The career of Bill Bestwick in professional cricket had more up
s and downs than a Blackpool rollercoaster.
The former miner had a hugely successful career as a fast medium seamer with Derbyshire, and his experience of heavy manual labour and long shifts underground from the age of eleven, gave him great stamina, allowing him to shoulder the burden of their attack. But Bill was not without his little peccadillo`s, and in particular, an almost insatiable thirst. Indeed, his heavy drinking meant that he spent a few years away from the county in the years leading up to the Great War. Despite having no formal coaching, the teenage Bill enjoyed great success with bat and ball for the Coppice Colliery team and the Heanor Town club.
He subsequently came to the attention of Derbyshire whilst having trials with Warwickshire and Leicestershire, and after impressing Levi Wright, the county`s opener, Bill agreed terms with Derbyshire for 1898. Over the next decade, he was the bulwark of their attack, with his strong arms and burly shoulders allowing him to extract pace and lift from even the most docile of wickets. Bill took over a hundred wickets in 1905, and again in 1906, but the latter was not a happy year for him, as his first wife died. Then during the winter, he was also involved in a scuffle with a man called William Brown. Both had been drinking for many hours, and during their struggle, Brown drew a knife on Bill and left him with a facial wound. Later that night, Brown`s body was found with a knife wound and Bill was arrested on a charge of unlawful killing.
However, these charges were later dropped, as the inquest jury found that Bill had acted in self-defence as Brown lunged at him again with the knife, and Bill was released from custody. He continued to drink heavily, and his colleagues were often exasperated to find him in a sorry state and unable to bowl the morning after a heavy session the previous night. Despite being the club`s leading wicket-taker, Bill was released by Derbyshire in 1909. He was clearly a troubled man, and someone in need of a fresh start in another area.
After a spell in the Lancashire League, he moved to South Wales in 1912, where he initially played and worked in Merthyr Tydfil before joining the Neath club. It proved in many ways to be a good move for him, as whilst based in South Wales, Bill met and married his second wife, who clearly was something of a calming influence on him. Bill had decided to moved to the valleys because of the plethora of jobs in the coal mines and ironworks, and also because Glamorgan were poised to be admitted into the County Championship. He knew that the county`s officials were looking for bowlers with first-class experience, so he agreed to qualify by residence for the county and in 1914 he made his Glamorgan debut against Durham at Swansea.
Everything changed with the outbreak of War, and soon afterwards, Bill returned to live and as a reserved occupation, work in various mines in the Heanor. After doing his bit for the War Effort, Bill accepted an offer to play for Derbyshire when county cricket resumed in 1919. Even though he was 44, he bowled Derbyshire to three victories in their opening five games and finished the year with 89 Championship wickets at 18 runs apiece. His efforts were rewarded with selection for the Players against the Gentlemen at Lord`s, but the season ended on a sour note when he failed to agree terms with Derbyshire for the following summer.
Hearing that the economy in South Wales had taken a turn for the better, and that his friends in Neath were masterminding another bid for Glamorgan to enter the County Championship, he returned to the Welsh club for 1920. Bill duly enjoyed another fine season and played several times again for Glamorgan, but unfortunately, they did not have enough cash to make a decent offer for Bill to remain for 1921. Some of the Derbyshire officials had been sad to see the lion-hearted seamer leave in the first place, so they made an improved offer and suggested that Bill combined playing with duties as their assistant coach. Glamorgan could not match Derbyshire`s offer, so Bill returned north and resumed his career with his native county in 1921. Bill duly made Glamorgan’s officials regret their modest financial position by recording career-best bowling figures in the Welsh county’s second innings of their Championship fixture at the Arms Park.
However, what made Bill`s performance even more remarkable was that the 46 year old had been drinking heavily on the Sunday evening with some of his friends from Neath. This was not the only time in 1921 that Bill had been drunk after play, and there had been occasions when he was in such a state that he could not bowl or field the next day. In an attempt to curb his drinking, George Buckston, the Derbyshire captain, had tasked one of his colleagues to act as Bill’
s minder and ensure that he remained in a fit enough state for the following day. But on this occasion in Cardiff (and sometimes elsewhere) Bill gave his minder the slip, and the next morning, the Derbyshire captain attempted to teach Bill a lesson by immediately putting him on with the new ball. Bill responded with figures of 19-2-40-10, thereby becoming the oldest person – at the age of 46 – to take all ten wickets in first-class cricket.
Bill eventually retired at the end of 1925 with a Derbyshire record of 1,452 wickets to his name. He was keen to remain in the county game so he applied to join the umpires list. A few eyebrows were raised at whether he would be able to control his drinking, and some doubted if Bill would last for many years as an umpire. But Bestwick proved his detractors wrong by going on to umpire in over 200 first-class matches, as well as standing in three Tests.
He still enjoyed a drink after a long day in the field, but his new role meant that he could not indulge as much as in the past, when he could always sweat the beer out with a long spell of bowling. Now he needed a clear head, and his
reward for cutting back on his drinking eventually came in 1929 when he stood in the Tests between England and South Africa at Lord`s and The Oval, as well as the Headingley Test in the 1930 Ashes series.
BESTWICK, William (‘Bill’)
Born – Heanor, Derbyshire, 24 February 1875.
Died – Nottingham, 2 May 1938.
Batting and Fielding Record
Minor County Championship – 6/44 v Durham at St. Helen’s, Swansea, 1914.
Minor County Friendlies – 3* and 5/34 v JHP Brain’s XI at Cardiff Arms Park, 1920.