Thursday, 7 November 2013

"Champions" By Mike Coward. A Book Review.


A Book Review by Owen Zupp

At the elite level, sport is as much about character as it is co-ordination. The finely honed skills of the best cricketers are so closely aligned that is often the mental toughness and depth of character that elevates one above another. It is these personal traits that are so critical and yet they are so often lost amidst contrived media responses and dry statistics. Mike Coward’s book “Champions” delves beyond the shallows and discovers the people behind the greats of the game.

Drawn from over 130 filmed interviews in conjunction with the Bradman Foundation, with players across different eras, Coward has highlighted the attitudes of leading players to the various aspects of the game. In doing so he offers a valuable insight into ‘what makes them tick’. That he is able to evoke such honest, candid responses is testament to the players respect for Coward. A respect earned over decades writing about cricket around the world.

This book is both entertaining and engaging and allows the reader to understand the game and its people to an even greater degree. It is a great challenge to translate a person’s true ‘voice’ into the written word. Mike Coward has done so brilliantly and allowed us to really hear the voice of the “Champions”.

“Champions”.  The World’s Greatest Cricketers Speak.

 Conversations with Mike Coward
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Allen & Unwin (January 1, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1743315619
ISBN-13: 978-1743315613

Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Art of Cricket.

The Art of Cricket.

By Owen Zupp

In this blog I often contemplate how cricket as a game steps outside the pickets and impacts upon other spheres. Often it is through the friendships made and at other times through the lessons of fair play that apply to everyday life. Occasionally it is the game's beauty. Sometimes the beauty may seem obscure but at other times it is a little more obvious and expressed in a manner that is both diverse and tangible. Such is the case with the magnificent cricket art exhibition on display at the Bradman International Cricket Hall of Fame.

The 2012 Cricket Art Prize entrants are currently being showcased at this wonderful venue and represent an amazing body of work by artists from Australia and abroad. While I sit at the low end of the scale in terms of being an art critic, the works on display are amazing on so many levels. There is the initial impact emanating from their broad range in size, shape, colour and texture; but there is something deeper. There is the matter of perspective.

For the topic of a solitary sport, the artists have grasped so many different angles through their work. The intricate detail of leather on willow, or the solitude of a boy looking for a lost ball. The dynamic energy of a slashing drive, or the clouds brewing, threatening to spoil the day. A handshake between foes and the heat of an outback game seems to radiate from the canvas. Subtle observations - beautifully portrayed.

The art communicates so many messages that transcend a mere sport and yet cricket remains an underlying theme throughout. And for those who which to purchase one of the art works, a significant portion of the proceeds are donated to the McGrath Foundation and the Ponting Foundation.

Life may be seen to imitate art, but through the efforts of these talented artists; life is imitating cricket. The paintings offer beauty for the beholder and whispered messages for those who pause to listen. Just as cricket is more than just a game, these works are far more than brush-strokes on a canvas. 

Perhaps they are yet another reason why cricket matters.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Cricket's Timeless Test.... By Owen Zupp.

Cricket's Timeless Test.

By Owen Zupp

I attended a school reunion the other night. It had been thirty years since I'd donned the blazer and been one of the many confined to the classroom. They were good times from what I can recall and this was further emphasised by the warm spirit that surrounded those of us gathered in the old dining hall.

The old 'cliques' of yesteryear seemed to have dissipated and after three decades there was even a hint that we'd all grown up a little. The conversations were varied and entertaining as we re-lived our mistakes of the past and present. There was a special connection too with the members of the First XI cricket team that I had played with. It was as if we had not stopped laughing from 1982 and the camaraderie had picked up right where it left off so many years ago. For all the fading memories, we could still recall Andrew Knight trying to take our heads off with precise detail. We could see and hear that seam searing past our nose.

They were friendships forged in teenage struggle and the bonds were still with us now on a cold winter's night in 2012. Yet for all the conversation and recollections, the most special moment for me came at the end of the evening. Away from the white table-cloths and wine glasses. Away from the photographs and memorabilia. Even away from the people. It was a truly special moment of solitude.  

With a long drive home, I left the gathering sooner rather than later. As I walked across the darkened grounds towards the gate and my waiting car, I paused. I stood there in the silence and surveyed my surroundings, the scenes of my greatest triumphs and most embarrassing moments were all within a stone's throw and I hadn't been here for thirty years.

I began to walk away from the front gate and towards the Glasson Pavilion, perched between two playing fields. As I loped through the darkness I half-expected to be hailed down by a security guard and questioned about my movements and motive. In a coat and tie, complete with a name tag bearing the school crest, I was confident that I could talk my way out of that one. Even so, no challenge to my being was forthcoming.  

I passed the Headmaster's residence and crossed the Old Boy's Oval where I played my very first organised game of cricket. From there I climbed the stairs into the pavilion, but this time there was no bat under my arm or obscenities under my breath. I moved to the top of the pavilion where to the north sat the "Old Boy's" and to the south sat the main oval, The Buchanan. Within 180 degrees sat  the core of my cricketing life. The formative games that set me on this wonderful journey.

I could almost see the younger 'me' repeatedly hitting a ball against the base of the grandstand. I could feel my shoulder ache as just over there I had been smacked by a 'bean ball' that missed my head by the length of my neck.The 'bubblers' still remained where I would drink gallons of water at a time. But the old scoreboard was gone, replaced by a digital slab void of any soul. I could hear the voices of my youth and smell that fresh summer grass with just a hint of moisture from the night before. The bat oil, the crisp whites and the feel of the new match ball, still wrapped in its white paper bag at the bottom of my kit.

The black and white cap and the crest that I had trained so hard to wear and the immense pride in leading my mates onto the field. The lonely moments in the rooms and the end of a battle lost or an innings all too short. The magnificent ladies and their magnificent lunches. The cute girls that came to the watch that I then struggled to converse with. The laughter of friends and the good company of our foes. They were some of the happiest days of my life. And I have had a great life.

As I sat all alone in the pavilion, I was actually surrounded by memories and friends. I was so at peace with the world that I wanted to sit there forever and inhale those days once more; slow and deep. I wanted to hang onto that feeling for just one more minute.  For no matter what challenges life may have brought me along the way, those simple pleasures of a well spent youth on fields of green with mates of gold have always been there. And maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to hang onto them for another thirty years and this wonderful game of cricket will keep one corner of my heart sixteen forever.

Perhaps that's why cricket matters...... 

Monday, 17 September 2012

Heroes. By Owen Zupp.


I think that I have learned a lot about REAL heroes in writing my current book.

* Heroes’ stories are rarely told. Celebrities tweet when they are getting a haircut.

* Celebrities believe that the world revolves around them. Heroes just want a better world.

* Heroes take pride in the achievements of their peers. Celebrities perceive that they have no peers.

* Celebrities see the world. Heroes visit foreign lands too, but they may never come home.

*Heroes are humble. There is no money in being a humble celebrity.

* Celebrities have fame and fortune. Heroes have a mortgage.

* Heroes often die through acts of selflessness. Celebrities often die through acts of selfishness.

In this world, the line between heroism and celebrity has become terribly blurred. That is not to say that there are some celebrities who have wonderful hearts and do tremendous work; there are. What I am saying is that there are amazing, anonymous people working in research laboratories, hanging from helicopter winches and serving in foreign lands. Let’s not forget them.

Please, let’s not confuse our heroes and our celebrities.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Cricket's Mums and Dads.

 Cricket's Mums and Dads.

By Owen Zupp.

Whether the elite sportsperson is standing upon the Olympic dias or holding the Ashes aloft, there are very few who do not recognise the important role played by their parents. Whether it was those laps at the local pool at 5am or the country cricket carnival 500km away, Mum and/or Dad was there.

For it's in those early years that so much sporting development takes place. There is the obvious honing of ability, but there is also the establishment of a work ethic and the appreciation of the game to be instilled. Coaches can only do so much, whereas the parents are there for the long haul. And those parents need not be sporting achievers in their own right.

In my case, my father could not have been further removed from having a sporting background. A child of the 'Great Depression' years, his father would point at boys playing cricket and reaffirm that it was a total waste of time. There was work to be done on the farm and sport was just wasted daylight. And yet this did not taint my father's outlook when his own sons came along.

My brother wanted to be George Best and play for Manchester United and I wanted to play the 'come to attention' drive just like Doug Walters. In retrospect, such dreams must have seen fanciful to my Dad, but that didn't matter to him. He was still the first one to volunteer to mow the oval or mark the side lines with lime powder. (Just don't ask him to score, umpire or be a linesmen. He never could grasp 'off-side' or 'leg before wicket') To him, it was time with his kids and if they regarded it as important, then he would support them to the hilt.

For my cricketing endeavours that meant driving me all over Sydney from our home in the heart of the western suburbs. And if he was flying that morning, he would come straight to the ground after he landed, with a jumper hurriedly pulled on over his uniform. He would then sit in the stands amongst 'expert' fathers, totally at a loss regarding their language. One day on the way home he mentioned that the 'experts' had mentioned that I was playing with a "nice straight bat". I explained what they meant and he was greatly relieved when he expressed to me that, "I spent $100 on that bat, it would bleedin' well want to be straight!"

My Dad loved spending time with his kids and I'll never forget that. He would kick soccer balls with us until it was dark and the way he used to 'head the ball' must have nearly rendered him concussed. When we broke a window, he followed suit and kicked a ball clean through a fibro panel about ninety degrees from where he was aiming. Gold Dad, absolute gold!

Probably my favourite memory is going to the nets with Dad one season when I was playing Green Shield in Sydney. At the nets he would generally stand at half a pitch length and throw some balls down to me. This day he decided to bowl off a length. Dad's only training at throwing was in World War Two as a Commando and he literally threw like it. Years later I was batting against John Dyson and he was throwing loopy off-breaks at me which I prodded away. John mentioned that I was batting as if he was "throwing hand grenades". My thoughts immediately went to my Dad and brought the broadest grin to my face.

So now, here I am, twenty years after he passed away and my Dad is still bringing a smile to my face. A smile that comes from time spent together at cricket grounds near and far. He never wanted or needed me to wear a 'baggy green', he was happy to sit in the stands, support me and appreciate the fact that 'duck' or draw, I loved the game. He couldn't play the game, but he was with me every step of the way and I will never forget that.

So to all the Mums and Dads that do the early starts and the hard miles. For all the hours of scoring, umpiring and de-facto coaching. Thank you. For whether your child makes the Under 14D's or captains his nation like Michael Clarke, they will appreciate your effort and those golden times forever. Cricket is in itself just a game, but the bonds that can grow from the endeavour are timeless; be they team-mates, coaches or parents. My father was definitely no sportsman and yet he grew even closer to his children through sport and though he is now long gone, I still treasure those times.

Maybe that's another reason why cricket matters.

Thursday, 23 August 2012


Don Bradman and the International Cricket Hall of Fame.

By Owen Zupp.

Only a little more than an hour from Sydney lies the NSW Southern Highlands and the hamlet of Bowral. Set to a backdrop of green fields that would not be out of place in Britain, it was the boyhood home of Sir Donald Bradman, the famed cricketer. Today it is home to the International Cricket Hall of Fame, which includes the Bradman Gallery.

As I wandered through the halls past intriguing artefacts and interactive displays, I couldn’t help but be impressed at this tribute to not just a man, but a wonderful game. And yet, something even more striking pervaded my thoughts; just as the game had changed, so had we. Time has seen an amateur game grow into a global business being instantaneously flashed across the globe via satellite. Families no longer huddle around the wireless to hear the broadcast from far flung fields, but check the latest scores on their iPhone Apps.

It’s almost a case of innocence-lost in an effort to keep pace with the ever-changing world and ever-increasing competition for market share. And yet in these halls, there are interviews continuously broadcast with elder statesmen using well chosen words in modest tones; there are no ‘high-fives’ here. One can only wonder at the sponsorship dollars ‘The Don’ would have accrued in the 21st Century.

And yet, just as the Hall of Fame takes the guest on a journey through the ages, I recognise that change is inevitable. I respect the professionalism and dedication displayed by our modern players in a game that now demands so much of their lives beyond the picket fence. But like life in general, we all have a secret longing for a ‘simpler’ time I suspect. Furthermore, all too often the good that stems from the sport can be overlooked. The Bradman Foundation is a charitable organisation with a specific charter. A number of players past and present have their own foundations; Glenn McGrath,  Steve Waugh and  Ricky Ponting just to name a few.

As we move forward at an ever-increasing pace and seemingly demand instantaneous gratification from everything, including our past-times, maybe we should stop and pause. Stop and pause to remember those who have founded our institutions, those who have excelled and those who have tirelessly kept the dream alive. Stop and pause to think about the simple pleasures and the sheer joy of youngsters playing the game for the game’s sake and little else. Stop and pause about where the future lies and making change for the right reasons.

Sport in itself is not life, but is rich in life’s lessons. From a young age, it teaches humility, disappointment, determination and joy. It teaches co-operation, patience and the fact that anything worthwhile takes time and effort. There are so many fledgling qualities that can be introduced through sport and carried through on the larger stage of life.

For my part, I will continue to wander these hallowed halls in Bowral and step lightly between yesteryear and today, trying to learn what I can from past and present. I will recognise that it’s ‘only a game’ but value the lessons and respect the traditions. Places like the International Cricket Hall of Fame are national treasures and not just for the sporting enthusiast, for they offer a glimpse into the past with one foot in the present. And as we know, there is much to be learned from those who have gone before.


Please support these very worthy foundations.

The Bradman Foundation.

The McGrath Foundation.

The Steve Waugh Foundation.

The Ponting Foundation.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Howzat! Kerry Packer's War from a Kid's Perspective.


Kerry Packer's War from a Kid's Perspective.


Owen Zupp

There were a couple of advantages to being born in the mid-1960s. Firstly, you were able to get a handle on the Metric system before feet and inches had been firmly burnt into your brain and secondly, you were a young teenager when World Series Cricket exploded onto the scene.

When the news broke of the WSC signings, it was May of 1977 and the Australian cricket team were on tour in England. For me, that meant listening to the broadcast on my radio which was slipped beneath my pillow, willing Doug Walters to achieve that elusive first century on English soil. Doug played for our local club, Cumberland, when he wasn't on representative duties and I would ride my bike to catch a glimpse of the boy from Dungog. Now I listened intently with fingers crossed as the school day loomed only hours away.

When Doug returned to Australia, he had still yet to record a Test century in England, but that was a mere sub-paragraph compared to the real story of World Series Cricket. As WSC set about establishing its competition, the Australian Cricket Board busily began building an Australian Test team without the vast majority of its key players. As both camps bullied for position, they also pro-actively sought the support of the general public and specifically, the youth.

World Series Cricket led the way with a slick marketing campaign on the back of their theme song, "C'mon Aussie C'mon". There were caps and badges, autograph books and board games, free tickets and coaching clinics. Not to be outdone, the 'Establishment' ramped up their bid for an audience and followed suit with giveaways and personal appearances by the players.

In an era when the extent of sporting paraphernalia was 'Footy Cards' or the jersey of your favourite team, now entire shelves at supermarkets were crammed with offerings. Cans of fruit had labels to collect and every newspaper had a competition of some form. As a kid it was a wonderland and I personally attended coaching clinics from both sides of the cricketing divide.

I would watch Sheffield Shield matches and chat with the new generation of Test players like Peter Toohey, but similarly when WSC night cricket came to the SCG, I was there too; including that famous first night when there was standing room only. Those night games were particularly magical. At the end of a school day, I would jump on a train and then 'leg it' to the ground from Central Railway Station while the masses queued for buses. 

I can still recall sitting in the top deck of the Noble Stand when Tony Greig lofted an on-drive straight at my Adam's Apple. Fingers pointed up, I was certain that ball was mine until it faded and fell short. Or the night when Hookesy was cheered to the wicket by 50,000 voices, only to be dismissed cheaply and lamented all the way back to the pavilion by the same 50,000 voices in a lowered tone.

You were free to wander around the sacred Member's Stand and mingle with the players after the match. I spoke to Richie Benaud about the ground at North Parramatta that bears his name and Viv Richards about that 'S-S' bat. One evening, the usually 'forthright' Ian Chappell took some time out and let two of us walk into the front of the Member's and pointed out various aspects the Australian change room through glass. It was a fantastic public relations exercise one that is still with me thirty five years later.

For the game it was a time of upheaval, but as a kid it was a golden age. Now many of my mementoes of that time are dusted off and set to be displayed at the International Cricket Hall of Fame's upcoming WSC exhibition. Once commonplace, these pieces now speak of a time past when cricket fought its own revolution and the face of the game changed forever. However, undoubtedly it is the memories that remain with me the strongest and as I watch my own children grow, there are a whole new set of memories just waiting to be captured.

...and maybe that's another reason 'Why Cricket Matters'.