Yeoman Willoughby quits
Charl Willoughby (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – He was more DC-3, one of the most reliable twin-prop transport aircraft ever made, than he was high-speed jet.
And his gradual-head-of-steam, chug-a-lug run-up meant he was seldom associated with a Michael Holding-type “Whispering Death”.
But Charl Willoughby was the kind of bowler first-class captains would always have cherished in their teams – the sort who would toil away uncomplainingly all day, even on benign surfaces, and pick up wickets while seldom going for heaps of runs.
It seems strange to say “was”, because left-arm seamer Willoughby has been part of the furniture -- mostly in cricket’s emptier, less glamorous but still vitally important multi-day provincial arenas – for what seems, and just about is, decades.
But now this great, Cape Town-born and Wynberg-educated workhorse of the erstwhile SuperSport Series and County Championship, has called time on his career at the buxom old age of 37.
On Twitter this week (@charlwilloughby) he confirmed he was stepping down as another English summer – he had spent one slightly injury-impaired one with Essex – drew to a close, saying that “it’s been a fantastic 21 seasons”.
In a later tweet to this writer, after inquiry as to his career highlights and any reasons for ruefulness, he replied in typically upbeat fashion: “For me a major highlight was bettering Joel Garner’s (wicket-taking, presumably) record at Somerset, and no regrets. Glad I had the opportunity to play.”
Truly the confession of a consummate professional and popular figure, as evidenced by another tweet from Proteas Test captain Graeme Smith (@GraemeSmith49): “More than anything you’re a good man and friend, sure your family are excited to have you around more ... you can be proud, bud. Congrats on all you have done & achieved.”
Willoughby does boast the satisfaction of having played two Tests and three one-day internationals for South Africa, an honour nobody of right mind would begrudge him.
The last Test appearance came as far back as the 2003 tour of England, when he had one of those games, at Edgbaston, where the ball unusually just didn’t swing for him in quite the manner he and the team would have desired, and he was wicketless in a high-scoring draw where Smith got a famous 277.
He did occasionally flirt with national selection again subsequently, and was a wonderful asset year after year to teams like Boland, the Cape Cobras and Western Province ... and especially Somerset, for whom he trundled away uncomplainingly on the Taunton back-breaker of a pitch for six years and almost 350 scalps.
Willoughby, a legendarily dicky No 11 batsman (which you could submit only added to his appeal), ends his career with 848 first-class wickets at an average of 25.98 and economy rate of 2.86.
He bustled up to the bowling crease for 46,184 balls, and by Sport24 calculation cracks the top 10 (in 10th itself) on the list of southern African-born bowlers for career “FC” scalps.
It’s time for others to pick up the donkeywork for the teams he vacates, his head high even if only applauded so many times, for his spirited services, by crowds comprising 22 pensioners, eight Thermos flasks and a handful of regional pressmen.
Happy feet-up, Pup ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing