Brian Booth: cricket and Christianity's shining example

BRIAN CHARLES BOOTH, MBE: 19 October 1933 – 19 May 2023

Brian Charles Booth, Australian cricket captain, Olympic hockey representative, teacher, lecturer, committed family man and most importantly, a Christian, passed away peacefully on 19 May 2023 in Calvary Hospital Kogarah after an extended illness. He was aged 89.

While there are many spheres of life through which God used Brian to influence others, it is through cricket that he was most widely known. He was one of that elite group of 47 people who have captained the Australian men’s Test cricket team, having done so on two occasions. Brian played for Australia from 1961 to 1966 and was one of the best players of that era. He played in 29 test matches, scored five centuries and averaged 42.21 with the bat. He was a stylish batsman, sharp fieldsman and a humble well-liked teammate.

Brian was born in 1933 in the small village of Perthville, just outside of Bathurst in regional New South Wales. His father was a market gardener. Like many young boys from the country, he loved sport and excelled at quite a number including cricket, hockey, tennis and athletics.

“Until that point, sport had really been my God. Now I sensed a greater purpose in living than success in cricket.” – Brian Booth

In 1952 he moved to Sydney to train at teachers’ college. Upon his arrival, he quickly joined both the St George hockey and cricket clubs – sporting bodies he stayed in close contact with for the remainder of his life.

He met, while living in the Hurstville area, the Rev. Roy Gray, a local Anglican minister who had played first-grade cricket for St George himself when younger. They struck up a friendship and God used Roy to help lead Brian to Christ. From this point on Brian’s life changed.

The highly respected Australian cricket journalist, Gideon Haigh, writing in The Australian recently quotes Brian’s reflection on that time of his life. “‘Until that point, sport had really been my God,’ Brian remembered. ‘Now I sensed a greater purpose in living than success in cricket.’”

Brian sought to have his faith impact all areas of his life. This included how he played sport and how he interacted with people. Another Australian cricket writer, Ray Robinson, penned a popular book in the 1970s about Australia’s test cricket captains entitled On Top Down Under. It had a chapter about Brian, in which he says:

“If a prize were offered for fairplaymanship among Australia’s post-war cricketers Brian Booth ought to win hands down, not only for deserving it but because I feel other unblemished sportsmen would not accept nomination against him.”[1]

“He was a committed Baptist and his genuineness and sense of fair play were a shining example of how one could live one’s life.” – Kerry O’Keeffe

These words are far from unique. As a young man, former Australian cricketer and now commentator, Kerry O’Keeffe, played with Brian at the St George Club. In his quirky autobiography, According to the Skull, Kerry writes:

“Batting at number three was Brian Booth, a wristy Test batsman who could whip the ball through midwicket with the same dexterity as VVS Laxman. He was a committed Baptist and his genuineness and sense of fair play were a shining example of how one could live one’s life. His grace in both victory and defeat should have been more obvious to a somewhat headstrong young leg spinner. [Kerry is referring to himself here.] Nonetheless, whenever I recall spending time with him on those Saturday afternoons, I am filled with the warmth of worthwhile reminiscence.”[2]

Over the years Brian gave countless sermons and talks at different Christian gatherings. He co-authored two well-loved books with the missionary doctor and writer Paul White – Booth to Bat (an autobiography that Brian was reluctantly persuaded to help write) and Cricket and Christianity (a book about the Christian faith using cricketing illustrations) – and another with Ron Cardwell about his first cricket tour to England, titled On Tour with Brian Booth – England 1961. He was involved with various Christian organisations, such as the Christian Businessmen’s Association, the Bible Society of Australia, Teen Ranch, and various sports ministries, such as the Christian Sports Fellowship and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Brian also represented Australia in hockey. He was a member of ‘The Originals’ – the first Australian Olympic hockey squad that competed at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. He played many seasons with the St George Club and authored a book on how to play hockey entitled Hockey Fundamentals.

Brian Booth playing hockey in the NSW v Victoria Australian Championships at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1960. R.L. Cardwell Collection

Away from sport, Brian influenced many people in his work as a secondary school teacher, then as a lecturer in physical education at Sydney Teachers’ College, and finally while serving as head of the Health and Human Movement Studies Department at the Sydney Institute of Education.

These were all the more public aspects of Brian’s life. After God, he would have said that his greatest love was for his family. He enjoyed 64 years of marriage to Judy (whom he met at teachers’ college) and had four daughters and six grandchildren.

At the thanksgiving service for Brian’s life held at Narwee Baptist Church on 26 May, family members gathered with friends from church, cricket, hockey, education and other Christian organisations to celebrate what God had done through his life.

One of Brian’s favourite verses was Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” It was this that Brian, with God’s help, sought to live out in his life.

Stephen Liggins is a Sydney Anglican minister and former first-grade cricketer who met Brian on a number of occasions in various cricket-and-Christianity-related contexts.

[1] Ray Robinson, On Top Down Under: Australia’s Cricket Captains, Stanmore, Cassell, 1975, p. 279.
[2] Kerry O’Keefe, According to the Skull: An Entertaining Stroll Through the Life of Kerry O’Keeffe, Sydney, ABC, 2004, pp. 14-15.