BRIAN CHARLES BOOTH: CRICKET
(19 OCTOBER 1933 – 19 MAY 2023)
Today cricket has lost one of the finest exponents of the game and one of the finest men to have played the game.
Brian was a friend of many of us who attended the meetings of the Australian Cricket Society (Sydney), of which he was Patron, and his loss will be felt by all those who had the good fortune to have contact with him.
A former captain of St George District Cricket Club, a club which he served for most of his adult life, New South Wales and, briefly, Australia, he represented all three with dignity and distinction.
Brian made his Test debut on the 1961 Ashes tour of England and remained a fixture until his final Test, as captain, in the home Ashes series of 1965-66.
While every boy dreams of representing Australia, Brian had already achieved this distinction when chosen for Australia in hockey during the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne.
It was cricket, however, for which he was better known. Right up until the end he was still known at St George DCC as ‘Mister Booth’, such was the respect held for him at that great club.
On a personal level, I feel fortunate to have been able to call him a friend. A confirmed Christian, unlike myself it must be said, Brian was never one to push his faith. He took people as he saw them and treated them all the same. Over the years, we had some wonderful conversations on cricket and life.
I remember driving him to a cricket meeting one evening during which we had a very personal chat about our respective lives with no mention of the game we both loved. If Brian isn’t the nicest person I’ve ever met he is definitely in the discussion, and I can’t think of anyone, right now, who’d be ranked higher.
The last time I saw him was as I walked into Manuka Oval for that ground’s inaugural Test match and he and Judy were alighting from a taxi just 20 metres away. A lovely 15-minute chat and we went our separate ways, me to the press box and Brian and Judy to be guests of ACT Cricket.
I’ll not forget his story of facing Charlie Griffith in the West Indies for the first time. Charlie’s speed was much spoken about but his first two deliveries to Brian were no more than medium-fast. What was all the fuss? Brian then told me the third ball had gone past him before he could move, which surprised him.
He was even more shocked to realise his cap had been turned around on his head, Lleyton Hewitt-style, and he hadn’t actually seen the ball that did it. It was then he believed the stories about Charlie’s ‘change-up’.
In recent days of sledging in cricket, I am also reminded of a story of sledging, Brian Booth-style. New South Wales was playing Western Australia in Perth and former NZ Test player Bill Playle was opening for the home team. Bill subsequently became a good friend of Brian and myself in Sydney and it was Bill who told me this story.
Yet to score, he nudged a ball into the point region and took off for a very sharp single. A NSW fielder pounced on the ball and threw it to the bowler’s end in one fluid motion, just missing the stumps with Bill miles out of his ground. The ball carried on to the boundary for four overthrows.
At this time, Brian Booth wandered past and said to the relieved batsman, “Well played, Bill … all the good players get off the mark with a five … ”
I remember Brian telling me one day his only remaining ambition was to be Australia’s oldest living Test cricketer. He made this comment to Sir Donald Bradman in a letter one day, only to receive a reply a couple of days later in which Bradman named all those who were ahead of Brian in the list with their birthdays and ages.
The recent passing of number one, Ken Archer, may have raised some hopes but it was not to be. Neil Harvey had Brian well covered.
Well played, Mister Booth, you gave it your best shot and you’ve done yourself and your family proud. You will be greatly missed.
Of course, having a father as an editor had long had advantages. Indeed, with considerable guile Tony had inveigled Jimmy into letting him cover, in a fashion, the first tour of the West Indies by an Australian team in 1955. He was approaching his 15th birthday at the time.
For many people, especially Judy and the family, this is indeed a very sad day.