Book Review: Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the bad old days of Australian cricket

I have always been fascinated by the era of Australian cricket that is best described as the Chappell / Lillee / Marsh era and have had regular pause to read every new book on this era that hits the shelves.

In 2009, Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the bad old days of Australian cricket writing by Christian Ryan was released.  Having just read it for the third time, I cannot think of a better place to start this series of posts reviewing my favourite cricket books.  The allure of this book comes from one of my, and am sure many of the cricket fans of my generation, abiding memories of cricket as a child: Kim Hughes’ tearful resignation at the Gabba in 1984.

I concede that that memory alone was enough for me to chase down this book upon release.   Equally, I recall that from the outset the title of this tome intrigued me.  Afterall, much of what I had read about this period, Packer wars aside, seemed to be all about mateship, beer and cigarettes with a little bit of cricket thrown in.  This book was to immediately dispel those thoughts.

At the outset is has to be noted that this is a very very well researched book.  Ryan has interviewed seventy-five people including former players and selectors of the era, Hughes’ coaches and friends from the subject’s youth.  Paradoxically, the subject of the book and his family declined to be interviewed as did Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh, Ian Chappell and Allan Border. As one reads this book it is a striking theme that Hughes, Lillee, Marsh and the Chappells have simply decided that they are not going to talk about their relationship during this era.

One would expect that the failure of the author to interview the major players in the career of the book’s subject would have severely limited the content of the book.  On the contrary, and perhaps fortuitously, the author has the benefit numerous books written by Lillee and Marsh about the same period and has, it seems in all occasions, found multiple eye witness accounts of the events that are spelled out in the book.   

What strikes one right from the very outset of the narrative is the self-assuredness Hughes had even from his early days.  He was a “boy wonder” and he knew he was destined for greatness and even at club level was not shy about telling all and sundry so.  This character trait weaves its way through the whole of the story about Kim Hughes’ life and career and seems to have coloured Hughes’ relationships with the “big three” in Chappell, Marsh and Lillee. 

Can you imagine in the present day, with the current administration, a player saying the following about his captain:

“I honestly would prefer to play under several other players, who I think would do a better job than Kim,”

This is a direct quote lifted by the author from an interview Rod Marsh did with Playboy.  There are many more such quotes throughout the book that come direct from the text written by Marsh and Lillee themselves.

Herein lies another great paradox in both this book and the life of Kim Hughes.  With all of the name calling and “incidents” between the “big three” and Hughes one gets the sense of that Hughes was a young man being bullied by men he respected and, indeed, looked up to.  This is where the book changes tack however and notes that in the present day things are vastly different with the author observing:

“Greg and Ian are Kim’s friends. ‘I am sure if I got into difficulty, financial or whatever, they are the first four blokes I would ring.’ Dennis says their differences were exaggerated. Kim does not say that. But he does say they are ‘great’ mates, ‘tremendous’ mates, ‘best’ mates, as if 15 years of his life never happened.”

The relationship of Hughes, Marsh, Lillee and the Chappells aside there are some fascinating insights in this book to both of the “rebel” causes of the time: World Series Cricket and the tours to South Africa.  Stories of Hughes missing out on a Packer contract and then leading the rebels tours away after he thought his time in the spotlight was about to run out are intriguing, as is the reporting of the games played on those rebel tours of which very little has been written.

Some of Hughes’ greatest innings are also recounted in a style that is easy to read and moves one away from the image of Hughes’ tearful resignation and toward the opinion that this guy could really play the game.

Whether love or loath Kim Hughes this is a must read for any cricket fan and a must have for any collection of sporting books.

Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the bad old days of Australian Cricket, by Christian Ryan, Allen & Unwin