Invincible Bill Brown remembered at Gabba service March 27, 2008

Gone but not forgotten


Bill Brown liked to go to the Gabba and presented Michael Hussey with his Test cap in 2005 © Getty Images
 

Seventy-six years after Bill Brown was run-out without facing a ball on his first-class debut at the Gabba, he was given a farewell at the same ground by the cricket community who considered him the grandfather of the game. Brown died on March 16 aged 95 and the memorial service in Brisbane followed a private family funeral last week.

Sam Loxton, a fellow Invincible, headed the guest list that also included Allan Border, Matthew Hayden, Ian Healy, Brown's wife Barbara and his family. "The world was a better place for Bill Brown being in it," Healy told the gathering of about 150 people who had been touched by Brown's batting, kindness and gentlemanly demeanour.

Loxton, who is 87 on Saturday, is one of four players remaining from the undefeated England trip of 1948 - Ron Hamence, Arthur Morris and Neil Harvey are the others - and he smiled as he spoke of his rise to No. 2 in the rankings. He remembered Brown always carried a book under his arm. "Bill was the only one on the '48 tour who gave the impression he could read," he said.

During the visit the Australians were playing at Lord's and Loxton, who felt under-used during the early stages of the visit, was looking for someone to practise with. Brown decided he would have a bowl and Loxton spent an hour in the nets. "I was in for the next game and got a few, then in the third Test they dropped Bill and picked me," Loxton said. "He was heard to say 'never give a sucker a break'." Brown would not add to his 22 Tests.

Brown, who grew up in a one-bedroom home in Sydney and had to share a bed with his brother, was a cautious right-handed batsman who represented Australia between 1934 and 1948. Only one of his Tests came at the Gabba - he scored 11 against India in 1946-47 - but he appeared there regularly for Queensland, the state of his birth, after returning from New South Wales for the 1936-37 season.

In retirement he would take his grandchildren to the ground, arriving two hours early for a Test to get a good seat. Then the stories about his playing days and big-name team-mates would begin as he answered questions from those around him.

Jamie Brown told how his grandfather occasionally played social games and was a great asset during a father-and-son match at high school. Brown was 72 so the schoolboys felt they should ease up on the old man, but they were soon looking in creeks for his boundaries before he purposefully got out on reaching fifty.

During his trips to the Gabba in the 1980s Brown spotted the talent in a young Steve Waugh and was pleased when they later became friends. Waugh believed Brown embodied the spirit of the baggy green while Hayden said he respected the modern player and "relished in their success".

"He was always on my side or was there for a quiet word," Hayden said. "And he could console you about opening."

The cricket writer Mike Coward delivered the eulogy and The Last Post was played at the end of the service to recognise Brown's time as a flight lieutenant in the airforce during WWII. Coward described Brown as "a cricketer of the people" and "the grandfather to the cricket community".

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo