Allan Watkins: Glamorgan and England all-rounder hailed by John Arlott as 'the best close-to-the-wicket fielder in the world'

When the great Australian batsman Donald Bradman walked to the middle for his final Test innings, at The Oval in 1948, he needed four runs to complete his career with a batting average of 100, almost 40 more than any other cricketer has ever achieved.

He was applauded all the way, by the England team as well as the crowd, and he played his first ball, a leg-break from Warwickshire's Eric Hollies, safely to the fielder crouched in front of him on the leg side. The next ball was a googly and, to the great shock of the packed ground, Bradman failed to read it and was bowled.

At short leg, and thus the last man to field a ball from Bradman in Test cricket, was Allan Watkins, whowas making his England debut,the first Glamorgan cricketer to play in an Ashes Test. His captain Norman Yardley had told him to go in close – "See the whites of his eyes" – sohe was better placed than anybodyto answer the age-old question.Had the ice-cool Bradman been affected by the warmth of his reception? "I can't say that," he said shortly before he died, "but I can tell you he was dry-eyed."

Watkins had a bad game. An all-rounder, he made 0 and 2 and was hit so badly on the shoulder by a Lindwall bouncer that he bowled only four overs. After the match he stayed in London for treatment, missing his county's vital game at Bournemouth where victory would take the championship title to Wales for the first time. He spent an anxious Tuesday afternoon at Hither Green railway station, buying every edition of the evening paper to keep up with the score in the Stop Press till the good news arrived.

Glamorgan, under the combative Wilf Wooller, were not a side blessed with star players, but they tookfielding, particularly close to thewicket, to a standard not previously known in the game. Watkins wasat the heart of this, his 40 victimsin the leg trap making him the leading catcher, other than wicketkeepers,in the country. John Arlott wrote that he was "without doubt the best close-to-the-wicket fielder in the world. He has caught the uncatchable so often as to have made the impossible his normal standard."

That winter Watkins toured South Africa, playing all five Tests. He took one of Test cricket's greatest catches at Durban, hit a maiden century at Johannesburg and secured England victory in the final Test at Port Elizabeth when he and Jack Crapp scored 19 frantic runs in the final 10 minutes. Yet he lost his place in the side the following summer, not regaining it till a tour of India in 1951-52 when the senior players were all rested. There, he headed the Test averages, saving the first match at New Delhi when in intense heat he scored an unbeaten, nine-hour 137. By the end his legs had gone. "I played one down leg side, I went to run, and I couldn't."

A labourer's son from Usk in Monmouthshire, he attended the local grammar school, but his interests were all sporting. He made his Glamorgan debut in 1939 and during the War, serving in the Royal Navy, he found time to play rugby union for Pontypool and football for Plymouth Argyle. Then in 1946, seven years on from his early county games, he returned to Glamorgan, becoming a vital part of their side for 15 summers. He admitted in later life that he had suffered from anxiety all through his career, smoking heavily and taking "a lot of pills" to calm his nerves: "I walked bloody miles waiting to bat; I couldn't sit down."

But he showed few signs of it at the crease, his adventurous left-handed stroke play in the middle order bringing him 32 centuries. Thirteen times he scored 1,000 runs in a season, twice he took 100 wickets with his left-arm medium pace, and he held 464 catches, second only to Peter Walker among Glamorgan cricketers. In those days of relentless six-day-a-week county cricket, not many reached such a standard in all the three disciplines of the game.

Struggling with asthma, he retired at the age of 39 during the summer of 1961. After a spell working in a borstal, he moved to the east of England, where he became a hugely popular cricket professional, first at Framlingham School in Suffolk, then at Oundle.

He was "old school", upholding the traditional values of the game in the nicest possible way, glad that he had played in the years he did when it was, in his words, "a wonderful game of friendship". He had a long and very close marriage, and almost to the end he stayed in Oundle in a house he called "Ellis Park", after the Johannesburg ground where he hit his first Test century. "It was a strenuous life," he said, "but I wouldn't change a minute of it."

Albert John Watkins, cricketer: born Usk, Monmouthshire 21 April 1922; played for Glamorgan 1939-61, and 15 Tests for England 1948-52; married 1942 Molly Shankland (died 2003; two sons, two daughters); died Kidderminster 3 August 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
house + home
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Life and Style
Bats detect and react to wind speed and direction through sensors on their wings
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living