William Walter Keeton
April 30, 1905, Shirebrook, Derbyshire
October 10, 1980, Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, (aged 75y 164d)
Right hand bat
William Walter Keeton, who died on October 9, 1980, aged 75, was a great servant of Nottinghamshire and one of the many candidates for a place in the England side as an opening bat in the years immediately before the Second World War. In fact he played in only two Tests, v Australia at Leeds in 1934 and v West Indies at The Oval in 1939. Probably most people would reckon that the selectors were right, that he was a good county player but not quite Test class. He had a sound defence, was a fine cutter and also had a good cover drive, but what spectators will chiefly remember is his leg-side play and in particular his mastery of that difficult and neglected stroke, the on-drive. Moreover he was, as befitted a first-class soccer forward, a fine outfield. He first played for his county in 1926, but the Nottinghamshire batsmen of that era retained their skill almost undiminished to a patriarchal age and it was not until 1931 that the premature death of Whysall secured him a serious trial. He made the most of his opportunity, scoring his thousand runs with an average of 30 and making two centuries. For most of the season he had the valuable experience of opening with George Gunn. From then for twenty years his career was interrupted only by illness or injuries, of which he had more than his share; in January 1935 he was knocked down by a lorry and was lucky to be able to resume his place in the side late in June. But despite all this and the loss of six seasons in the War he reached his thousand runs on twelve occasions and made 54 hundreds. His highest score, 312 not out in seven and threequarter hours v Middlesex at The Oval ( Eton were playing Harrow at Lord's) in 1939, remains the only innings of 300 ever played for Nottinghamshire, and he is also one of the few batsmen to have scored a century against every county. From 1932 to 1948 his regular partner was that eccentric player, Charlie Harris, and a notable pair they were. On 45 occasions they put up three figures, fourteen times they exceeded 150 and five times 200. Twice they put up 100 in each innings. Their highest stand was 277 v Middlesex at Trent Bridge in 1933. Keeton was still as good as ever after the War, but Hutton and Washbrook had now established themselves as England's opening pair. As late as 1949 he scored 2,049 runs with an average of 55.37. In 1951, at 46, he lost his regular place in the side, but against Kent at Trent Bridge helped Simpson to put on 269 for the first wicket. A single match in 1952 concluded his career. In all he had scored 24,276 runs with an average of just under 40. After retiring he had a sports shop for a time and later worked for the National Coal Board.
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
Walter Keeton was, like so many other attractive and talented opening batsmen, born into an era when competition was stiff, and consequently he played only twice for England. At Leeds in 1934, after being twelfth man at Manchester, he opened with Cyril Walters in the enforced absence of Sutcliffe and made 25 and 12, falling to the deadly O'Reilly and Grimmett. He had to wait five years for his other Test appearance, and then, at The Oval, he played on to the first ball sent down by Tyrell Johnson, the West Indies fast left-arm bowler playing in his only Test. In the second innings Constantine bowled him for 20.
William Walter Keeton, who died in October at the age of 75, made just short of 25,000 runs in first-class cricket at a fraction under 40. Born at Shirebrook on April 30, 1905, he made his debut for Nottinghamshire in 1926. The death of 'Dodge' Whysall and the impending retirement of the remarkable George Gunn at last created an opportunity for him, and from 1931 until 1951 he was a valued member of the side, scoring 54 centuries (at least one against every other county), the highest being 312 not out against Middlesex at The Oval (Eton and Harrow were playing at Lord's). His innings lasted seven and a quarter hours and owed much to dropped chances: he was missed five times between 110 and 196. Besides this he made six double-centuries, the last two in 1949, when 44.
Just below the peak of the order of merit of county opening partnerships - the Brown-Tunnicliffe, Hobbs-Sandham, Sutcliffe-Holmes level - are found the likes of Keeton and Charlie Harris, who posted 45 century first-wicket stands, their highest 277 against Middlesex at Trent Bridge in 1933. Keeton and Harris, the one studious, highly-strung, superstitious and elegant, the other a comedian, erratic of mood and attitude, are enshrined in Nottingham sporting folklore.
Keeton, who also played soccer for Sunderland and Nottingham Forest, had rather more than an average share of bad luck. In 1932 he might have batted his way into the MCC side to Australia, but an injury in the first Test Trial and the complete wash-out of the second prevented his making an impression. A year later he struck a rich patch in the month of August, scoring 1102 runs, with six centuries. Any chance he might have had of Test honours in 1935 were scotched when he was knocked down by a lorry in January and had to spend four months in convalescence. It was a bad year for him. In the famous match at Bramall Lane in which Paul Gibb made a spectacular debut for Yorkshire, Keeton collided with an umpire and was knocked cold for several minutes. He did, though, go on to make a century. In the 1938-39 winter appendicitis came as another obstacle, but that summer came his record-breaking triple-century at The Oval.
After several seasons with Bingley in the Bradford League during the war, and a club record benefit of £3249 in 1947, he had another very successful season, 1949, when he made most runs for Notts, 1944 at 55.54 - this after a nasty blow in the chest when facing Lindwall the previous year when the county faced the Australians. After a bout of laryngitis in 1950, the Keeton-Harris partnership came together again for the Northants match, and, with 87 years between them, they put on 122 in the first innings and 151 unfinished in the second.
The new generation was firmly established now, and Keeton signalled it in with
a stand of 269 with Reg Simpson against Kent in 1951, making his own last century for the county. The following season saw his final appearance for Notts, but he did make 205 not out for the Second XI against Lincolnshire, the highest ever for the county in a Minor County match.
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