June 9, 2023

Australian cricket mourns 1956 Olympian and 31st Test captain Brian Booth, dead at 89 | Cricket

Australia’s 31st men’s Test cricket captain, Brian Booth, has died aged 89.

Booth, who played 29 Tests for Australia, scored five Test centuries and was a key cog in Australia’s batting throughout the early part of the 1960s. Such was his athleticism, he also represented Australia in hockey at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. But it was in cricket where he made his name with 1773 Test runs at 42.21.

A stylish middle-order bat, Booth made a century in his first home Test against England in 1962, before scoring another in the next match at the MCG. He averaged 50.5 as Australia retained the Ashes at home before dominating South Africa the following summer with another two Test tons.

The right-hander went on to post solid returns in England in 1964 as Australia again won the Ashes, and was handed the captaincy for two matches in 1965-66 with Bob Simpson out. But at the same time his own batting stumbled and after the hosts were beaten heavily in the second of those matches, Simpson returned to the side and Booth was dropped, never to play for Australia again.

“Captaining Australia was a privilege,” a philosophical Booth said in an interview with the Cricket Monthly in 2013. “Bobby Simpson was the regular captain and broke his arm just prior to the first Test.

“He came back for the second Test in Melbourne and on the eve of the third, in Sydney, Sir Donald Bradman approached me at practice and said, ‘Bob has chicken pox, Brian. You’re captaining tomorrow’.”

Booth’s subsequent omission prompted Bradman to write to him, telling him he and his colleagues had “disliked” having to go from making him captain to out of the side in the space of three matches.

“I don’t think he’d ever done that (written to a player) before,” Booth said. “But I understood why. My scores were not good enough. I’d get to double figures in most innings only to get out. At some stage I knew I’d be passed over for someone performing better. Ian Chappell and Keith Stackpole came into the side and were to have great careers.”

Booth was later elected as Life Member of the Melbourne Cricket Club, received an MBE from the Queen in 1982 and was inducted into the Cricket NSW Hall of Fame in 2014.

A market gardener’s son, Booth was working as a school teacher in 1954 when he was called from the classroom to the Sydney Cricket Ground as an emergency replacement to play Sir Len Hutton’s touring English XI. By train and taxi he hurried 40km to the ground, was lent a cap and a borrowed bat, and rushed out to the middle where NSW was 25 for 5. Booth’s calm 74 not out that day announced him as a future star.

Yet he delayed his rise in cricket to play hockey for Australia as an inside-left at the Melbourne Olympics. The twin sports contributed to Booth’s powerful stroke-play to pace and unhesitating footwork to spin. When his Test career finally got underway, age 27, Booth became famous for rescue efforts at No 4 or 5, inspiring one sportswriter to call the devout Anglican “Australia’s one-man Salvation Army.”

Booth made 21 first-class centuries, five of them in Tests, with his 112 at Brisbane and 105 in Melbourne in successive Tests in the 1962-63 series against England the highlights. His highest Test score of 169 came the next summer, where even South African captain Trevor Goddard delighted in Booth’s brilliance at the crease: “We didn’t mind the leather-chasing when he played so charmingly.”

Playing club cricket into retirement, Booth’s faith made him unavailable for Sunday play. He diverted his energies as a vice-president of NSW Cricket Association and the Liberal Party candidate for St George in the 1974 election. Despite over 21,000 votes, he fell short of office, a disappointment Booth shrugged off with a trademark grin. “If a prize were offered for fair play among Australia’s post-war cricketers,” wrote legendary cricket scribe Ray Robinson, “Brian Booth would win hands down.”

“Brian was immensely respected and admired throughout the cricketing community and beyond and we extend our deepest condolences to his wife Judy and their family and friends,” Cricket Australia CEO Nick Hockley said.

“Less than 50 players have captained the Australian men’s Test team and Brian’s name is included on a list that features many of the game’s greats.

“He has had an extraordinary life and will be sadly missed. His contribution to cricket continues to be an inspiration and will always be remembered.”