Willie Watson 1920-2004 April 24, 2004

Hero of the 1953 Lord's Test dies at 84

Willie Watson 1920-2004 © Wisden

Willie Watson, the former Yorkshire and England batsman, died today at his home in Johannesburg, in South Africa. He was 84.

Watson, a graceful and correct left-hander, scored over 25,000 runs in a first-class career that spanned 25 years, but will probably be best remembered for a match-saving century in the 1953 Lord's Test against Australia, when his 109 - and his long partnership with Trevor Bailey - staved off what had seemed to be certain defeat.

Born in Bolton-on-Dearne in Yorkshire in 1920, Watson was a fine allround sportsman. Apart from cricket, in which he made his debut for Yorkshire in 1939, he was also a fine footballer. He played for Huddersfield, Sunderland and Halifax, and won four England caps. He was part of the first England squad that took part in the World Cup, in Brazil in 1950, although he didn't actually play a match.

The following year he made his England Test debut, against South Africa at Trent Bridge, scoring 57 in his first match and 79 in his second. But Watson was jostling for a position with the likes of Hutton, Compton, Edrich, May, Graveney and Cowdrey, in a golden era of English batting, and found it difficult to nail down a regular place in the side. Even after that hundred on debut against Australia at Lord's in 1953, when his four-hour stand of 163 with Bailey saved the game, Watson wasn't secure: he was dropped before the end of the series, and missed the deciding final Test at The Oval, which England won to recapture the Ashes after 19 years.

Football commitments at an end, Watson toured West Indies in 1953-54, and added a second Test century in Jamaica. He flitted in and out of the Test side until the end of the decade, playing his last Tests in Australasia in 1958-59, when one of his team-mates was another double cricket/football international, Arthur Milton. Watson finished with 879 runs from his 23 Tests, at an average of 25.85.

By then Watson was playing his county cricket for Leicestershire, whom he'd joined as assistant secretary and captain in 1958. He played on to 1964, finishing with 25,670 runs in all (39.86), including 55 centuries. His highest score was 257, for MCC against British Guiana at Georgetown in 1953-54, when he shared a stand of 402 with Tom Graveney, who made 231. In England Watson's best was 217 not out, for Leicestershire against Somerset at Taunton in 1961, when he shared an unbroken third-wicket stand of 316 with Alan Wharton, which remained a county record until 2003. And he carried his bat for his new county against his old one in 1959, scoring 79 not out in Leicestershire's total of 132 against Yorkshire at Grace Road. That season - which ironically followed what turned out to be his last Test appearance - turned out to be his most prolific one, as he passed 2000 runs for the first time and finished with 2212 at 55.30.

Watson was a Test selector for three years from 1962, and emigrated to South Africa in 1968 to coach at the Wanderers club in Johannesburg. He saw out his twilight years in South Africa in somewhat straitened circumstances, although he was always keen to join in the various reunions of England players over the years.