May 15, 2001

Cricketing journey still continues for Brian Hastings

Cricket has taken former New Zealand batsman Brian Hastings many places during his career since he left Wellington College in 1958 and tomorrow he will be on the front lines serving as match referee for the England-Pakistan series starting at Lord's.

It will be his fourth series as the international match referee. England and Pakistan have a colourful history and as a referee Hastings can expect to have some tough times ahead.

Much interest has been aroused with fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar's return after injury and scrutiny of his bowling action after he was reported by New Zealand umpires Steve Dunne and Doug Cowie. However, it seems Akhtar won't be selected for the first Test.

As an observer, Hastings has his own view on Akhtar's likely longevity at the bowling crease.

"They're playing so much cricket today, you just can't expect the body to stand up to it day in and day out. I personally believe Shoaib Akhtar won't last long. I don't think he'll play a lot of cricket. His style puts a huge amount of strain on his body. He has a slinging action and you've got to have an economical action like Richard Hadlee."

While Akhtar has been given permission to bowl again his action is always going to be the subject of scrutiny by umpires.

The other contentious matter on the international scene is the issue of sledging. It is something Hastings can relate to from his own playing days.

"If anything it's a little worse now - although Australians have always been pretty verbal," he said.

"I just ignored them - I wasn't one to react. I found the easiest way to fix verbals was to turn a deaf ear to it. I think if you start getting involved it can start to affect your own concentration."

Hastings enjoys the involvement his work gives him with the game.

"It is quite an honour. It is also a challenge and I am looking forward to it. If there are problems, you can be very much in the limelight," Hastings said when he was first appointed to the referee's role. He has since officiated in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and in Australia in their series against Australia last August.

Born in Wellington, Hastings successfully captained the New Zealand Colts team to Australia in 1960. By the time his career ended 15 years later in England at the 1975 World Cup he had been through a revolutionary stage of the game's development, and New Zealand's international growth which culminated in the side reaching a semi-final spot.

"It was a great experience, played in whites in those days."

In between came 31 Tests, including 1510 runs and four centuries. The avuncular Brian, according to R T Brittenden, "played his best cricket when it was most needed." This included a world record tenth wicket stand of 151 against Pakistan at Auckland in 1973. This 155-minute effort with Richard Collinge kept the New Zealanders in the match, not only passing the follow-on mark but allowing New Zealand to level the first innings scores.

His first century was a satisfying one against the West Indies in Christchurch in just his third Test. Of "special appeal" was his 105 at Bridgetown, Barbados in 1972. "We came very close to winning. A couple of catches and we could have beaten the West Indies and won the series."

An even more important knock was Hasting's 46 in a partnership of 115 with Glenn Turner, which took New Zealand to their first victory over Australia, in Christchurch in 1974.

Cricket was now more professional than when he played.

"There's a lot more money in it and I don't think there's the same sort of team spirit. Teams had a lot more fun together, but players certainly didn't get rewarded back then. But they play a lot more cricket now. Your season was 15 days if you weren't playing Tests."

The 61-year-old now works as an artificial turf supplier alongside Graham Vivian, a former team-mate from the early 70's. Vivian has a cricketing legacy dating back to 1930, when father Giff made his first-class debut against Canterbury. Hastings, too, has begun a cricketing dynasty, with son Mark a Canterbury all-rounder. His other son Michael plays for The Willows cricket team, rather than Christchurch club cricket, where Brian was a fixture for nearly a quarter of a century.

Herein lies one of Hastings' roles. He is President of Canterbury Cricket and recognises that changes need to be made at club level to keep the game in the province healthy.

With the vast majority of players in club and provincial cricket leaving the game at a relatively early age, Hastings would be an oddity today in that he did not hit his straps until he was nearly 29.

After retirement Hastings worked as a manager with The Press in Christchurch for 38-and-a-half years. He took early retirement two years ago, but is now playing an important role in Canterbury Cricket and its on-going re-organisation.

"I had a long innings really. I didn't actually officially retire. I just faded away. It was a most enjoyable time and I made wonderful friends and contacts who are an invaluable help later on in life."

It will be his third year as president of Canterbury Cricket. Normally only two years, he was asked to stay on for an extra term. "The president is really an honorary position. I've taken a deep involvement in Canterbury cricket. We're going through a rebuilding phase and there's certainly a lot to be done. Our cricket's not in great shape really and it worries me.

"Standards have slipped, there's not as many playing club cricket, due to a lack of commitment. I've got a son who wants to play at the Willows every second or third week, rather than be committed to every Saturday. The average cricketer now doesn't want to play much after 30, whereas when I was playing it was 37 or 39. Changing lifestyles, quite often apply to first-class cricket as well. Many players want to retire before 30 - I was only just starting!" he said.

"Canterbury lacked experience towards the end of the season. It's a matter of getting the right balance in the side. There was far too much inexperience for them to succeed. It was far too tough on the captain. There's a lot to be done. All associations are not finding it easy financially and there's a number of big issues on our plate I hope we can resolve in next 12 months."

The first step was the appointment of a new Chairman of the Board - David Shackleton. Hastings adds that Canterbury "needs clubs that are sound. That's a basic requirement. Nine [senior club] teams in my opinion is quite unsatisfactory. There need to be some amalgamations to improve strength. Next we need a strong coaching system in place and a strong junior association. We do, in Canterbury, have big numbers of young kids. It's the hardest job in cricket to keep them playing. There doesn't seem to be club unity in some clubs. There's a lot of preparation work to be done for a new coach."

Even with a tough international series to referee followed by a new-start season at Canterbury, Hastings' integrity and honesty in his desire to see the best for cricket will undoubtedly see him continue to succeed cheerfully, as he always has, in his many cricketing roles.