DateLine: 20th December 2005
Although membership of the one cap club is always a bitter-sweet affair, the fact that Neil Williams was 28 when his chance came means he probably feared that he would never reach the Test arena. His attributes were sound enough – sharp pace, movement and a wicket taking capacity, but his selection was still a surprise, as he was too old to be one for the future, and his 1990 season had been a good, rather than great. The fact that his one Test came at The Oval (and against an Indian side thought to be vulnerable to pace) was no doubt not a coincidence. In the end the match was the sort of run-fest which the 1990 season produced with alarming regularity, and he returned figures of 2-148 as India declared on 606-9. However, if you’re only going to have two Test victims, they may as well be Mohammad Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar. Despite the pedigree of these wickets, Williams was overlooked for the Ashes Tour that winter, with Chris Lewis, Martin Bicknell and Gladstone Small being preferred. When injuries inevitably struck, Phil Defreitas and Phil Newport were summoned, and it was clear Williams was well down the pecking order. There had been early indications that Williams was getting close to an international call, as he was selected for the MCC in 1984 and an English Counties XI to tour Zimbabwe in 1984-5. Both of these were effectively England A Teams, and came after he had enjoyed some success in Sheffield Shield cricket with Tasmania in 1983-4. As often happens after a brief taste of international cricket, his returns faded away slightly for Middlesex after that, and although a move to Essex in 1995 brought some success, injuries were now, unsurprisingly, starting to bite. Many winters had been spent playing for the Windward Islands, where his First-class wickets had come at the excellent rate of 23.98. His greatest domestic success came in England though, where, with his new ball bowling, he helped Middlesex win the Championship in 1982, 1985, 1990 and 1993. Williams was also a competent lower-order batsman, capable of performing well at no.9. However, in his solitary Test he was given the dreaded night-watchman duty, although this allowed him to make an entertaining 38. As satisfactory as this was though, it is one of the vagaries of cricket that his one knock means he will always have a higher Test batting average than Mike Atherton, Graham Hick and Mark Ramprakash.
(Article: Copyright © 2005 Matthew Reed)