Declared November 6, 2016

Raw and raging

Brendon McCullum's book has the story of his career but also far too much bile and score-settling
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McCullum's book takes you behind the scenes, but only just © Getty Images

Like Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Brendon McCullum's new book Declared is a ferocious follow-up, with many and varied foes in the firing line. (It is only a sequel of sorts, of course, following on from Dylan Cleaver's short-format focused Brendon McCullum: Inside Twenty20, published in 2011.)

Unfortunately, unlike Public Enemy's effort, Declared is no masterpiece. There's a dearth of dressing-room details, an unexpectedly high quotient of bile, and too many de facto match reports ("Trent comes back to do his stuff - he takes another four wickets to make 10 for the match - and the game is ours").

But I guess it was all part of the plan. The inside cover threatens: "…as the light fades on his astonishing career, Brendon McCullum has unleashed one final time". The picture on the jacket is one of a half-silhouetted, unsmiling McCullum.

The timing of the book's release, in the midst of a torrid India v New Zealand series, was also eyebrow-raising. It felt opportunistic - with Mike Hesson, Ross Taylor and new captain Kane Williamson in a colossal battle for the one-day series, and needing a McCullum tome sideshow like they might a frontal lobotomy.

I expected to be taken behind the scenes for a warts-cigarettes-and-all look at one of our most successful teams. I wanted back stories and observations and anecdotes and idiosyncrasies of a New Zealand team that we fell back in love with. There are glimpses of great yarns but they are scarce - one of the best comes early on when McCullum talks about borrowing his Dad's company car, aged 14: "So the light turns green and I plant hoof..."

There seemed to be so much to celebrate about his phenomenal career, so many memorable moments. McCullum won most people over with his efforts in playing a bazillion consecutive matches for New Zealand, leading the team into the World Cup final in a glory run of epic proportions, transcending even Martin Crowe en route to scoring the country's inaugural Test triple-century, and outblasting the Master Blaster with the fastest Test hundred in history.

But best of all, he played the lead role in transforming a team of underperforming prima donnas into a team with character, guts and humility. All these glorious episodes are in Declared, but the passages that are most prominent are about legal battles or backroom antagonism.

McCullum is a man of the people - he is revered by most. He didn't need to write a book to get the public onside by explaining the details of the respective Taylor and Cairns fiascos. Both are given extensive coverage, blow by bitter blow, in the book and are mentioned before page 30.

Don't misunderstand me, I love that McCullum was prepared to put his thoughts down on the page - hallelujah to the end of platitudes and boringness in New Zealand cricket books. But I was taken aback at the proportion of anger and splenetic frustration in the 272 pages.

The motivation for the book appears to be "putting the story straight" on a few fronts, and although some of the targets are predictable (such as John Parker, Chris Cairns and Glenn Turner) there are subtle and spiky barbs reserved for others too, including Stephen Fleming, Dave Currie, Ross Taylor, John Wright, Daniel Vettori, Kerry Schwalger, Martin Guptill, Mark Greatbatch, and Nigel Llong.

McCullum reserves a special focus for the many scathing words penned about him by Fairfax newspaper columnist Mark Reason. I think McCullum's riposte about Reason writing from "an elevated position, looking down on the rest of us, or maybe just me" is a mistake - his target is an agent provocateur and being enticed into a back and forth is a hopeless cause.

Predictably, Reason has already returned fire: "Don't you think your readers might have been more interested in the beauty of Virat Kohli's game, why Steve Smith constantly fidgets with his box and if Mitchell Johnson ever terrified you?"

Declared is an easy read, and there is plenty of protein to digest here. But part of me felt sad at the end of it.

Maybe it was the kind of manuscript that needed to be left on the shelf for a while, so the trials and tribulations were less raw. I suspect a longer period of reflection could have enabled a more measured assessment of his career. The result may have been less headline-grabbing but allowed more of McCullum's love of the game, his cricket philosophies, his wry or kneejerk observations, and pride in his team's collective achievements to shine through.

Or perhaps he could have just left the superb words of his Cowdrey Lecture untouched as the final, kinder words on his stellar career: "I have retired from first-class and international cricket without memories of aggregates, runs, wickets, catches or matches won. Rather, I treasure the memories of playing with and against so many wonderful people - as my father did before me."

Declared by Brendon McCullum with Greg McGee
Upstart Press, 2016
NZ$49.99

Paul Ford is a co-founder of the Beige Brigade. @beigebrigade

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • cricfan91185178 on November 11, 2016, 7:55 GMT

    Couldn't agree more,I actually took the book back to the retailer after hearing the bagging mccullum was giving to his team mates ,who were on tour.Screamed ,look at me!.Should of gone gracefully.

  • DTiger97 on November 8, 2016, 6:22 GMT

    I absolutely agree, there are very few actually insightful and interesting passages about the games themselves and instead more on the drama and the controversy of Taylor Captaincy and Cairns' Scandal. Quite dissappointing tbh, although there are some interesting passages on the CWC 2015.

  • JAH123 on November 8, 2016, 5:24 GMT

    For all the respect he has garnered as a player and a supposed good guy of cricket, this isn't the first time Baz has use print to have a crack at other players. He did it to Steve Smith after the Ben Stokes dismissal last year too, despite the fact that it had nothing to do with him. Be careful, Baz, because you're at risk of tarnishing an otherwise stellar legacy.

  • hussyboy81 on November 8, 2016, 3:02 GMT

    @luckycountry - guess you didn't read the recent revelations by Clarke on Katich?

  • MaskedMagpie on November 7, 2016, 21:58 GMT

    @THELUCKYCOUNTRY - after the last four tests I would suggest the supposed Aussie ethos of "working hard and never giving in" leaves a lot to be desired...

  • Alfers on November 7, 2016, 20:44 GMT

    @THELUCKYCOUNTRY - Clarke 'bagged his mates' in his book. Seems the tendency to publish autobiographies majoring on petty private squabbles is well entrenched in Australia too.

  • Nutcutlet on November 7, 2016, 19:19 GMT

    Without having read this book (and after reading this review I very much doubt that I will), it seems an ill-advised and destructive screed of a man who has used print to settle scores. It is very likely McCullum is not even half way through his life. He will be a very long time retired -and wherever he goes cricketers and cricket-lovers will respect him for what he achieved as a player, but I cannot think that they will feel that 'Declared' has augmented that fine reputation. Let's hope it's soon forgotten.

  • shane-oh on November 7, 2016, 14:25 GMT

    @CRICFAN00544069 - ah, thanks for clarifying. Interesting that in that same match McCullum scored 0 off 5, exactly the same as Taylor. It can be easy to overanalyse a single innings as representing some kind of lack of intent or aggression, where it was actually just bloody difficult to bat! I always had the feeling Guptill was a bit aggrieved about the dramas with Taylor given they came from the same "stable" so to speak and his reaction on scoring that T20 hundred against South Africa which seemed to suggest some underlying resentment or anger on his part. In any case he's a very critical member of our limited overs side these days and a joy to watch batting as well.

  •   Venkatesh Venkatesh on November 7, 2016, 14:12 GMT

    I have great respect and regard to your talent by taking NZ cricket to greater heights . Any team in any field some toxic elements will be there they always do something or the other to spoil for all hard work done by any player or team skipper for many reasons of their own it is better to ignore them once for all and take challenges more seriously and march ahead without looking back that is life lesson .With only two or three players you took NZ to last world cup final that itself was great achievement when other can't do any they any other thing they take this path which kills the sprit and enthusiasm when their bat or ball can't do anything in the field they do this stupid things . It is better ignore them for larger interest

  • cricfan00544069 on November 7, 2016, 11:53 GMT

    @ SHANE-OH My bad, it was the 2014 t20 World Cup group stage, it wasn't the semi finals. But we needed to win the game to progress to the semis. We were only chasing 120 and I think Guptill got about 5 off 10 or 11 and then ran himself out. Yeah, very interesting story, apparently McCullum challenged Guptill to buy 100% into the 'aggressive approach' which he did after the tournament. McCullum also said he said he wish he challenged Ross earlier into doing the same thing.

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