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Monday, September 18, 2017

Bob Holland: The Man Who Revived Leg Spin in Australia


I had already taught myself and was already bowling leg spin in junior cricket before the 1984/85 season, when the West Indies wiped Australia out in a succession of Test matches. But the selection of Bob Holland in the Test team and his subsequent success was the real catalyst to me casting aside all other forms of bowling and concentrating on the one art that I came to love.

He wasn’t selected for Australia until he was 38 years old, and although his figures in his first two Tests were not exacting he had moments where he caused the Windies batsmen some confusion. The fifth Test of that series was one of those moments you don’t forget if you grew up in that period, when Australia was at its lowest ebb. 3-0 down, and lucky to draw the 4th Test, Australia gambled on Holland and Murray Bennett. Kepler Wessels scored 173 as Australia ground out 9/471 over two days. Then came the web. Haynes, Gomes, Richards, Lloyd, Marshall, Dujon. Six consecutive wickets between 2/72 and 8/160. Each batsman defeated by a mixture of spin, flight and guile. Even watching the highlights of that match today, watching Dutchy spinning that ball out of his hands, watching the dip and turn as it approaches the batsmen, it still brings back those feelings of euphoria I had on those joyous days at the end of December 1984 and the first days of 1985, as we finally beat the West Indies in a Test match. You can see the confusion in the batsmen, that they just wanted to hit him out of the attack, but time and again he beat them. 6/54 off 22 overs he finished with, and Allan Border gleefully enforced the follow on. In the second innings the Windies played him much more cautiously, and it was McDermott, Lawson and Bennett who made the inroads, but the leg spinner is supposed to get the tail, and Dutchy did that, finishing with 4/90, and a ten wicket match. The legspinner, the topspinner, the wrong ‘un and the flipper. Dutchy had them all, but it was his accuracy and his dip on the ball that caught my eye and had me in the backyard trying to reproduce it.

He went to England in 1985 where the home team ensured their seaming wickets gave him nothing, except the dryness of Lords, where he helped bowl Australia to its only victory on the tour with 5/68 in the second innings. He also took ten wickets the following season against New Zealand back at the SCG. They were his great moments in the baggy green, and perhaps only age and the huge increase in his workload began to negate his ability to take wickets, and he was eventually passed over to the next generation.

Bob Holland’s passing last night at the age of 70 to an aggressive brain cancer has taken one Newcastle’s most important and professional cricket coaches and passer-on of cricketing knowledge. At a time when the leg spin craft had been almost eradicated from Australian cricket in the pursuit of a fast bowling cartel to rival the West Indies, the art of leg spin was left behind. Through the intervention of the selection panel, led by Lawrie Sawle, Greg Chappell and Rick McCosker, Bob Holland was given the chance to play for Australia, and not only did he win games almost by his own hand on three occasions in that time, he brought back the magnificent art of leg spin bowling to Australia’s youth, and showed how wonderful and effective it could be. I’ve spent the last 35 years trying to understand it all, and now my nine year old son is carrying on that tradition.

Thanks for everything Dutchy. That Sydney Test will keep your memory alive forever.

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