1965- | VIC | Sports journalist
The indefatigable Haigh has carved an enviable reputation as an independent journalist at a time when staff journalists were losing their jobs as the internet torpedoed the business model of traditional media. After 11 years as a business and feature writer, he went solo in 1995. An elegant writer with an eclectic range of interests, Haigh has written 30 books and contributed to more than 100 publications, including The Times of London, The Guardian, The Times of India and The Financial Times. Haigh has been described by The Guardian's Richard Williams as "the most gifted cricket essayist of his generation" and his books have won him English Cricket Society awards and Premier's awards in three states.
Como Park, a bowl of couch grass cut into the side of a hill that slopes down to Melbourne’s Yarra River, is a place of bats, boots and books. Every autumn cricket gives way to football, every spring football gives way to cricket and with each changing season, Gideon Haigh gives us another book. At the time of writing, Haigh was 30 not out. His first book, written at an age when most newspaper journalists are slogging through shorthand and midnight to dawn shifts, is an account of Robert Holmes à Court’s attempted takeover of BHP. His most recent is a collection of his newspaper articles which report in real time and peerless prose the 2013-14 Ashes series in England and Australia.
Launching this book inside the South Yarra Cricket Club clubrooms at Como Park, where Haigh is a life member, enduring off-spinner and celebrated chronicler of club cricket life in another of his books, The Vincibles, Haigh reflected on a misconception about cricket writing:
“It looks as easy as falling off a log and frankly, there are some journalists that impart a proportional effort to the task, but the longer you do it the easier and the harder it gets. Easy in the sense that you know the ropes, you know the tricks, you know the short cuts, and harder for the same reason because the temptation arises to fall back on those in lieu of coming up with genuinely fresh perspectives.
“You should always be wondering: how much does an individual’s success or failure really demonstrate; how definitive can you be in a game with so many wrinkles and nuances; how much can you really write about Shane Watson?’’
Fellow cricket writers have no misconceptions about Haigh. It is one thing to turn a phrase; another to make one leap off the page like a Shane Warne leg-break. He writes prodigiously across books, magazines and newspapers yet is seemingly incapable of typing a bad sentence or unoriginal thought.
Malcolm Knox and Peter Lalor are two contemporaries who share a press box with Haigh. Knox, when asked to recall his favourite lines from Haigh’s work, selected a book and page at random, stabbed his finger at the print and immediately struck Gideon gold.
This from On Warne: “He became a dedicated cricketer, but he was not by nature a dedicated man. He might well have fitted into the Australian dressing room of the 1970s but it is hard to see how he would have made it there in the first place.’’
Knox repeated the exercise and every time, fingered a phrase that was memorable. He poses a literary hypothetical: “If as many people read Gideon’s books as read Bryce Courtenay’s imagine what a great country we would be living in.’’
Lalor recalled trying to get to the ‘Gabba with Haigh on the first morning of the 2013 Brisbane Test. “I hailed a cab outside a cafe and waited patiently while an English couple asked if he was really Gideon Haigh and then launched into paroxysms of rapture. We got out of the cab and the same thing happened. He is not the Bradman of cricket writing, he is the Justin Bieber.’’
When Lalor eventually reached the press box, he typed at the top of the day’s blank page: “By Peter Lalor (the guy who goes to the cricket with Gideon Haigh)’’.
Mike Atherton, a former England Test captain and cricket correspondent for The Times, said Haigh was the game’s pre-eminent writer for two reasons. “First, and what attracted me to his writing in the first place, was the quality of his prose. His match reports are always a tremendous read – funny, sharp and incisive. Second, and more importantly, and I’ve come to admire this the more I have got to know him, is the independence and fearlessness of his views.’’
Haigh’s career work covers far more than cricket. He was born in London in 1965, grew up in Geelong and learned journalism on the business desk of The Age, where he joined as a teenage cadet in 1984 and left in 1992. His only other stint on staff at a major newspaper was as a business writer for The Australian between 1993 and 1995. For the past 20 years he has worked freelance, writing for every major Australian newspaper and extensively for newspapers in England and India. His magazine credits traverse more than 60 titles across business, cricket, film, books, medicine, politics and foreign affairs.
Haigh’s bibliography is similarly diverse. He has written corporate histories of James Hardie Industries and Bankers Trust and questioned the cult of the chief executive in Bad Company. He has written about the office, the newsroom and a quirky compendium, The Uncyclopedia. Richard Reilley, chief executive of the Federation of Automotive Products Manufacturers, was so taken with End of the Road?, Haigh’s concise history of the economics and politics of the Australian car industry, he handed out a copy to every components maker who attended FAPM’s annual conference. The book Haigh is most proud of is The Racket, an examination of Melbourne’s illegal abortion industry.
Haigh’s one constant though, is cricket, as he explained by way of introduction when delivering the 2012 Bradman Oration:
“I’m a cricketer. The game is the longest continuous extrafamilial thread in my life, and I’m attached to it as tightly as ever. I started pre-season training in April. I own a cat called Trumper. And while it’s hardly uncommon to have a cricket bat in the house, not everyone can claim to have one in the kitchen, one in the living room, one in the bedroom and one in the outside dunny.’’
Chip Le Grand is a senior writer with The Australian newspaper, based in Melbourne.
The Battle for BHP, Gideon Haigh, Information Australia, with Allen & Unwin, 1987.
The Cricket War, the Inside Story of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, Gideon Haigh, Melbourne University Press, 1993.