Cricket: As to the manor reborn

By Paul Lewis

Peter Fulton batted like he knew he belonged in the third test against England at Eden Park.  Photo / Getty Images
Peter Fulton batted like he knew he belonged in the third test against England at Eden Park. Photo / Getty Images

Someone once said that, when reading a newspaper, he always turned to the sports pages first, as there he found people's achievements - whereas the front page showcased only human failings.

Redemption is also more commonly found in the sports pages. News, by definition, tends to slide the spotlight quickly on to the next example of human failings.

Journalists, taxed by readers exasperated by the tide of woe in news bulletins, are fond of relating what happened to the outlets who boldly promised to bring only good news to their audience: they went broke.

The sad fact is that we are all far more affected and stimulated by what goes wrong than what goes right; not to mention the schadenfreude element or the vicarious interest in the famous.

No one cares that the priest who fiddled with a little boy has reformed; or that a wife-beater has mended his ways. They are dropped into the giant void of old news; public scrutiny washes over them, leaving only a faint trace of scum as they join the tide of the forgotten.

But in the sports pages, those who fail can rise again. Like Peter Fulton.

Fulton was a revelation this week, in the correct sense of that overused word.

As a cricket writer who seldom agreed with former New Zealand coach John Bracewell about much at all, I did think his assessment of Fulton was right - that he had it in him to be an international opener.

However, it seemed Fulton was one of the failed theories of New Zealand cricket. He looked good on paper; trouble was, he played on grass.

His ability showed itself at first-class level, where he scored a rare triple century; he had a good defence, if a tendency to play a bit wide of his stumps, a thunderous drive and pull, and his height was usually a boon. However, that next step up, as countless good players can testify, is a big one.

In tests, Fulton looked nervy and uncertain. A friend at school was a very big man indeed but was allergic to bee stings. Watching him tiptoe his way across the top field, dodging all the daisies, was like watching an elephant tiptoeing through a field of hot coals. Fulton's batting body language was like that, always wary of being stung. He had some success in one-dayers but, in the test arena, the graveyard of many a reputation, he looked a man without the mental strength to foot it at that level.

Until that century in the first innings at Eden Park. It was an epiphany. At the ripe old age of 34, he had arrived. Talk about the shackles dropping. His next innings involved some early caution to help pick New Zealand up from the loss of three wickets but then came a bit of angel song.

Fulton batted like he knew he belonged. Seldom has such an upswell of confidence been so plainly seen.

Those drives and pulls started to boom. His six to reach his hundred was the manifestation of all that; he knew - knew - he could do it.

His was the third time I've had the privilege of witnessing the four Kiwis who have made test centuries in both innings. Glenn Turner's knocks in Christchurch against the Australians in 1974 was missed, viewed only via edited highlights.

I sat in the terraces to watch Geoff Howarth in 1978 against England, also on Eden Park, and saw a lot of Andrew Jones' second century against Sri Lanka in Hamilton in 1991.

Jones was all cat-on-hot-bricks nervous energy and a case study in playing to your strengths. Howarth was languid grace, deflections, cuts and silky drives interspersed with long periods of defence. Turner, by report, batted with calm efficiency in his second knock - and that must have been a peach of a summer too, as both Chappell brothers, Ian and Greg, scored centuries in each innings of the previous test, at the Basin Reserve.

Watching Fulton at Eden Park on Monday was arguably the best of the lot. It was certainly the quickest - 165 balls, compared to the 217 Jones needed in Hamilton. Turner and Howarth both took over 300. Fulton batted for 19 hours in the test, not bad for a side searching for people who can "bat time".

However, this wasn't a statistical thing. This was a rebirth, redemption, the highly public sight of a man finding himself not only at home in his environment but discovering he was lord of the manor.

- Herald on Sunday

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