Wisden Obituary

Allan Watkins

WATKINS, ALBERT JOHN, died on August 3, 2011, aged 89. Allan Watkins was the last man to field a ball from Don Bradman's bat in a Test match. Making his debut for England at The Oval in 1948, he was asked to field at silly mid-off when Bradman arrived at the wicket for what turned out to be his final innings. "See the whites of his eyes," was the England captain Norman Yardley's instruction. Bradman pushed the first delivery, a leg-break from Eric Hollies, towards Watkins, before being bowled next ball by a googly. Some say Bradman, moved by the warmth of his reception, had a tear in his eye; Watkins, who was best placed to know, always maintained he did not.

A labourer's son from Usk in Monmouthshire, Watkins attended the local grammar school, but his interests were all sporting. He made his Glamorgan debut in 1939 and, during the war, when he served as a firefighter in the Royal Navy, he played rugby union for Pontypool and football for Plymouth Argyle. Then, in 1946, he returned to Glamorgan, where he was a key member of the side for 15 summers.

A short, muscular man, he started out as an adventurous middle-order left-hander whose spin bowling was rarely used. But by the summer of 1948, when Glamorgan won their first Championship, he had become a genuine all-rounder, developing into a left-arm medium-pacer who bowled more than 500 overs, and a short-leg fielder as good as any in the world. John Arlott wrote: "He has caught the uncatchable so often as to have made the impossible his normal standard." His call-up by England at the end of that summer made him the first Glamorgan cricketer to play in the Ashes.

The following winter, Watkins played all five Tests in South Africa. At Durban, he took one of Test cricket's greatest catches (Dudley Nourse, the opposing captain, off Doug Wright), hit a maiden century at Johannesburg, and secured England victory in the last Test at Port Elizabeth, where he and Jack Crapp scored 21 frantic runs in the final ten minutes. Yet he lost his place next summer, not regaining it until a tour of India in 1951- 52, when the senior players were rested. There he headed the Test averages, saving the first match at Delhi with an unbeaten nine-hour 137 in intense heat. According to Donald Carr, Watkins planned to give the leg-spinner Sadu Shinde "some terrible clout" once he had saved the game. But by then "he was absolutely exhausted. He couldn't reach mid- off." In all, Watkins played 15 Tests: among Glamorgan cricketers, only Robert Croft and Simon Jones have played more for England.

His county captain, the hard-to-please Wilf Wooller, called him "a splendid chap in adversity", yet Watkins had an anxious disposition, smoking heavily and taking pills to calm his nerves. "I walked bloody miles waiting to bat," he confessed. "I couldn't sit down." Even so, he managed 1,000 runs in a summer 13 times. Twice, in 1954 and 1955, he also took 100 wickets. With his close catching, he was that rare thing in English cricket: a master in all three disciplines. Struggling with asthma, he retired at the age of 39 during the summer of 1961. After a spell working in a borstal, Watkins moved to the east of England, where he became a hugely popular cricket professional, first at Framlingham School in Suffolk, then at Oundle.

© John Wisden & Co