Blofeld sets his story straight

Lynn McConnell

November 7, 2000

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Henry Blofeld is best known to the wider New Zealand public as a cricket commentator on television and radio, but to the genuine enthusiasts of the game he is something of a social diarist of all that has happened in the last 30 years.

Blofeld has been making a fleeting visit to New Zealand to promote his autobiography A Thirst for Life, with the accent on cricket.

In future times when people study the history of the game, Blofeld's efforts in recording his impressions of events and happenings in the 10 books he has so far produced will play a significant role in the understanding of the changes and characters of cricket.

A latter-day cricketing Pepys, his autobiography rounds out, sums up and explains further the events of what has been a lifetime in cricket.

Two health scares, the first a cycling accident which for all intents and purposes ruined a promising cricket career almost before it began and the second, a heart scare last year, have had a significant effect on his working life.

The first created the foundations for a life in cricket journalism and broadcasting and the second set up a reflective phase represented in this book and possibly another which will look at cricket in the countries of the world.

Blofeld said that after his heart scare last year he was much more aware of his mortality although he added, "I hope my life isn't match-fixed."

He doesn't really have a preference over commentating and writing. Commentating has created his image, his writing has solidified his standing.

"I have enjoyed them both very much. I love radio commentating. Television and I never really got on.

"TV are a little bit up themselves. When I did it out here with producers like Gavin Service and Graham Veitch it was all quite jokey but now it has tightened up and got very serious.

"They mainly want ex-Test cricketers on TV now and there is a very good case for it.

"But I think on radio you do need professional broadcasters because you have to carry on speaking for so much longer," he said.

Former Test cricketers in the press box as newspaper writers was a different story.

"Very, very few ex-Test cricketers make it as journalists. They think it will be easy, but it's not easy. And our profession of journalism hasn't benefited by their presence," he said.

Blofeld was at the leading edge of the greatest upheaval in the modern game, the Packer Circus of 1977-79. His book, The Packer Affair, is something of a standard record of the controversy, especially from the English point of view.

"It was inevitable that something like that would happen. I didn't like it at the time, it brought a great divide to the game, and it hasn't done anything for the grassroots of the game.

"All Packer wanted to do was make money for his Channel 9 and the Australian Board behaved abominably over the whole matter. They precipitated the affair and then waved the white flag," he said.

Blofeld said he would never forgive former England captain Tony Greig for his role in the affair. He said the divide in the game the Packer business caused was still in the game.

However, cricket administrators had been so dyed in the wool that something was always going to happen.

"I suppose the successful revolutions are those that start with sordid events," he said.

The controversy caused by the match-fixing allegations of the moment was sufficiently serious for the game that it had to be rooted out.

"Otherwise we will be second guessing the Indian bookies and there's not much fun in that," he said.

While some players may have been doing things that seemed fairly trivial at the time they have proved to be the first step down the road towards the situation of the moment.

"One of the troubles though is where does the law stand in all this?" he asked.

Laws in the game had proved unable to punish Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga when he misbehaved so badly on the field in Adelaide two years ago. While International Cricket Council chairman Malcolm Gray was determined to try and root out the gambling problems it would be hard because of the self interest of some countries.

And if, as has been suggested, a line is drawn at January 1, 2000 for transgressions, then a number of players would get away with being involved.

Blofeld subscribes to the view that cricket reflects the society it is played in and because of that the game was more violent now and the character of the game has changed to the point where what he described as "the innate sense of friendship among teams and players" was missing now.

The decline of the West Indies was a special concern, not the least because the West Indies were an area significant in the Blofeld career. His commentating career began there.

"Cricket could disappear there. The American sports have financial rewards which are much greater than cricket can provide and not having a winning side can be a problem.

"There is a great responsibility on the modern players, especially Brian Charles Lara. He is not a team man and is a great prima donna."

Cricket in England was a little better than in recent years. Blofeld rated captain Nasser Hussain as the best leader since Mike Brearley while coach Duncan Fletcher was a marvellous manager.

"There are none of the histrionics of David Lloyd and there is a method behind it all with Fletcher.

"Hussain has brought the best out of Andrew Caddick which Mike Atherton and Alec Stewart were not able to do.

"I think he has that slightly bloody-minded streak that captains need.

"We bowl well, and field well, and I believe that is a barometer of spirit in a side.

"Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan are very good players. They have shown they have the temperament and that is something you don't know until they are given a go, and that is something England's selectors haven't been prepared to do," he said.

"The spirit in the team is a good deal better than for a long time. I am not saying they will beat Australia in England next year, but they will make them know they have been in a game."

Pakistan and Sri Lanka would not be a fair test of where England was at, as Pakistan would prepare pitches to turn square and Sri Lanka would have conditions to suit their own players, especially Mutiah Muralitharan.

New Zealand is always a special favourite for Blofeld, apart from the wines which he enjoys unashamedly, the 1972 team in the West Indies coincided with his first commentary job.

"I loved that tour. Glenn Turner batted wonderfully well. Bevan Congdon was the most under-rated cricketer I have seen. The first Test introduced Lawrence Rowe when he scored a double century and century in his debut then on the first morning of the third Test Bruce Taylor bowled the West Indies out.

"If Turner and Terry Jarvis had held a catch each New Zealand may well have won the game.

"Then the late Ken Wadsworth and Bruce Taylor held out to draw the fifth Test. All of the games were terribly exciting and gave the lie to the comment that drawn Tests are boring," he said.

Blofeld also recalled that the tour had been the ruination of left-arm spinner Hedley Howarth's career because he became a defensive bowler.

"He never got his flight back," Blofeld said.

Never short of an opinion, Blofeld has succeeded in his book writing at a time when it has almost gone out of fashion. He has lived and worked through a fascinating period of cricket's development which lends his interpretation all the more credence.

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