Graeme Watson (Don’t leave it too late)

‘The Cricketer’
by Kate Birrell


It is said that one of the worst things about a funeral is that the deceased is not present to hear all of the wonderful things said about them by those presenting eulogies. Felix “Uncle Bush” Breazeale (depicted by Robert Duvall in the movie Get Low) famously sought to avoid this problem by holding his funeral while he was still alive so he could hear what was said, and to say a few things of his own to the “mourners”. And so often we hear of someone we admired or respected who has passed away, possibly before their time, and we regret not having told them during their life of the reasons for our admiration or respect for how they lived or what they have done.


So when I read on this page last week that former Australian cricketer Graeme Watson had passed away at the young age of 75, I immediately felt shock and immense sadness, followed in time by a sense of relief, because here was one hero of mine for whom I had been given an opportunity to tell them what I thought about their deeds.


When I was a young bloke playing backyard cricket with my brother for hours on end and getting to the WACA as often as I could to watch games, the Western Australian team was just starting to become successful and, even better, was entertaining to watch. There was the sheer pace of Dennis Lillee and Graeme McKenzie, the swing bowling of Bob Massie and Ian Brayshaw and the beguiling spin of Tony Lock, Stuey’s dad Terry MacGill and Tony Mann. The principle that seemed to underpin the batting was to get in first and try to be 150 at lunch. The WACA pitch certainly encouraged that and the players selected didn’t know any other way; Colin Milburn, Derek Chadwick (also a fine footballer), Ken McAullay (another fine footballer) would tee off against some very fine attacks. Although the WACA pitched suited fast bowlers with its pace and bounce, those same characteristics – if you could stay in – made batting an absolute pleasure – with the ball coming fast onto the bat at a height conducive to cross bat shots. And there was always the fatal trap for visiting fast men of dropping the ball short at MCG or SCG lengths, which meant the batsman had enough time to see the ball and play those shots.


Another reason for this frenzied hitting in the 1970s was the availability of bonus points which encouraged batting as quickly (and as entertainingly) as possible. Inverarity and Ross Edwards would then bat for long periods before Rod Marsh and Brayshaw would come in and add the final 100 in 10 or 15 overs, before Garth, or Dennis, would push off the fence at the outer bar end (now the Lillee Marsh stand) with the aid of “the Doctor.”


This was a team on the verge of success and ready-made for the addition of Graeme “Beatle” Watson who came West from Victoria in 1971. With Watson in the side, WA won the Sheffield Shield in 1971-2, 1972-3 and 1974-5. In 1972 Watson toured England with the Australian team, rebuilding under Ian Chappell, one of six West Australians to tour (all of whom played in the series leveling Fifth Test at The Oval), and with a seventh, GD McKenzie, unlucky to have been excluded for David Colley and Jeff Hammond.


Most of the plaudits for the success of that WA team go to the likes of Lillee, Marsh and Inverarity, but I always felt that one of the most important factors in its success was having two classy all-rounders to call on, in Watson and Brayshaw who could take wickets (Brayshaw once took all ten) and could contribute heavily and quickly with the bat.


Watson made a hard-hitting 145 in his first innings for the state, against Queensland at the WACA, and immediately followed up with three wickets in the Queensland innings. What also became apparent before too long was that the state had also acquired an exceptional fielder close to the wicket with Watson pulling in a number of blinding catches in the gully. In an attack reliant on pace and swing bowling at the WACA, this was a useful and under-appreciated weapon.


Also under-appreciated was the speed of Watson’s bowling. He would bounce in off a relatively short run up with his Beatle-mop hair flopping and shining in the Perth sun and then deliver seamers and swingers at a pace which belied his usual introduction at second, sometimes third, change. His smooth bowling style was similar to McKenzie’s. Ian Chappell recently recalled Rod Marsh commenting that at times he would be standing as far back for Watson as he was for DK Lillee, which was some praise, because until Thommo came along, there was no one faster in Australia.


Watson was also a character, for which no other evidence is needed than the official photo of the 1972 Australian squad at Old Trafford with Greg Chappell standing in front of Watson with bunny ears emerging from his head.


It is a pity that there wasn’t more one day cricket around at the time because Watson with his all-round skills and superb fielding was a natural for it. In his first season for WA, the team played two of the short form games with Watson opening in both and smashing 95 and 99. On the 1972 tour he took Geoff Boycott’s wicket in a one-dayer at Old Trafford, a game in which he took the bowling honours for Australia.


Watson didn’t have a great tour of England. Nor it has to be said, a great Test career with a highest test score of only 50. But with a first class batting record averaging 32.68 with a top score of 176 and bowling with 186 wickets at 25.31 with a best of 6 for 61, you have to say he was an outstanding first class all-rounder. His numbers, for example, compare favourably with brilliant Australian all-rounder Alan Davidson (32.86, 129 and 20.9. 7/31). When the squads were chosen for World Series Cricket, he was offered a contract, moving to New South Wales for business, and to play against the best players in the world.


But getting back to the point of all this. When Graeme Watson played for WA I was 12 to 15 and cricket and footy mad. I was just starting to play cricket competitively and, consciously or unconsciously, I was looking for players to emulate and in whom I could find inspiration. I had learnt pretty quickly that I would never bowl as fast as Lillee or get it to loop about at will like Massie or Brayshaw. I could bat OK but couldn’t accumulate runs like Inverarity or Ross Edwards. I was a reasonable catch but didn’t have a great arm in the field like Edwards. Pretty quickly my favourite player became Graeme Watson. I wanted to play like him. It helped that he was, eponymously, a Beatles fan (as I was), and that he had played VFL  footy (for Melbourne) (although I couldn’t find a footy card of him!).


So, I opened the batting and tried to smack the loose ball. I tried to swing and cut the ball at first or second or third change. I fielded in the gully and caught or stopped most that came my way. I would go to the WACA and always felt something would happen when he was in the game. On Saturday afternoons, if we weren’t at the beach, and WA weren’t playing, but if Subiaco were playing at Rosalie Park, I would cycle down, assured that Watson would be featuring in the game one way or the other, and that, accordingly, the game would be worth watching. In 1973/74 he topped the A grade batting and bowling averages, playing for Subiaco, in an exciting team that included a young KJ Hughes, that won the pennant.


I continued to try and play like Watson when batting, bowling and fielding in the gully. Of course I never did play anything like he did and never achieved anything like the things he had, but there is no doubt in my mind that for the things I did achieve in the game and such success as I had, the inspiration was mostly down to the way he had played when I was a boy falling in love with the game.


And so it would have been a matter of great regret if I had not told him so before he passed away from cancer on April 24th. But this once, I had.


The Australian Cricket Society in Victoria has regular lunches with guest speakers who have been greats of the past. In August 2014, the guest was Graeme Watson and, in a meet and greet after lunch, I took the opportunity to tell him just a little of what an inspiration he had been to me growing up, how much I used to enjoy watching him play cricket and how I had tried, and conspicuously failed, to play like him. I told him he was my favourite cricketer and how I had, as a 14 year old cycled down to Rosalie park to watch him play for Subiaco. He didn’t give much away. He smiled a little as I fan-boyed, asked me what I had done in cricket, and thanked me for the kind words. He signed a program for me, I thanked him, we shook hands and I moved on. He was then 69 and hadn’t played for more than 30 years but I think he was just a little chuffed to have been remembered so fondly, so long after the cheers of the stadiums had long since faded away. I hope so.


I saw him one more time, in October last year, at another ACS lunch, this one the 50-year reunion and celebration of the Victorian team which won the 1969 Sheffield Shield with six players away on tour with the Australian team. Watson was vice-captain to Bob Cowper. I had a brief moment with him after the lunch and reminded him of our conversation in 2014 and he laughed to recall it. He seemed a little drawn and tired. I didn’t know of his illness. The next time I heard of him was in the eulogies by Brendan McCardle (on this page) and his old friend and roommate, Ian Chappell.


Apart from wanting to pay a heartfelt tribute to Graeme Watson, the moral of this tale is pretty self-evident. Tell your heroes what they mean to you when they are still around. Thank those to whom you feel you owe something in your life. Let people know that you appreciate what they have done. It might not matter. It might not mean anything to the person concerned.


But then again, it might just make their day.


And you never know how many you have left.




Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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  1. John Butler says

    John, you make Perth at that time sound like a great place to grow up.

    I’m glad you got to tell Graeme what you felt.

    You’re right. We often miss the chance.

  2. Peter_B says

    Wonderful memories and sentiments. Beautifully expressed John. We are the same vintage and I was a similar footy and cricket obsessive – but in South Australia. I had a liking for Graeme Watson but can’t have seen him more than a couple of times. I think it was the Beatles hair and the cavalier way he played. Cricket was still a conservative game in the 60’s and I yearned for players who expressed the spirit of the age.

  3. Kim Renner says

    Nothing could beat a summer Saturday at the WACA. Wooden paling benches, Fremantle doctor moderating the fierce heat of the midday sun, Weaver & Lock ginger beer in hand and a pleasant stroll through Queens Gardens to get the bus home. I will always cherish those times even though I have lived in Melbourne for the last 40 odd years and been to countless MCG games.

  4. roger lowrey says

    Great yarn John. As a youngster myself at the time who could do Graeme McKenzie’s bowling action better than he could, Watson was a big favourite.

    Of course he was a Victorian who played 16 VFL games with Melbourne, he toured RSA with Bill Lawry’s battered team in 1966 where he made heaps in a seventh wicket record with Keith Stackpole. He then bettered that in a 301 opening partnership with Stacky against Hampshire in 1972.

    My fav recollection though is where he opens for WA in a Shield game facing Jeff Thomson which he later recollected. First one? Nup, didn’t see it. Four wides. Second one? Just saw it passing left shoulder. Four byes. etc

    At the end of the first over WA were 0/16 and he hadn’t landed bat on ball!

    RIP Beatle.

  5. Excellent contribution, John. Graeme was an awesome talent, who I also loved watching. He was a game changer, dynamic in every facet of the game. He would have been a wonderful ‘white ball’ player as he was the epitome of the modern cricketer. Vale Graeme Watson. RIP.

  6. John Gordon says

    Thanks for the kind words all. Great yarn Roger. And yes Kim the WACA was such a wonderful spot. We would go to Queens Gardens for a chicken pie lunch with Dad under the statue of Peter Pan. By the time we got back to the shelter in the south east corner the lads in the outer bar would be firing up for an afternoon of barracking. The light always seemed brighter at the WACA than other grounds. I seem to recall that after play finished a flock of sheep would be herded onto the ground to keep the grass down! Course we would only see it if we hadn’t gone home to watch the last session on ABC television, described by Jim Fitzmaurice and Peter Loader. Great memories.

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