William Edward Alley
February 03, 1919, Hornsby, Sydney, New South Wales
November 26, 2004, Taunton, Somerset, England, (aged 85y 297d)
Left hand Bat
Right arm Medium fast
Bill Alley would surely be in the top Somerset XI of all times: mainly for his joyfully muscular, often unorthodox batting and frugal medium-paced bowling; but also for his non stop one-way conversations with team-mates and opponents in the vicinity of the crease, for speaking his mind, sinking his pints with convivial relish and, above all, for the sheer measure of entertainment he brought to the game.
He was loved by the Taunton crowds, even if a little less so by a few younger pros cowed by his unequivocal Aussie observations on their performance, and certainly by one or two committee members whose authority and decisions he fearlessly dismissed. He bristled when Colin Atkinson, a schoolmaster of limited county experience, was chosen ahead of him to replace Harold Stephenson as captain. Just as galling for him was the way he was eventually sacked; the offer of some Sunday League and Gillette Cup matches as a sop was rapidly rejected by him, accompanied by an eloquent Aussie oath.
Bill was 50 by then. His age had always been a matter of good-humoured debate ("I kept the mystery going, picking up a few cheques from the national papers on the strength of it"). Someone who felt Alley still had some proper cricket left in him was Geoffrey Boycott. "He actually told me he'd be captaining Yorkshire and would I like to join them? I wish I'd asked him to put it on paper." Instead he turned to umpiring from 1969-84, standing in 10 Tests. He had no nonsense with famous names and prima donnas. "But I was nervous for my first game as an umpire, Middlesex v Essex at Lord's. Some of the players played a few tricks on me, taking their sweaters after four or five balls to confuse me. Once, when Freddie Titmus was batting, I put out my hand at square-leg and so nearly took a catch."
By the time he came to Somerset in 1957, after playing league cricket with popular success for Colne and Blackpool, he was 38. He'd just crashed a century in a charity match against Stephenson and the wicketkeeper suggested he might like to play some county cricket. Alley liked the idea, though he was intent on completing his contract with Blackpool first. He was a man of principle.
He went on to play 12 seasons for Somerset, passing 1,000 runs 10 times, scoring 24 hundreds including a bludgeoned double century at Nuneaton. In all he totalled 16,644 runs for the county. In 1961 he utterly monopolised the crease and was the last county player to top 3,000 runs. He was more proud of his achievement the following summer when he did the double for the first time.
Beneath the craggy façade was a sentimental and sensitive man. His relationship with his native country - he'd played for New South Wales and was once confidentially and inaccurately told by Don Bradman that he'd be in the tour party for New Zealand with possibly inclusion for the visit to England in 1948 - was an uneasy one. He believed it was resented that he chose to come here to play league cricket and to live.
Bill was many things: southpaw welterweight, dancehall bouncer, manual worker. And he had an opinion on most things. He won matches because of his competitive nature. Yet he will be remembered, especially in the West Country, for those cherished cross-batted fours and sixes. He was made for rustic Somerset, where he shot rabbits, played skittles and kept sheep. His wife, Betty was never far from his side, including the last few years when he struggled with ill health. He leaves two sons.
The Wisden Cricketer
Batting & Fielding
Umpire & Referee