By Suresh Menon
The man who bowled the most famous delivery in cricket was born one hundred years ago this month. Eric Hollies clean bowled Don Bradman with a googly in his final Test innings to leave him stranded on an average of 99.94. But he was more than a one-delivery wonder.
As the cricket historian David Frith pointed out, “to remember Hollies for only that ball at the Oval in 1948 is like remembering Chaplin as no more than a tramp who once made a dramatic meal of a boot.”
Hollies had bowled Bradman (with a top spinner, Bradman's biographer Irving Rosenwater informs) a week earlier when the Australians played Warwickshire. He claimed eight for 107 in the first innings but couldn’t prevent an Australian win. He had Neil Harvey and Lindsay Hassett too, and interestingly, the two openers, Bill Brown and Arthur Morris, both hit wicket.
Bradman came out to bat in the second innings with the Australians needing just 38 to win, in order to have a good look at Hollies. Hollies, who suspected that Bradman had not picked his googly, merely sent down a series of leg-breaks. Later, ahead of the Oval Test he told his county captain, “I’ll bowl him a googly second ball just in case he’s expecting it first ball.”
John Arlott said of that duck: “Bradman played his first ball from Hollies firmly in the middle of the bat. The second was a googly: Bradman played outside it and was bowled - was his eye a little misted at his reception, I wonder? After such a reception a man could hardly do other than score a duck or a century - and a duck did Australia no harm.”
Arlott (and possibly Len Hutton) was responsible for the ‘emotional’ Bradman theory of that last-innings duck. Jack Crapp, who was at slip during the drama of Bradman’s arrival at the crease, the rousing reception given by the England skipper and the Hollies deliveries put things in perspective with: “That bugger Bradman never had a tear in his eye his whole life.”
Although Hollies played 13 Tests, it is as a bowler for Warwickshire that he is better remembered. He once claimed all ten wickets in an innings against Nottinghamshire, remarkably without the aid of a fielder; seven were bowled and three leg before. That was in 1946, when as Warwickshire struggled, he emerged as the leading wicket taker.
It was not good enough to find him a place in the team for the Ashes tour, a decision England had cause to regret.
In all, Hollies finished with 2323 wickets, and as befit one of the leading rabbits in the game, a total of 1673 runs at an average of 5.28. His highest score was 47. In 1955 he was named among Wisden’s Five, sharing the honour with another leg-spinner (Bruce Dooland), a left-arm spinner (George Tribe), and two pace bowlers (Fazal Mahmood and Brian Statham). Not a batsman in sight!
In its obituary, Wisden described Hollies as “fair-haired and on the short side... he bobbed in and delivered to a persistently unerring length such as possibly only Grimmett has ever matched.”
And what did Bradman himself think of that delivery? “The reception had stirred me deeply and made me anxious,” he wrote. “The second (ball) was a perfect length googly which deceived me. I just touched it with the inside edge of the bat and the off bail was dislodged.” Perhaps out of such detachment came the strength of mind to make 29 centuries in 52 Tests and finish with an average that reminds us – thanks to Hollies – that even the greatest players are human too.