1921-2008 A trail-blazing Yorkshire captain of few words but many successes, by Stephen Chalke
Photograph: Hulton Archive/ Getty Images
Born into farming stock in the East Riding, Vic Wilson was a hard-hitting, left-handed batsman and an outstanding fielder for Yorkshire, especially close to the wicket. He did not win an England cap but he toured Australia under Len Hutton in 1954-55 and was on the field as 12th man in all five Tests.
Educated at Malton Grammar School, he made rapid progress as a young cricketer: a century at 14 in the East Yorkshire Cup, two summers of success at Scarborough, then a wartime spell at Undercliffe where he equalled a Bradford League record of three successive hundreds. When he was out for 75 the next week, the local headline read “Vic Wilson Fails”.
He played several times in Yorkshire’s Championship-winning side of 1946, scoring 74 against the touring Indians – though he remembered more keenly his pair at Sheffield, outwitted by Glamorgan’s offspinner Johnnie Clay. All through his career he was a better player of quick bowling.
His best summers were 1951, when he passed 2,000 runs, and 1954 when, in the cauldron of a Roses match, he played what he considered his finest innings, an unbeaten 130 on a difficult Old Trafford pitch.
Through the 1950s Yorkshire played in the shadow of the great Surrey side. But in 1959, captained by the amateur Ronnie Burnet, they became champions again, though the 38-year-old Wilson had his worst summer, spending the final month in the second team. His career was over, it seemed, and he was granted one last appearance: for the Champion County against the Rest at The Oval. He hit a century; then some weeks later, attending an open day at his children’s school, he was called to the phone and offered the Yorkshire captaincy. Not since 1882 had a professional led the county and many questioned the wisdom of the appointment.
He was a quiet, phlegmatic character in a team with several outsize personalities and, when his declaration backfired in his first game in charge, the great Herbert Sutcliffe expressed his displeasure. But, with a team with talents such as Fred Trueman, Brian Close and Ray Illingworth, the victories soon came, the Championship was won and his opponents were silenced. “If I’d made a lash-up of it,” he said, “it could have made trouble for years ahead.”
He was named one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year for that season. “Authority fitted him well,” Bill Bowes wrote. “Almost overnight a quiet firmness crept into his voice and there was purpose about his actions.”
He blamed himself for their finishing second in 1961 but at Harrogate in September 1962, in his final game for Yorkshire, he led them to a dramatic last-afternoon victory that regained the title.
That summer he had sent Trueman home when he arrived late at the ground at Taunton. “You can’t have one law for the rich and another for the poor,” he said simply, though Trueman never forgave him. He also introduced the young Geoffrey Boycott into the team: “He was very polite. He even called me sir, which was quite remarkable, especially after what Fred called me.”
On retirement he offered his services to the committee but was told he was not eligible. He went back to the farm, stayed out of the turmoil of later years and contented himself with visits to Scarborough, his favourite ground. He had played a major part in the county’s history but he was happy to sit without fuss on the terraces.
“I always used to look up at the clock when I was batting there,” he said. “That was my aim, to hit that clock. But I never did.”
Career record M R HS Avge 100s 50s W Avge Best CT
First-class 502 21650 230 31.33 30 119 9 48.33 2-1 549
John Victor Wilson was born on January 17, 1921 and died on June 5, 2008, aged 87.