Remembering David HookesMartin Chandler |
The West Indies started their 1975/76 tour of Australia in Adelaide. Their first game, against a South Australian Colts XI, was a one day practice match that they duly won at a canter. The tour’s opening First Class fixture against the state began on the same Adelaide Oval two days later. It must have been with some trepidation that David Hookes walked out on to the field that late October day for his First Class debut. All but three of his teammates had played or would play for Australia, and his captain was the legendary Ian Chappell. The West Indian team was composed entirely of Test players. I wonder how Hookes would have felt in the very first over of the tourists’ innings when that inveterate hooker, Roy Fredericks, top edged a short one from Wayne Prior towards him at fine leg. At least he didn’t have the nerve-racking experience of having to wait under the ball while he shaped for the catch. It wasn’t coming straight at him and he had to run hard towards it before taking a fine diving catch. Chappell ran all the way from first slip to congratulate him. How narrow is the path between success and failure. No one could have complained too much if he had fumbled the catch, but as it was the young reserve who began his run from fine leg as a boy had become a man in the seconds it took for Chappell to arrive and slap him on the back.
Hookes was selected as a dashing left handed lower middle-order batsman, and despite the new maturity that catch brought him must still have been nervous when he went into bat towards the end of the second day at 175-5. Despite his side moving steadily towards West Indies’ disappointing 221, the visitors would have seen an opening as the debutant came to the crease. He was faced by just about the sternest examination possible, Michael Holding, pawing away at the end of his huge run, with his tail up having just shattered Terry Jenner’s stumps. He passed the Holding test and, despite some trouble with the great off spinner Lance Gibbs, was still there at the close on 22* which, the following day, he extended to 55 before he played Andy Roberts off his hips but, failing to keep the ball down, straight into the hands of Fredericks at mid wicket.
Retained for the whole season there were further half centuries in Hookes’ third and fourth matches, but no more in the other six. Perhaps there were issues with his concentration, as apart from two occasions he always made a start, but despite averaging nearly 33 that 55 on debut was to remain his highest innings in that first season.
Following that promising start Hookes was back for the next season. He scratched around for a few runs in South Australia’s first Shield game before missing the tour of the eastern states in order to sit examinations. He returned in the New Year, but scored just 1 and 3 in a demoralisingly heavy defeat by Western Australia. By the time he played next, at the beginning of February, the Centenary Test was five weeks away – any bookmaker would have allowed a punter to name their own price if they had wanted to back Hookes to secure a berth in the side. In fact most commentators in Adelaide were encouraging the state selectors to leave him out of the South Australia team for the rest of the season to allow him to rediscover his confidence in Grade cricket. Had a straightforward caught and bowled been accepted in the final Grade game before the side to play Victoria was announced, at which point Hookes had just four to his name, it is likely that they would have got their wish. But he recovered and posted a big score and the selectors retained their faith.
South Australia batted first. There might still have been a problem with Hookes playing long innings, as he was only at the crease for four hours, but in that time he scored 163 with as many as seven 6s. His failure in the second innings as his side were bundled out for just 86, could have brought him back to earth with a bump, but in the event it certainly didn’t. Next to visit Adelaide were Queensland. At 14-3 the home team were looking down the barrel when Hookes strode to the wicket. They were looking in the opposite direction when he walked back just over four hours later when the fifth wicket fell at 319; out for 185. There was no second innings failure this time. South Australia added 137 after he came in to bat – his share was 105, two centuries in a match for the first time. Some very fine batsman have not achieved that feat more than once over a whole career. Hookes did it again the very next match with 135 and 156. All told he batted for not much over six hours over the two innings.
Australia had just played two Tests in New Zealand. They had won one and drawn the other and all the batsmen had scored run so no changes were expected for the Centenary Test. Despite that there was now countrywide interest in Hookes who was widely expected to be named in the party for the 1977 Ashes trip to England. As a result Hookes was invited to guest on a sports programme by a local Adelaide commercial TV station to discuss prospects for the upcoming fixtures. For a man who later carved out a successful career in broadcasting it was an inauspicious start, if forgiveably so. “Oh shit” were the words he was heard to utter as his name, and not that of Alan Turner, was in the side for Melbourne.
I have, from the perspective of England’s hero Derek Randall, told the story of the Centenary Test before so I will not repeat that again save to confirm that, Randall’s magnificent innings notwithstanding, Australia ended up victorious by an identical margin to that which they won the first ever Test by, 45 runs. Hookes contributed 17 to Australia’s disappointing first innings of 138, but his cameo performance in the second does as much to define his career as those five centuries in six innings. Hookes came to the wicket with Australia only 175 on with just six wickets in hand. Initially he left the showmanship to Doug Walters, but after Walters went with the lead at 229 the famous over from Tony Greig began.
As an off spinner Hookes did not rate Greig but he had, nonetheless, showed him a good deal of respect. At the start of Greig’s thirteenth over Hookes was on 36. He decided in advance that if Greig tossed one up it would get the treatment. The first two deliveries were standard Greig, near medium pace off breaks that Hookes played defensively. The third, slower and tossed up slightly went high over Greig’s head to the mid off boundary. As Hookes expected the fourth was a little quicker and that, after it pitched around middle and leg, was helped on its way to the backward square leg boundary. The next ball fell prey to an exquisite cover drive and the sixth, on a similar length but different line, was clipped through midwicket with what Hookes always considered to be one of the best shots he ever played. For the penultimate delivery of the over it was another cover driven boundary and, had it not been for a fine stop in the covers by Randall, it might have been six, rather than five consecutive boundaries.
An exhilarated Hookes, now on 56, then made the mistake of momentarily dropping his guard against the metronomic Derek Underwood and was out in the next over. There was a famous exchange between the England captain and Hookes in the match, although the two gave rather different versions. In Hookes 1993 autobiography he wrote that as he left the field after his second innings dismissal Greig told him to “Piss off”, resulting in a retort to the effect that Greig was just a “Pommy import”. Greig’s account, given after Hookes tragic death, is that as soon as Hookes came to the crease in the first innings he went to silly point and sledged him by enquiring as to whether or not his testicles had yet dropped. Greig says that a smiling Hookes’ immediate rejoinder was “At least I’m playing for the country I was born in.” Given that both have the ring of truth I rather suspect that both are correct and that there were in fact two exchanges – whatever the reality what is not disputed is that Greig turned up in the Australian dressing room after the game finished with a couple of beers and sought out Hookes to share them with, a gesture typical of the man and one that Hookes was greatly appreciative of.
Despite the excitement generated by his early successes those few weeks back in 1977 were the highlight of Hookes’ career. He did go on to play 23 Test matches over the next decade, but he averaged only 34. There was just one century, 143*, in an innings victory over Sri Lanka in their inaugural Test against Australia at a time when the Lankans were still very much the minnows of the world game. There were six half centuries against England, four in 1982/83 when he averaged all but 50 against Bob Willis’ side, but after four poor Tests agains New Zealand and India at home in 1985/86 he ran out of chances and the selectors never looked in his direction again. In 39 ODIs over the same period he averaged just 24, with only five half centuries. Again England were his favoured opposition, his average against them nudging 40.
In contrast Hookes did somewhat better than his fellow Australian batsmen, the Chappell brothers apart, during World Series Cricket, so had he remained with the establishment perhaps his Test record might be rather better. Unfortunately there was never any chance of that, the glamourous newcomer being high on WSC’s shopping list.
A step down, for South Australia, Hookes continued to play until 1991/92, and averaged 46 with 32 centuries to show for his efforts. He was also a respected skipper of the state side for eight seasons. He once scored a century in 34 deliveries, and on another occasion bludgeoned an unbeaten 306 in 398 minutes against Tasmania. In his penultimate First Class match he passed John Inverarity’s record Sheffield Shield aggregate, a record which he said at the time he hoped he would hold in perpetuity, given that it indicated under-achievement as a result of not enjoying a significant Test career. It is a reflection of the strength of Australian batting over the intervening period that 20 years later he is down to twelfth in that particular list.
So was David Hookes just a flat track bully who wasn’t quite good enough to really succeed at Test level or were there other factors that prevented the Bradmanesque progress that those few weeks in early 1977 promised? Hookes himself never sought to excuse his poor Test record on any basis other than he wasn’t quite good enough, although he did offer other insights into why that might be.
As a young batsman he had basically been left to his own devices and he went through his career largely uncoached. Many criticised some poor footwork that resulted from that. This was in part justified. When he was in full flow Hookes moved his feet as well as anyone, but his technique was found wanting when he was up against the best bowlers at the top of their game. Where the truly top-class batsman would graft away and survive Hookes seldom would and his greatest innings tended, albeit by no means always, to be played against attacks shorn of most of their stars by Test calls. Hookes himself believed that some coaching in his formative period as a batsman might have helped him, although there is a contrary argument of course, that such coaching would have destroyed the marauding instinct that made Hookes such a crowd pleaser.
In similar vein Hookes was not happy against top class spin bowling, seldom being exposed to it in his early years. His stint with WSC, an arena marked by a preponderance of pace bowling, illustrates the point.
There was a well known occasion during WSC when Hookes suffered a shattered jaw when hit in the face by Andy Roberts, although I do not seek to suggest that that there was any lack of courage subsequently despite the very serious injury he suffered. That is not to say there weren’t consequences, and his confidence did suffer, and the exhilarating hook shot that the younger Hookes had played emerged less than previously. Eventually, to try and put the memory out of his mind Hookes underwent a course of hypnotherapy. So overall the injury did affect Hookes’ career, and clearly not for the better.
A regret expressed by Hookes more than once was that he had a tendency to play a different, more defensive game, at the highest level. Logic would suggest the better class of bowlers was the reason for his lower scoring rate, rather than any failing on his own part, but he certainly seems to have felt that made a contribution to his modest record.
Hookes also candidly accepted that he probably enjoyed the benefits of a rich and varied social life rather more than was good for his batting and, sadly, that was to be a factor in his early demise. Some cricketers will, for a time, seemingly thrive despite a lifestyle that smacks of hedonism. Ian Botham is an example but, unless your name is Garry Sobers that ability doesn’t last forever and the ever-realistic Hookes never sought to excuse his love of a night out from being a reason for his career ultimately being less fulfilled than it might otherwise have been.
After he left the game Hookes forged a successful career in radio and then, in 2002, he was appointed coach of Victoria and, at the time of his death, was on his way to leading them to a title more than a decade after their previous one. In some respects Hookes was something of a throwback. He never lost his love of a good night out and in many ways remained the blond haired, broad-backed and immensely powerful pin up figure that he had been in the 1970s, however he also understood the game and despite outward appearances was a great thinker on captaincy and coaching. An interesting example of his attitude came in a Shield game where Dean Jones was flaying his bowlers to all corners. Hookes noted that Jones was taking guard a good yard outside his crease. He instructed one bowler to bowl well wide of off stump and for his ‘keeper to leave the ball. Both did as instructed and, following the call of “wide” Hookes, at first slip, took the ball, threw down the wicket, appealed and Jones was gone – innovation or sharp practice? Jones was understandably livid as he walked off, but I understand he later accepted it was a case where having lived by the sword, he could hardly complain at dying by it.
On 18th January 2004 Hookes’ charges at Victoria met his home state in an ING Cup match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Victoria won an exciting match by six runs and members of both sides went to a hotel in St Kilda in the evening to celebrate. In the fullness of time the remaining members of the party including Hookes left followed by some of the hotel security staff. Why they left and whether they were required to leave has never been clearly established. Similarly why the fight that then occurred started is unclear but, what was never in dispute, was that doorman Zdravko Micevic punched Hookes as a result of which he fell to the ground striking his head. He went into cardiac arrest and stopped breathing. He was immediately attended by paramedics who revived him, although he did not regain consciousness. David Hookes died the following day when the decision was made to take him off life support. He was 48.
Micevic was arrested and charged with manslaughter. The prosecution case was that after a disagreement and the players leaving Micevic deliberately targeted Hookes. The defence case was that he simply acted in self-defence following a brawl. The case, naturally, made headline news throughout Australia. The press coverage was, to say the least, partisan. Retired legal academic and cricket writer J Neville Turner wrote in April 2004 The sense of outrage against the alleged perpetrator was so great that several newspapers published articles portraying him as a brutal monster. No doubt was thrown upon his guilt. He went on to caution The newspaper coverage of the Hookes death was so prejudicial as to make it virtually impossible for (Micevic) to enjoy a fair trial anywhere in Australia.
It took until September of 2005 for the case to come before a jury in the Victoria Supreme Court. There was a week of evidence and a futher five days during which the jury considered their verdict. The evidence reflected the confusion of the night with many conflicts and contradictions in the accounts given by the witnesses called. Micevic told police in interview When I approached him again, I told him to settle down, like I said, he hit me in the guts. He grabbed me by my shirt, he pulled me down, he hit me again, that’s where I took a swing back at him.. No other witness saw Hookes strike Micevic but, probably crucially, former teammate Wayne Phillips, who had seen much of Hookes triple century from the non-striker’s end, did confirm that his old friend had been aggressive and, that at the time Micevic struck him, was part of a close group who were still pushing and shoving.
Despite Turner’s concerns the jury were not prepared to, on the basis of what they had heard, accept that the prosecution case had been proved to the requisite standard and Micevic was duly acquitted. It was a truly tragic case with victims aplenty. David Hookes lost most of all of course, but his tangled private life found its way into the public domain following his death and the women in his life, as well as the rest of his family all suffered. His widow, from whom he was estranged at the time of his death, did commence a civil claim for damages against both Micevic and the hotel, although she did not ultimately proceed with the case.
Micevic seems to me to deserve some sympathy as well. He conducted himself with great dignity throughout his long ordeal. In his youth he had been an amateur boxer good enough to be a genuine prospect for the Australian team at the 2000 Olympics but he was not selected and drifted out of the sport. Following his acquittal astute promoters persuaded him to try again and he turned professional. His first fight was in April 2007, which he won. He won the next four as well the last, in November 2008, being for the vacant Australian light-heavyweight title. After that however my research draws a blank, and I have no idea where Micevic is today, or why he has, to all intents and purposes, disappeared off the face of the earth.
But this is an essay about Hookes so I believe I should conclude with the best tribute that I can find. There are of course many as befits a man who was, if only briefly, something of an icon. My personal favourite is one of the shortest. It came from Australian writer Warwick Franks; For David Hookes ……. valour was the better part of discretion