John Rogers
Jan 25 2019

Billy Watson was a former Australian Test Cricketer who played 4 Tests making his debut against England at the Sydney Cricket Ground on 25 February 1955. Bill passed away on 29 December 2018 at the age of 87.

The story below is from my book Mr St George – Warren Saunders and the culture of success he inspired.

Always graceful and often flamboyant, Billy Watson amassed almost 8,700 runs for St George at an average of 45. He tallied 500 runs in a season 12 times. Yes, 12 times.

That he should be so consistent was reflected in a comment he once made: “I may fail twice, but I won’t fail a third time.” He wasn’t boasting, just stating what he thought was an obvious with his typical, remarkable confidence.

Short, trim, yet immensely strong thanks to working in the wholesale potato business he took over from his father, Bill feared no bowler, always cocking a snoot at the most fearsome – Wes Hall, Ray Lindwall, Gordon Rorke, Alan Davidson – and, as he approached 40 years of age, the fearsome Thommo and Lennie Pascoe. He also loved taking on the top spinners – Benaud, Philpott and Martin.

He was a remarkable cutter. An opposing captain who failed to set a deep third man in the opening overs of the game would often rue it. Any delivery rising above off stump or outside, would often race to the fence via a Watson flick of the wrists. He flicked just as easily behind square leg, and drove in copybook style through the covers. He was a consummate fieldsman and for two years an excellent stand-in wicketkeeper.

Billy could be prickly at time, as he insisted on the highest of standards on and off the field. After the Sutherland spin-off in 1965, he was an ideal counterpoint to Warren Saunders and Brian Booth in bring on the youngsters. Where they “man managed”, Billy made no allowances. And it worked. The young players took his word as gospel. He said in later years that it was the most enjoyable part of his career that lasted more than 20 years. He rarely kicked on after a match but was great fun when he did. Years later, in his mid 80’s, he could still entertain with stories about his cricketing days.

The 1950s was an exciting period for NSW cricket as youngster after youngster produced outstanding performances: 16-year-olds Ian Craig and Bob Simpson being perhaps the most stunning, followed closely by Benaud, Davidson, Burke, Booth, Saunders, Marks, Thomas, de Courcy and several others. Billy Watson had plenty of competition for higher honours.

Arriving at St George in 1953-54 from Waverley, aged 22, Billy settled in so well he was chosen for NSW for the last match of the season when the Test players were missing, and scored a very fine 82.

His second game for NSW put his name up in lights.

As the 1954-55 Ashes-winning England team arrived in Sydney to play NSW, Billy was called in as a late replacement on the evening before the match. This time, forgoing for once being up at 3am to do his job at the Sydney fruit and vegetable market, on the second morning Billy walked out to open the batting against Frank “Typhoon” Tyson, who later in the season was to destroy the Australian batting line-up. Billy walked off with a 155 to his name. It earned him a call-up to the Australian team for the last two tests and the tour of the West Indies that followed, as well as adding to his collection of wonderful stories. Sadly his test career did not take off nor did his career for NSW despite making a double hundred on the WACA and 198 against Queensland.

Yet for St George he was both consistent and wonderful to watch. Billy Watson was an ornament to the club and the game.

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John Rogers
Former NSW First Class Cricketer and selector. Former Western Australian Cricket Association General Manager. Currently own a Cricket Ground and Tourism facility in rural Victoria. Proud father of former Australian test cricketer Chris Rogers.