Updated: Feb 19
Sympathy. That's the overriding emotion on finishing Golden Boy by Christian Ryan, an unofficial biography of former Australia Captain Kim Hughes. I don't tend to have a lot of sympathy for anyone in the Australian cricket team through the '70s and '80s, but that changes when it comes to Kim Hughes.
This riveting read is a herculean effort by Christian Ryan, considering the reluctance of the main protagonist and antagonists in helping clear the muddy water that is the events surrounding Hughes' involvement with the Australian team. With Kim Hughes reluctant to revisit this period of his life, Ryan had to look elsewhere. It's clear that Ryan has spoken to anyone and everyone willing to give him a few minutes of their time, and then expertly picked out all those pieces and created a miraculous jigsaw that is both interesting and quite damning if your name is Dennis Lillee or Rod Marsh.
Kim Hughes' career is one of unfulfilled potential. He was a far better player than his 37.41 test average indicated, but at his core, he was an entertainer, and this caused more problems than you could ever imagine. Not just with his on-field performance, but also with how he was received in a conservative Australian dressing room, dominated by old-school players who took offence to this confident and at times arrogant young man. The boy that never grew up is a constant theme through the contemporary quotes attributed to some of the more outspoken members of the Australian team.
Golden Boy is a fascinating insight into Australian cricket in the 70s and 80s, from the shield to the international test arena. It also covers the period around Kerry Packer and his World Series Cricket, something that would cause issues consistently. On the 1977 tour, only 4 of the Australian players hadn't signed up for WSC, including Kim. This created an incredibly tense and divided locker room, with the four players not in the clique treated as lepers.
This wasn't new or unique to Kim. You get the impression from Golden Boy that Hughes was built up to be torn down. He was never welcomed, always made to feel an outcast and that he didn't belong. For a young promising cricketer, this would have been extremely tough to deal with.
The biggest spotlight though is on the treatment of Hughes by two Australian cricketing legends in Dennis Lille and Rod Marsh. Players who would openly critique him during meetings and games. Players that would refuse to follow their captain, would argue with him about field placings and often divide the locker room. Lillee, in particular, would often target Hughes with countless bouncers in the nets. Marsh would refuse to be his vice-captain, believing he should be captain instead. Regardless of if you agree with that statement or not, their lack of professionalism as senior players is astounding, bordering on embarrassing for Australian cricket.
What you get is countless tours consisting of countless divides, often as a result of Lillee and Marsh's actions. It doesn't idolise Kim or glaze over his deficiencies as both a player and a captain, often pointing to his inability to listen to advice and make the necessary improvements to his game to fulfil the obvious potential that he has. He wanted to clear the ropes too often, he wasn't to dance down the wicket too frequently, he saw his job as an entertainer and if that meant his average was underwhelming then so be it.
I wouldn't call this your standard biography. It covers more than just a narrative of Kim Hughes life, and it's the side stories that bring it to life for me. Although I wouldn't say Australian Cricket as a whole comes off overly well here. There is a story about Allan Border dropping rupees from his hotel balcony to watch the Indians below scramble for them, only for them to pour water over them. He sees it in a rose-tinted way and claims the Indians loved it, but it's degrading to its core.
Overall this is a superb book that I just could not put down. I would highly recommend it to anyone and everyone.