One of a Kind: The Doug Walters StoryArchie Mac |
Author: Mallett, Ashley
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Rating: 3 stars
Cricket is one of those sports in which style is often viewed by spectators as important as statistics. Victor Trumper was considered to be a better batsman than Donald Bradman by many contemporaries, in spite of the fact that Trumper’s batting average was substantially lower. In the same way, Doug Walters is remembered with great fondness by many cricket lovers of the 60s and 70s for his happy-go-lucky attitude towards life and his aggressive batting. Other players of his era performed at a similarly high level, but Doug developed an almost mythical status amongst players and fans who saw him play. Whilst Walters made 5357 runs at the impressive average of 48.26 in 74 Tests, it was the manner in which he scored the runs that drew the crowds. His approach to life both on and off the field, including his love of a drink and a smoke, is legendary and something that sadly appears to be no longer part of the professional game that cricket is today.
There have been at least two ‘ghosted’ autobiographies about Doug, ‘Looking for Runs’ which was published in 1971 and ‘The Doug Walters Story’ released in 1981. A number of humorous anthologies of stories involving Doug have also been published, including ‘One for the Road’, ‘Two for the Road’ and ‘The Entertainers’ in which Doug personally contributed. In light of these previous works, it was interesting to see Ashley Mallett release an authorised biography of Walters called ‘One of a Kind’ . Mallett has previously written a number of cricket books including ‘Lords’ Dreaming’, ‘Trumper : The Illustrated Biography’ and ‘Clarrie Grimmett : The Bradman of Spin’ . What put Mallett into a particularly strong position to write authoritatively on Walters is their shared experiences, with the two of them touring and playing Test cricket together throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
The book is quite long at nearly 330 pages, and documents the early years of Walters’ career and his major Test match performances. There are also sections devoted to his time in the Army and also the Packer Cricket days. There are some interesting revelations in the book. In particular, I found the insights of Walters into his technical problems in combating the moving ball in England to be fascinating. Walters detailed his new batting plan for the 1981 Ashes tour, however, the fact he was ultimately not selected meant we would not see whether it would have proved successful or not.
As expected, there are a large number of anecdotes and stories involving Walters and his team-mates. Unfortunately, Mallett’s writing style does not appear to be well suited to regaling the reader with amusing tales. Most of the yarns have been told previously in other books, and overall there is little new content. ‘The Doug Walters Story’ was first published at the conclusion of his international career in 1981, and as such, all of his Test cricket was included in that book. Mallett doesn’t add significantly to that work with great insights into Doug’s life after cricket.
I also found it quite confusing at times to work out who the story was about. The book includes a large number of long quotations from Walters himself, as well as his peers. Mallett also includes his own performances within the text at times, and it was often unclear just who was the subject of certain passages. I had to re-read a number of passages to work out whether it was Mallett describing Walters, Mallett describing Mallett or someone else describing either Walters or Mallett.
If the reader has not previously read one of the other books either by or about Walters, ‘One of a Kind’ would be a good place to start. Walters is a fascinating figure, and is a worthy figure of a biography. However, if you have previously read any of the other books, I cannot really recommend the purchase of this new one. The writing is simply not good enough to overcome the recycling of previous material, and the lack of significant new content means that much of the book is familiar.
Doug Walters was my Dad’s favourite player, and when he actually met him at a sportsman’s night, my father was so impressed, he would not hear of a word said against ‘Dougie’, even during the WSC schism, which my father was vehemently opposed too.
What inspired so many demotic people just like my father to hold K.D. Walters in such homage- to erect banners on the Sydney Hill, claiming it as ‘The Doug Walters Stand’. Was it his technique, or was it a latent quality that caused Doug Walters to be elevated to hero status.
Ashley Mallett explores the Walters legend, and documents his rise from farm boy to international cricketer. Mallett is well qualified to write the Walters story as he played alongside him for Australia in many a Test match and tour game.
Mallett and Walters do not hold back on their criticisms of the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) and their lack of player payments, or their disregard for player safety and comfort. Certainly the extremely poor hotels the Australian tourists faced during their tour of India in 1969, was nothing short of a disgrace, as for player care; Mallett writes:
‘The Board had shown, in many ways, that our welfare wasn’t a priority. That they had each of the tour member’s lives insured for $400 probably said it all’.
This was a great time of change in cricket, with riots on the field, Australia copping their worst series defeat in their cricketing history, the advent of WSC and even the first streaker in a cricket match. Mallett misses nothing of interest and constantly gives his and his subjects views of all the main issues occurring during the coming of age of professional cricket.
The author has performed a fine job in capturing the lot of a cricketer of the pre-professional period, the late nights ‘ our subject never seems to have gone to bed before 5am ‘ the poor pay, which led to a lack of job security, and having to deal with an insensate Board.
You could be forgiven for having the belief from all of the anecdotes that abound about Doug Walters that he was insouciant, but Mallett gives a number of examples to dispel this, often showing Walters as being very conscientious in the nets or on the training track.
In the end Walters comes across as unspoilt (this helped him deal with the ‘New Bradman’ tag), fun loving and definitely a mans man, often at the bar or on the golf course or studying the form guide, that he has been married to the same woman since a young man, says something, but just what is uncertain. What is certain that in today’s game there can never be another Doug Walters, but in truth throughout the history of cricket there never was a player quite like K.D. Walters.
The book on the whole while enjoyable was a little too long, with too much detail being given to meaningless (after nearly forty years) tour matches. Also Ashley Mallett has a bad habit of repeating observations or opinions. For example he presents a theory as to why Doug Walters was not overly successful in England and then shares this opinion three more times in the following few chapters.
The above is a small criticism and should not detract from what is essentially a very comprehensive, and entertaining biography, of one of the most colourful characters to ever make it to the top of international cricket. Three Stars from the Mac.