Michele Hewitson interview: Mark Richardson

By Michele Hewitson

If you need to be a little odd to open test batting - here's the proof Mark Richardson says he played only four years of top cricket because he 'burned out'. Photo / Brett Phibbs
If you need to be a little odd to open test batting - here's the proof Mark Richardson says he played only four years of top cricket because he 'burned out'. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Mark Richardson, the former cricketer who is now a broadcaster, said: "Did we talk about The Block, by the way?"

Oh, we'd talked loads about The Block, I said, lying through my teeth, as he well knew. "It's more about me," he said. "It's all about you," I said and he laughed like anything and said: "Ha, ha! That's exactly what people would say."

It was all about him when he was playing cricket - something about taking an extra net, which was too technical for me, but I got the point.

"I got accused of being selfish. And it's the same with broadcasting. If I need to be the central character of the story because the talent probably isn't going to provide me with what I need, then I'll be the central character."

That makes him sound awful, doesn't it? He's not, actually, but he doesn't mind pretending to be awful, if it gets a reaction.

This is an odd thing to do, and even odder is admitting to it, but he is a former top-level cricket player and, as everybody knows, they're all stark raving mad and probably capable of being a bit awful and certainly of being selfish.

What an odd team sport it is, being made up of individuals who, to be really good, have to be mad. I thought that was something they knew but didn't admit to, but he does, although he might not go quite as far as stark-raving.

He says that all top cricketers "believe that to bat in the top three you need to be slightly insane". Slightly! "When I was playing there was a running joke that the top three were mad." And who were they? "I was there!"

But as he was so generous about it being all about him, when he was supposed to be promoting his new show, he can have a nice, high-up plug and here it is: The Block is his first non-sports gig and it is a TV3 reality show in which couples renovate houses and sell them at auction and compete for a cash prize.

It begins in early July. He, by the way, is banned from DIY-ing at home, which is just as well. He's an obsessive, restless perfectionist and if you were his wife you'd know that he'd be tinkering with the new kitchen for five years and then suffer one of his crises of self-doubt and rip it out and start all over again.

I did ask one question about The Block and it was about what his character will be in it.

He is the host and of course not an actor but there is an element of acting in broadcasting, and also in cricket. The person I met is recognisably the bloke from The Crowd Goes Wild, that irreverent sports show which he says is not a sports show and is his other job, but also not him.

If you ask him, as I did, how good a cricket player he was, he'll say that he thinks he was "a battler who achieved a little more than he probably should have".

If he was talking about how good he was on the telly, he'd talk himself up: 'To get a rise out of people." He will be playing himself, on The Block, of course, but which self? "I think it's more me." And that would be what, exactly? "More personable."

In cricket he became a sort of clown, which was obviously a way of dealing with the lows and self-doubts and fear of failure and of being frightened. It is very frightening facing balls, he says. It is the job of the bowler to intimidate, and he was often very frightened. So he clowned it up.

His nickname (or one of them) was Rigor, as in rigor mortis, because he moved about as quickly as a cadaver between wickets. He says he didn't mind this because it was "endearing", but I wondered whether he now runs long-distance races to prove that he can run.

He obviously thought I was as mad as a top cricketer (him, say) for thinking this because of course that's not why he runs.

There's no point trying cod psychology on him because he's seen proper psychologists and I bet they're still flummoxed. He is always analysing himself and as he can't figure himself out either, what chance did I have?

Anyway, he runs because it hurts and it's a test of self and also because he can't sit still. And because he says he was getting "chubby". This is hard to imagine. He'd absolutely hate being fat, I bet. "Yeah, I'd hate it." I thought he might be a bit vain but he says he's sure he's not.

"Nah. See, I don't groom." This means that he doesn't use moisturiser. If he was vain, he says, he'd have had his teeth fixed. His teeth are chipped because he grinds them in his sleep. Of course he does.

His idea of relaxing is to run for an hour and a half, or to surf for three hours. The only time he'd read a book was if "it was telling me how to do something".

He played only four years of top cricket because he "burned out"; he was a left-arm spin bowler until he got the yips and Lance Cairns said he was "stuffed" as a bowler which you'd think would be devastating but, no, he then reinvented himself as a terrific opening batsman and then, in 2004, he just seemed to walk away from the game.

He didn't, of course, just walk away. He's clever and analytical (too analytical; that was his undoing) he thought about it for a long time and hated playing for a long time (actually, he hated it from the age of 18 because it meant too much to him: "It was never a game"), and so left the sport before he really did go stark raving mad.

What happens when you get the yips, he says, is that you become "conscious, and the minute you become conscious ... you struggle with that. You start forcing issues and you lose the flow and everything is forced and goes dreadfully awry".

Why he didn't walk away after he was stuffed as a bowler is anyone's guess, but mine would be that he didn't want to go out defeated. He is intensely competitive, mostly with himself. He says he'd make a terrible boss, and has never been a team leader, and never should be because he'd make everyone work too hard and they'd end up hating their jobs, and, more than likely, him.

He keeps a very keen eye on himself and is very hard on himself and pretends to be a blowhard. I still don't know why, exactly.

The character he plays on The Crowd Goes Wild has been called many things but let's settle for arrogant, self-involved, sexist and misogynist. He struck arrogant off the list but left self-involved on.

"Definitely a little self-involved. You have to be to make it in this industry."

Why would he want to invent a character who is sexist and misogynist?

"Because it makes people laugh." But why is it funny to be sexist and misogynist? "It's not funny to be sexist and misogynist. It's good that people will think: 'What the hell is he going to say next?"'

He says the character is a sort of "sideways caricature" of him.

"It's someone I would love to be and also would hate to be. It's escapism, isn't it?" You can see why he might want to escape from himself. "It's a chance to step sideways, you know. It's a little bit make-believe land. It's fun."

You can see why he might want to have some fun because it seems beyond odd that he played cricket at all, given that he hated it for so long. He still calls it "the damn game", and will do anything to avoid it "like the plague", but he loves talking about it.

Even taking that cricketer's weirdness as a given, why did he play it at all, if he hated it so much?

"It became a driving force, something I had to do. I had to play for New Zealand and, in my own eyes, if I didn't do it I would have failed."

Did I happen to mention that cricket players are weird? Because while he hated playing, it didn't make him unhappy.

"I wasn't unhappy, that is very different. I was happy because I was succeeding. I was where I wanted to be. But I wasn't enjoying it."

He doesn't like to be comfortable and maybe that psychologist could make sense of this; don't ask me to.

What he did like about cricket was "I liked the touring. I like airports. I like hotels."

I thought he meant that he liked hanging out with the other blokes, but that wasn't it either.

"No, because I was never a social bloke in the team."

I asked if he had any close mates from his playing days, and he doesn't. He says his teammates were "associates".

Still, you'd think he might have made at least one friend. He said, a bit plaintively: "I don't think I was an unpopular member of the team." He likes Daniel Vettori - "I think he's a nice bloke" - but he can't be friends with him while Vettori is still playing cricket, because of his job talking about cricket.

His best friend lives in Vancouver and he says that they can go without seeing each other for five years and pick up from where they left off, but you do wonder if part of the appeal is that he doesn't have to see him very often.

He is by his own admission not a good friend and he says it's the one part of his life he thinks he needs to put some effort into and that he means to and then he gets busy. He says he likes the idea of having dinner parties, but does he really? He said: "I guess maybe I'm not very social."

God knows how he managed to get anyone to marry him, but he did, and is happily married to Mary and they have twins, a boy and a girl, aged 5.

I say God knows because on their first romantic weekend away they went to Ruapehu and she thought there would be romance and lie-ins and going to the cafe. Instead he made her get up at 6.30 every morning. "You've got to be first in the car park!" No wonder he burned out; he burned himself out being him.

You have to hope he's more normal, now he's not a cricketer. He said: "Yeah, good question that. As you can tell, I don't really know quite what I am. I'm always searching."

I don't quite know what he is either but it was certainly interesting trying to find out.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a1 at 01 Oct 2014 04:17:27 Processing Time: 583ms