20101013

Engaging tale of Kiwi heroics

A review by Andy Wilson


In this lull between the summer and the Ashes, the intriguingly-titled What Are You Doing Out Here? is a diverting, informative and enjoyable read.

Norman Harris, who I first encountered as a sub-editor at the Observer and in recent years has become a regular and welcome presence in the Durham press box, has detailed a remarkable sporting story of which I suspect most readers would have been completely unaware - I certainly was.

It surrounds the Christmas Test of 1953 between New Zealand and South Africa in Johannesburg, and a brave last-wicket stand between Bert Sutcliffe and Bob Blair.

What's so remarkable about that? First, Sutcliffe had been forced to retire hurt, and taken to hospital, after being struck on the head by Neil Adcock early in the New Zealand innings, but insisted on resuming - fortified by a glass of whisky, and with bandages resembling a turban - as they struggled to avoid the follow-on.

Blair, meanwhile, had discovered in the early hours of Boxing Day morning that his fiancée, Nerissa Love, was one of 153 people killed in the Tangiwai train disaster that had shocked Kiwis all over the world. Yet later that afternoon, he insisted on batting at number 11, receiving a standing ovation from the Ellis Park crowd.

"What are you doing out here?" Sutcliffe asked him, giving Harris the title of his book. "We're in trouble, so I'm out here," Blair replies, and the pair put on 33, with Sutcliffe taking four sixes off a single over from Hugh Tayfield.

Harris tells the story in the present tense, having conducted interviews with a number of participants including Blair, who contributes the foreword.

Published in New Zealand by Last Side Publishing, What Are You Doing Out Here? is available in the UK from Ian Dyer Cricket Books (01748 822786; www.cricketbooks.co.uk), at £9.99.

Andy Wilson writes about cricket and rugby league for The Guardian newspaper.

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