CRICKETER OF THE YEAR 1961

Vic Wilson

When in 1960 Yorkshire appointed John Victor Wilson, their 39-year-old left-handed batsman, to be professional captain -- their first professional captain since Tom Emmett in 1882 -- the attention of the whole cricket world was centred upon him and the doings of his team.

Hitherto Wilson had never commanded the spotlight. A big, quietly spoken, typical Yorkshire farmer, he got on with his job to the best of his ability and allowed others to do the talking.

He had played with Yorkshire since 1946 and scored 18,302 runs in first-class cricket for an average of 33.03. A disappointing season in 1959, in which he had been dropped to the second team to try to find his form, had yielded him only 618 first-class runs and among these was a century in the last match, 105 against the Rest of England.

This was the player Yorkshire chose to follow J.R. Burnet, the successful leader, who had seen Yorkshire end the seven-year run of championship successes by Surrey. And how splendidly Wilson rose to the occasion. Authority fitted him well. Almost overnight a quiet firmness crept into his voice and there was purpose about his actions. The Yorkshire committee gave him fourteen players (nine capped) from whom he had to find his best eleven. Without fear or favouritism he set to work.

It was soon obvious that the new Yorkshire captain had assimilated a lot of knowledge during his time in the ranks. He knew the players in the opposition and the likely behaviour of the pitches. He chose the team accordingly. Being a brilliant close-in fieldsman he could always give the lead when occasion demanded a man in a suicide spot.

Wilson caused a sensation in the first Championship match of the season against Sussex by declaring with all ten first-innings wickets intact and finally his side lost the game after he had instructed his players to go for runs.

Yorkshire followed this defeat by beating Gloucestershire in the last over of the day at Bradford, vanquishing Somerset and Hampshire, and then, at Gravesend, Wilson completely outpointed the Kent captain, Colin Cowdrey.

Under Vic Wilson, Yorkshire went on to retain the Championship, and while he gave the reasons as Trueman's great bowling, the wicket-keeping of Binks, eight batsmen scoring 1,000 runs and more, and the efforts of the four Colts in his team, every player pointed first and foremost to the skipper. He never lost faith in himself or his team.

J.V. Wilson was born at Scampston, Yorkshire, on January 17, 1921. His father Herbert, a farmer, was a well-known East Riding cricketer -- a right-arm bowler and left-hand batsman -- and the boy always went with him to the matches. Occasionally he had to field substitute until a late player arrived. Sometimes he played the full match.

When 11, Vic went to Norton Boys School where the sportsmaster, Mr. Bruce Rolls, encouraged him at cricket. At 14 he was allowed to play for Malton for whom he made his first century, against Driffield in an East Yorkshire Cup game. When 16, another well-known local cricketer, Mr. Tommy Hobson, took him to play for York where he won the League batting prize, and then, after leaving school, he moved to Scarborough.

Working for his father, he had all the time off he needed for playing cricket. He went to the Yorkshire nets and had winter practice at Herbert Sutcliffe's school with Jim Laker and Harry Halliday. He played one friendly game with the Yorkshire colts. War came. A nearby farmer and former Yorkshire fast bowler Sandy Jacques persuaded him to play in the Bradford League. He had four years with Undercliffe, two with Bingley and then one year with Pudsey St. Lawrence.

Scoring three centuries in successive innings at Pudsey, he equalled a Bradford League record held by a present Yorkshire committeeman, Mr. F. Popplewell. In the fourth game he made 75 against Queensbury and Vic smiled at the memory of the newspaper headline: Vic Wilson fails.

When war ended he began to play regularly with the Yorkshire Second XI and spasmodically with the senior side. That is, until 1948 when he made his first century against Surrey at the Oval. Later in the same season he was awarded his County cap. Loss of form in 1949 caused him to drop to the second team for a time but he returned to take 100 off Scotland at Hull. Not until 1951, when off-spinner Bob Appleyard took 200 wickets in the season, did he gain regular selection.

Wilson added another string to his bow. He was brought from the long field to the third short-leg position and he took 67 catches - the most in the country. In 1952 he made his top score, 230 against Derbyshire at Sheffield. He much preferred fast bowlers to slow twisters. Over six feet tall, he was able to get behind the short pitched ball and kill it.

This ability, and a century against Lancashire at Old Trafford, prompted the M.C.C. to choose him for the 1954-55 tour of Australia. He did not play in a Test. He acted twelfth man in all five games, never grumbled, always tried his best, and came back with the reputation of being a splendid tourist. In 1958 his benefit realised £5,758.

His had been a satisfying if unspectacular career but his thoughts of retiring and taking a bigger farm were put aside with the offer of the Yorkshire captaincy. Wilson gave all he had to the job of leading a successful team and he proved an outstanding success. He also proved a professional could captain Yorkshire. - W. E. B.

© John Wisden & Co