Almanac Cricket Obituary: Brendan McArdle remembers Graeme Watson

 

 

The recent passing of former Australian cricketer Graeme Watson was warmly acknowledged at Cricinfo by soulmate and former skipper Ian Chappell last weekend. Chappelli no doubt held the all-rounder’s game in the highest esteem, and the two must have been great mates off-field.

 

It prompted some thinking about both Watson and that era of Australian cricket. Five Tests and two ODIs definitely doesn’t put him in the upper-echelon company of a certain Mr. Watson of more recent times; maybe Mitch Marsh is a more realistic comparison, and that’s probably stretching it. Simon O’Donnell might be closer. But there was a definite mystique around Graeme Watson for any young cricketer growing up in the 1960s and 70s in Melbourne.

 

He was at one stage regarded in a similar way to his Melbourne Cricket Club and Aussie teammate, Paul Sheahan. They were a level above in all respects. You didn’t really play against players like Sheahan, you observed them with awe. And Watson had the added attraction of having played footy for Melbourne before injuries curtailed his winter pursuit.

 

 

 

Watson’s journey took him to WA where he was a vital member of their highly successful Shield teams in the early 70s before business commitments took him to Sydney and a brief period playing for NSW.

 

I played in his last Shield game,at the MCG in 1977, not long before the Centenary Test in March of that year. He and David Colley were the veterans in that NSW side, though it’s probably fair to say that they were no longer at their peak. Like many NSW players of that era, they were the ‘cool’ guys from Sydney who seemed to have all the fun. We were the battlers from down south who only had our Aussie Rules.

 

There was also a young bloke named Border playing, but my memories of the game revolve around Lenny Pascoe’s aggression and the fact I played the luckiest innings of my life. Teammate ‘Larry’ Laughlin reminded me of that in no uncertain terms when I returned to the dressing room.

 

I was accompanied at the crease by leg-spinner Colin Thwaites, an affable colleague at Rusden Teacher’s College at the time, and his was a story in itself. Plucked from St Kilda’s ranks after a handful of club games the previous season, he had had the dubious distinction of going for 28 off one over against David Hookes at the Adelaide Oval a few weeks earlier.

 

That over was my first ever on a field in a first-class match. I was a late call-up and didn’t arrive until mid-afternoon. I was a nervous wreck on the mid-wicket boundary as Hookesy sent four sixes sailing over my head. They were eight-ball overs in those days and the last of them, not surprisingly, got stuck in Thwaites’ fingers and dribbled down the pitch. Hookes duly responded with a theatrical defensive block. Only David could do that.

 

Chappell’s recall of his and Watson’s tour of England in 1972 prompted some reminiscing and the unearthing of some amazing information surrounding the tour, not least Bob Massie’s remarkable 16-wicket Test at Lord’s and Keith Stackpole’s status as one of the world’s best openers at the time. The ’72 Ashes was widely regarded as the birth of a new era in Australian cricket and resulted in a surge in the popularity of the game soon afterwards.

 

It saw the emergence of a new vibrancy under the leadership of Chappell and confirmed the arrival of champions Dennis Lillee, Greg Chappell and Rod Marsh. And Jeff Thomson wasn’t far away from exploding onto the scene.

 

The series was drawn 2-2 when Australia won the final Test at The Oval, and that final day’s play became the first ever screened live back to Australia. Things were organised a little differently back then: there were eleven county matches played before the First Test and 22 first class games overall, apart from the Tests.

 

Doug Walters’ return of 57 runs from four Tests made David Warner’s campaign last year look like a run feast, while Johnny Gleeson took 3 wickets in the first three Tests before being dropped for Ashley Mallett. But at the end there was a real sense that ‘our’ team was up and going.

 

The players were away from home for 149 days, leaving Australia on April 18th and returning on September 7th –  think of Paddy Dangerfield, Rory Sloan and other AFL ‘hub’ objectors  –  and received the princely sum of $2600, the equivalent of $28,000 today. No wonder Chappell led the charge to World Series Cricket five years later!

 

But for all that, I’m sure all and sundry had a great time and have some rich memories. Douggie, Chappelli and their mate ‘Beatle’ Watson would have made sure of that.

 

Vale Graeme Watson.

 

Read Ian Chappell’s tribute to Graeme Watson here.

You can see Graeme Watson’s cricket career statistics by clicking here.

You can see Graeme Watson’s VFL career statistics by clicking here.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Roseville Rocket says

    Thanks Brendan,

    I always thought that he’d played in Melbourne’s 1964 premiership team, but evidently not according to Wikipedia.

    Great to read about cricketers playing Shield and club cricket.

  2. Luke Reynolds says

    Fantastic tribute Brendan. I.Chappell’s article was superb. I’ve heard comparisons of Watson’s style to that of Ben Stokes. A pity his “Tests” in the 1971/72 Rest of the World series aren’t included as official like the later 2005 Test against the World XI.

  3. Grand tribute. Australia was always searching for Test allrounders after Keith Miller. They are a staple of any test side now. Benaud and Davidson were bowlers who could bat. But Watson was one of the few allrounders until Gary Gilmour.

  4. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks Brendan ! Fantastic tribute yes I was there watching the ball sail over your head it was a lovely sight.
    Fair comparison re Graeme Watson and Simon O Donnell i admit I thought,Watson slightly underachieved but v v unlucky re injuries

  5. Thanks for this, Brendan.
    Vale Graeme Watson.

  6. Paul Robinson says

    Great article as always Brendan, a real Dandy ;)

  7. I can’t recall the South African tour of 1966-67, being in short pants in that time. Watson made his top test score on debut, then fell out of favour with the national selectors for a few seasons.

    My primary memories of Graeme Watson is making 145, retired, on debut for Westralia. Then he got a national recall for the series V the Rest of the World. Tony Greig ‘sconned’ him with a beamer in the match @ the ‘G’. Luckily enough he’d recovered to tour England in 1972.

    That Australia V Rest of the World match @ the ‘G’ saw Sir Garfield Sobers follow a golden duck, with a 254.

    Vale Graeme Watson.

    Glen!

  8. Mic Rees says

    Hello Brendan.

    Your wonderful tribute to Graeme Watson inspired me to do a little looking into his early days with the Melbourne Cricket Club.

    He made his senior debut as a 16 year old on Remembrance day 1961 against South Melbourne at the Albert Ground and took 0/27 as South smashed an impressive 7/375. Future state and national team mate Ian Redpath slaughtered the MCC bowling on the way to 193 (run out). It was Redpath’s highest score in 23 seasons of District cricket. Melbourne replied with 220 the following Saturday, with Watson contributing 11. Forced to follow on their second innings closed at 4/53, Watson unbeaten on 15.

    Graeme Watson was named on the reserve bench for his 18th and final senior appearance for the Melbourne Football Club on Saturday 5 June 1965. The Round 8 clash against Carlton at Princes Park was billed as the showdown between the “master” and the “pupil” as it was the first time Ron Barassi coached against his mentor Norm Smith. The reigning premier prevailed 13.17-95 to 6.22-58. Neither Watson or Hugh Bromell, the Demon’s 19th and 20th men, got a run that afternoon.

    Thanks again Brendan, take care and stay safe.

    MCR

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