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Betty Wilson

Betty Wilson

More information about Betty Wilson can be found in the AWAP register.

Born in Abbotsford, Melbourne, on November 21, 1921, Betty Wilson is the second child in a family of four siblings, all of whom, in her words 'are getting on now'. Her father worked all his life as a boot and shoe maker for a local manufacturer in Collingwood; her mother had her hands full looking after the family and creating the loving home environment that Betty remembers fondly. When Betty was about ten and half, the family moved up the hill from Abbotsford to Clifton Hill. Seventy-five years later, she still lives in the house she moved into when she was ten. Betty has not lived there all her life; she has travelled, lived and worked overseas and in Western Australia. But the Collingwood district is where she was born and bred, where she learned how to play sport and where she developed the skills that made her one of the finest women's cricketers the world has seen play. On her debut against New Zealand, she scored 90 and took 4/37 and 6/28. In her second Test, she scored 111 against England becoming first the Australian woman to score a Test century against England, and took nine more wickets. In 1957/8, she turned out one of the great all-round performances and became the first cricketer, male or female, to score a 100 and take 10 wickets in a Test. No doubt, Betty Wilson is one of the best cricket players who ever played for Australia.

Growing up in the Collingwood area in the 1920s and 30s, playing with mates in the streets was the main form of entertainment and that is where Betty learned how to play cricket. With heaps of kids to play with and the wide streets of Clifton Hill (which at that time were virtually car free) to play on, it was easy to get a game of chasey, rounders or cricket going. Cricket was always a popular choice because it catered for girls and boys of a variety of ages and abilities. With the lamp posts as wickets, and whatever they could get their hands on in the way of bats and balls, the neighbourhood kids would play games that proceeded until Mum or dad whistled for tea.

Betty loved playing all sorts of sports, but settled upon cricket when, at ten and a half, it more or less chose her. She and her father took a walk down to the local oval one Thursday night to watch the Collingwood Ladies' Cricket Club at training. As they walked around the oval, a ball landed at Betty's feet; she returned it from the boundary to the wicket-keeper's gloves. After doing this a couple more times, she was approached by someone from the team and asked if she would like to play a game. Naturally, she said yes - and so she was selected in the team to play on Saturday! Between Thursday evening and Saturday morning, a uniform was found for her, courtesy of her new team mates, the Anderson sisters, who shortened one of their own dresses. From there, she never looked back.

At the age of thirteen, after three years with the Collingwood club, she moved to play with the Clarendon women's cricket club in Middle Park. At the age of sixteen, she was selected in the state squad, in lightweight boots specially made for her by her father. All this time, she was a freakishly gifted child playing with women. This presented some problems at times - there were occasions when individuals could not contain their petty jealousies. But by and large, Betty found the club environment supportive, and the friendships she made have lasted, quite literally, a lifetime. (One of the downsides of being the youngest in the team, however, is that as the years go by, you tend to be the one saying the final goodbyes.) She left school at the age of thirteen, attended business college and got a job as an office assistant with an employer who was very cooperative when it came to allowing her to take leave to fulfil cricket commitments.

Betty was a super cricket talent who never thought she had enough practice. She had a natural gift and fantastic athleticism but she was also a very hard worker. She practiced the things that she couldn't do, and the shots she couldn't play. ('There's no use standing there all day waiting for the ball you want to hit,' she says. 'There are a lot of other balls that are going to come your way. So you need to learn how to hit them all'.) This she did by coming up with her own backyard training device - a ball in one of her mother's stockings tied to a clothes line - that served her well for the whole of her career. It taught her to move and think fast; you would play the shot and because you had no idea what direction the next ball was coming from, you had to return to the batting position with speed. The clothesline training tool forced her to practice every shot, not just the ones she was good at and it forced her to focus on her footwork, a feature of her game that she was always complimented on. She had a good eye, she said, but that's because she practiced and practiced. She very rarely gave opportunities; she didn't believe in hitting sixes, preferring to stick with fours because as she says, you can't get caught if you drive the ball along the ground. She would only try for sixes when the team needed to get runs in a hurry. And she would bowl for hours in the nets at marks designed to represent the reach of batswomen of varying heights - so that when real women came to the crease she knew exactly where to place the ball so that they would have to reach just a little for it.

Betty's talent, dedication and attention to detail saw her rise through the ranks of women's cricket very quickly; she played state representative cricket from the age of sixteen and became well known for the practical jokes she played on her team mates while touring. She loved the camaraderie of the tour, but she also loved the experience of touring - experiences she would not have had if not for cricket. For a young girl whose boundaries had been more or less defined by the reach of the Melbourne public transport system and how it connected with the cities playing fields, the trip across the Nullabor one year to play in the national championships in Perth was unforgettable, let alone the trips to New Zealand in 1948 and England in 1951 to represent Australia. Cricket gave her the opportunity to extend her horizons to an extent she never would have dreamed possible as a thirteen year old playing with the Collingwood Ladies in Clifton Hill!

Playing cricket also forced her to make choices about her personal life. She was engaged to be married when she was first selected to travel to New Zealand in 1948, but her fiancé agreed to postpone the wedding so that she could tour - it was an opportunity that was just too good to refuse. He also agreed to a postponement when the English team came to tour in 1948-49; after all, it wasn't every day that you got to play test cricket against the English. But in 1951, when Betty was selected in the Australian team to tour England, his patience wore out. He wasn't prepared to wait any longer, and there was never any suggestion that she could combine international sport with marriage, especially in an era when effective, safe birth control was not readily available. Betty could also see that marriage would mean that, inevitably, cricket could not be her main priority; the training schedule and rhythm that had served her so well would have to be altered and she wasn't sure she was prepared to make those alterations just yet.

She chose cricket in the end and in so doing, remained single for the rest of her life. Even if he had been prepared to wait for her to return from England, she says, it still wouldn't have worked. It wasn't until 1958 that she really hit the heights of her game and she could see that every year she would have been asking him to wait one more year. No one could be that patient! In any case, no one after him could ever match him. 'He spoilt me for anyone else' she says. There are no regrets, however. It's not often that a girl from Abbotsford got to live and work in England, or experience such public events as the funeral procession of the king or the coronation of Queen Elizabeth.

Betty Wilson retired from playing cricket at the age of 37 in 1958 at the top of her game. The 1957/58 season saw her establish two records that would not be broken until 2004. She became the first cricketer, male or female, to score a 100 and take 10 wickets in a Test. On a wet wicket, she took 7/7 in the first innings which included the first ever hat trick in a women's Test. The feat was not repeated until Shaiza Khan of Pakistan did the same in 2004. In the same test, she top scored with 12 in Australia's low first innings and then scored a 100 in the second. Taking 4/9 in 19 overs in the second, she set another record for the best bowling of 11/16 in a match, which stood as a record till 2004.

Betty Wilson was unlucky not to play more international cricket; unfortunately the Second World War delayed her opportunities and then, when she did start, the opportunities for test cricket were not as frequent as they are now. She only played 11 tests in her career, but made the most of her opportunities; scoring 862 runs at 57.46 and 68 wickets at 11.80. This puts her on a par with the current Australian Captain, Ricky Ponting (as of March 2007 it was 59.29) and ahead of a previous Australian test captain Greg Chappell (53.86). Her bowling figures compare even more impressively; in March 2007 Australian champion bowler, Shane Warne, had an average of 25.41.

In 1985, Betty Wilson became the first woman cricketer to be inducted into the Australian Sporting Hall of Fame. In 1985/6, the Under-21 (Under-19 after 1996/7) National Women's Cricket Championship was renamed the Betty Wilson Shield. Most recently, she has been granted honorary membership of the Melbourne Cricket Club, the first Australian women's cricketer to receive such an honour.

But perhaps the honour she was most delighted to receive was the baggy green cap bearing the number 25 that she received two years ago, when the men's and women's cricket national cricket associations combined forces administratively. 'I would have been so proud to have worn that while I was playing,' she says, 'but better late than never'.


Betty Wilson, Collingwood Ladies Team

Image Courtesy of Betty Wilson