Category Archives: Dead Ball Icons

Five Things I've Thought This Week

1. Brendan McCullum should not be putting out a book

2. This Tour de France has a reasonable chance of being one of the best ever.

3. I don’t think I’ve anticipated a non-All Blacks game of international rugby as much as this weekend’s Tri-Nations game in a while.

4. Jesse Ryder’s career might already be over.

5. Brendan Telfer and Dale Budge worked far better than I thought they would.

Read more detailed analysis of the above after the jump. Continue reading

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Filed under Basketball, Cricket, Cycling, Dead Ball Icons, Fandom, NBA, Rugby, Rugby league, Tri-Nations

John Daly: A Deadball Icon

John Daly topless

“I never liked to read, and I didn’t see the point. Shakespeare sucked.”

John Patrick Daly is not one of world’s great intellectual forces, but he sure can hit a golf ball a long way. Over the past couple of decades his renegade influence has played a large role in having golf shed its image as a sport of the monied elite, and in between extended bouts of alcoholism, losing tens of millions of dollars on pokies and four tumultuous marriages he has remained one of the most popular golfers in the world.

It’s the combination of a loud, borderline insane personal life and frequently breathtaking golf which has endeared him to fans, and after the first round of The Open Championship at Turnberry he sat at two under, four shots off the lead, and yet again had the chance to prove the doubters wrong and his own self right. He closed out with three straight rounds of 72, fading from contention. But for golfers arrested outside Hooters by the Winston-Salem police less than a year ago he was unchallenged at the top of the leaderboard.

Daly loves playing golf in Scotland – anyone watching overnight (thanks, jetlag!) would have noted that the crowds only wake up for a truly miraculous shot. Bunker it at Turnberry and only the bitter wind will whistle in your ears. He considers them the purest golf fans in the world, and has rewarded them with a truly heroic playing ensemble. Even granted that golfers aren’t known as the prettiest of athletes, his garb throughout The Open was pretty outlandish.

Daly green_phixr

Having noted that, atop the leaderboard after the first round sat Miguel Angel Jimenez after a scorching 64, and he looks like the kind of guy who made Creasy Bear so angry in  Man on Fire.

Man on Fire Jimenez

Anyway, so he might be in a tight two-way tussle for ugliest man in the tournament, he also has no right to even be playing golf at this point. Daly’s life is a catalogue of misfortunes as long as your arm, and for every triumph there have been at least five disasters to offset it.

Growing up in Dardanelle, Arkansas, golf was an escape from an alcoholic father who would one day pull a gun on his son in a stupor, and a mother absent more often than not. Daly and his brother Jamie raised themselves as soon as the latter could be considred a babysitter for his younger sibling, with the Daly brothers opening up the family ranch for all-night keg parties from their mid-teens, which their parents never picked up on upon their return due to John’s extreme OCD cleaning tendencies.

He could always hit a golf ball a long way, but started working on his short game by chipping his way round a baseball diamond. It was this kind of dedication which garnered the man a scholarship to the University of Arkansas. The coach there presciently noted that even then, Daly was a little overweight (his pre-round meal to this day remains multiple McMuffins), and told him to start smoking Marlboro Lights as an appetite suppressant, and switch Jack Daniels and diet coke from beer.

He’s attended rehab twice for alcoholism, smokes at least two packs a day, and ealier this year had stomach-limiting lap-band surgery, so that prescription obviously worked out real well for him. His lovelife has been scarcely less extreme, with his second wife Bettye turning out to be a decade older than she had told him (and have a 14-year-old son – this when Daly was still in his twenties), and fourth wife Sherrie (unconventional spellings should be a red flag for Daly) attacked him with a steak knife in 2007, resulting in him playing the second round of Memphis’ Stanford St Jude championship with his face even less pretty than usual.

Picture 48

If he was just a marginal professional (he’s ranked 414 in the world as of today), this would be just a tragic story, but Daly had won two majors before he turned thirty, including a heartstopping PGA Championship in 1991, which he started as ninth alternate. He was the longest driver on the US PGA Tour for more than a decade, has amassed 19 titles as a professional, and when his game is working he has a subtlety around the green which belies his boorish image.

That’s certainly important to his fans, but equally attractive to his rabid, establishment-baiting newfound golf fans is his unashamedly hillbilly lifestyle. He travels by a US$1.5m custom tour bus, rather than squeeze himself onto domestic plane seats and put up with hours without a cigarette between his lips. He’s recorded country albums, with songs like All My Exes Wear Rolexes, and has seen Dead Solid Perfect and Caddyshack (his favourite golf movies) over 70 times between them.

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He’s like a regular guy who won the lottery, only the ticket keeps paying out. So he buys a house in Colorado on a whim and hangs out with the Denver Broncos (and also has a Madden card from his fame explosion in ’91 due to place kicking during an NFL game), lost US$50m when they installed pokies in Vegas that let you crank through $5k at a time, and his fourth wife and her family have all done Federal time for drug trafficking (while he was married to her). Plus he’s a big time rooter: “I want to have sex three or four times a day. I mean, I’m horny all the time.”

Keep that image in your mind, kids. He last won on the PGA Tour in ’04, has lost his long driving title to the likes of Bubba Watson, and most things in his life seem to be pointing to a gradual fade from the limelight. But with Daly you feel like the moment he’s counted out is the one he’ll pick to come storming home. He finished second in the Italian Open this year, and tied for 27th at The Open. The tummy tuck seems to have reinvigorated him, along with his wardrobe, and something about his character, the things he’s endured and survived convinces me he’s got one more triumph in him.

Even if he doesn’t, he’s made golf bearable, and played as a big a part as Tiger in breaking its historic class/race barriers. And for all the madness and bewildering moves he’s made in his personal life – he might be the most confounding figure in all sports over the last couple of decades – you can’t help but love the guy. If nothing else, you have to respect a guy who wandered out onto the hallowed fairways of the PGA Tour in the early ’90s looking like this.

daly_92_brit_smoke

Legend.

– Duncan

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Filed under Dead Ball Icons, Golf

Chris Harris: A DeadBall Icon

Chris Harris

As the World Twenty20 runs on without The Black Caps, the time feels right for a reappraisal of the career of a man who might once have saved our blushes: Chris Harris, New Zealand’s pre-eminent cricketer of the post-Hadlee era.

Belying his thinning hair and hedonistic reputation, he pounced on seemingly impossible catches like a balding cat, regularly threw down the stumps from square leg with a grace that made grown men weep, unilaterally conjured up miraculous batting recoveries, and bowled dot balls when we needed them most.  He was New Zealand’s face saver, a legendarily down-to-earth everyman who commanded respect when the rest of our team inspired ridicule.

A contemporary of the teary-eyed Wellington tradesman, Gavin Larsen, he took that same role of the mid-late order batsman/second change dibbly-dobbly swing bowler, but owned it with such effortless flair and jouissance that he transformed the very landscape of New Zealand cricket.  From Harry onwards, the role of the seemingly unthreatening all-rounder became not a mere afterthought, but the essence of New Zealand’s one day approach.

He is the blueprint and spiritual guide for all our middle order all-rounders, who just about every match are expected to compensate for the under-performance of our top order batsmen, and wayward or injured frontline pacemen.  Daniel Vettori is the most obvious proponent of the Harry Way, having trained under Harry, partnering him in many heart-warming, tail-wagging, respectability-saving stands.  Jesse Ryder bowls dibbly-dobblies and has taken Harry’s booze-and-durries reputation and developed it.  Scott Styris, unassuming, roguishly handsome, aged before his time, but heroically consistent, is probably the closest a modern NZ cricketer has come to capturing the soul or mystical aura of CZ Harris in his prime.

On November 20 this year, Chris Harris will turn 40, default upper age limit for international cricketers.  Since last week’s decision to make former ICL players eligible for New Zealand, Harris hypothetically could make a return to the Black Caps, but the chances of this happening are sadly slim.  Thus, barring a miracle, we have witnessed the end of one of New Zealand’s great cricket careers, the fading away of a prodigious talent and New Zealand folk hero, and one of cricket’s rare alopecians not to resort to the Advanced Hair Clinic.

He debuted in Australia in 1990, hinting at his future lynchpin role in the team, scoring 17 not out and taking a wicket in his first game.  His batting form through the first few seasons of his career was patchy though, and while he was definitively one of the ‘Young Guns’, their golden moment, the 1992 World Cup, did not feature any Harry magic with the bat, for one because the top order largely fired, but more significantly because he was part of a revolutionary bowling lineup made up of almost entirely of dibbly-dobbly bowlers. (Gavin Larsen, Harris, Rod Latham and Willie Watson. The other key bowler was of course off-spinner Dipak Patel, who legendarily opened the bowling in a self-professed “captaincy masterstroke” by Martin Crowe.)

Harry took 16 wickets in the tournament at an average of 21.38, a figure that would have been even better had he not suffered a tonking at the hands of Inzamam ul-Haq in the heartbreaking semi final defeat against Pakistan. Appropriately, Harris ran out Inzamam in typically spectacular fashion with a diving side-on throw from point, but it was too late to prevent New Zealand’s dreams of World Cup glory being crushed. The loss was a hammer blow to the nation’s psyche, and perhaps marks the moment when New Zealand trudged downcast with resignation into the ’90s, realising that the decade was not going to be a new era of optimism, prosperity and sports supremacy over Australia, but just more of the same shit.

In a sense, Chris Harris’s batting performances as the ’90s progressed mirrored the state of our country at the time, providing an objective analogy to our own aspirations and frustrations. Just as we were hamstrung by recession, isolation, and an indefinable cultural/ideological malaise, Harry was prevented from ever being truly flashy and excellent by regular top order collapses.

As mentioned earlier, his gift was restoring respectability in difficult and sometimes appalling circumstances, which allowed him to deploy the batting equivalent of such parochial stand-bys as ‘Kiwi Ingenuity’, ‘the Number Eight Wire Mentality’ and crucially avoid the dreaded ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’.  No fear of being charged with arrant excellence when you’re coming in at number eight and forced into a situation like this (note plucky support innings from Harry’s young apprentice Vettori)

Harris3

Conversely, it was the very same failures that allowed Harry to truly shine.  Had it not been for the regular sub-par performances of our top and middle order, Harris wouldn’t have had the chance to come out and play those vital innings that made us feel okay about losing. When you trawl through Chris Harris’s higher scoring innings, the common thread in a noticeable majority of them is that they were New Zealand losses, not surprising in itself as the majority of New Zealand cricket performances in general are losses.

I guess what I’m trying to get to here is that Chris Harris actually needed New Zealand to be the wretched team they were in order to scrawl his legendary, indelible signature across the autograph book of cricket history*. (yes I know this is a lame metaphor, but hell this is sports writing right, this shit’s pretty much obligatory)

Occasionally though, his brilliance combined with the right team and the right occasion, and he had the rare satisfaction of taking the role of match-winner, as seen in the first two matches against Australia during the 2002 VB Series. In the first match at the MCG, New Zealand made a total of 199, only remotely defendable because of the gritty salvaging efforts of our hero and his plucky young protege Vettori. The two left-handers shared a record eighth wicket partnership of 72, taking New Zealand from a typically worrying 94 /7 in the 26th over to 166/8 at the beginning of the 44th.

Harry finished up with 63 not out, undoubtedly a truly great innings, given the situation on his arrival at the crease versus the final result. With Australia chasing 200, New Zealand’s bowlers put on an exemplary display of strike, spin and economy, Shane Bond (on debut) knocking the guts out of the Australian top order and Harry putting on the brakes, bowling 1 for 17 from seven overs. The Australians finished up all out for 176 after 42 overs. This is the archetypal perfect New Zealand cricket result really, what we wait for as fans of this mercurial team: a victory over the ultimate foe at the MCG, despite an inimitably flawed performance, thus making the victory all the more satisfying, human and truly glorious.

The second match in Sydney had strong similarities to the first, but with Harris coming in at a slightly more forgiving 137/5 in the 36th over, he brought a more insistent approach to the batting crease, making a commanding 42 not out off 43 balls. Defending 235, the New Zealand bowling attack once again took the Australians apart, with the last six wickets falling for 38 runs. Harris himself took three wickets of the six, as well as two catches. He was named Man of the Match in both of these deeply pleasing cricket contests, and I shall humbly and probably erroneously suggest that it was this moment that truly made concrete Chris Harris’ position as one of the few New Zealand cricketers genuinely respected across the Tasman.

These performances are heart-soaring, blessed highlights in the career of a cricketer who taught New Zealanders that the next best thing to saving a match is saving face. His determined stands in the path of total embarrassment were moments of hope and sheer joy amidst the dark and conflicted mess that is to be a New Zealand cricket fan. He was the spoonful of sugar that helped the medicine go down.

The final stages of Chris Harris’s international career were confused by injury, and the corporate mess of Twenty20 and his participation in the rebel Indian Cricket League. This has all threatened to obscure the dignified bowing out of this great man from the traditional realm of international cricket. Whether or not he intends to keep playing cricket at the highest level possible until he simply drops dead, he is overdue a testimonial match to draw to a symbolic close his international cricket career and usher him lovingly into the world of commentary, punditry and after-dinner speaking engagements.

If not for Chris Harris, then for me, and the thousands of other Harry connoisseurs who quietly long for the days when his inventive, determined approach and captivating scalp dominated New Zealand one day cricket.

– James Milne

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Filed under Cricket, Dead Ball Icons, Fandom, Guest Post

Michael The Bears Fan: A Deadball Icon

Nationals Cardinals Spring Baseball

Rather than dwell on the utterly depressing incident in cricket this week, the Black Caps loss, ah,  I  mean the horrible incident in Pakistan, it’s time to reflect on the joy sport can bring – however minor and insignificant it may seem in the shadow of current events. Yep, it’s time to salute another DeadBall Icon.

When attending a live sporting event, most fans are content to cheer their team on, participate in some organised chanting and perhaps create some type of witty sign. But how many spectators are ready to perform incredible feats of athleticism? Continue reading

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Filed under Cricket, Dead Ball Icons, NFL, Reminiscing

Brendan Telfer: A DeadBall Icon

This is a profile I wrote of my favourite New Zealand sports journalist as student a few years back. As a result it’s probably a little over-weaning and dated, but I think it still gets to the heart of why when there’s a big sporting issue there’s no one I’d rather hear attacking it than Brendan Telfer. No one wanted to publish it at the time. I guess Telf’s not glamourous enough.

The Old Campaigner

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A profile of Brendan Telfer – previously unpublished, from 2005.

By Duncan Greive

“I think we’ve had it with John O’Neill. If he can’t be bothered to answer his phone when he says he will then he can stick his A-League somewhere in his flash hair-do or something.”

Brendan Telfer is furious, in his mild-mannered way. The chief of Australian soccer has just reneged on a second scheduled interview in two days, leaving Morning Sport with a gaping hole in its schedule to fill. However unlike other Radio Sport hosts; in fact unlike almost anyone else working in broadcasting today; restraint is the word. This journalistic throwback rebels by his very orthodoxy. Where all around him radio hums with risqué comments, stings and sponsors, heat and flash, Brendan Telfer is calm, measured and very much of the Old School. Continue reading

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Filed under Athletics, Community, Cricket, Dead Ball Icons, Golf

Mario Cipollini: A DeadBall Icon

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Smokin'

Cycling in the ’90s might have been dominated by the steady, remorseless cadence of Miguel Indurain, whose impassive visage delighted in the slow dismantlement of his opponents, but for star power there was only one. Mario Cipollini was a sprinter, perhaps the greatest of all time, but it was how he carried himself, and his open flouting of rules and convention which made him such an outrageous feature of the Peleton.

Born in Tuscany in 1967, Cipo had a long career notable chiefly for the way he destroyed opposition on the flat, with his Saeco team pioneering the sprint train, thrashing the peleton through the final kilometres of a race so as to discourage attack, and fling their king Mario across the line at its conclusion. He won 191 races, including 12 stages of the Tour without ever making it over the mountains (he felt they demeaned him), though it was the Giro which was his true home, and he took a record 42 stage victories in his home tour. Continue reading

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Filed under Cycling, Dead Ball Icons, Kirk Penney's Hair, Reminiscing

Fidel Edwards: An Extremely Gangsta DeadBall Icon

New Zealand’s current series against the West Indies, two of the more ordinary sides in international cricket, has been, a few sessions aside, pretty uneventful. The expected fireworks from Gayle, some extremely composed innings from Chanderpaul, New Zealand struggling along like a three legged dog… But I’ve kept watching, and enjoying it, largely because of one man.

Fidel Edwards has got to be one of the most entertaining cricketers in the world right now. Unfortunately he plays for the West Indies, so he gets no support from the other end, and his average is a very tawdry 38… But damn, he’s cold. And this isn’t about his figures so much as his presence on the pitch. Check out this over to South Africa:

Not particularly effective (though worthwhile for audience response alone), but just feel the heat coming off the guy. His resemblance to a better-looking Marlo Stanfield, the  murderous drug kingpin from The Wire is surely not coincidental. Continue reading

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