Brian Davison: Soldier, Warrior, Unexpected Chief (pt. 1)

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“I’m retired, and the only problem I have is there’s a public holiday on Monday – and I don’t get it now.”

They say you’re a long time retired, and while Brian Davison concedes to the odd disappointment from his cricketing life, he’s enjoyed retirement – both in his cricketing and professional lives. His political and business days have passed him, and he hasn’t played a game of cricket since he called it a day (for the final time) in 1988.

“It’s always very difficult to let go, but I always said that when I did retire I’d let go completely. I didn’t play cricket again after that, didn’t touch a bat. I did coach a couple of teams, just to help them out, but I didn’t touch a bat at all.”

Davison, who captained an eclectic trio of Rhodesia, Leicestershire and Tasmania in his playing days, now tends to ill mates, dry golf greens, and the wheeler-dealer world of buying and selling antiques.

“I’m very happy, and so pleased to be in Australia, and to have been able to come over here and emigrate,” Davison says. And while, for Tasmania, he’s been an influential figure as a captain, batsman, and administrator, he’s a bit more of an enigma back in Zimbabwe.

Although he held the record of the most First Class runs by a Zimbabwean or Rhodesian until the advent of Graeme Hick, most of those came in the County Championship and Sheffield Shield. Davison was always considered hit-and-miss and overly aggressive in his home country.

“[Not making more runs for Rhodesia] always, always is a disappointment. The enigma will stay there, but I keep going back to what Raymond Illingworth said – maybe I didn’t spend enough time thinking that other people could play, and I didn’t concentrate for long enough periods of time.”

Perhaps, though, if he’d tried to curtail his aggression he wouldn’t have enjoyed the game so much? Davison laughs, at himself – not for the first or last time during our chat.

“I was always going to enjoy it, and I was always going to be aggressive. It was part of my make up! It’s not even a relevant question, because that’s who I am.”

***

“Alright, now what else do you want?”

We’d spoken for a few minutes, getting some context around another piece I was writing. But now it was time to turn discussion onto his career.

This was a man who had made centuries around the world, and not only succeeded for four, but skippered three teams in three countries. He’d become a highly regarded cricket administrator, and spent six years in the Tasmanian Parliament. Davison’s life has been no dull existence.

“Oh, mate. I’m no good at career overviews on me. I’m not a very personal person about that, I’ve got no idea. Ask me any questions, I’ll tell you, but I’m not very good on that sort of crap I’m sorry.”

Davison immediately makes it clear how fortunate he feels to have played cricket and to have been “given a bit of a gift”. “I loved every moment of it” he says, and he has just one misgiving.

“Only regret I have is that I didn’t play Test cricket. I would’ve loved to have had a go at that. But I was offered the opportunity, and I turned it down, so it’s my fault.”

Interestingly, he went close to playing international cricket for two separate nations: and could, if the clock had struck right, have possibly played for a third.

It all started when he made his First Class debut in 1967, playing for Rhodesia against Natal B. Had he put enough on the board in those first couple of seasons, he could’ve joined teammate John Traicos in leaping to an early Test cap, with Rhodesia’s involvement in the Currie Cup qualifying them for South African representation.

But in those days, he was a bit of everything, bowling plenty in a weak attack and batting in the lower order. Traicos, who debuted in the same season, recalls that Davison bowled “tidy but at times aggressive seamers” and “hit the ball very hard”. His first Rhodesian captain, Colin Bland, describes him as “pretty unorthodox, but very aggressive and a good player, really.”

Davison himself, meanwhile, tracks the conversation onto Mick Taylor, the former Victorian and Tasmanian batsman who put us in touch. “I have a story about Mick Taylor. I was at one end when he was batting at Devonport, and he’d just come in and got a big nick down the leg side. The umpire, a young umpire, gave him not out. I went down the other end and next ball I got a big off-cutter which would’ve missed leg by a foot and a half and he gave me out. Mick went on to get 190!”

(For his part, although he recalls the event, Taylor does mitigate it a little: “I think I made 166!”)

When Davison is brought back onto his own career, he recalls with amusement that there might have been a grain of truth to the politicking he was warned of at the time:

“Playing for Matabeleland was very much a north versus south situation. Tribally, Rhodesia was the Matabeles and the Mashonas; and Salisbury were the Mashonas, who were called bamba zonke which means ‘take everything’, and the little Matabeles were down the bottom.

“I was told in those days that ‘you will never play for Rhodesia unless you come to Salisbury’, or Harare as it is now. And I said ‘bullshit’. I made hundreds against Mashonaland and all the rest of them – and then moved to Harare with work, I made nought and seven, and I got in the Rhodesian team!”

Although records now are a little sketchy, Davison was a well-regarded and established cricketer when still a teenager, played against the MCC aged 17, and was a known force by the time he entered the Currie Cup at 20.

Kevan Barbour, a successful provincial cricketer for Manicaland who became an international umpire, remembers those appearances against the touring Poms:

“He and the late Errol Laughlin were of the same age and competing for a place in the Matabeleland and the Rhodesian cricket teams. They both played against England, I think Mike Smith’s team of 1964 in two exhibition games. Errol was a more naturally gifted cricketer but Davo was far more determined and got to where he got with sheer guts and determination, added to his undoubted talent.”

Davison found himself under the captaincy of his cricketing hero – Colin Bland, regarded by many as the greatest fielder of all time, and a legend of Rhodesian and South African cricket alike.

“My hero was Colin Bland, he was a Bulawayo boy, and he used to practice at the Queen’s Club. I used to go there from school sometimes and watch him field and pick up the balls. I modelled myself on that man, and a better man you couldn’t wish to model yourself on.”

Bland himself, as well as describing Davison as “a good player, really,” recalls his young charge as a “very strong character, very decisive”. It was that nature, as alluded to by Barbour, that allowed Davison to survive and then thrive at Currie Cup level.

With his skipper giving him the ball regularly (“We didn’t have much of an attack, so I just had to make use of everything I had,” Bland recalls), Davison began to put performances on the board. In his first season, 1967-68, he took 17 wickets at 16 apiece – including a five-for against Griqualand West.

But with the stick, he was more erratic. Only dismissed six times during the season (three-day games presented few chances for the tail to bat twice), he failed on only two occasions; but his other four scores, generally somewhere in the thirties, never went past 47. As John Traicos puts it, Davison “hit the ball very hard, often dominating attacks by racing to 50, and then getting out and not capitalising on a very dominant position.”

His second season was much the same; although he made a pair of fifties, he failed to ever get going – and his figures with the ball in hand blew out a little.

Davison doesn’t, however, put this down to the challenges of playing in the days of amateur cricket.

“I decided that study was not going to be something I was going to spend a lot of time at. I’d be studying other bowlers and batsmen so I could get them out or make runs against them.”

Sport was Davison’s passion, and cricket wasn’t the only sport he succeeded in (he played hockey for Rhodesia – “the halfbacks and fullbacks were in fear of their lives when he arrived in the circle”). But he always knew which one was for him.

“There was no doubt in my mind that hockey was just a winter sport, and even though I was able to play test match hockey I still loved my cricket. I played rugby, and I loved it, but it just wasn’t the game cricket is. I never stopped loving it, even now I miss it. I’m old and knackered, and I still think about it.”

And so, in 1969, Davison made his way to the United Kingdom: ostensibly, it was to play cricket. It was the beginning of what became a more than decade-long county career, becoming one of Leicestershire’s finest players. But he admits that searching for a professional contract wasn’t really the drawcard:

“No, no. I’d found an English lass who I thought was quite nice, I thought I’d better follow and see what’s happening. And in the back of my mind, obviously, there was something about wanting to play cricket.”

He found himself playing for Hampstead CC – helping them to victory in the first ever national club championship event – which led onto a trial with the Northamptonshire 2nd XI.

“I played against Leicestershire seconds whilst playing for Northants seconds, and Ray Julian at the end of the game – I’d made a few runs – said ‘are you contracted to anyone?’ I said no, and he said ‘well, would you have a couple of games with Leicestershire?’

“I needed the money, so I said certainly, and that’s how it all started.”

Julian himself, who in 1969 was a 32 year-old senior head (gloveman, captain and specialist number 11), remembers Davison as “this young cricketer – I think he’d come for a trial with Northampton – he looked like Crocodile Dundee, he was well tanned, long hair and had a scarf around his neck. He looked a typical overseas cricketer.”

His two scores – 36 and 48 – were enough to interest Julian: “I don’t know how many runs he scored, but he looked a good player. The next day I recommended him to our Chief Executive, Mike Turner, and I said ‘you must come and have a look at this lad’.”

Davison played five games for Leicester’s 2nd XI in what was left of the ’69 season, doing enough to earn a contract for the following summer. But unfortunately Davison’s habit to have a laugh almost immediately caused him problems in 1970 – big problems.

“I played a couple of games for Leicester, and then I had some cigarettes sent to me from my mother. They arrived, and I was being gregarious and silly, and said ‘thank goodness these marijuana cigarettes have arrived, because now I can start smoking properly’. They were Gunston plain. And the four people there took me seriously, and I came off the field and saw them searching through my bag. I said ‘what the hell do you think you’re doing?’

“Anyway, the contract was terminated. And then they had that altercation with South Africa, Basil D’Oliviera etc. etc. And they had a world series match versus England, in England. And several of the Leicestershire players, [Ray] Illingworth, Graham McKenzie, I think one other, were playing in that – and Leicester were short. So they had to come back to me and say ‘would you play again?’

“I was ostracised on me being flippant, but then they let me back in. And it never stopped from there.”

But even that wasn’t the most eventful part of Davison’s season – he had the opportunity to play for the International Cavaliers, alongside the likes of Fred Trueman, Ted Dexter, Neil Hawke and Godfrey Evans (among others). Players Davison calls his “boyhood heroes”; an experience he describes simply as “absolutely magnificent”.

At the conclusion of the season, Davison returned to the Currie Cup, and made the most of being back home. With his maiden First Class century, an average of 60, and the introduction of the Mike Procter-Brian Davison combination, it was an all-round success.

That first hundred was made with Procter (the Natal all-rounder whose signing was a huge coup for Rhodesia) batting at the other end. Procter was already a senior figure, with international caps and a phenomenal record, and Davison regards batting with Procter as a huge help.

“Obviously it does [help]. You don’t think so at the time, […] because you’re so interested in what you’re doing. Getting your first one is so important. But there’s no doubt that having someone of that ilk, and that character, and that ability certainly makes it a lot easier for you at the other end.”

Davison is full of praise for Procter – at times calling him “one of the greatest all-rounders of all time,” as well as “a very fine player, that man”. For his part, Procter is as genuine in his view of Davison: “a mate of mine” at a personal level, and “a great guy to have in a team, because he was totally a team player” on the field of play.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and so it proved with Davison’s cricket: the fact that he was beginning to prove himself with bat in hand (rather than the start-and-out of past years) allowed him to focus even more on that singular pursuit.

“I thought nah, this is so silly. So I started as a bowler, but then ended up thinking ‘I’ve got a bit more brains than doing this in the hot sun all day, let’s do some batting’.”

And so the bits and pieces cricketer went on to become a top-flight batsman – and he became such a good specialist bat that many later teammates are surprised to think of him as anything else.

“I would’ve loved to have seen that,” comments Mark Ray, a teammate for Tasmania, on Davison’s time as a bowling all-rounder. “By the time I played with him he didn’t bowl in the nets much. He was too smart to do that.”

Having proven himself in Africa as a batsman, Davison returned to England in 1971 faced with the task of repeating the feat on European soil. He managed it; in 27 games, Davison made 1280 runs at an average of nearly 34.

“I felt I’d just made something happen. I was starting to feel a little more comfortable about where we were going and what was going to happen.”

The overall statistics fail to show just what Davison added in that ’71 season – he made two centuries, one of which won the Walter Lawrence Trophy for fastest of the season, and was second-top run-scorer for Leicestershire in the County Championship, behind only Clive Inman.

It was a trend that carried throughout Davison’s career: he was more than capable of making runs, and making three figures (as his 18,000 runs and 37 centuries for Leicestershire prove) but never made the big runs and inflated his figures in the way many other batsmen (Glenn Turner and Dennis Amiss come to mind) have done.

That was a fact Ray Illingworth, then captain of Leicestershire (and one of England’s finest skippers), remonstrated with Davison on.

“Illingworth always used to say to me, ‘Brian, you play like an amateur. You’re not dedicated enough to do these things. You’re enjoying yourself, you’re out there doing this and doing that.’ He said ‘you get to 50, the bowling’s easy, and you just give it away and let someone else in’.

“I said, ‘well there’s no challenge, Illy. You need a challenge’.”

In 1972, Davison started finding some challenges: the Benson & Hedges Cup, in its first year, offered up both a world record and a title.

The record came first, making 158 not-out against Warwickshire – a bowling attack that included, among other notables, Lance Gibbs. It set the new one-day benchmark, beating Barry Richards’ 1970 effort of 155.

“A challenge!” Davison exclaims. “They had David Brown, the opening bowler for England, they had Lance Gibbs, who was the West Indian spinner, and Rohan Kanhai had been behaving very badly. So I figured, ‘it’s about time you got off your arse and did something’ – so I got a few runs. I’ve still got the ball actually.”

Was it the freedom of limited overs – escaping the expectations and constraints of First Class cricket – that allowed him to let his natural instincts (“I’m a good slogger they said, that’s all.”) take charge?

“I did that anyway, so it was just a normal day for me. That’s what I did, I didn’t change from one game to the other, I just did what I did.”

“Lack a lot of theory, I do,” Davison laughs. It seemingly didn’t matter whether he was blasting Ian Chappell’s 1975 Australians, launching Leicestershire to their first Championship title, or giving Dennis Lillee the good one-two, Davison had a pretty simple method – see ball, hit ball

“He was a real warrior,” says Roger Tolchard, then Leicestershire’s wicket-keeper. “That’s how I’d describe him.”

“He was just upfront. When we were fielding, he’d always be saying ‘go on, let me stand at silly point. I’ll stand at silly point for this bloke. I’ll come up, I’ll come up’. He’d be stood a yard away, standing right in close to the spinners. And he would love it, he’d love staring at them and talking to them. Me being a wicket-keeper, I sort of heard every word he was saying. He was just terrific. As I say, leader, warrior. Pure strength.

“He batted, bowled, smashed it, and was our leading batsman for no end of years, wasn’t he?

Yet it was a reversion to his past that saw Davison twin his record with a title; it was the first trophy in Leicestershire’s history, and triggered a chain of success in subsequent Benson & Hedges Cups.

God knows limited-overs cricket is the home of seam-up trundlers (New Zealand built, like, six World Cup semi-final finishes on it) so it’s no real surprise that Davison was able to find some success with the ball in the shorter format. The surprise was that Illingworth, having seen Davison disappear for 11 off his first over, kept him on to bowl out; that he went for only 11 more off the next 10 overs is testament to Illingworth’s leadership prowess.

Davison is glowing in his praise of Illingworth, citing one particular game (from the same 1972 season) where his leader’s tactical genius came to the fore – twice.

“A magnificent captain, very astute, very astute. To give you an instance, we were playing Notts at Nottingham, and Graham McKenzie was bowling – great bowler – and bowled for the first five overs, he had two for seven. In walks Sir Garfield Sobers, I’d just come out of the army and I’d been whinging and moaning, and Illy took [McKenzie] off and put me on – and I got Garfield out twice in the same match for bugger all.

“Now you tell me how he could do that with a second-hand bowler like me, over the great Garth McKenzie. He just had a feeling that it would work, and it did. Great effort.”

A great captain, though Davison still describes with a hearty laugh that Illingworth always had an excuse for why he was out. Davison puts on a Monty Python-esque Yorkshire accent to tell some of the reasons Illingworth found: “he shouldn’t be allowed to groont, lad!” And for his part, Roger Tolchard still points out, tongue-in-cheek, that “he never bought any drinks”.

These were the beginnings of Davison’s best years – especially in England. Where 1972 had seen a platform – one-day success, and well-timed if erratic contributions in the multi-day stuff – the following summer saw three First Class centuries, a 49.4 average and a cheeky win in the International Datsun Double-Wicket competition (paired by Mike Procter, of course).

The 1974 season saw the team keep up with Davison’s individual brilliance – Leicestershire finished fourth in the Championship, won the John Player League, and made the Benson & Hedges Cup final. Davison himself made over 1600 First Class runs, and “enjoyed a magnificent season,” as Wisden put it.

And while things continued to get better and better – an average of over 50 in 1975, ’76 and ’78; 189 against the Australians of 1975; and, to cap it off, Leicestershire’s first Championship title in the same year – it was never as successful at home.

1972-73 saw him average 32.8 – and in ’73-74, that shrunk to 21.6, with a top-score of only 68. Two southern summers later, 1975-76, he again averaged sub-30, and was the same the season following.

The reasons for this weren’t, as some have suggested, the lack of day-in, day-out cricket that England offered; it wasn’t even that the wickets in the United Kingdom suited him better. It was something far more visceral, and definitely more important, than any on-field factor.

“It was a very traumatic time in Rhodesian history. A lot of Rhodesians had to do extra stints in the bush. So there were some times when I wasn’t in my best frame of mind to play cricket, put it that way.”

“I just remember once coming to Police Ground in Salisbury, and I was dropped in by helicopter,” Davison recalls. “I still had full army kit on, and had to go in and hand in my weapons at the armoury – including grenade launchers – and then had to have a shower because the boys said ‘you smell like a bloody polecat’.”

“I was so used to carrying a seven-pound rifle, when I went out to have the first hit I had, I was caught at cover playing a forward defensive shot – the bat was too light!”

Although Davison isn’t reticent about his military duty (“I did what I had to do, enjoyed it, and would do it again”) he does describe it as “a time when we didn’t really have the means to do both.”

One thing Davison is absolute on is the issue of whether sport should’ve been put to one side – “No, never. Never.”

“Life’s got to go on, whatever happens. Your life’s got to go on, and you just have to make it all worthwhile. There were a lot of people there who did a hell of a lot of work in the bush, and they had to have some recreation too – they weren’t able to play for Rhodesia, and they’d come and watch the matches, and they expected entertainment. It was just part of the whole system.”

If nothing else, Davison’s time in the bush did offer one of the great cricketing one-liners (albeit one that probably isn’t repeatable in print). Roger Tolchard, who tells the story, notes that Monte Lynch – who was on the receiving end of the sledge – “just laughs his head off about it. He always loves telling that story.”

But battling guerrilla warfare wasn’t Davison’s only challenge through this period: he also took on the Rhodesian captaincy, and then spent a couple of seasons as national coach.

Eight-Test batsman Peter Carlstein, who was by that stage a senior figure (well into his thirties) in the Rhodesian team, remembers Davison’s leadership fondly, and for that matter, bluntly – “He took no shit from anybody.”

“It was a pleasure playing under him. […] He had a killer instinct. That’s what made him so good.”

And as for the allegations of Davison’s underperformance in Rhodesia, Carlstein doesn’t cop it. “He was just a very, very good cricketer, mate. And don’t let anybody else tell you any different.”

Before his elevation to the captaincy, Davison had served loyally as Mike Procter’s lieutenant – and it was a dynamic that worked. Procter remembers that “It was just pretty natural, you know, I think he leaned on me, and I leaned on him.”

“It just tangoed without trying to make it tango.”

It was a season-ending injury to Procter – playing touch rugby, John Traicos recalls – that gave Davison his first tilt at the leadership, beginning with the first game of the 1974-75 season.

To make the challenge of his first game as skipper even tougher, his opposing captain was none other than Eddie Barlow, who was leading a phenomenally strong Western Province unit. Peter Kirsten, Fred Goldstein, Barlow himself, Peter Swart, Denys Hobson. They were definitely no easy beats.

“Davo did a magnificent job leading us to a famous win,” Traicos remembers. He deserved his plaudits both for his captaincy – “level-headed and a good reader of the game,” Traicos says – and his batting.

Had it not been for Davison’s first-innings 81, which dug Rhodesia out of a 118-5 sized hole, twinned with Howard Gardiner’s superhuman efforts, the side would never have stood a chance. As it was, they won by over 100 runs.

But the season wasn’t all smiles, and Davison was in charge of a team that was regarded as “easy meat,” as one member of the team puts it. Coming into the last game, Eastern Province needed only a few points to claim their first ever Currie Cup title – and the Eastern Province board sent a delegation to Bulawayo to “savour the expected victory”.

This brought back memories of 1972-73 – when Rhodesia themselves were on the cusp of their own first Currie Cup title – when Eastern Province, captained by Lorrie Wilmot, walked off the park. A game so contentious that, 15 years ago, Robin Jackman was quoted as saying that it was something “which we have never, ever forgotten – nor forgiven”.

The whole drama revolved around a new law, that 20 overs had to be bowled in the last hour of play. With drinks to be taken half-way though the two-hour final session, it seemed clear that those 20 overs couldn’t start until after the drinks break. Mike Procter still remembers it vividly.

“Fortunately I was batting at the time, because one of the umpires got a bit confused, because the clock went three or four minutes past the hour left, so there was like 56 minutes left.

“He sort of said, ‘well the 20 overs must have started’. [During the drinks break, myself,] Lorrie Wilmot, and the two umpires – we sorted it out. I said the 20 overs couldn’t have started because they only start now. […] It was all pretty much agreed that that was fine.

“I was batting with Paddy Clift, a friend of mine and a friend of Davo’s as well. We needed I think it was six with one over to go, but in that over we were both pretty set and the odds were definitely stacked in our favour. I think we were six down, and I went down to chat to Paddy in the middle, had a chat and went back to the crease.

“I looked up and my first reaction, I still think of it now, it was unbelievable. I thought, ‘that’s most peculiar, all the fielders are fielding near cover-point, and cover, and extra-cover’. And then I obviously realised, oh no, hold on, these guys are actually walking off.

“That’s how it happened. The umpires said play, and I said to the two umpires, ‘what happens now?’ They said ‘well if they refuse to play, the game’s yours’.

“And then the South African Cricket Association months later had an investigation into it, and we all gave our cases, and they changed the umpire’s ruling. So the Currie Cup went to somebody else.”

The South African board, in what seemed to be a totally arbitrary decision, overturned the umpires’ decision, declared a draw, and took back the points Rhodesia had earned – so much for the umpire’s decision being final.

In 1974-75, this was still raw.

“Davo had not forgotten that match,” John Traicos comments. “When the Eastern Province board members invited us to have a drink with them after practice the day before the match, with words to the effect that we were going to help them win the Currie Cup, Davo’s nostrils flared and he quickly reminded them of the walk-off that cheated us of our first Currie Cup and walked us all away.”

“As it turned out we beat Eastern Province outright – they failed to get the eight points needed and had to wait a long time for their first ever Currie Cup.”

Davison’s personality could sometimes draw him into conflict or argument, especially in England; but usually his aggression was directed at the opposition, which made him a hell of a team man.

“It was very good for character building,” Davison recalls of his Rhodesian leadership roles. “I think I’m a better Indian than a Chief, but is was certainly nice to be able to do those things, and learn how to do them. All those things are part and parcel of growing up and character building, and make you a better person – I hope.”

“As I said before, I’m a very lucky fella who just happened to have all those things to do and went through them so well – and survived!”

He went on to spend the next couple of seasons as Rhodesia’s first choice captain – creating a bit of a selection headache for the board, having to choose between an all-time great in Mike Procter, and a man who’d done an excellent job in his absence. “He was an inspiration for the side,” Procter recalls, terming his teammate “a very good captain”.

“Overall I believe Davo surprised himself and a lot of others by how well he captained,” John Traicos says now. “Probably because of his cavalier approach to the game, most people probably thought that he was too wild to be a leader.”

His stint as national coach (according to one Rhodesian source, officially through 1976 and ’77) was another challenge. These were the days before true professionalism, before support staff started out-numbering cricketers on team buses, and well before the idea of a player-coach became some sort of cricketing taboo.

Davison certainly wasn’t going to be an overly intrusive coach – Traicos remembers that “Davo was not a great fan of coaching – he believed that the game was straight-forward and should be played as naturally as possible.”

But it wasn’t just with the senior players that Davison coached; alongside the likes of Mike Procter, John Shepherd, Robin Jackman and Paddy Clift, Davison would work with youngsters and up-and-comers.

As for what got him interested in the coaching side of the sport, another Davo laugh comes to the fore.

“Interested was not a word! It was part and parcel of that era where if you needed to pay people extra money you put the title of ‘coach’ in front of them.

“It still started us on the journey that we’ve always liked, which is to coach. The way we got there was not quite the right way, but certainly, once we got involved in it, we did enjoy it. I’m still a level-three coach in cricket, and still love it.”

Coaching had a great impact, too. Eddo Brandes, who went on to take nearly 100 international wickets, remembers that “We didn’t have a coaching system out-and-out, but some of the national players used to come into the schools and do some coaching. Brian Davison was captain of Rhodesia in those days, and he was a hero of mine – you always look up to your idols, and he was mine, and not only that but came to our school and coached.”

It also meant Davison followed in the footsteps of his father, Jack, who in the words of Kevan Barbour “was the mentor for us all at Old Techs cricket and hockey, and was the glue that made our small club pretty competitive.”

Davison still laughs about the opportunity he had to bat with his father at club level.

“Very, very important in anyone’s life is their parental influences. My late father was wonderful, and I’m one of the lucky people to have played cricket with my father. In a club cricket match we made 230 together, he made 17, and he kept saying to me, ‘if it wasn’t for me staying here, you wouldn’t be making all these runs! I’m staying with you, no-one else would.’

“So I’m very lucky to have had that. As you can see, I’m very fond of my father and his memory.”

For Davison, the opportunities elsewhere could’ve made it difficult to stay in Rhodesia – he could’ve settled permanently in Britain, and no doubt the offer he took from Tasmania in 1979 could’ve occurred much earlier.

“I’m a strong patriot,” Davison says. “I thought what was happening there [in Rhodesia] was the right thing.”

So he wanted to stay, and be involved, and “coaching was able to afford me the ability to do so.”

“The situation was, there was a whole lot of young people within the country who had amazing ability for the number of people we had. A bit like New Zealand and rugby. There was just this huge group of wonderful kids, who were able to play all these games with so few people, and that inspired you, to think that these young kids coming through were that good and that dedicated.”

Come 1977-78, and Davison’s decision to stay paid dividends. It might not have been a Currie Cup title, but winning Rhodesia’s first trophy – the one-day Datsun Shield – was a great day for the perennial little brothers of the South African domestic scene.

Once again it was against Eastern Province – perhaps, by now, a traditional foe. Easterns, courtesy of knocks from Chris Wilkins, Lorrie Wilmot and the great Graeme Pollock, had set a total of 227-8. With Rhodesia losing wickets early, it seemed to be more than enough.

With James Mitchell and Barry Dudlestone back in the sheds with only 17 on the scoreboard, it already looked difficult; losing Stuart Robertson at 27 and Jack Heron at 74 seemed only to prove the point. Peter Carlstein’s dismissal for one, leaving the side 81-5, brought the late Brian Barbour to the wicket with little but the last rites seemingly remaining.

“He came to the wicket and he said, ‘well it doesn’t seem like much going on here, we’d better get these runs’.”

Davison laughs, and then adds: “And we did!”

The end came in bizarre circumstances – “the Eastern Province team were appealing against the light – which the fielding team’s not allowed to do – because it was too dangerous in the outfield.”

Played at The Wanderers in Johannesburg, a crowd of 12,000 had turned up (bear in mind this was a neutral venue) and were sitting in the increasing darkness as Rhodesia kept scoring runs. The scoreboard ticked over to 100, then 150, and eventually 200 – all still five down.

Davo was still Davo, too. Where approaching gloom bothered fielders and might have worried other batsmen, Davison continued to march down the wicket, driving the seamers and cannoning balls everywhere.

A final slammed boundary, taking Davison to his century and Rhodesia to 216, saw the game called. The rules of the time awarded Davison’s men a victory, and it was well deserved – after all, Barbour and Davison had already put on 135, and required just 12 more off 22 deliveries.

Among those who rushed the field after that shot, according to legend, was an Indian man who thanked Davison for winning him a bet – and then slipped a few rand in Davison’s pocket.

“One-hundred percent, one-hundred percent true,” Davison confirms, before launching into his best impression.

“’Oh, Mr Davison, thank you so much, you won me a lot of money in my bet, please take these 20 rand in appreciation of what you’ve done. Thank you, thank you Mr Davison, thank you.’ And he rushed off the field again.”

But Davison definitely hasn’t forgotten the influence of his partner that day: “Whilst I got mighty accolades, a fair number of accolades should’ve gone to that little fella Brian Barbour.”

***

Part two of Devon’s chat with Brian Davison can be found here.


2 thoughts on “Brian Davison: Soldier, Warrior, Unexpected Chief (pt. 1)

  1. He was somthing of a hero to me. Played aggressively at his cricket and ferrociously at hockey.
    Came to Falcon to coach on one occasion and simplified the game. No theoretical approach other than ” hit the ball in the direction it is going”. ie., with the swing.
    Brian Barbour i felt learnt from his attitude and he had an amazing few seasons under Davo.

    Like

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