CRICKETER OF THE YEAR - 1954

Willie Watson

In all things except his batting Willie Watson, of Yorkshire, is a right-hander. Yet in his stance at the crease and his movements to the ball there is nothing strained in this unnatural type of play. He is a stylist. The pendulum-like movement of bat to ball following a straight back lift stamps him as a player hard to get out.

Unfortunately, a quiet modesty--perhaps until recently an inferiority complex--prevented him making full use of his ability He thought the opponent always better than himself and as a result Watson concentrated on defence. Only occasionally did he exhibit the powerful pull or the stroke to cover as smoothly perfect as any by Frank Woolley, the ball either bruising the fencing or causing the fielders to rub their tingling fingers.

From choice, Watson's cricket has been of the unspectacular, plodding type, and not until the Second Test Match against Australia at Lord's in 1953 did his patience, and endurance, fire the imagination. Then his match-saving 109--his maiden Test century on his first appearance against Australia--brought him headlines in every newspaper in the country.

Perhaps, too, it convinced the player that he was as good as the next man. Slowly a more positive approach became evident in his batting, and, though it is saying much about a player who in Test matches--always going to the crease at a vital time in the England innings--has averaged 35.5 runs per innings in ten games, there is great hope of better things to come. Already Watson has gained in confidence.

Willie Watson was born at Bolton-on-Dearne, March 7, 1920. He was the second son to a Willie Watson who had made fame as a left-half with Huddersfield Town F.C., and, like his brother Albert, young Willie promised to have the family flair for sport. He was sent to the Paddock Council School, and before he left at 14 to become apprentice upholsterer he had earned representation with Huddersfield Boys at Soccer and had played for the Yorkshire Boys as a No. 5 batsman. He continued to play cricket with the Paddock Club in the Huddersfield League and football with Outlane F.C. in the Red Triangle League. At 16 he signed amateur forms with Huddersfield Town at Soccer, and a year later became a full-time professional. In 1946 he joined Sunderland F.C.

A not out 120 in a Sykes Cup match brought him to the notice of the Yorkshire County officials, and Mr. Herbert Robinson, the dynamic president of the Huddersfield League, never missed an opportunity of furthering the claims of this young cricketer.

Watson was invited to the Yorkshire nets and soon gained selection for the Second XI. He began with three ducks in succession, a pair of them against Lancashire II. Says Willie, "The only man who seemed to have faith in me still was Mr. Robinson; I had little myself." But the Yorkshire selectors, too, had faith. They picked him for the very next match against Staffordshire, and Watson scored 63. Before war came in the autumn of 1939 he had been selected for the Yorkshire first team, but his first appearance, against Essex, brought him yet another duck and four in the second innings, a game in which Yorkshire received their fourth defeat of the season.

During the war, when he was stationed at Rhyl as a Physical Training Instructor, Watson marked time with his cricket but forged ahead at football. He played for Western Command, Army, and F.A., and toured Italy with a representative side. But it was at Colwyn Bay at the end of the 1945 summer that Watson did himself the most good. Playing cricket for the local club against a strong Yorkshire and International side, he scored a century.

The Yorkshire players, and particularly the captain, Brian Sellers, were most impressed. In June 1946, as soon as he was released from the Forces, Watson was chosen to play for Yorkshire against Derbyshire at Chesterfield, and the same week-end--no doubt through Brian Sellers, who was a Test selector--he was chosen for a Test Trial at Canterbury. Watson was, so to speak, singled out for honours even before he had played one Championship game for his county.

He scored 61 in the second innings of the trial, but he did not continue with scores sufficient to bring him international honours. He had to wait until 1951 before he was selected for England against South Africa. He made his mark by steady, painstaking scores of 30's and 40's and brought a steadying influence to England's middle batting which too often had crumbled. He was chosen for all five Tests.

Watson played in one Test against India during 1952, a season in which he finished fifth in the All-England averages, and against Australia in 1953 he played the innings of his life to force a drawn game (with Trevor Bailey) in the second Test at Lord's. Watson at long last, just as Brian Sellers knew he would in 1946, had made his mark. The player was convinced he could play cricket well. When he received an invitation to tour West Indies with Len Hutton's team he readily accepted.

Now 33, he was easily persuaded to bring a football career which had brought him four caps for England and selection for the Rio World Cup side (1950) to a close. In his new-found confidence and full-time attention to cricket, Watson is one of our great hopes for the team which will visit Australia next winter with the intention of keeping The Ashes in England.

A most pleasing feature of Willie Watson's cricket is his chasing of a ball in the outfield. He is a beautiful runner who, like all good fieldsmen, is moving to the ball before it is hit towards him. He has a safe pair of hands and his judgment of the high catch or the point where a ground hit can be intercepted while on the full burst is superb.

Unfortunately, like many outfielders of long service, his throwing arm is not good. That important muscle on the point of the right shoulder went in that very first game he played for Yorkshire at Chesterfield in 1946, and since then Watson has sought to perfect a low trajectory throw employing, in the main, forearm and wrist. His fleetness of foot, on that account, is only of service in the saving of runs. The satisfaction of run-out victims by the dozen is denied him. -- W. E. B.

© John Wisden & Co