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The presence in England of Richie Benaud and his gay Australian cavaliers seems to have been an inspiration to their fellow-countryman, Wilim Edward Alley, the Somerset all-rounder, who surprised not only himself but all followers of cricket by amassing an aggregate of 3,019 runs in the late summer of his career. Nothing quite like this had ever been accomplished even for Somerset, a county traditionally famed for their light-hearted approach to the game.
Most players think of retiring at the age that Bill Alley entered county cricket. He was 38 when he joined Somerset in 1957 and he has, during five years with them, proved himself not only a great acquisition on the field, but a splendid man to have in the dressing-room. Nothing daunts him and he breathes a spirit of confidence among his colleagues.
A man of many parts, Alley was born in Sydney of February 3, 1919. He boasts that he never had a single coaching lesson in his life. No one else in his family has met with success at cricket and he has not tired to model himself on any other player, but most important he always believed in adopting an aggressive attitude to the game.
At one time, he was a boxer of renown in Australia. As a professional pugilist he won all his 28 contests and had set his sights on the World Welterweight title when, of all things, a mishap at cricket compelled him to hang up his gloves. His jaw was broken by a cricket ball. Twenty stitches were necessary and he never boxed again. Moreover, he never thought then that at the age of 42 he would take part in the Gentlemen and Players match at Lord's as he did last season.
Alley first played cricket when eleven. His first club was Brookland on the Hawkesbury River, thirty miles from Sydney. A left-handed batsman, right-arm fast-medium bowler and wicket-keeper, he graduated into Australian Grade A cricket at the age of 18, appearing for Sydney Northern District. Later he assisted Petersham in company with Ken Grieves, Cecil Pepper and Sidney Barnes.
One Saturday afternoon he hit 265, including twelve 6's and twenty-four 4's, and then, for good measure, helped himself to eight wickets for 27 runs. New South Wales noted him, but the War intervened.
During the War he found a job with Australian Railways and afterwards proved so successful in club and State cricket for New South Wales that he received an offer to join Colne, in the Lancashire League. At first he hesitated, but Bill O'Reilly persuaded him to take the plunge.
While with Colne, Alley toured India, Pakistan and Ceylon as a member of the Commonwealth side of 1949-50, and with two double centuries finished second in the batting to F.M. Worrell.
Alley spent five seasons with Colne (1948-52) and then went to Blackpool for four years. It was during a benefit game in Durham that Harold Stephenson, the present Somerset captain who used to play for Durham, invited him to try English county cricket. His contract with Blackpool still had two years to run and as the club had treated him so well, Alley preferred to complete it. He duly went to Taunton for the summer of 1957 on a special registration, which meant he did not undergo any qualifying period.
The following figures taken from the full first-class averages show Alley's worth as an all-rounder during the last five summers.
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His impact on Somerset was immediate. Few players, if any, can have won their county caps so quickly. In ten innings in his first five matches for Somerset, Alley scored 365 runs and he also took twelve wickets. So the Committee gave him his cap on May 25, 1957.
After his moderate season with the bat in 1960 it seemed that Alley had passed his peak. The retirement of Colin McCool at the end of that summer left a gap in the Somerset ranks and Alley, in his Testimonial year, decided that he was probably the man who could supply the remedy.
He struck form in his very first innings with 72 against Kent at Gillingham. In the third match he punished the Warwickshire bowlers at Nuneaton for 221 not out, the highest score of his career. So he progressed -- though there were some failures, such as 0 and 1 in the return against Warwickshire at Street and 0 and 0 against Glamorgan at Weston-super-Mare; but few attacks escaped unscathed and Surrey and the Australians came in for special treatment.
In the two Surrey engagements Alley scored 396 runs without being dismissed: 103 not out and 134 not out at Taunton and 150 not out and 9 not out at The Oval. The Australians fared almost as badly, for Alley made 134 and 95 against them for Somerset at Taunton and 102 and 34 against them for A.E.R. Gilligan's XI at Hastings.
Alley's aggregate of 3,019 runs and eleven centuries in the same season were both records for a Somerset player, but he did not excel some of Harold Gimblett's feats such as 123 on debut, 310 the county's highest individual score, nor his tally of 50 centuries.
Alley is not alone among Australians who have adorned County cricket. Years ago Somerset had Sammy Woods, Middlesex had Albert Trott and since the last War, L. Livingstone and G.E. Tribe (Northamptonshire), B. Dooland (Nottinghamshire), J.E. Walsh (Leicestershire) and McCool have been among the best exponents of the right way to play cricket.
According to Alley, who holds some strong views upon the conduct of first-class cricket in England, Australians are successful in this country because they usually receive long-term contracts; they are paid better than other players and they have the determination to fight not only for themselves but also for their families.
Under the present system there is not, in his opinion, sufficient security for the young English-born player who has to prove his ability while playing for his place in the side under a yearly contract. They have too much to worry about if they fail and this causes them to become cautious and lose their attractiveness as entertaining stroke-makers.
Yet, despite the pitfalls, he has thoroughly enjoyed his county cricket. His ideal life would be a cricket professional on Saturday and a chicken-farmer the rest of the week. He has bought a plot of land in Somerset where he intends to stay with his wife, a Lancashire lass, and their three sons.
At one time, Alley thought that 1961 would be his last cricket season, but after his phenomenal success and the generous Testimonial he received, he is convinced that he should endeavour to continue for at least two more summers.
For all his many centuries in 1961 he still recalls with pride the Middlesex match at Lord's in 1957 when he opened the batting and the bowling and also kept wicket -- a true all-rounder and a great sportsman.