What a treat it was to shine a light on the explosive batting prowess of long-retired cricketer Bruce Collier – and do it by comparing him to Tamworth cricket’s modern-day master blaster Simon Norvill. Norvill’s 35-ball century late last season proved the genesis of a great sporting story.
When Old Boys destructive force Simon Norvill struck a 35-ball century in the major semi-final at No.1 Oval on March 11, it did three things: force Wests to concede the two-dayer on day one, spark fastest-ton talk and align him with the power-hitter who had inspired him in his youth.
Ahead of Old Boys’ grand final showdown with South Tamworth at No.1 Oval, Norvill spoke fondly about the impact Bruce Collier had on him as a player and a person when he came into grade cricket at Old Boys as a teenager. He feels a “connection” and “closeness” to him.
He also marvelled at Collier’s ability to hit the ball cleaner than anyone he has seen in Tamworth cricket – perhaps best illustrated by the 121 he scored for Police Boys (now Old Boys) against Souths in the 1974-75 season. It is unknown how many balls it took him to reach his ton, but it was complied over eight overs.
It’s certainly a comparable century to Norvill’s prismatic onslaught, and they are arguably the two fastest tons ever hit in Tamworth first-grade cricket.
Norvill, 30, doffed his cap to 67-year-old Collier, saying his one-time mentor’s knock was more impressive than his knock given that it occurred before the limited-overs game was popularised by World Series Cricket.
“It’s a different game these days,” Norvill said. “To do it in 1974 in eight overs is unbelievable. It was long-stint cricket back then. There was no Twenty20, there was no big hitters to learn from, as I watched on TV growing up, and now with the Twenty20.”
He added: “I know how clean he hit when he was 50. To see him in his prime would have been unreal.”
In his 121, Collier hit 11 sixes and eight fours. Norvill hit 13 fours and eight sixes in his 116 not out. It was a chanceless ton, while Collier said he was “dropped a few times”.
When Norvill played his first second-grade match at Old Boys, now-retired Collier was captain of the side. Norvill remembers a man who taught him much about the game and supplied the template he aims to replicate: become an Old Boys life member.
Norvill recalled a second-grade match at Riverside 4 when he served as Collier’s runner. He was aged “14 or 15” and he had never seen anyone hit the ball better in Tamworth. “And all I was doing all afternoon was running Bruce’s run,” he said.
As a coach at the Ken Falkenmire Cricket Academy, Collier was instrumental in shaping a young Norvill. “I always looked up to Bruce,” he said, “and sort of wanted to be like Bruce. Obviously I was a keeper when I was young and he was a keeper. And he hit the ball so hard, and that’s what I like to do.
“He was one of the guys when I first started playing that you always heard about on Saturday after cricket. Bruce got this many more runs.”
And now people talk about Norvill that way.
“It’s definitely a nice compliment … It’s sort of come around that I do hit it like Bruce used to,” Norvill said.
He added: “And he was more than just a good batter. He was a smart cricketer, a good keeper and a very good bloke.”
Collier remembers the 121, saying they “came out of the middle” straight away. He hit a six the first ball he faced.
He said he had approached batting the same as Norvill: “I’ll hit the thing and you’ve got to catch it if you want it, sort of thing … Simon’s fairly correct in his technique. But if the ball’s there to be hit, he’ll hit it. He’s not afraid to throw the bat at it.”