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Brian Bolus

Bolus might have hit the first ball he faced in both first-class and Test cricket for four, but he was no cavalier

Brian Bolus batted in 12 innings in seven Tests, and was never out for less than double figures  •  Getty Images

Brian Bolus batted in 12 innings in seven Tests, and was never out for less than double figures  •  Getty Images

BOLUS, JOHN BRIAN, died on May 6, aged 86.
Brian Bolus might have hit the first ball he faced in both first-class and Test cricket for four, but he was no cavalier. Instead, he was a grafting opener, and only occasionally revealed a sense of adventure. The statistics of a 20-year career were impressive, though: 25,598 runs, with 39 hundreds. And a Test average of 41 suggests he was unlucky to play only seven.
Bolus forced his way into the England team in 1963, having batted like a man on a mission at Nottinghamshire after being released by Yorkshire. Playing a more expansive game, he was the leading run-scorer in the country by the time of the Fourth Test against West Indies, and made a hometown debut at Headingley. He on-drove his first ball, from Wes Hall, for a boundary; in the same over, he late-cut another. Ian Wooldridge observed: "The crowd was up near 30,000 again and, from the noise they made as Bolus cracked his first ball in Test cricket away for four between midwicket and long-on, most of them seemed to be his cousins or uncles." Bolus made just 14 before Hall had his revenge, but hit 43 in the second innings, then 33 and 15 at The Oval.
He earned selection for the trip to India, where he was England's leading scorer both in the Tests (391 at 48) and overall (752 at 50). "Bolus scored with splendid consistency," wrote E. M. Wellings in Wisden. "He fully proved his temperament and fighting spirit, a good ally in times of adversity."
After that, he might have expected a crack at Australia in 1964. For MCC against the tourists at Lord's in May, he opened with Geoffrey Boycott, whose emergence at Yorkshire had been one of the reasons behind his release. Bolus outscored him in the match (by one run), but when the Ashes began Boycott was opening. Bolus did not play Test cricket again, though he departed with a statistic yet to be eclipsed: in 12 innings, he never made a single-figure score.
Bolus was born in Whitkirk, Leeds, and attended nets at Headingley, where he became "consumed with theory". As he put it: "I was concentrating so hard on whether my hands and feet were doing the right thing that I hardly saw the ball coming back down the wicket." Two years of national service cleared his mind, and he made his first-class debut against MCC at Lord's in April 1956. But he made little impact until 1959, when he hit 91 in a low-scoring match at Bristol.
The breakthrough came the next year, when he totalled 1,245 runs in a second successive Championship-winning season. Against Hampshire at Portsmouth, he made his first century, an unbeaten 146. And in 1961, now capped, Bolus scored 1,970 at 35, with four hundreds.
He recalled a conversation with Essex opener Gordon Barker. "You've got too many runs this year, Bolly." Bolus was taken aback. "How can anyone score too many runs?" Barker replied: "They'll expect that every year now - when I get to 1,500, I call it off."
It proved prescient. Yorkshire's autocratic cricket chairman Brian Sellers warned that two capped players would be culled before the end of the 1962 season. Under pressure, Bolus struggled. "You had six batsmen fighting for four places, and that made people cautious," said Ray Illingworth. "Before that, Brian had been quite an attacking player." He was opening with Boycott for the Second XI when news of the axe came through. Illingworth believes Bolus was not too despondent: "Brian was married with children by then, and wanted to be paid the salary of a senior capped player. In those days, that made a massive difference to what you earned."
He turned down Essex and Kent ("Don't sign for anyone south of the Trent," Sellers had told him), and joined Nottinghamshire. Armed with the security of a three-year contract, he flourished. With 2,190, he was the country's leading run-scorer of 1963. His five hundreds included a career-best 202 against Glamorgan. "I was determined to do well," he said. "But I never had animosity towards Yorkshire." Returning for the first time, he carried his bat for 100 out of 159 during the first round of the new Gillette Cup, at Middlesbrough. Later that summer, he hit 114 at Bradford. "The Yorkshire spectators cheered him all the way to the pavilion," said The Times.
His England call-up brought a tart response from Sellers: "He might be good enough for England, but he wasn't good enough for Yorkshire." But in the First Test at Madras, he batted five minutes short of seven hours for 88, and came back to Trent Bridge a different player. "Gone was the carefree strokeplay of 1963, to be replaced by batting much more in the Boycott mould," wrote the Nottinghamshire historian Peter Wynne-Thomas. Bolus had his own explanation. "The theory started to kick in again. Instead of playing my natural game, I became bogged down with technical issues."
Mike Smedley, another Yorkshire exile at Trent Bridge, said: "Brian was a good cover-driver, and he used to hook, but mainly he was an accumulator who spent a lot of time at the crease." His cautious approach did not impress the Nottinghamshire hierarchy, but in 1964 he made 1,961 runs, and in all passed 1,000 in 11 successive seasons.
He was known for wearing large, bright-white pads - and for using them. "He would give a bat-pad catch to cover," said Illingworth. Smedley recalled: "He used to get the dressing-room attendant to whiten his pads as close to the start of play as possible. Then he would go out to bat with them still damp, and bits of whitener would appear on the ball. That used to really annoy bowlers."
He captained Nottinghamshire in 1972, when Garry Sobers returned exhausted from the Caribbean, but "failed to gain much response from the men under him, and one depressing result followed another", said Wisden. Nottinghamshire announced his release before the season's end, although within five days he had been appointed captain of Derbyshire, becoming the first to lead two counties in consecutive summers. Derbyshire had just finished bottom, but Bolus raised morale. "He liked to do things properly," said the journalist Neil Hallam. "He didn't like anyone who wasn't a proper pro."
Against Yorkshire at Chesterfield in June 1973, he was at the centre of a front-page story when seamer Alan Ward, beset by poor form and no-ball worries, refused to bowl. Bolus ordered him off the field, but didn't relish it: "He always said it was the worst thing that happened to him in a game of cricket," said Hallam.
He resigned as captain early in the summer of 1975, and retired at its conclusion, though he continued in the leagues beyond his 50th birthday. Bolus became recreation officer for a local authority but, with the endorsement of Illingworth, now chairman of selectors, joined the selection committee in 1994. He was quickly at loggerheads with Mike Atherton, who described him in his autobiography as "a man to whom I took a fairly immediate and visceral dislike. I got the immediate impression that he didn't think I ought to be England captain."
Bolus was chairman of the England management advisory committee from 1998 until 2002, and continued to irk captains. "Bolus was an extraordinary character," wrote Nasser Hussain. "I think he's got a screw loose." A regular complaint was that he regularly leaked the contents of meetings to journalists. England coach David Lloyd revealed that he referred to ECB chairman Lord MacLaurin, former chief executive of Tesco, as "the grocer".
After leaving the selection panel, Bolus continued as a scout for Illingworth. "He was a very good judge of a player - but he probably spoke to the press a bit too much." He served on the Nottinghamshire committee, and as president in 2004 and 2005. For many years, he was a regular on the after-dinner circuit, always starting with the same line: "For those of you who saw me bat, let me apologise."