Middlesex and England bowler
Monday 03 April 2006
Neil Fitzgerald Williams, cricketer: born Hopewell, St Vincent 2 July 1962; (one son with Valdene Parris; one son with Camille Shallow); died Kingstown, St Vincent 27 March 2006.
Neil Williams, whose death at 43 from pneumonia came as a sad surprise to the cricket world, was one of those able Caribbean cricketers of English birth or upbringing who changed the championship from 25 years ago. Northern counties who had benefited from the stream of ambitious youngsters escaping the mills and mines found these sources drying up, while the South-East grew immensely stronger from the talent emerging in London's ethnic minorities.
Born in St Vincent in 1962, Williams, not the tallest nor the fastest of the many West Indian fast bowlers then around, came to England as a 13-year-old, joined MCC Young Professionals from Hornsey and graduated into a Middlesex team along with Roland Butcher, Wilf Slack and Norman Cowans, all with similar backgrounds. His 479 wickets in a 12-year career with the county was a valuable contribution to four championship-winning Middlesex teams.
Neil Williams was an accurate right-arm bowler, with a dangerous faster ball and late outswing, and a useful lower-order batsman. He took 63 wickets at an average of 26.33 in 1982 and was capped the following year. In 1990, when Chris Lewis was a late withdrawal, he played in his one Test match for England, against India at the Oval, and although his figures read 2-148 he was proud that his victims were Sachin Tendulkar and Mohammad Azharuddin and that he contributed 38 runs as a nightwatchman.
But "Nelly" will be best remembered for his flowing run-up, his gentle courtesy and his religious beliefs. He was immensely popular, "always giving his absolute best", in the words of Mike Brearley, his captain at Middlesex. He also played for Windward Islands and for Essex later in his career, and was coach to the St Vincent Academy for Kids when he died.
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