A Beautiful Game

Published: 2016
Pages: 412
Author: Nicholas, Mark
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Rating: 4 stars

In 2001, funny man and Richie Benaud impersonator Billy Birmingham, released his sixth album, The Final Dig, in the hugely popular 12th Man Series. The premise of The Final Dig is that Benaud is ready to retire from the commentary box and is advising the rest of the team that there in an opening for one of them to replace him as the ‘captain of the commentary team’.

History shows that none of the existing commentary team in 2001, would take over from Benaud. Instead it was Englishman, Mark Nicholas, who started with Channel Nine in 2003, who would become the face of televised cricket coverage in Australia.

In his new book A Beautiful Game, Nicholas tells the story of how he came to be the face that Australian’s see on the television before the start of play. A combination of luck and some advocating by radio personality Alan Jones (a friend of Nicholas) appear the main reasons Nicholas was given the chance, and his skill as a commentator that cemented his career.

Nicholas explains that there were some rumblings about a ‘Pom’ being the face of Australian cricket and also some misgivings from channel nine boss, Kerry Packer. The tycoon had a direct line to the commentary box (now that’s power) and once rang and berated Nicholas for his negative style of description. Nicholas was so distraught he was unable to perform his next stint behind the microphone. This description of Packer, which includes a follow up meeting and his dominant personality, is one of the best tales in the book.

A Beautiful Game is full of anecdotes and also some fine analysis. Nicholas’ description of what a batsman thinks, when facing fast bowling, and the insecurities he experiences is riveting reading. As a batsman Nicholas was perhaps just short of Test standard, although there were more than a few who advocated his selection, and as a fine captain with 17 years in the game he is uniquely placed to deliver the insights he does. However his skill as a writer and ability to provide fresh material is what makes his descriptions so absorbing.

Nicholas writes at the end of the book that A Beautiful Game became more autobiographical than he intended and hoped ‘that had not made them (the pages) too dull to read’. It certainly had not and some of his writings about his life as both a cricketer and later a media personality are some of the best chapters in the book. Added to this, Nicholas enjoys friendships with not just some of the best cricketers but also other personalities. One that was interesting was Tiger Woods, who turns out to be a cricket fan and very much wanted to meet Shane Warne. Nicholas, tongue in cheek, hints that the two had certain things, apart from being great sportsmen, in common.

A Beautiful Game, apart from great insights into cricket features heartfelt eulogies to some of the games finest including Richie Benaud, Phillip Hughes and Nicholas’ team-mate and close friend Malcolm Marshall. Nicholas rates Marshall as probably the greatest ever fast bowler. Nicholas captained him at Hampshire as well as the brothers Smith, Chris and Robin. The latter’s pen pic is perhaps the best in the book and quite a sad read given his many obvious attributes.

There is so much more in this book that makes it a diverting read; a new take on the 2005 great Ashes series, a discussion on cricket’s direction and even an imaginative piece on cricket in the future. Nicholas moves between such a variety of subjects with ease, due to his knowledge of all things cricket and perceptive ability to sum up the personality of people in just a few telling sentences.

There is no index; a few minor typos and one factual error which has Nicholas describing Fred Spofforth as destroying England at the Oval in 1877 instead of 1882. These tiny oversights stop this book receiving an even higher rating. All in all A Beautiful Game is lovingly and skilfully written and will deservedly be a best seller.



Leave a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they have been approved

More articles by Archie Mac