The man who made cricket tough
“A passionate, tough man who loved winning and absolutely detested losing”.
Such was the description offered of former cricketer Rupert “Nick” Hollis, a Bailey's Bay stalwart for more than two decades, St George's Cup Match and Bermuda player who passed away recently at the age of 72.
Hollis was with his family on an annual festive holiday season junket to Florida to engage in another of his passions, golf, but took ill soon after arrival in the United States.
Friends and former team-mates voiced collective shock at his passing, but each also demonstrated real fondness for their now fallen comrade and to a man referenced him as “one tough hombre”.
Charlie Marshall, who came up at Bailey's Bay under senior players such as Hollis, said: “Nick was a tough guy who did not like to lose. At Bailey's Bay Cricket Club, I've seen some times where coolers were thrown outside because we didn't deserve to have any cold drinks after the game because we lost. Nick never liked losing.
“When it comes to cricket, Nick was one of my inspirations back in the day because he basically fielded in the same position between cover and cover point, so growing up he inspired me and was always tough on me. I believe he was the one who made not only me, but Ricky Hill tough.
“He always used to tell Ricky and me when we were going to the wicket that if we got out cheap to walk to the old clubhouse at Carter's Corner, not to the new one. He said if we don't make decent runs, don't bother coming back to the new changing rooms, but go in the other direction.
“And if we did get out cheap, Nick would give us a backhand in our chest to let us know that we had to get tough. Those were his favourite words — ‘Get tough'. Up to now, that's how I carry myself to individuals whom I've coached over the years ... get tough.
“I got that from Nick because if you want to play in that type of league at a high level, toughness is required.
“This is definitely a blow, Noel [Gibbons] actually called to inform me late that night that Nick had passed and I said, ‘Are you serious?' because Nick stays next to my homestead and we were talking before he left. I know that was Nick's regular trip every Christmas and I told him ‘have a good time, I'll check you when you come back'.
“He and my father were really tight. They chatted all the time because that's how close their houses are, so it was definitely a shock, especially to the family who look forward to the Christmas trip every year, which they've been doing for a long time.”
Sinclair “Chips” Walker, a former captain of Bailey's Bay, likewise was in distress over the death of a player he had led into battle, whether it be the Eastern Counties Cup competition or the league. They also shared much time together away from the pitch.
“It was a shock to me because Nick was a good guy, which I know because he played under me and he was a lot of fun,” Walker said. “There's so many stories I could relate about Nick.
“Nick was a good player, a guy who was a real fighter. There are maybe three guys that I would give that description — Noel [Gibbons], Charlie [Marshall] and Nick. None of them could stand losing and would fight until the end.
“Nick was a guy that if you dropped a catch off of his bowling, you were better off throwing the ball back in to another player to give back to Nick because if you threw it back at him he would throw it hard back at you and say, ‘Catch this one'. That's because he hated to lose, but he still played hard and fair.”
On the funny side, Walker spoke of how Hollis and another Bay legend, David Gibbons, would occasionally have “libations” — something called Cuba Libra — stashed near their fielding positions of the boundary unbeknown to him, and would strangely sprint to the area after each over to sneak a sip before he caught on and either gave them a closer fielding position or put them on the ball.
“I caught on to the scheme and I would tell them to bowl. They'd ask if I could wait an over before bringing them on, but it was all in good fun and they always performed. But I liked a little drink, too, and they were getting a jump start on me.”
Hollis was not only a skilled cricketer in all phases, but also a deft football player as a striker for Hamilton Parish, but his footballing career came to a premature close after he broke a leg during a match at BAA Field in 1969.
From then, cricket was his sole focus and he managed to perform in a remarkable three eras, appearing twice in Cup Match for St George's in 1972 and 1973 and touring with a Somers Isles Cricket League team that represented Bermuda on a tour to the West Indies, taking in Antigua and St Kitts.
Hollis carried a peculiarity not often found in sport, as while he was a left-handed batsman in cricket, upon his retirement in 1989 and on shifting to golf, he transformed himself into a right-handed player — a trait he shares with West Indies legend Brian Lara.
“Nick was a good family man and in his latter days he was close to God,” said Alan Smith, a close friend. “Nick was very aggressive, serious and passionate about things that were dear to him.
“It will take a long time for people to get over the fact that he is here no more. It's difficult for me to explain that he's gone. I'm still devastated and I think that the whole of the Hamilton Parish community feel the same way. It's sad and I offer my condolences to the family.
“I remember playing in a representative game for the Somers Isles Cricket League against St George's up at National Stadium — and Nick would probably laugh at this in his grave — but he bowled Lionel Thomas a straight ball just outside the off stump and Lionel Thomas let it go. The next ball was similar and Thomas shouldered arms. But the next one was a serious off cutter again just outside off stump, but this time when Lionel Thomas held his bat in the air, all three stumps went down.
“I mean all the lumber went down and the wicketkeeper who had been watching from his position behind the stumps exclaimed, ‘What a peach of a ball!' and everyone was laughing ... except Lionel, who will probably be mad at me for telling the story.”
For Herman “Butch” Smith, a star batsman in his own right for Bay and who also appeared in Cup Match but for Somerset, the loss of Hollis leaves a void impossible to fill.
“My son Devario goes down there with the family at Christmastime, so this is a real loss that took us all by surprise,” Smith said. “Nick was fun to play with and be around. He was tough and always gave 100 per cent to the last ball bowled.
“We started off together at Bay and were reserves in county together along with ‘Chips' in 1961, 1962, 1963 and broke into the team in 1965.”