Archibald ‘Archie’ Alexander Jackson, cricketer, was born on the 5th of September, 1909.
Considering the contextually laughable state of Scottish cricket in the 21st Century, it’s quite amazing to find out that the greatest batting cricketer the world has ever seen was a Scot. It’s generally accepted by aficionados that Sir Donald Bradman was the greatest batsman, but it’s true to say that ‘Archie’ Jackson was considered to have been a better batter than Bradman. Come to think of it, considering that cricket was invented in Scotland, it’s fitting that it should produce a man who played the game so well. Although, of course, it has to be said, like Bradman, his ‘Baby Blue’ contemporary, ‘Archie’ Jackson played for New South Wales and Australia. Interestingly, Jackson did once play in Scotland; in a match at Hamilton Crescent, Glasgow, when he made 52, not out.
Jackson had a tragically short career, playing only eight Test matches, between 1929 and 1931. His career was cut short by ill health and who knows what he may have gone on to achieve. Fittingly, Jackson’s Test début was made on the second day’s play against England on the 1st of February, 1929; a match in which he scored 164 runs, to become the youngest batsman, at the age of 19 years and 142 days, to score an Ashes Test century. That innings, in the fourth test at Adelaide, is still regarded as one of the greatest ever played. Australia had been reduced to 19 for 3, but with his captain, Jack Ryder, Jackson notched up his 50 and, in tandem with Bradman, his maiden century. On that blisteringly hot day, Jackson destroyed the English attack and square drove Harold Larwood for four to bring up his ‘ton’ in style. At the end, he left the field to a standing ovation.
In his biography of Archie Jackson, David Frith describes him, right up front in the title as “The Keats of Cricket.” Jackson’s obituary in Wisden describes him as having “superb stroke play.” A.R.B. Palmer, a cricketing journalist, described Jackson’s cover drive as “...perfectly balanced and true ...the bat seems a whip in his hands,” which calls to mind Chung, the sidekick of the Wolf of Kabul in ‘The Wizard’ and ‘The Hotspur’ comics. Like Chung, Jackson made devastating use of a cricket bat and might have said, “The ‘clicky-ba’ merely turned in my hand.” Martin Williamson, the executive editor of ESPN’s Cricinfo, makes a strong case for Jackson having been better than Bradman and it’s clear that Jackson was then seen as the more complete and gifted player. Charles Williams, who wrote a biography of Bradman, described Jackson as “the finished batsman …with an artistry that has no parallel to this day.”
Archibald Alexander Jackson was born in Rutherglen on the 5th of September, 1909, where he spent almost exactly the first four years of his life. His Pa emigrated to Australia in 1912 and wee Archie, with his Ma and two sisters, followed a year later, arriving in Sydney on the 1st of August, 1913. However well Archie did at Birchgrove Public and Rozelle Junior Technical schools, it was sport that he loved, being good enough to represent the Public Schools’ Amateur Athletic Association at both fitba (soccer) and cricket. The district of Balmain, where Jackson lived, seems to have been a breeding ground for cricketers, but you have to give four years in Rutherglen some credit. In the 1923-24 season, the fourteen years old Jackson, “in short trousers and sandshoes” as recorded in Bede Nairn’s article in the ‘Australian Dictionary of Biography’, played for the Balmain Cricket Club. However, his talent was so obvious that, the following season, he was promoted to the first grade side.
In the meantime, that year of 1924, Jackson left school and got a job with a warehouse firm and later, after cricket consumed more time, he was employed at the sports store run by Alan Falconer Kippax. Jackson scored a club record 879 runs in the 1926-27 season, at an average of 87.9, which feat gained him selection for the New South Wales side at the age of seventeen. His maiden first-class century in Sheffield Shield cricket was scored against Queensland, when he made a ton, exactly, a week after having made 86 on his début. The precocious Jackson, a year younger than Bradman, had burst upon the Australian cricket scene and nobody had yet heard of young Donald.
The next season, that of 1927-28, the teenage Jackson made scoring centuries look easy as he knocked up a ton in each innings (131 and 122) in a match against South Australia. By then, Jackson, “the flowering of the ‘Sydney school of batsmanship’ …” was already a “celebrated strokemaker” and was picked to tour New Zealand. By 1929, the early signs of illness had begun to show as the mercurial Jackson had the odd, noticeable, off day, but that didn’t prevent “the toast of Australia” from being selected for the 1930 tour of England, against whom he scored 1023 runs. That feat was in spite of the Australian selectors having insisted that Jackson got his tonsils removed; two weeks before sailing.
In the cold, damp climate of England on the 1930 tour, Jackson, susceptible to viruses, struggled to find form, however, he was recalled for the Oval Test and played a key part in winning the Ashes. In response to England’s 405 all out first innings, Australia was 263 for three when Jackson joined Bradman in the middle. Given the paucity of Scots who have played Test cricket, it was some coincidence when Jackson then faced Ian Peebles, the Aberdeen-born spin bowler, first ball, but the main strike bowler was Larwood, the notorious paceman. Jackson’s and Bradman’s fourth-wicket partnership of 243 still stands as an Australian Test record against England at the Oval.
In terms of Jackson’s health, the writing was well and truly on the wall in the 1930-31 season, during which he failed to perform at the highest level and was dropped. His lung damage was diagnosed in 1931 and Jackson was sent west to the Blue Mountains. If you’ve ever watched a Western, you’ll know that everybody who gets tuberculosis is ‘sent West’ to a warmer, drier climate, for the good of their health, but “he’s gone West” was also then a euphemism for having been killed. However, the tenacious Jackson wasn’t done just yet, as he showed signs of remission and, in 1932, despite medical advice, moved to warmer, but more humid, Queensland, to be with his girlfriend, Peggy.
Despite insistence that he must not play cricket in a climate that was bad for ‘TB’, Jackson played for a Brisbane club side and, inevitably, his health went downhill. During the infamous ‘Bodyline’ series of 1932-33, Jackson was only a spectator, but, budding journalist as he then was, he wrote about it for the ‘Brisbane Mail’. During the Brisbane test, when England retained the Ashes, Jackson suffered a severe pulmonary hemorrhage and was admitted to hospital. Shortly after, in Brisbane’s Inglefield Private Hospital, on the 16th of February, 1933, Archibald Alexander Jackson was killed by the dreaded ‘TB’. At his funeral, the pallbearers, all Test cricketers, included Donald Bradman. Jackson was buried in the Field of Mars cemetery, in Ryde, in Sydney. His epitaph, “He played the game.”