23 January 2017, Sydney, Australia
Mel Jones is a Southern Stars legend herself, but she was inducting a true great and pioneer of Australian cricket, Betty Wilson. The speech first appeared in The Footy Almanac.
Firstly, Betty will be looking down on us from somewhere, listening. To Betty: I know you’re going to love this and hate this at exactly the same time, so please just bear with me.
I’m up here tonight on behalf of Betty’s extended cricket family; from her former players all the way through to the current members of the Southern Stars team, and everyone in between. Everyone who has been touched by either her playing career, by her humour, or by her legacy.
For me, I’m not a big one on playing comparisons, but I think sometimes it does give some good context. For Betty, her on-field feats often had her being reminded that she was the Bradman of our game. Our 25th Test player, she was exceptionally talented, she was fiercely competitive, and she had an unwavering desire to be the very best.
Sir Alec Bedser said to her on meeting her: “Betty, it’s lovely to meet you. Do you know that your statistics are better than mine?” And he was right. In just eleven Tests, she amassed 862 runs at a wonderful average of 57.47 and in that time she took 68 wickets at a ridiculous 11.81.
If she was Bradman on the field, she was definitely Keith Miller off the field. In 1951 she went on a tour of England and she put her engagement on hold and she was over there for two years. And in that time she became a household name. When she returned, she picked up a few other loves in her life until her passing in 2010. She loved her lawn bowls, she loved a flutter, and she definitely loved a chardy – and it probably wasn’t in that order, either.
She also loved coming down when she could, in Melbourne, to watch the Vic Spirit or the Australians play. She would sit in the stands and she would hold court. All the people of different eras would sit down and just hang on every word.
Stories like her historic Test match where she became the first ever player; male or female; to take 10 wickets in a match, including a hat-trick (the first time a female had done it), and also score a century as well. Other stories she would tell us were of her father, who was a boot maker, who would hand-make her cricket spikes. And in between all these stories she would keep a little watchful eye on players out in the middle.
No one was immune to a cheeky Betty technique spray. One day sitting there, watching the cricket, we had this little debate about playing spinners. And Betty was all about footwork. And she turned to me and she said: “Mel, I would have got you out in six balls.”
I said: “Oh, six balls, Betty?”
And she said: “Well, even I have my off days.”
Betty was our link to the pioneers, she was our very own personal historian and story-teller. But I think the best part about Betty, her best delivery, was her character. And she always did remind us and I think she always will remind us to uphold the values and tradition and spirit of our great game.
Betty’s induction to the Hall of Fame tonight, for me, cements her truly as one of our greatest ever.