Betty Wilson: Superb Australian all-rounder who was a pioneer of women's cricket

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The Independent Online

Betty Wilson, who was regarded as Australia's - and one of the world's - all-time greatest women's cricketers, has died aged 88. In an era with few opportunities for women in cricket (and many deep-seated prejudices) she became a doyen of the sport.

Wilson, dubbed "the female Don Bradman", made a sensational start to her international Test career when she scored 90 and took 10 wickets against New Zealand in 1948. On her Ashes debut the following season she scored 111, the first Australian woman to score a Test hundred against England.

She also took nine wickets, which ultimately helped Australia to win back the Ashes. Over her 10-year international career she claimed a number of records.

In the 1957-58 series, Wilson produced an outstanding all-round performance against England and became the first Test cricketer - male or female - to make a century and claim 10 wickets in a game. In the first innings, she tore through England with seven wickets for seven runs, including the first hat-trick in women's Test cricket, a feat not repeated until Pakistan's Shaiza Khan did the same in 2004. Wilson's bowling record for the match was actually 11 for 16 runs.

Born in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood on 21 November 1921, Elizabeth Rebecca Wilson was the daughter of a bootmaker. As a child she possessed natural athleticism and could "run like a hare", which led to her participating in many sports. For entertainment, and because it catered for boys and girls of all ages and abilities, she played cricket, but after a chance encounter with the local women's cricket team while they were training, she was given the opportunity to join, which she did at the age of 10. A fine right-hand bat, a deadly off-spin and a superb close fielder, she learned her game by playing in the street and by devising her own training, which included hitting a ball enclosed in one of her mother's stockings, which she would suspend from a clothes line. She was in Victoria's second XI at 14 and progressed to the state team two years later, but because of the Second World War did not make her Test debut until the age of 26. She left school at the age of 13, attended business college and got a job as an office assistant.

Wilson, who was never paid for playing, was a consummate professional in an amateur era. Unlike her team-mates, who practised once a week, she trained every day. She believed that you could never practice enough and was always looking to improve. This was borne out when she turned down two marriage proposals in order to pursue a life in cricket. It was a choice she never regretted.

Following Australia's 1951 tour of England, where Wilson impressed and enjoyed some notoriety, she decided to stay for a few years and experienced the King's funeral procession and Queen Elizabeth's coronation. Wilson, at the age of 37, retired at the top of her game in 1958 following England's tour and Australia's retention of the Ashes. She maintained a strong interest in women's cricket well after her retirement.

In 1985 she became the first women's cricketer to be inducted into the Australian Sports Hall of Fame, and her name adorns the trophy for the National Under-21 Women's Championships.

In 2005 she was awarded an honorary baggy green cap with the number 25.Cricket Australia chairman, Jack Clarke, said that Wilson was highly regarded as a pioneer in women's cricket and a player of rare skill and work ethic. In 11 Test matches she averaged 57.46 with the bat, with three centuries, and took 68 wickets, at an average of 11.80.

Martin Childs

Elizabeth Rebecca Wilson, cricketer: born Melbourne, Australia 21 November 1921; died Melbourne 22 January 2010.

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