Raw and raging
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."
by Brendon McCullum with Greg McGee
Upstart Press, 2016
Paul Ford is a co-founder of the Beige Brigade. @beigebrigade