Arguing with my Dad is an occasional column which features Greg Bruce in conversation with his father about sports. This week’s disagreement: New Zealand’s best batsman.
It was a Sunday morning and I was sitting at the top of a slide on a playground across the road from New Zealand’s largest cemetery when Dad called. I instantly knew he needed either help with his computer or to be belligerent about something.
He asked if I was out and about on this beautiful day and didn’t really acknowledge my reply before he got right down to business.
“So, given Kane Williamson’s innings yesterday, do you have anything to say about whether he will overtake Martin Crowe as New Zealand’s greatest ever batsman?”
“No,” I said.
He was talking about Williamson’s 140 in the first innings of the first test against Australia in Brisbane.
“You might remember,” he said, “that I said some time ago that he will overtake Martin Crowe as New Zealand’s greatest batsman.”
I did remember. He had made the prediction earlier this year, some time after a majority of leading sports journalists, cricketers, Veitchy, Doully, all talkback callers and Smithy had made the same prediction.
“I was just calling to see how it feels to eat humble pie,” he said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well you claimed he wouldn’t.”
Obviously, this was not true. What we were entering, inexorably, was Dad’s favourite place: a carefully manufactured state of extreme self-righteousness.
“I told you,” I said, “that I think there’s a good chance he will overtake Martin Crowe’s record – although we can’t know that yet – but that Crowe played with an elegance and angry beauty that Williamson doesn’t. Williamson is a great player, but he’s a tradesman. He’s working when he’s at the crease. It’s not just statistics that make a great batsman.”
“That’s not what you said,” said my dad – a man of 75, who I often have to interrupt to say, “I’ve heard this story several times already” – referring to an argument that took place at least six months ago.
Yes it is, I said. No it isn’t he said. We went on like that for a while.
“OK, what about Don Bradman?” Dad said, bringing us quickly and inevitably to the thick end of the majority of cricket’s thin-end-of the-wedge arguments.
“Bradman was the greatest batsman the world has ever seen,” he said redundantly, “but he was certainly no stylist. So was he not as good a batsman as Martin Crowe?”
I sighed deeply and prepared to talk down to my father. Like so many of our sporting arguments, this one had come down to our differing opinions on whether it is reasonable to wait and see whether a prediction is right before asserting its rightness. Dad has never shown much interest in either waiting or being reasonable.
If I’m honest with myself, when I started writing about our arguments, I was longing for cricket season because this is his season of great righteousness, the time when he is at his most rhetorically unpleasant. Because he once played cricket reasonably badly for Cornwall, Martin Crowe’s old club, he seems to think his outrageous claims made on minimal evidence deserve some deference.
“Can I give you a call back?” I asked him, after five minutes of empty point scoring and unresolvable argument, while one-handedly lifting my daughter onto a swing. “It’s a bit embarrassing arguing with your dad about cricket on a playground in front of other parents.”
“You can,” he said, “but I’m sure you won’t. I know how much you hate being wrong.”
A week or so later, when Williamson was on his way to 166 in an innings that would help save the second test, I received the following text: “HOW GOOD IS WILLIAMSON? BETTER THAN CROWE YOU MAY BE SURE”
He wasn’t shouting; he just doesn’t know how to turn caps lock off.