Bob Holland, aged 38, makes his debut and spins Australia to victory

Bob Holland © Getty Images

On January 2, 1985, at the age of 38, in what was his debut series, Bob Holland registered a ten-wicket haul at Sydney to steer Australia to an innings victory over the fearsome West Indies. Karthik Parimal revisits the deadly spell that put the visitors in a spin.

At an age when most sportsmen call it a day, when the mind is willing but the body isn’t, when they usually head into twilight amidst applause, Robert George Holland, known in the cricketing circles as Bob Holland, was handed the Australian cap. At the age of 38, he was touted to stall the West Indian juggernaut, comprising players of the calibre of Viv Richards, Desmond Haynes, Larry Gomes, Richie Richardson and Clive Lloyd. His inclusion came across as a ray of hope to Australia’s drought-struck spin department, but it was a career that, for all practical reasons, didn’t completely blossom.

A scarlet day

Hailing from Newcastle, Holland turned to leg-spin inspired by fellow New South Wales (NSW) cricketers Bob Simpson and Richie Benaud. As these two Australian stalwarts called it a day, Holland was unanimously asked to take over the mantle of bowling leg-spin for the state. He was roped in for the 1978–79 season, and his selection made a splash, for he was 32 at the time. Nonetheless, he donned the NSW cap and formed a strong bowling partnership with Murray Bennett, a slow left-arm orthodox bowler. Four years later, in 1982–83 he was part of the setup that won the Sheffield Shield.

The 1984-85 seasons followed a similar course, too, for Holland, as well as his team. In the November of 1984, he wreaked havoc by spinning out West Indies and steering NSW to a surprising 71-run win over the champions. After the game, as Holland drove back from the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) to his home, he turned on the radio when a newsreader announced his inclusion in the Australian squad for the Brisbane Test, against the same opposition, scheduled to commence within a week. “There were cheers everywhere. We had to pull over on the side of the freeway. When we got home, the neighbour had printed up a sign, ‘Well Done Dutchy’, or something like that,” his son, Craig Holland, recalled to Australian newspaper The Age.

Holland was nicknamed Dutchy, as one would figure, owing to his last name. In his first outing, however, the batsmen went Dutch in thwacking him to all corners of the ground. While he usurped wickets of Gomes and Jeff Dujon, he was pummelled for 97 runs and wasn’t needed in the second innings, as the Australians went down by eight wickets. In the next fixture at Adelaide, he was hammered by Gordon Greenidge, Gomes and Lloyd and finished with figures of two for 163, and was also awed by the pace of Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner. The selectors’ patience wore thin and he was duly dropped for the following game at Melbourne. The defining moment of his career, nevertheless, was to arrive soon.

The powers that be laid down their cards for the final Test at Sydney. Already 0-3 down in the series, Australia had little to lose and hence only two fast bowlers, in the form of Henry Lawson and Craig McDermott (playing only his second international game), were chosen, alongside Holland and Bennett, the two local spinners. The onus was on these two, for they could optimise the conditions. Moreover, if they got belted, Australia’s new skipper Allan Border had none to fall back upon. (Kim Hughes resigned as captain after the Brisbane Test before making his final appearance in the format at Melbourne).

Border won the toss and batted as Australia surged to 471 for nine, riding on Kepler Wessels’ 173. When West Indies’ innings commenced on the third day, the turf was beginning to take spin. McDermott, the seamer, was taken off the attack after nine overs, despite grabbing wickets of Greenidge and Richie Richardson, and Bennett and Holland embarked on an extended spell. The 38-year-old had Haynes, Richards and Gomes caught at slip as Australia slipped to 106 for five in reply. Holland was on a roll. “They [the deliveries from his hand] were coming out all right — a bit of flight and turn, with the occasional ripping leg break,” he modestly admits. He bagged three more — the dangerous Lloyd and tail-enders Marshall and Garner the victims — to finish with a six-wicket haul, conceding just 54 runs in the process.”

A stunned West Indian unit succumbed for 163 and were asked to follow-on, on what was clearly a withering pitch. Despite resistance from Richards and Lloyd, yet again, Holland [labelled by Wisden as the chief destroyer] picked four to bundle them out for 253. Australia won by an innings and 55 runs and Holland was aptly adjudged as Man of the Match.

The following year, he etched another ten-wicket haul, this time against neighbours New Zealand, although the margin of victory was much narrower and the atmosphere quite sombre.

Holland’s career came to an end after 11 Tests, at the age of 40, during the course of which he took 34 wickets at an average of almost 40.

Brief scores:

Australia 491 (Kepler Wessels 173, Allan Border 69; Michael Holding 3 for 74) beat West Indies 163 (Desmond Haynes 34; Bob Holland 6 for 54) and 253 (Viv Richards 58, Clive Lloyd 72; Bob Holland 4 for 90, Murray Bennett 3 for 79) by an innings and 55 runs.

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)