My roomie 'Beatle'

Ian Chappell pays tribute to his first touring room-mate Graeme Watson

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
Boycott c Marsh b Watson. Marsh says that at times he was standing as far back for Beatle as he was for Lillee  •  Getty Images

Boycott c Marsh b Watson. Marsh says that at times he was standing as far back for Beatle as he was for Lillee  •  Getty Images

You never forget your first touring room-mate; it's not quite a love-of-your-life remembrance but a fond recall.
My first room-mate on a five-month tour of Rhodesia (modern-day Zimbabwe) and South Africa in 1966-67 was Graeme Donald Watson. His nickname was Beatle as he wore his hair long like the 'Fab Four'. He was chosen as the replacement for Doug Walters who was called up for Army national service.
Beatle was a genuine allrounder who batted in the top six for Victoria and bowled hit-the-deck-hard medium-fast. Before the tour, I'd played against Graeme, but I really only knew him as a slightly unusual Victorian in that he stayed around for a beer after play.
On a five-month tour where you're regularly cooped up in the same room, you get to know a guy pretty well. The friendship is either a lasting one or it runs out of steam pretty quickly. In our case, it remained firm until Friday, when sadly cancer claimed the Beatle's life.
There are many fond memories of that tour. We shared a lot together including a solid partnership against Eastern Province where we both completed our first centuries for Australia. The match was played at St George's Park, which was then known as Pollockville because of the presence of the brothers, Peter the fast bowler and Graeme, one of the pre-eminent Test batsmen of the time.
The second-innings battle of the Graemes ended with Pollock c Chappell b Watson 120.
After commencing his debut Test at Newlands with an impressive half-century, Beatle injured his ankle while bowling and finished up on crutches with his leg in plaster. That resulted in the unusual sight of late-night crutch races being held in the corridors of Deals Hotel in East London, with the other participants being the fully capacitated but slightly inebriated Dave Renneberg, Brian Taber and yours truly.
Unfortunately for Beatle injuries dogged his sporting life.
I toured with Beatle again in 1972 but by that time I was captain and enjoyed a single room, so he had to make do with second best. He'd been included in the touring party despite suffering a near-death experience after an incident at the MCG in the Rest of the World series of 1971-72.
I was batting with Watson when an unintentional beamer from Tony Greig hit him in the nose and he was carted off the ground bleeding profusely. He was extremely unfortunate as Greig's delivery was affected when his bowling hand hit the stumps and Watson top-edged a ball that would've hit him in the chest if his attempted pull shot had missed.
It was only on that 1972 tour when I met one of his nurses at a social function that I found out Beatle had actually stopped breathing for a while when he was in hospital. It was typical of Beatle to say very little about the incident; he made light of any injury and at times was too brave for his own good.
That serious injury occurred on January 5 but with a fervent desire to be selected for the 1972 tour of England, he defied doctors' orders and played against South Australia on February 26. In the second innings with a gale blowing in the direction from mid-off to fine leg, I told fast bowler Kevin McCarthy the only option was to operate with a strong leg-side field.
A bouncer from McCarthy struck Watson on the side of the head and for a moment my heart sank. Fortunately, it was only a glancing blow and he successfully continued his innings.
In another season, he bowled for Western Australia with a broken bone in his leg and Rod Marsh swears that at times he was standing as far back for Beatle as he was for Dennis Lillee.
However, there was one injury that did stop him; a broken jaw. A talented dual sportsman, he was in the Melbourne Football Club squad that won the 1964 Victorian Football League grand final. When he suffered two broken jaws in quick succession during the 1965 season, that brought his football career to an abrupt halt. On that South African tour, whenever Keith Stackpole wanted to annoy Beatle, he'd call out, "Hey, glass jaw."
His cricket career involved playing for three states Victoria, WA and New South Wales. During regular drink sessions with a group of mates it was a standard joke to claim that he played with four states - he was selected for Queensland but joined World Series Cricket instead - the same number as he had wives.
I was in the official party at his first wedding which was attended by then Australian prime minister Harold Holt. I was unable to attend any of the other ceremonies which was unfortunate because it precluded me from using the hilarious line of England's fast bowling funnyman John J Warr.
When JJ attended England batsman Bill Edrich's fifth wedding he was asked, "Which side - bride or groom?" Without a flicker of a smile, he answered, "Season's ticket."
I know his last two wives well, Karina with whom he sired two beautiful girls in Laura and Louisa, and Jan who was at his side when he passed away. Beatle had generously offered a kidney to Jan who needed a transplant, but the dreaded cancer diagnosis put an end to that plan. Fortunately, Jan received a transplant and is now recovering well.
Watson had a successful business life after sport, cleverly maximising his qualifications as an architect. He excelled in solutions for sports stadium management and was involved in that capacity in the highly successful Sydney Olympic precinct.
His architectural background stood out in the functional design of his house at Burradoo in the NSW Southern Highlands and the farmhouse on his property at Wollombi, just north of Sydney. That was a favourite venue as a 'male retreat' and I have fond memories of the sessions enjoyed there with Tabsy and Beatle that made allowances for one female - our dog Bella.
Beatle lived a very full life and he was looking forward to caring for Jan in her post-operation period, but unfortunately, the tables were turned and it was she who lovingly cared for him.
His last public act was a selfless one as usual. Even in struggling health, he offered to help the Southern Highlands District Cricket Association raise funds for junior development.
This culminated in a sold-out dinner in early March which provided much-needed funds for the association. Beatle - with his voice fading - made a fine speech that night, full of common sense and with a vision for the future.
It was a long journey from Salisbury (now Harare) to Burradoo, but it was a successful one, with a lot of laughs along the way.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist