Black History Month: Neil Williams


Our second feature of Black History Month celebrates the career of Neil Williams, who played for Essex between 1995 and 1998.

Born in St. Vincent in the West Indies in 1962, Neil received his primary education and learned his cricket skills in the Caribbean before moving to London at the age of 13, where he continued his schooling in Tufnell Park.

He sustained his cricketing interest in joining Hornsey Cricket Club, played for London Schools and joined Middlesex after a season-and-a-half as an MCC Young Professional. He made his County debut in 1982 and was awarded his Middlesex Cap two years later.

A deeply religious man, when he first arrived at Lord’s, he refused to play on Sundays.

During the winter months, the right-arm fast-medium bowler continued to hone his cricket skills by returning home to play for St. Vincent and the Windward Islands. He also enjoyed a stint in Australia, playing for Tasmania in the winter of 1983-84.

In 1990, his hard work and application paid dividends when he was called up to play for England against India at The Oval after Chris Lewis pulled out of the match with a migraine during fielding practice ahead of the match.

Neil was to become a member of the one-cap wonder club. He deserved further opportunities having not been disgraced when claiming the wickets of both Sachin Tendulkar and Mohammad Azharuddin in figures of 2/148 as the tourists posted 606-9 declared.

Then, sent in as a nightwatchman on the second evening, he made 38 in a second-wicket stand of 74 with Graham Gooch, an achievement he rated higher than his two wickets. But at the age of 28, the England selectors opted to deny him further chances.

The following season, Neil recorded his highest first-class score of 77 playing for Middlesex against Warwickshire, and in 1992, he returned career-best bowling figures of 8/75 against Gloucestershire.

After 13 seasons with Middlesex and at the age of 33, he switched teams but unfortunately, a series of back injuries hampered his career with Essex, restricting him to only 33 first-class matches in four seasons.

When fit, he was still surprisingly brisk and bowled a very consistent line and length with a dangerous late away swinger. He probably under-achieved with the bat although he could offer dogged resistance when required, top-scoring with 39 for his adopted County for whom he scored just over 500 first-class runs

He seemed to reserve his best performances with the ball in matches against Gloucestershire as he achieved his best bowling for Essex taking 5/43 against them in 1996, the same year he was awarded his Essex County Cap.

In total, he claimed 95 first-class wickets for Essex at an average of 26.19 having claimed 5 wickets in an innings on 4 occasions. In the one-day format, he made 15 appearances that brought him 13 wickets at 44.07.

Throughout his career, he was a quietly spoken and often introvert but one universally popular with teammates, Members and supporters.

Tragically, at the age of 43, Williams died in hospital in St. Vincent after a short battle against pneumonia just three weeks after suffering a stroke. At the time of his passing, he was the Coach of St Vincent’s Academy for Kids.

In a first-class career spanning over 17 years, he took 675 wickets and scored 4,457 runs.