An obdurate and versatile left-handed batsman and superb fielder, Willie Watson is best remembered for the almost six-hour stand with Trevor Bailey at Lord’s in 1953 which saved the match for England and enabled them to seal a long-awaited Ashes victory with a single win at the Oval some weeks later.
Watson’s innings of 109 was the first of only two Test centuries, but sealed his place in cricket history. He was one of a handful of men to have represented England at both cricket and football and remains justly celebrated at Sunderland AFC as a swift and elegant right-wing half who played over 200 league games for the club.
Willie Watson’s stand with Trevor Bailey at Lord’s in 1953 was probably the definitive rearguard action in English cricket history before Michael Atherton defied South Africa at Johannesburg 42 years later. England began the final day needing to bat out time to save the match having already lost their first 3 wickets for just 12 runs. Willie Watson was 3 not out. Few gave them much hope, and only 14,000 turned up to watch. But with what Wisden described as ‘gallant resistance’ Watson batted solidly for 5 ¾ hours, four of them in partnership with the obdurate Bailey. It was not attractive on the eye, although they struck 27 fours between them, but it saved the game for England and held the series level at 0-0, where it would remain until England sealed victory at the Oval, and with it their first Ashes series in twenty years.
Willie Watson (1920-2004)
23 Tests for England averaging 25.85 with the bat
Wisden Cricketer of the Year 1954