Rob Smyth reviews
Shane Bond: Looking Back
by Shane Bond with Dylan Cleaver
Hodder Moa, pb, 248pp, NZ$44.99 (about £22)
New Zealand’s best fast bowler since Richard Hadlee reveals a multi-layered personality, cruel twists of fortune, an early tendency to treat cats as firewood – and a fascinating autobiography
THIS IS no typical Bond story. It is more arthouse than blockbuster and focuses on a deceptively complicated character struggling to come to terms with life’s vicissitudes and inherent contradictions – particularly how and why he should be blessed with the ability to swing the ball at over 90mph yet damned with a body that could not cope. He was unplayable one minute, unselectable the next. At times in this extremely likeable book Shane Bond seems like a tortured superhero. He should certainly have been a superstar.
Bond averages 23 runs for every wicket taken in all three forms of the international game. Yet he played only 18 Tests over eight years – first because of a series of often freakish injuries, including a twice-broken back, and then after a mix-up over the rebel Indian Cricket League, which meant he was unable to play for New Zealand for two years.
For this he was essentially blameless and Looking Back could easily have become an extended whinge against the weakness of others and perverse ill-fortune. Yet it
never descends into bitterness and rarely, if ever, self-pity.
Throughout Bond comes across as a principled and very decent man, the sort who looks people in the eye, though he is not a straightforward character. His book suggests an intriguing mix of qualities: introspection, single-mindedness, humility, a “crippling” lack of confidence, frankness, self-awareness, self-absorption, fierce professionalism and even perfectionism. The latter manifests itself in a fascinating aside about a row with his hero, Richard Hadlee, over the damaging comfort of New Zealand’s underdog status.
Bond is also strikingly honest and happily admits that the ball which changed his life, a scorching yorker to Adam Gilchrist during a five-for at Adelaide on Australia Day 2002, was a freak that should have been a length ball. “It’s amazing what a mistake can do,” he says. “Just like that, everything about the way I approached my cricket was changed.”
Inexplicable twists of fate have been a big part of Bond’s life. A spell as an uncontrollable child (expelled from pre-school; throwing a cat on a fire; smearing excrement all round the family car) ended for no apparent reason at the age of five or six. Sometimes he seems confused about why things have happened, for good and bad. Bond is an ordinary bloke with an extraordinary gift. As with most lives, there are no easy answers, absolutes or convenient endings. That is what makes this particular Bond story so interesting.
Rob Smyth writes on cricket for The Guardian online and is the author of The Spirit of Cricket
To order Looking Back visit mightyape.co.nz