mechanic know this? 'What? Why?" LeMond asked, among the commotion and cheering.

"'No effort,' Perrin said. 'Look at his eyes, his breathing,' he said. Perrin went on to explain that cyclists were now using a powerful cocktail of drugs that propelled them up mountains without effort. 'They feel no pain,' he said to LeMond."

As much as the blatant cheating on the bike there were the machinations on the periphery of the game and those involved on the corporate side of the  Armstrong phenomenon. One example the authors highlighted was the relationship with Thom Weisel whose USA Cycling Development Foundation became a power player in the administration of the sport.

When Weisel gained control of USA Cycling, he appointed Jim Ochowicz as president while also installing him as a broker in his own banking firm. When Ochowicz joined him, one of his clients Hein Verbruggen went with him. Verbruggen was the head of the sport's world body, the UCI. That, the authors claimed, opened up ways in which Weisel could influence UCI decision-making.

They said: "Verbruggen now had several disincentives to police Armstrong's doping, and Armstrong would be thankful for them at various times throughout the remaining years of his career."

Armstrong wasn't beyond exerting his own threats, as LeMond found after he talked to British journalist David Walsh when Armstrong's links with controversial doctor Michele Ferrari confirmed to LeMond that Armstrong was doping.

LeMond said to Walsh: "When I heard he was working with Michele Ferrari, I was devastated...If Lance is clean, it is the greatest comeback in the history of sports. If he isn't, it would be the greatest fraud."

Armstrong attacked LeMond through their corporate connection with Trek bicycles saying one call to the company boss could shut down LeMond's work with the company.

An example of Armstrong's vindictiveness and control was seen when in 2004 lowly-placed rider Filippo Simeoni attempted to form an inconsequential breakaway group which would have no bearing on the final outcome of the race. But sensing sponsors would not be happy with lowly riders getting some publicity, Armstrong chased them down.

A factor in that thinking was that Simeoni had testified against Ferrari and  sued Armstrong after he criticised Simeoni. Armstrong rode them down, and in a famous scene that had television commentators wondering what was being discussed as he had his hand on Simeoni's back, delivered the message to the rider.

What Armstrong told him was: "You made a mistake when you testified against Ferrari and you made a mistake when you sued me. I have a lot of time and money and I can destroy you."

He told the rest of the chasing group they wouldn't get away as he would not let the breakaway survive. The other riders put pressure on Simeoni and they drifted back to the peloton. When they got there Armstrong made a zipping motion across his mouth to warn there should be no more talk about doping.

The authors also gave full coverage of the plight of Floyd Landis and the battle he had in potting Armstrong who had unleashed a smear campaign against him. Things looked to have succeeded when the US Attorney for the Central District of California was ending its two-year investigation into Armstrong.

It was to prove the lull before the storm.

As the full facts surrounding Armstrong's use of drugs emerged via USADA, the US anti-drug agency, the collapse of the Armstrong empire was prompt and graphically caught by the writers.

Theirs is a readable and graphic account of all that occurred in the Armstrong era appearing well-sourced and a permanent reminder of what may well prove LeMond's words correct, 'the greatest fraud'.