Arguing With My Dad is an occasional column which features Greg Bruce in conversation with his father about sports. In an unprecedented turn of events, Greg finds himself agreeing with his dad on everything – until an unlikely saviour arrives.
I was always aware that one day I might come to write one of these columns and have no good material. I was comfortable with that. I knew I could just manufacture something. As this month’s deadline approached, it increasingly seemed I would have to.
Cricket, the sevens, the nines: I couldn’t get anything from Dad, through the early part of the month. A week or so ago, I raised the issue of the no ball call that allowed Adam Voges to score a double hundred in the first test. Dad was as incensed as I was. There would be no argument there either, it seemed. But when I told Dad I was incensed by the fact there was no review, he told me he was not incensed. There would be an argument there, it seemed. And so, relief.
But then, this: “If you look on Cricinfo,” he said, “there’s an article that explains it.”
I respect Cricinfo more than I respect any of my dad’s opinions so I hesitated. “Basically,” he said, “it’s that the umpire calling no ball may affect the batsman’s shot.”
“That seems completely fair,” I said.
Dad nodded in agreement.
“I mean,” I said, “That sounds absolutely reasonable.” I thought the more I used the word “reasonable”, the more likely I was to provoke him to anger. But he just nodded.
I asked if he had ever called no ball on a wicket-taking delivery when he was a player umpire back in his club cricket days at Cornwall. He didn’t answer – instead launching into a long, boring story about how, back then, the back foot no ball rule had been in effect.
I couldn’t have been less interested. I asked if he had ever called anyone for chucking, suspecting something like that would have been amongst his proudest moments. He said he hadn’t. I was getting absolutely no traction.
“Nothing you want to argue about this week?” I asked, desperate.
“You mention a topic and I’ll tell you whether it’s worth arguing about or not.
Australia and New Zealand cricket?
He took a second or two “I think it’s a good job McCullum’s retiring,” he said. “Now we might win a few tosses!”
I didn’t know what was wrong with him. Given the opportunity for conflict, he had instead gone for comedy.
Nothing was happening. He started to leave. As he was going, I gave him my new business card for the job I had just started at the New Zealand Herald. The card was on the fridge and we were walking past the fridge. It was one of those moments that just happens without thought. As I was moving the card through the air toward his gratitudinous hand, I realised it was a mistake, but I saw no way to stop it.
“Don’t call me at work,” I said, urgently.
“I won’t,” he said.
I told him to make sure he didn’t. He assured me he wouldn’t. I wanted nothing more than to take the card back.
A few days later, Chris Rattue, who is, in some ways, the professional version of Dad, wrote an accurate and relatively uncontroversial column about New Zealand’s woeful opening partnerships. In one quiet corner of the article, almost unnoticed, he criticised Martin Guptill for getting out to a poor shot, something Guptill does every 20 or so runs in test cricket.
Shortly after it ran, I got an email, at work, from Dad. It was addressed to Rattue – I was BCC’d. It read:
I don’t know what game you were watching when you saw Martin Guptill take a “wild swipe across the line “ that resulted in his dismissal.
What I saw was him move into the ball and attempt a lofted straight drive. I thought it was very clever bowling by Nathan Lyon to deceive Guptill with flight.
I have admiration for your Sports Reporting and wonder about how well-rested you were when writing this article. Perhaps you could have another look at the dismissal for your own satisfaction.
The pedantry, the capitalisation of ‘sports reporting’, the little ‘joke’ about how tired he might have been. The deliberately provocative and patronising final sentence – it was classic Dad. It was exactly what I had been waiting for.
I sent him a reply: “Please don’t email me at work.”