Les Jackson

F. L. Belson

Seldom have the figures of any bowler made more impressive reading than did those of the Derbyshire fast-medium bowler, Herbert Leslie Jackson, which enabled him to head the first-class bowling averages of 1958. They read 829 overs, 295 maidens, 1,572 runs, 143 wickets at an average of 10.99 each. Impressive enough in any circumstances, but when it is realised that they were gained during a season throughout which Jackson suffered from a persistent groin-muscle injury, such figures represent a feat of the first magnitude.

Indeed, a search through Wisden back to 1900 has revealed that during this 20th century no bowler with at least 100 wickets to his credit in a season can match Jackson's final analysis of 1958. Only two Yorkshire left-arm slow bowlers approach him. In 1923 W. Rhodes took 134 wickets for 11.54 runs each, and in 1946 A. Booth had 111 for 11.61.

Small wonder that the inhabitants of Whitwell, the Derbyshire mining village of just under 5,000 population where Jackson has lived nearly all his life, declare with typical candour that their local hero should have had more honours. So highly do they think of Leslie Jackson, who was born at Whitwell on April 5, 1921, that they subscribed to buy him an inscribed gold wristlet watch in 1953, when he was also the top bowler in first-class cricket, apart from two amateurs, J. A. Bailey of Essex and C. J. Knott of Hampshire, who made only limited appearances that summer. Whitwell, incidentally, also nurtured Joe Davis, master cueman of billiards and snooker.

Jackson himself, a six-feet tall, wiry, quietly-spoken and modest man, is not the type to rail against the decisions of the selectors. He realises his own misfortune so far as honours are concerned in being at his best in a golden era of English fast bowlers, with such men as Statham, Trueman, Tyson, Loader and the immovable all-rounder Trevor Bailey, all claiming attention. Yet Derbyshire members regard him as the forgotten man of English cricket.

Let Jackson himself tell the story of his wonderful 1958 season and of the injury which played such a big part in the telling. He felt the strain during the first game at Oxford, but managed to keep going by having treatment and an occasional match off. For all this care, the trouble slowly became worse, and curiously, he says, reached a peak at a time when he, too, achieved the heights of success. In mid-July, against Leicestershire at Ashby-de-la-Zouch, he took seven for 30 and five for 37, following with seven for 34 and two for 42 against Essex at Westcliff, although his normally brisk run-up to the wicket had been reduced to a mere amble, much more walk than run. Still he contrived to extract pace and lift from the prevalently damp pitches of a wet summer. Expert attention from a specialist at Wolverhampton, who worked hard on his right thigh, eased the trouble, but it did not completely leave him while the season lasted.

Jackson estimates that he never bowled at more than two-thirds of his normal lively fast-medium pace throughout the summer and sometimes only at half pace. "But the pitches suited me, I bowled as straight as I could, and I found that the ball moved either way more than I usually make it do," is his own explanation of his remarkable success.

Certainly Jackson bowled perhaps his best ball, the late outswinger which also lifts, with rare venom and accuracy to the discomfiture, in particular, of the Hampshire batsmen during two Derbyshire victories in August which virtually extinguished Hampshire's bright Championship hopes. He took five for 10 and four for 16 at Burton where Hampshire were dismissed for 23 and 55, and at Bournemouth Jackson's analysis was six for 51 and five for 14.

These efforts occurred during an irresistible spell when Jackson wound up the season by taking 62 wickets at the fantastic low cost of 7.70 runs apiece in his last eight Championship matches.

Yet the end of Jackson's memorable summer brought him one note of sadness, the finish of his association with Cliff Gladwin in perhaps the best opening bowling partnership of any county since the war. Gladwin, the master of inswing, retired from the first-class game. Great friends off the field as well as a formidable pair on it, Gladwin and Jackson will long be remembered as forthright, uncompromising bowlers against whom batsmen had to struggle for every run. Jackson, typically, bestows much of the credit for his own success upon the support of Gladwin, and also insists whenever his feats are mentioned that he owes a great deal to the catching of G. Dawkes, the Derbyshire wicketkeeper, and to those fine close fieldsmen, D. B. Carr and D. Morgan.

Jackson's abilities are entirely natural, and the only approach to coaching happened to him two years after he joined Derbyshire on the recommendation of the former Derbyshire wicket-keeper, Harry Elliott, in 1947. Along with a few county colleagues, he went to London just before the 1949 season began for a fortnight's course under A. R. Gover, the Surrey and England fast bowler, but Gover, full of praise for Jackson's eagerness and ability, recommended only minor changes in the Derbyshire man's style.

The purist may consider that Jackson does not make quite the maximum use of his six feet height, and that he might sometimes bring his arm over a little nearer to the ear, but his untutored, uncopied action certainly brings his body into full play, and finishes with a most healthy follow-through. From this, together with long arms and powerful hands and wrists, stems the vital life and movement off the pitch.

Before making his first-class debut in 1947, Jackson's organised cricket had been confined to playing in the Bassetlaw League and a few Minor Counties games. At the local school his cricket consisted of playground scratch games, but he moved into the world of flannels and grass pitches when he began to play for Whitwell in league cricket at 16, at first in the second team, and he soon developed into a feared bowler.

The youngest of 13 children in a coal-mining family, Leslie Jackson had several cricketing brothers of repute in the local game. He lost a brother in the Cresswell disaster of 1950. Throughout the war cricket was very much secondary to his work at the coal-face, and he still returns to the local colliery each winter. These days, largely at the request of his wife, also Whitwell-born and bred, he is content with a surface job.

Jackson was 26 when he made his county debut in 1947, with one game against Kent. His real chance came in 1948 when Copson could not play much owing to injuries. Jackson seized it well. By 1949, when he received his county cap, Jackson was hailed as a bowler of the greatest potential, and he gained his solitary cap for England against New Zealand in the third Test at Manchester, taking two for 47 and one for 25.

For honours, 1949 must be considered Jackson's vintage year, for he also played in the Test trial (as he did in 1950) and for Players against Gentlemen, but subsequently, despite developing ability, his only recognition has been an invitation to tour with the Commonwealth team to India in 1950-51. This brought him little luck, for he returned to England almost as soon as the team arrived, with an elbow injury which required an operation before the next summer.

In seven seasons Jackson has exceeded 100 wickets at economic cost, and his total bag at the end of the 1958 season had reached 1,173. He makes no pretension to being more than a rustic No. 11 as a batsman, and only just fails to qualify as one of the few who have taken more wickets than runs, his comparable tally of runs being 1,318. His best score came in 1951 when he made 39 not out off Yorkshire at Harrogate.

© John Wisden & Co