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McCullum’s swipe at Taylor: Are sports autobiographies used for settling scores?

cricket Updated: Oct 26, 2016 17:33 IST
N Ananthanarayanan
N Ananthanarayanan
Hindustan Times
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McCullum has lashed out at Taylor for being ‘uncommunicative’ and attacking him as someone who pulled down the team due to poor leadership.(AFP Photo)

Teammates today, enemy within tomorrow… It seems former sports stars, while writing autobiographies, are more focused on ruffling feathers, perhaps to ensure their books fly off the shelves.

Two of the latest cricket autobiographies — by ex-Australia skipper Michael Clarke and New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum — have left some former teammates angry.

Brendon McCullum, the previous Kiwi skipper who was even credited with helping Ross Taylor find his feet again after the drama around the latter’s removal as skipper, blamed the then new coach Mike Hesson left him distressed as he walked away for a while.

Losing out

The flurry of activity during New Zealand’s Sri Lanka tour in 2012, where Taylor lost support with the exit of coach John Wright, and was then seen as uncommunicative to lead the side is one of the bleak passages in the country’s cricket history.

During India’s 2014 tour of New Zealand, there were reports on how Taylor felt listless after Hesson’s no-confidence vote in him.

There was a bit of unease on his return to the side, but McCullum seemed to be sensitively handling the situation. While Taylor has credited the late batting great Martin Crowe for helping him regain interest in the game.

The handling of the affair was seen more as humiliating Taylor than a decision based on cricketing merit.

In his recently-released book, Declared, McCullum has lashed out at Taylor for being ‘uncommunicative’ and attacking him as someone who pulled down the team due to poor leadership.

Testy Relationship

In fact, Taylor, New Zealand’s third most successful Test batsman, was reportedly distraught by the impression that was built that he was unfit to lead. And if the batsman had no leadership qualities, it wasn’t evident in his interactions with the media on that 2014 tour, when he even sat with McCullum in some news conferences.

The PR machinery had praised McCullum for making Taylor feel at ease. In a small country like New Zealand, it is unlikely two of its major sporting figures — Taylor has Maori roots as well — were strangers.

But McCullum’s no-holds-barred attack on Taylor — he even finds fault with a public process that led to the latter winning the race for captaincy first — contrasts with the image assiduously cultivated of the keeper-batsman.

That begs the question: Is rubbishing a teammate after a career is done the best way to go about it. Much happens in the confines of a dressing room, especially between players who have spent years together in the side. Differences are expected to crop up. And Taylor’s popularity with New Zealand fans is quite high.

That’s disrespect

Perhaps those developments still rankled. On the 2014 tour, one saw Taylor’s prickliness with the local media as well. A New Zealand journalist was recording his news conference on his mobile phone when it rang. Embarrassed, he rushed forward to collect the phone.

As Taylor rose to leave in the end, he turned to the scribe, asking acidly: “Your are at a press conference for the first time?” If only looks could kill.

Taylor, struggling in the ongoing India tour, hasn’t responded, but the costly dropping of Virat Kohli’s catch in Mohali hinted at a distracted man.

Former Aussie skipper, Michael Clarke, great batsman but an unpopular figure, too has reopened old wounds, attacking former teammates Simon Katich and Shane Watson in his book, My Story.

Clarke stroked a century on debut in Bengaluru in 2004 and edged out current coach Darren Lehmann from the middle-order within months. Lehmann put out a team statement at the end of that first Test win, acknowledging the youngster will take his place in the eleven.

While he would be regarded as a great Australia batsmen, he was a divisive figure. His best friend in the game was a player from the previous era, Shane Warne.

Katich had a famous bust-up in the dressing room and Watson was among four players dropped for the third Test in Mohali during the 2013 rout in India, in what has come to be known as ‘homework gate’.

While these airing of old differences have drawn attention to their books, it has also raised a debate whether Clarke and McCullum have crossed the line.

Or is it par for the course in an age where the TV camera follows every move on the field and the social media dissects every moment of a sports star’s life?

While readers, fans and other players won’t mind getting a fresh, official take on what happened, should there be an unwritten code when it comes to teammates? Are they merely honest accounts or acts of betrayal?