Golden Boy by Christian Ryan

IMG_1571 (2) Kim Hughes is remembered by cricket fans as the Australian captain who cried when he resigned. If WG Grace had been under this sort of pressure, he might have blubbed too. Hughes was around in an era (the late 1970s and 1980s) of fearsome facial hair and macho attitudes, and his own sunny, naïve, curly-headed, infuriating, trusting, slightly silly personality simply did not fit. He was at times a sparkling batsman and, as a boy, dreamed of being Australia’s captain, but that does not qualify you for the job. His story is intertwined with those of four members of Australian cricket royalty: Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh, and Greg and Ian Chappell. None of them come out of it particularly well although Hughes is believed to be friends, finally, with all four of the men who played such a large part in tormenting him while he was playing. Greg says he loves Kim now, Dennis says their differences were overstated. Hughes is saying nothing and requested his family and legal people didn’t either – but plenty of people were happy to talk and many are appalled by Hughes’ treatment. Ultimately, the author rightly rubbishes Greg’s explanation that Lillee and Marsh behaved as they did – undermining his authority and/or trying to decapitate him in the practice nets – because they ‘loved’ Kim. Left out of the Packer revolution, Hughes was never part of ‘the club’ and was eventually broken by his isolation. Getting his hair braided one afternoon in Jamaica while captaining Australia’s tour of the West Indies is like the bit in Toy Story where Buzz Lightyear joins a doll’s tea party. ‘I thought then, Kim, you’ve lost the plot,’ recalls Allan Border. But Hughes never whined, was physically courageous and nice – perhaps to a fault – to more or less everybody. Most Australian cricket books – apart from those by Gideon Haigh – are about Bradman. It’s a pleasure to read one that takes a more imaginative path. The shot Hughes is playing on the cover of Golden Boy does not exist in batting manuals, and suggests either outrageous brilliance or a man who is – at that second – out of control: both of these are, we learn, equally likely.

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