Friday, 12 October 2012

Brian Fettes Davison

The lights on the scoreboard at the Wanderers in Johannesburg twinkled merrily in the gathering gloom and a crowd of 12 000 hushed in expectation as Eastern Province fast bowler Kenny Watson ran up to deliver.

A packed off-side field hardly had time to move before the ball struck the boundary boards. The crowd erupted and a flood of well-wishers invaded the field to shower one Brian Davison with congratulations.

The Rhodesian batsman had just compiled what must rate as his finest century. The scene was the 1978 Datsun Shield final and Davison, aided by left-hander Brian Barbour, had guided Rhodesia to their first major South African cricket trophy.

Among the spectators who rushed on to the Wanderers turf that afternoon was an Indian who put a R10 note into Davison's pocket, saying, "You are my saviour — you've won me money in a bet."

The lusty hitting of Chris Wilkins and Lorrie Wilmot and the grace of Graeme Pollock, who had earlier guided Eastern Province to a total of 227-8, paled into insignificance once Davison got into his stride.

It was the sort of innings that made Davison a draw card for Leicestershire in the English County championship and for Rhodesia in the Currie Cup. It was controlled aggression, punctuated with drives of great power off both the front and back foot.

Davison and Barbour had come together with Rhodesia reeling at a miserable 81-5. Not even the most ardent Rhodesian supporter believed that Eastern Province could lose.

But, 135 runs later, with Davison undefeated on 102, Rhodesia were on 216-5 and won the Shield on a better run-rate and runs-per-wicket calculation. Had the umpires not ended play early because of bad light, Rhodesia would undoubtedly have passed the Eastern Province total.

In any event, it did not matter. The light was very bad, but Davison, stepping down the wicket to drive the seamers, was unconcerned. There was no danger to the batsmen and the umpires were concerned about the safety of the fielders when they called off play. Davison was hitting the ball so hard that there was a real danger to fieldsmen attempting to cut off runs in the gloom.

It was Davison's finest hour and the standing ovation he received from an uncommitted crowd composed largely of Transvalers was just reward for his efforts.

Yes, we will all remember Davison for that innings but there is no doubt that he was one of the finest cricketers produced by Rhodesia in a first-class career which started with his national debut against Natal B in 1967.

Brian Fettes Davison was born at Bulawayo on 21 December 1946 and encouraged by an enthusiastic father, he worked his way through Hillside Junior and Gifford Technical High School teams to make the Rhodesian Nuffield XI in 1964-65 along with other future national players like Duncan Fletcher, Tommy Dunk, Richie Kaschula, Stuart Robertson and John Traicos.

Davison can lay claim to be the father of professionalism in Rhodesian cricket for, after two seasons — then in the B Section of the Currie Cup — he travelled to England 'to broaden his outlook on life generally'.

But as was later established, young 'Davo' was really there to attempt to force his way into big cricket. When money ran short — as it did from time to time — he was pleased to turn out occasionally by invitation for the Northants 2nd XI.

Leicestershire officials were keeping an interested eye on young Davison and after he had averaged 52,33 with a top score of 73 in four innings he moved to the Grace Road Ground at Leicester.

It was the 1969 English season, and he batted eight times for the Leicestershire 2nd XI at an average of 33,55 which led to an offer of a contract to join the county 1st XI for the 1970 season. He turned out for his adopted county from 1970 to 1980, having made the breakthrough into the first team by mid-August of that first season and having a more than satisfactory debut in a County
championship match against Northamptonshire.

He made seven first team appearances that season and returned to Rhodesia for the 1970-71 season a mature and much wiser cricketer for the experience. Davison joined a reconstituted Rhodesian team under their new captain Mike Procter and was instrumental in helping the side return to the A Section.

That season was a milestone for Davison. Not only did he return an average of 60,25 but he also recorded his maiden first-class century — an undefeated 137 which included three sixes and fifteen fours, against Griqualand West at Kimberley.

Davison was developing into an aggressive, fast-scoring batsman and he really blossomed in his second season with Leicestershire when he returned there for the 1971 English County championship.

He scored 1 280 runs in 47 matches but his real glory was the season's fastest century — scored in only 63 minutes. His approach to the game brought him success in the limited overs leagues and against Warwickshire he pounded 158 not out with his 150 coming up in 92 minutes.

But his ability to score quickly came to the fore in a double wicket competition in Rhodesia in 1972 after another successful season with Leicestershire. He hit 50 in 13 minutes and his century in 27 with 10 sixes and 9 fours. In his second match he hit 50 in 18 minutes and his total runs for the day came to 244 in a total batting time of 79 minutes.

And so it is easy to understand the aura of expectancy that settled over crowds in England and Southern Africa whenever Davison strode to the wicket to begin an innings.

But he could not pull it off every time and a run of poor innings from Davison was not uncommon. Cricket followers in Rhodesia often slated him — he was the man they loved to hate when he was unsuccessful. Memories are short however, and each of Davison's five Currie Cup and two Datsun Shield centuries make up for the times that he disappointed his fans.

'Davo' is immensely strong and hits the ball with terrific power and although he was often considered the 'enigma of Rhodesian cricket' he achieved a great deal.

His performances overseas for Leicestershire were always being compared with what he achieved in Rhodesia where only eight big matches (Currie Cup) are played in a season. In that sort of shallow comparison his performances at home in Currie Cup cricket always looked poor.

But Davison thrives, and always will, on constant cricket — six days a week in England which allowed him to hone his game to a fine edge. In Rhodesia he was able to play one day a week between Currie Cup matches which were often separated by as much as six weeks.

He captained Rhodesia on twenty-five occasions between 1974 and 1977 and was national coach in 1976 and 1977. In a first-class career for Rhodesia spanning the seasons 1967 to 1978, Davison gained 90 caps and scored 4 480 Currie Cup runs at an average of 30,07 with his 137 against Griquas, his highest score.

His highest overall first-class score was a magnificent 189 for Leicestershire against Ian Chappell's Australians at Leicester in 1975.

A fine fielder and more than useful seamer in the early part of his career, Davison rates as one of the finest Rhodesian all-rounders and he was sadly missed by Rhodesia in the 1979-80 season when he accepted a contract to captain Tasmania in the Australian Sheffield Shield competition.

A brief summary of his career is:

Runs: 141
Average: 23.50

Runs: 126
Average:    15,75

1969-70  did not play

Runs: 241
Average: 60.20

Runs: 383
Average: 25,53

Runs: 335
Average: 23,92

Runs: 289
Average: 19,26

Runs: 586
Average: 36,62

Runs: 307
Average: 23,61

Runs: 399
Average: 26,60

Runs: 527
Average: 43,91

Runs: 488
Average: 34,85



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