Saturday, May 20, 2006

A hundred years ahead of his time

19th of May happens to be the birthday of Gilbert Jessop, 'The Croucher', who was perhaps born a hundred years ahead of the era that he could have made his own (b. 1874). Here's what Cricinfo has to say about the English cricketer on 'All Todays Yesterdays':

Gilbert Jessop was arguably a fiercer hitter than Viv Richards, Ian Botham, Adam Gilchrist, or anyone else who has belted leather for a living, and his feats with the willow are legendary. Known as "The Croucher" for his unusual stance, he hit his first ball for Gloucestershire for four, having come in on a hat-trick, and his 53 first-class centuries came at the unbelievable average rate of 82.7 runs an hour. At Hove in 1903, he smashed 286 against Sussex in under three hours. He also creamed 157 in an hour against West Indies in 1900. In 18 Tests he made only one hundred, but what an innings it was. Against Australia on a poor Oval wicket in 1902, England were 48 for 5 chasing 263 when Jessop entered the arena. He walloped 104 in only 77 minutes, out of 139 runs scored while he was at the crease, and England eventually crept home by one wicket. Jessop was also a genuinely fast bowler and sensational in the covers."

More plaudits appear on Wisden Player page of the original Master Blaster.

"A fast bowler good enough to be selected for England purely in this role, a superlative cover fielder, Jessop is best remembered for his thrilling batsmanship. To quote HS Altham "no cricketer that has ever lived hit the ball so often, so fast and with such a bewildering variety of strokes". By no means a big man at 5'7" and 11 stone, he was a powerful driver, fierce cutter and hooker, but could also play delicate late cuts and glances. In his best innings he scored at rates of close to 100 runs/hour."

Pity then that none cared to invent the television camera half a century earlier. Those figures would make a few 'destructive' batsmen of today look like freshers from the Chris Tavaré school. One-day cricket (not to mention Twenty20) could have benefitted as much from Jessop's contributions as that other big J from 1990's Sri Lanka.

Jessop averaged 21.88 with the bat in Tests. At the time it was not as bad a batting average as it appears today if one considers that an average of 24.9 runs were scored per English wicket in the 1st decade of last century while the corresponding figure stands at 34.6 a century later. His career bowling average was up around the pedestrian mid thirties for the 18 Test matches he played. But the very decent figure of 22.79 in his First Class career bowling average column indicates he was more than handy with the ball.

These 'highlights packages' of the man's cricketing deeds makes me chew off nails. The disappointment of not having witnessed him in action is no less than that of missing out on Bradman, WG, Hobbs, Ranjitsinghji, Lala Amarnath or Jessop's contemporary
George Lohmann (the man who had a Test career bowling average of 10.75).

Gilbert Jessop is one of the precious breed that stands out in every generation that plays cricket, that does more for the spread of the game than even some truly great peers, that hooks most of us on to this game as very young kids through their 'straight from the heart' approach much before increased knowledge of a heavily statistical game silently shifts our attention and admiration towards players having methods supported by successful numbers and results.

Coming back to that wishful first line, Duncan Fletcher would have been snoring a lot louder under his blanket today if he had an extra Freddie (and maybe more) up his sleeve for THE title defence Down Under.

[cross posted at Desicritics]

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