April 8, 2002

Cricket journalist Peter McFarline dies aged 57

As a young cricket fan growing up in the late 1970s I, like many other young enthusiasts, had my heroes. Around that time Rick Darling was one, another Dennis Lillee. Greg Chappell and Joel Garner were others. But as a youngster with a thirst for the history of the great game, I would also class Australian cricket writer Peter McFarline as one of them.

The aforementioned cricketers gave me a playing-aspect affection for cricket; McFarline did so in a literary sense.

So today, when I learnt of his death at the age of 57, I was saddened but also happily taken back to that early period of my cricketing education.

Peter McFarline was one of Australia's greatest cricket writers, alongside Ray Robinson, Jack Fingleton, Mike Coward and Tom Goodman. He started work many years ago at the Courier Mail and finished his days as a wonderfully insightful correspondent for The Age, severely afflicted by the debilitating spinal illness, syringomyelia.

In the last four or so years of his life he could not move below the neck and, with a voice barely audible, he would dictate his copy to his wife Dell at his hospital bedside.

I first read McFarline through the Australian cricket magazine, 'Cricketer', in the October 1979 edition. It was the first cricket magazine I ever owned - and still own, minus the cover which had a young player called Allan Border on it. 'Eleven pick Eleven', on page 14, includes respected writers picking their first Test elevens after the compromise between the Australian Cricket Board and World Series Cricket. McFarline picked his eleven and it became one of many articles he would contribute over many years to the Australian monthly.

He also wrote for Wisden Cricket Monthly in England, but it was his coverage of the 1984 Australian tour of the West Indies which sticks in my mind.

Unlike now, in the era of satellite TV and the Internet, the West Indies was so far away as to be almost another planet. Australia's tour there in 1984 produced not only a massive challenge for the players taking on Clive Lloyd's virtually unbeatable side but also to the followers back home on a 13-hour time difference.

All there was to go on was the ABC's scratchy broadcast starting at around 11:30pm at night if you could stay awake that long; around 40 or 50 seconds highlights on the 6pm television news; and the brilliantly composed 15 or 16 paragraphs by McFarline which bobbed up in the Adelaide Advertiser many hours after a ball had been bowled in a particular day's play. As it was all one had to go by, I would read the respective pieces at least eight or ten times and try and picture the grounds, the conditions, and the play, after listening to most of the commentary during the night.

I can well imagine the conditions McFarline would have faced in filing copy too. Not only was his prose appearing almost two days after the actual play but there were no laptops and modems then and just a dodgy phone line down which McFarline would have had to tell a copy-taker word for word what he wanted to relate to the rest of the country about what was happening on the other side of the world.

I still have a scrapbook of that tour and read it when I occasionally tire of Australia's current great success and need a reminder of how poor the team was at the time of that post-Packer era.

McFarline was also a writer of other sports and politics, but it is for his work in reporting and writing on cricket that he will be best remembered.

The Sydney Morning Herald's Phil Wilkins, also one of Australia's best-known and finest cricket writers through the last four decades, said that McFarline was "undoubtedly the greatest cricket writer Australia has ever had".

"Peter was a very, very good news hound, broke some great stories, particularly the Packer one in May 1977 which he co-broke with Alan Shiell.

"Not only that but he was a very good writer too in the literary sense and could not only report but write an excellent personality piece cleverly. He wrote with great authority and was fearless and, as a fierce rival, I had the greatest respect for him".

Adelaide based Age colleague Shiell, who went on England tours in 1977 and 1981 with McFarline, said "he'll be remembered as one of the very best and finest; he knew what he talking about, he was quick and accurate, had great contacts right at the top and was one of Australia's finest ever cricket writers".

"He was a good mate in the 1970s and 80s, was good fun to be around, and always enjoyed a good meal and drink or two after work" especially overseas on tour.