Sport

A book’s title should indicate its subject and, even better, its approach to its subject. Basic dictionaries define a companion as one who ‘accompanies another’, is an ‘associate in’, or a ‘sharer of’. A secondary definition is a ‘handbook or reference book’; a thing that ‘matches another’. I anticipate that a book called a ‘Companion’ will be company, will allow me to associate, to share, refer, and be matched as though with a real-life companion; a partner. Given that the book is published by a major university press, it is expected that the companion may be more of a mentor than a guide, but still present information in a lively, accessible style.

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In the early 1990s the cricket tour book, like the western movie, seemed dead and buried. The formulas played themselves out around 1970, though the genre had a strong structure which allowed for fitful new interpretations. Direct telecasts of Test cricket and video highlights of series appeared likely to kill the tour book. Who needed to read about it when, having witnessed the games ball by ball, judgement could be passed again with the aid of electronic recording equipment? Yet a Test series offered a strong structure on which a skilful author could make interesting variations.

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Almost thirty years on, in a post-Samaranch age, when the wealthy Olympic movement mimics the United Nations in world affairs, the 1980 Moscow Games resemble prehistory, especially for Australian athletes, officials and spectators still revering 2000 Sydney successes. Yet as Lisa Forrest recounts, the Moscow boycott shredded the traditional views of Australian sports people, ensured national sport would become more politicised, and produced shameful behaviour all round.

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The Master by Sean Fagan and Dally Messenger III & The Ballad of Les Darcy by Peter FiztSimons

by
October 2007, no. 295

Before and soon after Federation, Australia established itself as a sporting nation. Australia enjoyed good weather, with space for play. Despite the hardships of these times, youngsters, especially boys, found time to indulge in a wide range of sports. Two boys in particular, one the son of a boat builder/operator in Sydney, the other an East Maitland farm boy, became legendary figures in their chosen sports. The first was Henry Herbert (‘Dally’) Messenger, an all-round athlete and champion rugby player who turned away from the amateur rugby union and became a professional. Its best player, Messenger was a mainstay of the ‘new’ game, rugby league, in the lead-up to World War I. The second was the boxer Les Darcy, who, fighting mainly as a light heavyweight, won a series of titles in Australia prior to and during the war.

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IBy the Balls opens in the 1950s, when young Laszlo Urge and his family were forced to leave Stalinist Hungary and head to Australia. Laszlo was shocked to find his new country to be a ‘dry and colourless’ place where soccer (which he refers to as ‘football’) was unpopular. However, this situation was to change. In the following decades, Laszlo became ‘Les Murray’, a popular television sports commentator who has publicly championed his favourite game.

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Shane Warne is one of the greatest bowlers of all time, if not the greatest. Highly competitive and aggressive, he is one of the main factors in Australia’s prolonged dominance in world cricket. He has been involved in a series of controversies, on and off the field. He has been fined for sledging and over-aggressive appealing; and for providing, along with Mark Waugh, information to a bookie (something they both readily admitted, which the Australian Cricket Board tried to cover up). In 2003 he received a one-year ban for taking a banned substance, diuretic tablets, intended, he claimed (and this is not disputed by Barry), to help him lose weight. Off the field, like many leading sporting personalities, he is a serial womaniser

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Australian football has lost its magic, a unique quality existing in the 1950s, and even as late as the 1970s. It derived from the fixed positions that players adopted and from their physical diversity. In their competing forms, they became metaphysical constructs – good versus evil, beauty versus ugliness, benign innocence versus malevolent experience – constructs limited only by the human imagination ...

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Paris has gone crazy.’ There are people everywhere; ‘players and officials have been arriving like migrating birds’. The German team – including Hermann Hesse, Bertolt Brecht, Walter Gropius,Thomas Mann, Martin Heidegger ...

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I write this review the day after the Fifth Test. Australia has finally won one. I personally wouldn’t give two squirts of goat shit for the Australian selectors but this time they can tell us what to do with our cricket bats. Peter Taylor has taken six for and two for, batted with determination, and won the man of the match. (A shocking decision, by the way. It was Jones, then daylight, then Taylor and Emburey, and I don’t like Victorian batsmen and Poms who played in South Africa.) Twelfth man for Australia was Greg Matthews, who bowls off-spin and bats with determination. Like Taylor, whom Matthews would no doubt call ‘the man’ at the moment. Does this mean Matthews is on the way out, and that Roland Fishman’s mid-career biography, Greg Matthews: The Spirit of Modern Cricket, is one of the sillier Penguins, a book destined to become as popular as Andrew Jones’s autobiography? (Remember Andrew Jones, the oncer in the federal parliament in the mid-sixties? The relevant tome used to be on sale at Mary Martin’s at ten cents, two copies five cents …)

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Cricket is a remarkably fickle game. As Greg Chappell went about season 1981–82 collecting ducks as successfully as any Balinese farmer, Ray Robinson might well have rued his final line on one of Australia’s most-ever favoured batsmen: ‘At thirty-two he had achieved the kind of fame that needs no Academy Award of a foot-high golden statuette.’

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