Danny Morrison’s Mad As I Wanna Be was released in 1997, when Morrison had recently been dropped from the Black Caps, a situation which hangs heavy throughout. There’s no ghost-writer credited, but I presume one was involved, because it’s relatively readable and well-organised, unlike his too-often inane commentary. Ultimately the post-career bio stands or falls based on the intrinsic character of the subject. Unfortunately Morrison, while a solid, occasionally very good cricketer, is just not that interesting.
Which is not to say there aren’t some tremendously entertaining elements to this book. Firstly, it’s called Mad As I Wanna Be. Seriously. This from one of the most prosaic cricketers ever to represent New Zealand. Dennis Rodman’s autobiography is called Bad As I Wanna Be, curiously published three months after Morrison’s (did he steal the title? DeadBall wants answers), and its opening line is “On an April night in 1993 I sat in my pickup truck with a rifle in my lap, deciding whether to kill myself.” Rodman was openly bisexual, headbutted a referee and kicked an opponent in the groin. He earned that title. Morrison, meanwhile is chiefly remembered these days for purportedly snitching on his team-mates regarding their marijuana use while on tour in South Africa. MAD?!?! Not so much.
On the other hand he is pictured with an umbrella in the pool on the cover, and it’s not entirely clear whether he’s wearing any pants. So there is that.
Inside he wishes the book’s owner “All the best” in my personally-autographed copy, recently acquired on TradeMe for $5. It’s not clear whether the good-tidings are transferable, or remain the sole property of the original purchaser, but in the absence of anything to define this, I going to presume that Danny wants the best for me, the current and future owner.
It seems likely that he would. Morrison’s got a pretty sunny disposition in general, perhaps brought on by the fact that he had a long career against some of the coolest cricketers of all time (and dismissed a man named Allan Border eight times) despite being a terminal midget. Morrison runs through a the highs, and more frequent lows of a career which seems chiefly and tragically notable because he missed out on almost everything.
Arriving to the tail-end of the fantastic ’80s New Zealand team, he played in the shadow of Hadlee, Crowe, Smith, Wright and Chatfield, a group who grudgingly tolerated rather than embraced him, with the exception of Martin Snedden, who seems to have taken a shine to the North Shore tearaway.
The problem was, despite his ten year run with the side, he just straddled the two great periods we’ve had of late, fading before the likes of Astle, Fleming, Cairns, Parore, Styris, Oram and company solidified into a unit of genuine ability. Even his club and county sides tend to get pasted, and he seems acutely aware of this trail of mediocrity, to the point of occasionally wondering whether he’s cursed. I wouldn’t discount it – there’s powerful evidence throughout.
The most interesting passages tend to follow the real lows of his tenure, with his descriptions of Geoff Howarth bordering on terrifying. “I remember Geoff highlighting his hair like Rod Stewart, strutting around poolside with a gold chain around his neck, a silky shirt open to the navel and speedos.” Amazing.
The run from Howarth into the authoritarian Glenn Turner coincided with our most torturous period as a cricket team, and Morrison’s description of the era carries a heavy load. Howarth was an alcoholic (though it’s interesting to note the difference between his description of the time and Chris Pringle’s in Save The Last Ball For Me – Party Boy Pringle loved the lifestyle Howarth encouraged) and heavy smoker, and it seems a monstrous error that he was appointed coach over Wally Lees, who’d lead the team to nearly stealing the World Cup in ’92.
Other personalities shine through as far more diverting than Morrison’s, Shane Thomson in particular with his bringing “a video of body art containing quite explicit film of piercing, tattooing, mle genitalia and the entire bit” as a 21-year-old sounds like a total weirdo, in the best possible way. But Nash, Parore and the next generation of cricketers seem blandly uninterested in the world, a lack of non-cricketing personality which rankles even as their performances inspire.
Morrison tails off with the sour taste of his dropping from the side after an epic 10th wicket partnership with Astle to save the test against England, and the sense of personal injury he feels throughout hangs heavy underneath most of the book’s 230 pages. I still can’t figure out what the title’s about, but a clue might be the chapter titles: Desperado, London Calling, Sex & Drugs & Rock’n’roll, It’s a Kind of Magic… Danny loves music (mad!), and recounts his meeting Derek Walker, who has a Jam tattoo, and is properly mad. Danny’s lack of madness is maybe the chief problem with Mad As I Wanna Be, for all he bore witness to with the end of the Hadlee era, the coaching travails, and bombs in Sri Lanka, Morrison never really makes it pop off the page.
In his defence, I should point out that his ODI hat-trick against India was one of the most awesome things I’ve seen a New Zealander do. Danny was a journeyman cricketer who every so often pulled off an outrageous spell. It’s just that his book’s pretty average.