High-scoring lowdown

2009-10-29 00:00

FOR once, with this review I resolved to read this book cover to cover instead of just skim-reading (for R4,40 you didn’t actually think Witness reviewers read the whole book, did you?).

The main reason was that, with this being the book of my ex-boss and mentor, recently retired Witness sports ­editor of 35 years, John Bishop, along with Tiki Dickson, the review was a terrifying prospect for obvious reasons.

Happily, reading the whole of ­Talking Balls was no chore at all — and overwhelmingly a pleasure.

There is some very, very good ­writing in this book, a compilation of mostly contemporary sports writing by some of South Africa’s leading sports journalists, and a few up-and-comers.

These may be stories, as the title of the book suggests, more centred on the light-hearted, but any sports ­journalist will tell you that writing with ­humour is the most difficult, and those that can do it are the most skilled.

And concentrating on the lighter ­moments also gives the reader a ­greater insight into what occurs behind the scenes.

Neil Manthorp’s diary of the Proteas’ historic, victorious tour of Australia and Peter Roebuck’s analysis of the tour provide imagery that can make a reader feel like they were there, hours after the stadium lights had gone out as the South Africans sang songs not entirely flattering towards their hosts.

Roebuck’s intellectual profiles of Hashim Amla and Makhaya Ntini not only give insight into their character, but also what they have meant to sport.

The urbane Edward Griffiths and flowing writing skills of the late Peter Robinson that are as easy as Ernie Els’s swing, and Andy Capostagno’s well-constructed and enjoyable features and interviews all add tremendous weight. Robinson’s poll with Jo’burg hookers on who would win the 1990 Currie Cup final is outrageous.

Then there is the pluck of youth in Dan Nicholl and The Witness’s own ­talented and outspoken Lungani Zama (who has managed to raise the ire of both Arsenal and Liverpool fans in ­recent weeks). Other contributors include Mark Andrews, Lolly Hornby, Ben Trovato and Chris Keal.

These are punctuated by many of Bishop’s own stories. Some are behind-the-scenes pieces, such as a story on a media cricket game that is as entertaining as a Test match report. Profiles of some of KwaZulu-Natal’s greatest personalities like Ian McIntosh, Vince van der Bijl, Henry Honiball, John Smit, Dick Muir and Barry Richards are of such a high quality, and so dripping in knowledge and information, that it ­becomes easy to see why Bishop is ­regarded as one of South Africa’s most respected sports writers.

I laughed out loud a lot while reading this book, though mostly was bowled over by the quality of the writing.

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