DON Wilson was a central figure in Yorkshire’s domination of county cricket in the 1960s.
The left-arm spin bowler, played alongside such giants of the game as Fred Trueman, Brian Close, Ray Illingworth and Geoffrey Boycott at a time when Yorkshire cricket was a byword for silverware.
Wilson featured in each of the club’s seven County Championship titles from 1959 to 1968 and also played in the Gillette Cup wins of 1965 and 1969.
His influence was measured in terms of wickets; in 392 first-class games for the county between 1957 and 1974, Wilson took 1,104 of them at 20.49; he is 12th on the list of Yorkshire’s all-time leading wicket-takers.
Born on August 7 1937, Wilson grew up in Settle – hardly the most renowned of Yorkshire nurseries. He was captain of his school team, Ingleton Secondary Modern, and went on to work as a carpenter’s apprentice.
His big break arrived at the age of 15.
Yorkshire took a star-studded side to Settle for a benefit match and not only was Wilson selected – much to his astonishment – for the local team, but he bowled out none other than the great Len Hutton.
In his autobiography, Wilson recalled: “The big day dawned, and farmers, sightseers and locals alike, including my mother and father, travelled from far and near for the auspicious occasion.
“It was not the first time my parents had seen me play, but it was certainly their first attendance together.
“Yorkshire batted, as is always the case in these affairs, and made a steady start before I was called on to bowl. The great Len Hutton was facing. I paced out my run, but counted the steps wrongly; I was so nervous. My palms were sweating so much that I could barely hold the ball. The first two deliveries were pushed quietly into the covers, and the third went straight on and he missed it. I’d bowled out Len Hutton.”
Suitably impressed, Hutton recommended Wilson to Yorkshire, and a glittering career was soon under way. But the young man’s task could hardly have been greater; when he eventually broke into the full Yorkshire team, Wilson was charged with following in the footsteps of the legendary Johnny Wardle, Yorkshire’s left-arm spin bowler just after the war.
Wilson, however, rose to the challenge.
Not only was his length consistently impressive, but, despite standing a towering six feet three inches, he was also adept at flighting the ball.
It was not so much for his technical prowess, however, that Wilson was celebrated. Above all, he will be remembered for his inexhaustible supply of joie de vivre, his unquenchable belief that something was always going to happen on the field of play. “Mad Jack”, as he was affectionately known, became a crowd favourite.
He played with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye – not only was Wilson a great cricketer, but a great entertainer. This also manifested itself away from the field.
Along with Philip Sharpe, his great friend and team-mate, Wilson delighted colleagues and opponents alike with a song-and-dance routine based on the popular stage and television show The Black and White Minstrels.
“We were like one of the old Glee Clubs where groups of men from a factory got together and formed a choir,” he remembered.
Wilson played six times for England, touring India in 1963-64 and Australia/New Zealand in 1970-71. He also played twice for England against Rest of the World – matches that were subsequently stripped of Test status by the International Cricket Council.
Despite his height and angular frame, Wilson was a brilliant mid-wicket and claimed 235 catches for Yorkshire. A useful tail-ender, he could swing the bat to powerful effect.
After retiring from Yorkshire, Wilson took up the role of MCC’s chief coach at Lord’s, a position he held until 1991.
He coached in South Africa and continued to play with Lincolnshire in the Minor Counties League and later with Holmfirth in the Huddersfield League and Manningham Mills in the Bradford League. He coached at Ampleforth College and was also president of the Yorkshire Players’ Association in 2008.
Geoff Cope, a former Yorkshire team-mate, paid him moving tribute. “I have never found anyone with so much enthusiasm for the game. The White Rose meant so much to him it was untrue; he always remained tremendously proud that he had played for Yorkshire. He was a great man.”