There can be no doubt of the impressive achievements of the New Zealand Cricket team during the 1980s. Their home performances against the powerful West Indies in 1980 and 1987, the first Test victory of England at Headingley in 1983, as well as their series victory against them at home in 1984, were achievements of the highest order. If we add to this the 1985 series victory over Australia in Australia then we realise that we are in the company of something special.
During this decade, the New Zealand Test cricket team stopped being perceived as plucky grafters who punched above their weight, as the rather patronising international press might describe them, and became equals and, at times, superiors to the established and traditionally successful Test nations.
Dawn of the Golden Weather is essential reading to understand how this happened. The author has interviewed New Zealand Test cricketers of the period in, I would suggest, a rather sympathetic way and they have opened up to him. The result is often gripping reading.
From what this reviewer could tell, the team, at times, appeared to be driven by bags of chips on their shoulders. Some felt the West Indies had treated them with contempt, some felt the English were condescending, etc. As a galvanizing force, this attitude appeared to work wonderfully well and it would not be the first time in sport that a team has banded together to challenge perceptions of themselves as somehow not up to the mark. That, though, can only carry a team so far. New Zealand had remarkable cricketers at their disposal during this period, including one of the best bowlers the world has seen and various batsmen who were just as talented, if not more so, than their more illustrious counterparts in other international teams. Their fielding was pretty impressive, also.
The author’s pedigree is without question as a sports reporter and the book is possessed of an engaging style that carries the reader along. He is keen to place the cricket of the period in a social and sporting context whenever he can (any book that references Exile On Main Street is worthy of some respect!), and, although the book is about a distinct period of New Zealand cricket, he ranges back into New Zealand cricket history to place the team in to perspective.
The book doesn’t hold back either. For some, international cricket took a toll – whether they understood it at the time or not. Some incidents, such as Geoff Howarth vomiting because of apparent anxiety attacks, make for brutal reading, but shouldn’t diminish his obvious role in helping this team become what it was. The strain on him, and other captains, is apparent throughout the book.
The interviews can also reflect the tensions in the team – tensions that appeared to have been far more than mere quibbles and disagreements. Sometimes, it seemed team culture meant that a player like Martin Crowe felt demoralised and unsure of his skill. The author takes no sides however, simply allowing the players to speak for themselves and, as a consequence, allowing us to see the complexity of it all without jumping to facile conclusions. What we are finally left with above all are the feelings of the players – and they stay with the reader for a long time after the book has been put down.
As I have suggested, the interviews carried out by the author illuminate this period like never before. The players are admirably frank and open in their thoughts and they help make this book invaluable for any student of the game as do the links to history and culture that the writer provides. Of course, we are still lacking the complete picture. I would like to have heard how their opponents saw this team. What they feel now looking back over that decade or so. I believe that Bob Willis suggested in his Captain’s Diary, that England’s series loss in 1984 was due simply to a poor English team. It would be interesting to know if he still felt that. Or whether Clive Lloyd still has the same reaction to the West Indies experience here that was reported at the time in the News of The World – a paper my father suggested was so full of lies that you couldn’t depend on it to hold fish and chips in! Their responses and others would be a fascinating accompaniment to this fine book and help illuminate this remarkable New Zealand team even more.
As we might expect from a publisher with the pedigree of Steele Roberts, the book is beautifully put together. There are illustrations galore, an appendix recording New Zealand’s performance during the 1980s, and a most helpful index.
Throughout the book, the author makes interesting and challenging points about so many things to do with sports and cricket. I do hope that he considers developing them. There’s material here for a fair number of future books and it is to be hoped that he and Steele Roberts will continue working on and publishing books about New Zealand cricket and it’s history. Buy this book. You won’t be disappointed. It is essential and gripping reading.
Dawn of the Golden Weather: when Kiwi cricketers conquered the world. John Mehaffey, Steele Roberts, Aotearoa: Wellington, 2018.