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AOC Interview: Bill Wyman

Former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman talks to Jo Harman about smoking in the slips with Clapton, taking a hat-trick at The Oval and snaring Graeme Hick with a wrong’un.   

So Bill, when did your love of cricket first start?

When I was a little boy in 1947 I’d watch the county games and internationals with my grandmother on a little six inch black and white screen. I saw Denis Compton and Bill Edrich have that most amazing season when they both got 3,000 runs and scored 30 centuries between them. When my grandmother was a child she was in service in Upper Sydenham, working for a family who lived next door to WG Grace, and I think that’s what started her interest. She was an avid cricket fan.

What are your first memories of watching live cricket?

I remember going to Lord’s for my Test match in 1952 and seeing Godfrey Evans score 98 before lunch against the Indians. He was fantastic, a bit like Matt Prior – an adventurous keeper-batsman. He played for Kent of course and they were my team because I was living in Beckenham at the time. I used to go to Lord’s quite a lot. Cricket was part of my life as a kid.

And you’ve played a fair bit of cricket yourself?

Yeah, I joined the Bunburys with Eric Clapton and David English and played about 12 seasons for them, playing with and against just about every international star. When I became a dad I played for the fathers against the sons and realised I could still do it and still bowl the googly. It was wonderful with the Bunburys; I was bowling with Ian Botham telling me what to do, batting with David Gower coaching me from the other end, playing in the same team as Brian Lara. It was amazing because every time I played, something magical happened.

What was your career highlight with the Bunburys?

There was the hat-trick at The Oval. The first two wickets were Trevor McDonald and then Gary Lineker. Gary used to play with us and hit 70s and 80s and he was very, very annoyed because he’d travelled quite a long way for the match. The third one was Charles Colvile. He came out all cocky and I got him first ball, caught by Rory Bremner at the third attempt. My wife’s American and she was there with our first daughter in a pushchair, and just when all this was happening she walked round the pavilion with the little one who was crying. When she came back round someone said ‘You’re husband’s just took a hat-trick!’ and she said ‘What? But he’s not a magician’. She thought it was some kind of trick I’d done, like pulling a bunny out of a hat. Cricket’s not really her cup of tea. Derek Underwood came up to me afterwards and said ‘I played 86 Tests for England and never took a bloody hat-trick here!’

Any other star names fall victim to your leggies?

I bowled Graeme Hick once and Mark Ramprakash just a few years ago before he got his hundredth hundred. I bowled Hick three leg breaks and then I bowled him a googly, he thought it was a leg break and it bowled him. We’ve been friends ever since. I bowled Michael Holding round his legs once too. Somebody told me I’ve been in two Wisden books and sent me copies. One of them was the hat-trick and the other was when I was fielding in the gully and Brian Close was batting. It says ‘The former England captain Brian Close, playing for Norma Major’s XI against the Bunburys, was caught one-handed in the gully by the former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman, who had a cigarette in his other hand’. Eric [Clapton] and me used to smoke in the gully and the slips. We knew where to stand because we’d stamp out our cigarettes there.

Bill Wyman netting with the Bunburys

Would you swap a few girlfriends and a few hit singles for a century at Lord’s?

I’d have loved to be a professional cricketer but when I was at grammar school all the rich boys that lived in Orpington, Petts Wood or Bromley, they all had the outfits, the clothes and the apparatus. I didn’t have anything because I came from the poor side, so I never got in the teams. I got in the house team and borrowed a few things but that was about it; as far as playing for the first or second XI I didn’t have a chance because they just put in the people who had the clothes and looked presentable. I would have loved to have some early coaching but it wasn’t to be. That’s why it was so nice to have that second wind with the Bunburys.

What’s been cricket’s coolest decade?

When I read about stuff in the 20s and 30s I find it magical: the Test matches in Australia, the county games, the fantastic stories about people like George Gunn. Gunn was opening the batting, at Canterbury I think, and the clock struck one o’clock and he just put his bat under his arm and started to walk off. The opposition said ‘No, no, no; we have lunch at half-one here’. So he came back in and next ball he just lifted his bat, the ball hit the wickets and he put his bat back under his arm and said ‘I have lunch at one o’clock’. Back then it was fun, there was no pressure, no money problems, and these wonderful stories came through.

What’s your take on Kevin Pietersen: rock ‘n’ roll star or very silly boy?

I love the way he plays but he’s got that chip on his shoulder, hasn’t he? And that arrogance and cockiness. It’s happened to footballers and other sportsmen where they don’t come across very well and people dislike them for that. We have it in the music business; these cocky buggers who think they know it all. They act flash in stretch limousines, hang out in all the clubs and have all the choice birds, and then they’re gone. It’s the same thing, a spoilt attitude. It’s a shame because he’s a genius when he bats.

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