Gloves off, Harry Ricketts

Adam Parore: The Wicked Keeper
Angus Gillies
Penguin, $34.95,
ISBN 014301837X

A friend and I used to have a favourite game. The game had several different permutations, but in its simplest form it involved imagining writers as cricketers and selecting our all-time great XI. We would argue for hours about whether Homer and T S Eliot should open the batting or Chaucer and Jane Austen (all those deft nudges and glides). As for the bowling, Dante, with that high action and hellish bouncer, was usually a strong contender, as was Emily Brontë, always good for a testing opening spell (though hopeless, of course, with the second new ball). One selection we never queried was Shakespeare as wicketkeeper – because eventually all balls come back to him.

A more recent game much played by cricket-lovers everywhere is: who’s been the best keeper in the world over the last five years? Australians inevitably push for Adam Gilchrist, the English for Alec Stewart (or perhaps the perennial Jack Russell), the West Indies … We know better though. We know that, day-in, day-out, the “wickedest” keeper has been the other Adam, our Adam Parore. We know it, the statisticians know it, and so does Parore himself: hence, in part, the punning subtitle of his autobiography, “The Wicked Keeper”. (I am going to call it an autobiography, because, although Angus Gillies’ name appears as author on the cover, the book is presented entirely in Parore’s own words except for regularly interpolated quotations from the likes of Martin Crowe, Steve Rixon, and Glenn Turner.)

Part of the story Parore has to tell, and the most interesting part, is how he became the best keeper in the world. Steve Rixon, who took over as New Zealand team coach in July 1996, is rightly credited with playing the key role. What he did was revolutionise Parore’s glovework standing up to the spinners – the acid test of a keeper’s ability. Up till then, Parore had followed the method recommended in the coaching manuals: feet pointing directly down the pitch, body kept directly behind the ball. Rixon taught him radically different foot movements and body position. Here is the rationale, as Parore came to understand it:

You want to get your body either inside or outside the line of the ball, so your hands can catch it. If the ball comes through at shoulder height, you just move inside it, swivel your hips slightly and swing your hands up in an effortless arc …

 

Another of Rixon’s hot tips was “to move backwards with the ball”, when taking it close to the stumps. Again, this “went against everything that I’d been taught when I was younger.”

Passages such as these help to explain why Parore always kept so well to Daniel Vettori and they should fascinate anyone keen on the technical side of the game. (It’s probably also fair to say that the fact that this new technique went dead against the coaching manual had its own strong appeal for Parore.) Equally fascinating are the sections where Parore describes what it feels like to be inside a particular match, a particular encounter. The “Prologue”, for instance, offers a gripping account of facing the Aussie speedster Brett (“Binger”) Lee, who has a dauntingly long run-up and regularly bowls at around 155 kph. It’s the waiting that’s the worst, according to Parore, and he makes you see why:

Waiting for a Brett Lee delivery is a bit like waiting in the headmaster’s office for him to come in and cane you …. Binger starts running. And is he running! You tap your bat on the ground a couple of times, tell yourself you’re ready. And he’s still running. Okay here he comes. There’s this sound like a homing missile whizzing past my ear. He’s whanged one straight over my shoulder. And I haven’t even moved.

 

Elsewhere Parore offers good advice, learnt from Martin Crowe, on how to play the bouncer – provided, of course, you can see it. The trick is to go forward and keep low. With your weight forward, it is easier to get underneath the ball: “[y]our real problems happen when you go back and your weight’s going up because you get stuck with nowhere to go.” This makes sense and is worth knowing.

Other inside titbits also enliven the pages. Apparently it was Danny Morrison who “grassed” on his younger joint-sharing teammates, Fleming, Nash, and Hart, during the ill-fated 1994-5 South African tour. Parore gives Morrison plenty for breaking the mates’ code (though it never occurs to him that his own acknowledged selfishness as a player – those run-outs! – might well break a different clause of the same code.) Parore is not afraid to say openly that he thinks both the Pakistani pace bowler Shoaib Akhtar and the Sri Lankan offspinner Muttiah Muralidharan are chuckers, and that “the birth defect thing”, which is commonly used to excuse their bent arms, “is starting to wear a bit thin”. The most bizarre bit of cricketing goss is undoubtedly the “true story” of Curtly Ambrose and the .22 pistol that went off in the mouth of fellow West Indian quick, Winston Benjamin. Parore says he’s actually seen the scar on Benjamin’s cheek.

2

So far, so interesting. However, much of the autobiography, much too much, is concerned with the other sense in which Parore knows he has been thought of as a “wicked keeper”. As he admits, he developed “a fairly serious, not quite terminal but certainly critical case of Spoilt Brat Syndrome.” This reached its lowest point during Glenn Turner’s second spell as coach (1995-6), and we are treated in the two chapters covering Turner’s reign to a pretty unrelieved diet of self-vindication, buck-passing, and occasional contrition.

What can be said in Parore’s defence is that when he was first picked for New Zealand in 1990 at the age of twenty, he was far too young – not in terms of ability, but of maturity. Parore is eager to play the immaturity card early and indeed opens his autobiography with Martin Crowe on the subject. Parore, says Crowe, “got thrown on this unforgiving machine called international cricket, and it shaped him without him having any clue as to what he was going through.” This sympathetic, exculpatory explanation clearly owes a good deal to Crowe’s painful memories of his own premature, chilly initiation at a similar age. As an excuse for Parore’s subsequent behaviour, however, it only works up to a point.

The problem with the “unforgiving machine” line is that it is too reductive and too partial. After all, Daniel Vettori was “thrown on” even younger and has handled the pressures without fuss. Nor, in fact, does this line square with Crowe’s other, more freewheeling version of Parore as “Maverick”, the admiring and enduring nickname he gave Parore on his first tour to England in 1990. And it’s not as though Parore’s “wickedness” ever amounted to anything much more than spats and tantrums, and what an exasperated Glenn Turner used to call “brinkmanship”.

Certainly, he never did anything as “wicked” as the 19th-century Surrey and England keeper, Edward Pooley. Pooley was not only a match-fixer, but also a notable conman. His finest hour came during James Lillywhite’s 1877 tour of New Zealand and Australia and a few days before the English team of professionals was to take on a Canterbury Eighteen. (English touring parties of the time often played against sides made up of considerably more than the usual eleven players, and an opposition of eighteen was by no means uncommon.) According to the Press, Pooley bet Donkin, a local Cantabrian, “six pounds to one pound” that he could “name the individual score of each of the Eighteen” – ie, Donkin paid Pooley £6 for every score Pooley got right, and Pooley paid Donkin £1 for every score he got wrong. The bet accepted, Pooley wrote down 0 against each batsman. (This was an old trick, 0 naturally being a frequent score when amateurs played professionals – and at £6 a time the profit margin soon opened up.) When Donkin later refused to pay Pooley the £36 he owed him, there was a right barney, with Pooley ending up in court on charges of assault and of wilful and malicious damage to personal property. Parore’s petulance and brattish behaviour seem pretty small beer in comparison.

 

Harry Ricketts is co-editor of New Zealand Books and a lifelong cricket fan.

 

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction, Review and Sport
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