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When Donald Bradman walked to the wicket at Kennington Oval in August 1948, to play his last Test innings before retirement, he received one of the most tumultuous receptions known in cricket. A moment later the vast crowd sent up a united gasp of amazement as they saw Australia"s champion bowled second ball without scoring. That triumphant moment for William Eric Hollies, the Warwickshire leg-break and googly bowler, marked but one spectacular incident in the career of a cricketer whose skill and unassuming cheerfulness could be taken as a model by all young players. Many other illustrious batsmen, and records by the score, have fallen to this fair-haired Peter Pan of Warwickshire cricket, but first, and always, he has remained a team-man to whom enjoyment brings its own reward.
Hollies, born at Old Hill, Staffordshire, on June 5, 1912, derived much of his cricket enthusiasm and ability from his father, who played the game for over thirty years. From as early as he can remember Hollies, encouraged and guided by his father, bowled leg-breaks and googlies. Such was his success that when 13 and still at school he played for the Old Hill Second XI in the Birmingham League. Next year Hollies won promotion to the first team and news of his growing reputation soon reached Warwickshire, who offered him an engagement for the start of the 1930 season. At first Hollies approached batting with as much seriousness as bowling and, when his present-day colleagues chide him on a moderate showing with the bat, he derives pleasure from recalling the days when he opened the innings for the county second XI.
Happy as are such memories, Warwickshire at the time urgently needed bowlers and Hollies was advised to concentrate his attentions on mastering all the subtleties of spin. How assiduously he applied himself can be best judged by results. In his first season, 1932, his four wickets for 80 runs each gave no indication of exceptional merit, but Warwickshire were confident in their assessment of his worth and next year his wickets leaped to 79 for 24.70 runs each. For Hollies that marked the beginning of his reign as Warwickshire"s master craftsman of spin. Twenty-one years later he wore the same crown with just as unchallenged a right. In the period between he became recognised as one of the best bowlers of his type in the world of cricket. His feats are too many to enumerate, but the most notable will convey some idea of his value to his county club.
To the end of the 1954 season Hollies held the following Warwickshire records: (1) more wickets, 1876, than any other bowler; S. Santall is next with 1215. (2) 100 wickets or more in a season twelve times; H. Howell is second with six. (3) More wickets in a season-180 in 1946-than any Warwickshire bowler. (4) More than 1,000 overs a season nine times compared with the second highest, four times by G. E. Paine. Moreover, Hollies shares the distinction with H. Howell of taking all ten wickets in an innings for Warwickshire. This he did, for 49 runs, against Nottinghamshire in 1946 without help from any fieldsman; never before in county cricket had such a performance been accomplished. Hollies clean bowled seven batsmen and gained l. b. w. decisions against the other three. Despite his remarkable bowling, Warwickshire lost the match.
Hollies was only 21 when he visited West Indies with R. E. S. Wyatt"s M.C.C. team and, playing in three of the four Tests, headed the England bowling averages. His next tour came sixteen years later, to Australia under F. R. Brown-injury compelled him to withdraw from the M.C.C. side that went to South Africa in 1948-49. Australian conditions did not suit his bowling, but most Australian batsmen coming to England have found him a far more difficult opponent than in their own country. For instance, his analysis of eight wickets for 107 against Bradman"s all-conquering 1948 team created a Warwickshire record for a single innings against any Australian eleven, and his seven for 59 in 1953, also at Birmingham, came within an ace of depriving the Australians of their long-standing immunity from defeat by county opposition. Teams visiting England have not been alone in wondering why Hollies has been chosen for only thirteen Tests.
The part Hollies played in 1951, with 145 wickets for 17.69 each, towards Warwickshire"s first Championship for forty years could not be measured in words or figures, and in 1954 he was still going strong with 122 wickets at moderate cost. In that year he was the first English bowler to reach 100 wickets, being beaten to the target only by the Australians, Dooland and Tribe. His career figures to date are 1,994 wickets and 1,451 runs.
From the boundary Hollies looks anything but a menacing bowler. He takes a few leisurely paces to the wicket and neither in action nor in demeanour is he aggressive, but with variations of flight of pace and a mixture of leg-break, off-break, top-spinner and googly, he persuades his opponents out with an almost apologetic air. Above all, his unwavering length and direction are most rare for anyone bowling out of the back of the hand. Hollies is married and has one daughter. - RJH