Don Wilson: Cricketer and stalwart of the 1960s Yorkshire side
He became famous locally when he bowled Len Hutton third ball during a pre-season game
Saturday 04 August 2012
Don Wilson carried an historical burden for most of his 17-year playing career and succeeded in becoming an England player, and MCC's head coach, through his unwavering zest, essential good nature and bubbling optimism. He first appeared in the Yorkshire team in 1959 as the hastily promoted successor to the sacked Johnny Wardle, expected to continue the line of great slow left-hand bowlers stretching from Ikey Hodgson in the mid-1800s through Ted Peate, Bobby Peel, Wilfred Rhodes and Hedley Verity. It was inevitable that he suffered by comparison yet he was capable enough, especially under Brian Close's leadership, to become an integral part of the Yorkshire team that dominated the 1960s.
Wilson came from Settle, near the Lancashire border, not one of cricket's famous breeding grounds, but he was fortunate in that the Yorkshire committee had a member from that part, while a close friend of Len Hutton's lived in the town. He emerged through the Ingleton school team and the Settle club side and became famous locally during a pre-season friendly against a Yorkshire XI on a Sunday afternoon in 1953 when he bowled Hutton third ball. "It seemed everyone packed up their sandwiches and left the ground, all except my mum and dad, who sat in an excited huddle down bb the scorebox," he recorded in his engaging 1992 biography Mad Jack.
The following April he was called to the Headingley nets, where he faced Fred Trueman limbering up. After his stumps had been scattered for a fourth time he was asked by the chief coach, the irascible Arthur Mitchell, what he did for a living. "I'm a joiner, sir," he replied. "Well fetch some bloody timber and board thy end up."
Yorkshire thought enough of his bowling to keep calling and in 1957, after he had received an offer from Kent, he played in a trial, made his second XI début in May and his first-class début in June, when Wardle was playing for England. But for Wardle's acrimonious departure the following year Wilson might have had to follow his close friend Jack Birkenshaw to further his career with another county.
Wilson was a tall, lean bowler of many angles. He had less power of spin than Wardle, less of his accuracy and none of his variety, but he was a tremendous fielder, a mid-wicket of the highest class who, with Ken Taylor on the opposite side was reckoned to save Yorkshire 50 runs an innings. He was also extremely agile to his own bowling and when directed by Close a master of setting intimidatory fields. He could be a match-winner bowling in partnership with the acutely parsimonious Ray Illingworth. He was a useful tail-end batsman as well, dangerous to all but quick bowlers. He was very popular with his team-mates, an amateur song-and-dance man of some repute (forming a famous evening partnership with Phil Sharpe).
He toured New Zealand the winter of 1960-61 in what would today be called an "A" tour. He also toured, at senior and other levels, India, Sri Lanka and Australia and New Zealand and played six times for England .His best summer was in 1968, by which time the domestic game was changing quickly, and to the detriment of finger spinners. Wilson's later career coincided with that of the rising Kent left-armer Derek Underwood, a quicker, more controlled bowler much more suited to the prevailing conditions .
When Close was sacked and Geoffrey Boycott was appointed captain in 1970, with Wilson, his senior, as vice captain, he knew his future with Yorkshire was in doubt. Without Close's moral and physical support Wilson declined as a bowler and it became clear that he did not enjoy the new captain's confidence.
Wilson recorded an instance in 1972 with huge pleasure. Boycott had scored a century in a benefit game at York and the PA announcer, well aware of the dressing room strains, announced that "a collection would be taken to mark Geoff Boycott's 100 and then donated to Don Wilson's benefit fund". Boycott, who knew nothing of any such arrangement was, said Wilson, "apoplectic".
He played in six Tests from 1964-71 and in his first class career scored one century, finishing with 6,230 runs at an average of 14 and 1,189 wickets at 21. Some of his 250 catches were spectacular.
At the end of the 1974 season Wilson, Sharpe and Richard Hutton, usually regarded as the nucleus of the anti-Boycott faction, all left Yorkshire. Wilson, who had coached regularly in South Africa, after a brief stint with Lincolnshire, became coach to the Wanderers' Club in Johannesburg. He also became one of the first coaches assigned to the townships, recalling that 300 children turned up at his first session.
These experiences, together with his expertise at communication and his popularity, led to his becoming MCC's head coach at Lord's, where for 13 years he was regarded as the best in England. On his retirement from there he greatly enjoyed an Indian summer coaching the boys of Ampleforth College. He was not one of the great players but he will be more warmly remembered than most.
Donald Wilson, cricketer and coach: born Settle 7 August 1937; married twice; died 21 July 2012.
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