Published on September 18th, 2017 | by Arunabha Sengupta0
Obituary: Bob Holland, the old leg-spinner
Bert Ironmonger made his Test debut when he was 46. Don Blackie, who played his first Test in the very next game, was in fact two days older than the great left-arm bowler.
But those were the distant days of the late 1920s. Cricket was a different game altogether. Apart from the occasional oddity like the 47-year-old Miran Baksh walking out on his debut in 1955, one rarely saw such ancient entrants.
Somachandra De Silva did play for the first time when he was 40, but that was because he was still the best leg-spinner in the island when Sri Lanka ultimately achieved Test status.
But Bob Holland had no such constraints. Australia had been playing Test cricket for 108 years, and he himself had been on the planet for 38 of them, when he finally trotted into the Sydney Cricket Ground against the mighty West Indians and became a proud owner of the baggy green.
Thus, Holland became the oldest Australian Test debutant since Don Blackie in 1928.
But then, it was not as if he had waited decades for this opportunity. He had played his first Sheffield Shield match at 32. Yes, he was a late bloomer in every sense of the term.
There was an old-age charm about him. In an age accosted with One Day cricket, and that almost spelt the doom for spinners, he bowled leg spin. He was not afraid to give the ball air. And he varied his breaks a lot, mixing googlies and top-spinners with plenty of abandon. Apart from that, he was endearingly worthless as a batsman. His Test average remained 3.18, and he scored a 10 once, the only venture into double figures.
Holland played 11 Tests, in the course of one and a half years. His figures are not that awe-inspiring. 34 wickets at a rather high average of 39.76.
Yet, there were incredible highlights. A short and ordinary story etched with a couple of fairy tales. In his 3rd Test match, at Sydney, he vanquished the powerful West Indian batting line up with figures of 6 for 54 and 4 for 90. Australia pulled off a surprise victory, a consolation one granted, given the West Indians took the series 3-1, but a rare win over the rulers of the cricket world nevertheless. And this 38-year-old had been instrumental behind it.
A few days earlier he had captured 7 wickets when the spin-owes of the tourists had come to light in their 71-run shock defeat to New South Wales. And even between the Tests, Holland had captured 9 for 83 in the second innings against South Australia. Those were great days for the happy veteran.
The England tour that followed was rather ordinary. Holland took just 6 wickets at a phenomenally high cost of 77.5 apiece. But that included 5 for 68 in the second innings at Lord’s. He was rather adept at scripting minor classics in otherwise mundane tales.
And then there was his final moment of triumph. Even as Richard Hadlee dominated the Australians to bring off a historic 2-1 series win, the middle of the three Tests was contested in Sydney. And on his home ground this New South Wales spinner became unplayable. He captured another 10-for, as Australia registered their sole win in the series.
Yes, that was his last laugh. The next summer the Indians belted the leather out of his spinners, at that very Sydney Cricket Ground, and Holland played no more for Australia.
But he remained in touch with the game. He played a couple of seasons more for New South Wales, and then crossed the Tasman Sea to turn out for a season for Wellington. And later acted as the volunteer curator in a local ground.
He was a lovable man, dignified, fun-loving and one at peace when he was on the cricket ground.
Holland did not reach the levels of a Clarrie Grimmett, a Bill O’Reilly, a Richie Benaud or a Shane Warne. But he enjoyed his stint to the fullest.
He passed away of brain cancer on 17th September, 2017. The ones who remembered his debut series in the mid-1980s are prone to wonder …Dead? But he was not that old, was he?
Well, he was 71. And then one remembers and smiles with a touch of sadness. Yes, he was quite old when he made his debut, wasn’t he?