Friday, February 4, 2011

Review: Skullduggery, by Kerry O'Keeffe

A few years back I bought the Jeremy Clarkson omnibus with great interest as to what he had to say. It turns out that as an author, Clarkson is a very good presenter: the book was only his collected writings from his regular spot as Sunday Times columnist. One at a time, I'm sure they make for amusing reading, especially over toasted English muffins with marmalade; bound together in a tome you could use to choke a whale they only confirmed my lingering suspicions of his barely-hidden bigotry. Like Mexican beer, his style is great in small doses.

Skullduggery, the second book by ABC Radio cricket Special Comments man Kerry O'Keeffe, is another compilation of his Sunday columns with a few of "Skull's Greatest Hits" thrown in. A very quick read - a bit over an hour - but interesting not only because O'Keeffe analyses today's cricket like the radio commentator he is, rather than a TV guy who relies on the pictures telling most of the story. His descriptions are colourful, insightful and most of all, human.

O'Keeffe had been on the ABC for some time before I truly warmed to his abilities as a technical analyst of my favourite sport. Renowned for his tendency to laugh at his own jokes and make funnies at every possible opportunity, it was hard at the beginning to separate the clown from the specialist. But he told one story in particular which made me sit up and listen about a year into his regular tenure: "Skull" described twenty consecutive Christmases depressingly drunk, sad and alone until he met his wife and they started a family. It was a 30-second glimpse into the heart of a man who'd sacrificed nearly everything for his sport, paid the penalty and had found redemption in the most simple, down-to-earth manner. That he was willing to pull back the blinds on personal window for a radio audience probably comprising 2+ million Australians made me reflect that Kerry O'Keeffe the cricketer was only part of Kerry O'Keeffe as a man. I started to listen more carefully to his words and discovered that, though an entertainer, he was a person first and foremost. No-one considers the personal consequences of success or failure on the oval like him and his experiences are key in his analysis.

A personal favourite is his description of his family's Last Test, where he and his boys played carport cricket for the final time - all tinged with pride that his boys were growing into fine men but also with sadness that they were leaving these family momemnts behind them. There's plenty of opinion as to the state of the Australian team as well as memories from his 2009 Ashes' Supporter Tour.

Being lightweight, Skullduggery is never too much Skull and his observations, like those of a stand-up comedian, are all one-liners and enlightening. It scores tennis balls - well worth a look: it'll kill a short plane flight, but if you're planning on reading a cricket book on the fourteen hours over the Pacific Ocean, you're probably better suited with Steve Waugh's My Story.

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