David Frith called Archie Jackson The Keats of Cricket © Getty Images
David Frith called Archie Jackson The Keats of Cricket © Getty Images

Archibald ‘Archie’ Jackson, born September 5, 1909, was compared by some to Don Bradman, with whom Jackson’s short career coincided. Fleet-footed, wristy, and a treat for sore eyes, Jackson evoked memories of Victor Trumper to old-timers. He was all set to become another outstanding Australian batsman when tuberculosis claimed him at a mere 23, nipping one of cricket’s foremost talents in the bud. Abhishek Mukherjee lists 18 facts about the successor to Trumper that never happened. 

David Frith called Archie Jackson The Keats of Cricket. There is not a lot you can argue with that. Both passed away at a tender age, as had Shelley.

But Jackson could not have been the classical Shelley.

Eye-witnesses remember Jackson for the brand of batsmanship that drove crowds to ecstasy. At the crease Jackson was exuberant, dazzling, magical; the image of a young boy, gifted with footwork and strokes of the highest order, taking on the fastest of bowlers and canniest of spinners with ridiculous ease.

And then, when no foe seemed worthy of him, he was taken away, just like that, by the grimmest of them all.

Memories of Jackson were as romantic to misty-eyed witnesses as odes of Keats are to readers today. Just like Keats, Jackson’s very presence was arousing, sensual, mesmerising. And just like Keats, he withered away, all too soon.

But what about us, born in an era when Jackson lives on only in numbers and letters and documents?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone…

Did Keats know that Jackson, too, was about indolence and melancholy, and autumn as well? What sorcery was this?

But we are deviating. Let us focus on Jackson and his days at the crease.

1. Heir of Trumper 

Some called him greater than Don Bradman, who was a year older to Jackson. There was, without a doubt, some romanticism in that, for numbers suggest otherwise. Of course, none would emerge a winner in comparison with Bradman, but the era was also dominated by the two Bills, Ponsford and Woodfull: all three were voracious gluttons when it came to run-scoring, and that would be an understatement.

Not Jackson. Jackson dared. Jackson was fallible. Jackson soared. But then, just like Victor Trumper, Jackson was also more consistent than it met the eye.

Let us dig into some data, that ruthless assassin of all romanticism that has ever existed. Jackson’s First-Class numbers, 4,383 runs at 45.65, are reminiscent of Trumper’s 16,939 at 44.57. Jackson played only 8 Tests, scoring 474 runs at 47.40. Trumper’s 48 Tests fetched him 3,163 at 39.04. Of course, one has to make adjustments for the pre-War era.

Note: Before we delve into details, I think I should mention that Ponsford averaged 48.22 and Woodfull 46. Despite their different approaches to batting, there was not much to choose between Jackson and the two Bills at the highest level.

But numbers were not the only reason they called Jackson the heir of Trumper, with Alan Kippax (Jackson’s employee, mentor, and friend) acting as bridge between the two men. The styles — from stance to follow-through, the sense of adventure, the bravado, the maverick approach to batting, supreme disdain for bowlers — everything about Jackson was too Trumperesque to ignore.

Wisden wrote in Jackson’s obituary: “Jackson, of course, never saw Trumper play, but Kippax, in style and stance and in some strokes, was not unlike Trumper; and Jackson, consciously or unconsciously, and while giving full play to his natural tendencies, took Kippax as his model.”

That was, of course, possible, for Kippax was born and brought up in Paddington. He might have seen Trumper bat.

Arthur Gregory, brother of Ned and Dave, compared the trio in a wonderful article in The Sydney Mail: “There is a remarkable resemblance between the stances of the late Victor Trumper, Alan Kippax, and Archie Jackson; indeed, in style right through the batting the similarity is there. The attitude adopted to receive the ball is one of calm repose which, in the successors to the famous Victor, as it did with him, becomes a sudden flash as the ball is, say, off-driven with lightning-like rapidity to the boundary.”

This was written in 1927, twelve years after Trumper’s death. Jackson was a mere 18.

Three years before Gregory’s piece, Arthur Mailey had written: “I am not going to compare him with the glorious Victor Trumper at this stage.” The temptation to make the ultimate comparison in the pre-Bradman era is evident.

“In beauty and artistry only Victor Trumper would rank above him. I would place Jackson above Kippax and [Stan] McCabe,” wrote AG Moyes.

Similarly, Charles Williams, in Bradman’s biography, called Jackson “a younger version of [Jack] Hobbs or Kippax, or even Victor Trumper.”

Romantic? Perhaps. But then, the same romantics had placed Trumper on a pedestal as high as any.

And Harold Larwood, in the foreword of Frith’s biography of Jackson, could not help the making the comparison, either: “Archie Jackson, like his hero Victor Trumper, was born to be great, and great he was, for he received the same respect from us ‘Poms’ as from his own team.”

Trumper. Jackson. Trumper. Jackson. The comparison was unavoidable.

But we are digressing. Let us forget Trumper for a while and move on to Jackson.

2. The Scotsman who came to Australia

The Jacksons lived at 1 Anderson Place, Rutherglen (four miles from Glasgow) in Scotland when Archie was born. Archie was the third child of Alexander ‘Sandy’ and Margaret, after two daughters, Lil and Peggie.

The family set sail for New South Wales aboard the Themistocles, arriving on August 1, 1913. They took up residence at 14 Ferdinand Street, Balmain (currently in Inner West Sydney), a hundred yards from Birchgrove Park.

Jeanie Jackson was born after The War, and was, as expected, the darling of the family. However, no one took to her more than Archie, who, to quote Frith, “spoilt Jeanie more with each passing year.” Not everyone has a little sister less than ten years younger, you see!

3. A family of footballers 

Before we embark on to his cricket achievements, it must be mentioned here that Jackson also represented New South Wales (NSW) in football (soccer, not AFL).

He was not the only one in the family. Archie’s uncle Jimmy played for Rangers, Newcastle United, Arsenal (then Woolwich Arsenal), and West Ham United. Two of his sons were also footballers: James Jr played for Aberdeen and Liverpool, captaining the latter, while Archie (not our hero) represented Sunderland and Tranmere Rovers.

4. School and grade cricket

Jackson went to Birchgrove Public School. During his school days he befriended Bill Hunt, who was to remain perhaps his closest friend till the end. Hunt would play a solitary Test a year before Jackson’s death.

Numbers were not the only reason they called Archie Jackson the heir of Victor Trumper

It took no time for young Archie to establish himself. Frith mentioned that the captains of various Grade Cricket captains were “fighting over him” at this stage. He rose up the ranks from Fourth- to Third- to Second-Grade cricket.

So pleasing was his batsmanship that the spectators left senior (First-Grade) matches to watch young Archie bat. Despite those huge pads and that enormous bat he could still enthral them with his footwork, strokeplay, and placement.

They at Birchgrove even pooled together to buy him a bat that suited his style more.

5. High school and First Grade cricket 

At 14, Archie Jackson joined Rozelle Junior Technical School, and left at 15. His family needed him to work. It was an era when nobody scoffed at the idea of 15-year-olds working. It was a blessing in disguise, for after a stint or two he ended up working at a sports shop owned by — Kippax.

Rozelle shaped Jackson. To be more specific, it was the sports master John Mitchell who did. Apart from Jackson and Bull, Mitchell also groomed at least three First-Class cricketers — Syd Hird, Dudley Seddon, and Richard Nutt.

Jackson monopolised cricket at Birchgrove Park. In fact, such was his dominance that they enforced a new rule that he would have to retire after a hundred. Jackson responded by blocking everything once he reached ninety. The fielders went one-up, overthrowing…

Jackson eventually played in First Grade a month after his 15th birthday. Frith mentioned in his book that Jackson was the youngest to play Grade Cricket (at least till the book was published, in 1987).

6. Somnambulism

Curiously, Jackson sleepwalked at a very young age. This could have been serious, for toppling over the balcony was a possibility. In fact, on one occasion, his father grabbed him at the nick of time.

Thus, once Archie fell asleep, ‘Sandy’ Jackson had no option but to tie him to the bedroom door.

Years later, Sachin Tendulkar had the same problem…

7. ‘Second-innings’ Jackson

Jackson made his First-Class debut at 16, and crossed fifty at least once in each of his first five matches. Two of these were hundreds. Three of the fifties (including a hundred) were unbeaten. Curiously, all these came in the second innings: his first-innings scores amounted to a mere 17 from 5 outings.

His first hundred came in his second match, against Queensland. NSW trailed by 290, but both Norbert Phillips and Kippax scored big hundreds before Jackson marshalled the tail.

Jackson was on 99 when the eighth wicket (technically ninth, for Charlie Macartney was injured). Ray McNamee, without any pretension of batsmanship, managed to survive a ball to give Jackson the strike…

Two excellent seasons fetched him 964 runs at 48.20 with 5 hundreds. By this time he was opening batting for NSW. When New Zealand toured Australia for a solitary match, Jackson smashed 104, adding a hundred runs in half an hour with Kippax.

He missed the South Australia match due to a boil on his debut, making way for a youngster called Bradman. He came back in the return match against and scored 131 and 122. Wisden mentioned that it was “a feat no other batsman of his age had performed.”

8. A middle name

Was it for the sake of parity on scorecards? Jackson probably did not like the fact that he did not have a middle name while most other cricketers had, so he decided to have one. He decided on Archibald Alexander Jackson after his father.

Alexander Jackson, of course, had no problem. Most scorecards and all official forms, thus, carried the name AA Jackson. 

9. That debut hundred

The 1928-29 Ashes was certainly one of Australia’s worst outings. They were crushed by 675 runs at Brisbane and 8 wickets at Sydney. The urn was retained at Melbourne. Australia had set England 332, and though a late collapsed followed, England were not going to lose from 318 for 3.

Bradman had failed on debut at Brisbane. He was dropped for Sydney, but roared back to Test cricket with 79 and 112 at Melbourne. In the fourth Test at Adelaide the selectors roped in Jackson for Vic Richardson.

They were almost destined to have a journey together, Bradman and Jackson. For instance, with the Australian team hotel full, Bradman and Jackson were the only two Australians to be put up at Hotel Richmond with their English counterparts.

To put things simple, England scored 334 and reduced Australia to 19 for 3 inside half an hour. Jackson, having opened with Woodfull, was joined by captain Jack Ryder.

George Hele, who stood in the Test, later reminisced: “An umpire is not supposed to have any feelings, but I was just as keenly interested to see Jackson succeed as any of the 50,000 spectators. It was something like dismay that I saw Jackson standing there with a face as white as a sheet and nervously trying to moisten his lips.”

It was a hot, hot day at Adelaide, but Jackson and Ryder added a hundred runs at a run a minute. They went to stumps at 131 for 3, Jackson on 70; so unforgiving was the heat that they had to mop the youngster with a towel in the pavilion.

Ryder fell next morning. It was fitting that Jackson’s hundred would come in the company of Bradman. He was stuck on 97 for the last four balls before lunch. The hundred came up immediately after the break with a swing past cover-point off Larwood. Jackson eventually fell for a magnificent 164.

At 19 years 152 days Jackson was the youngest to score a Test hundred. Giff Vivian would go past him in three years’ time, a year after Archie’s death. Neil Harvey and Javed Miandad are the only ones to have scored 150s at a younger age. And only five men have scored hundreds on Test debut at a lesser age.

Australia secured a 35-run lead, but Wally Hammond added 177 to his first-innings 119. The hosts fell agonisingly short, losing by 12 runs. Jackson scored 36.

However, they pulled things back in the last Test at Melbourne, chasing down 286 for the loss of 5 wickets (it still meant a 1-4 defeat), Jackson scoring 30 and 46.

10. England, 1930

Over eight decades have passed, but cricket in England in 1930 remains as synonymous to Bradman as ever.

But the tour was not supposed to be Bradman’s, for Jackson was the star attraction for the English crowd at the net sessions. The newspapers were all in praise of young Jackson. Even the Lord’s ground staff, even Plum Warner and his son came to watch Jackson at the nets: they were all enthralled.

News compared him with Hobbs. Cecil Parkin called him “a better bat than Bradman”. And so on.

Unfortunately, neither the weather nor the wicket suited Jackson. He fell ill frequently, and could not come to terms with the moisture and the slower pitches. It was only May, and it took Jackson 9 innings to bring up his first fifty, against MCC, and another fifty in his next innings, against Derbyshire.

He was still taking time to settle down. Meanwhile, Bradman had brought up his thousand runs of the tour, by May.

Jackson was not picked for the first two Tests. He scored 1 when he was eventually selected for the third Test at Headingley, and was promptly dropped again. He finally found form with 118 at Somerset, and replaced Richardson for the decider at The Oval.

11. That day at The Oval

England scored 405. Australia responded with a resounding 695. And England were bowled out for 251, losing by an innings. In their only innings, Woodfull scored 54, Ponsford 110, and Bradman 232. Jackson played a role, too, with 73, while McCabe and Alan Fairfax also got fifties.

In short, there was nothing spectacular in all that. It could have been just another day when the Australians steamrolled over the Englishmen. But there was a curious part of the Test that is of particular interest to students of cricket history.

Jackson walked out at 232 for 3, the match still hanging in the balance. He was almost run out first ball, for he had probably not expected agility from a 47-year-old Hobbs. Thankfully, the direct throw missed the target.

It rained at lunch. Jackson and Bradman bided time talking to the Prince of Wales.

When the match resumed, however, the pitch was a different one. As expected after the rain, it had gone damp, but had somehow retained its hardness. All of a sudden the ball, especially from Larwood, came flying at frightening pace.

Larwood broke Jackson’s bat with a scorcher, and some hilarity was caused when the substitute fielder rushed in with four replacements. But there was another phase of rain, and the youngsters returned (though play resumed five minutes before stumps).

Around noon the next day, the pitch “livened up almost supernaturally” (Frith): Larwood was not bowling at this point, but even Hammond was able to extract unreal bounce. So Bob Wyatt immediately summoned his fastest bowler.

Aubrey Faulkner, present that day, wrote that Jackson was “hit on the elbow, the jaw, and hip and several times on the thigh.” Amidst all that he deftly late-cut Hammond for four, and went after Larwood at every given opportunity.

Larwood hit Bradman on the chest, leaving him gasping for air. Bradman somehow coped and surviving Larwood’s spell, but he could really not dominate the bowling, which Jackson could. Towards the end of the phase, however, Bradman took charge yet again.

Jackson was having fun, lots of fun. He walked up to Larwood during the spell: “Well, Harold, it’s only a game, but what a grand one we’re having today! I hope you’re enjoying our battle as much as those spectators seem to be. You know, you’ve hit me almost as many times as I’ve hit you!”

Somewhere in the press-box was Surrey captain Percy Fender, taking notes copiously. Two years later this would lead to Bodyline, but that is another story.

12. The West Indians

Jackson played his final 4 Tests in the home series of 1930-31 against West Indies. He got 31 and 70 not out in the first Test at Adelaide, but failed in the other three he played, scoring 8, 0, and 15 (though he took 4 catches in the final Test). Of course, it might have to do with the fact that he never got a second innings in any of these 3 Tests!

13. The other test

Jackson had travelled to Brisbane to play Queensland two weeks before the first Test against West Indies. He scored 23 and 53 in a drawn affair.

However, during the tour, Frank Gough of Queensland (remembered rather infamously for his ill-treatment of Eddie Gilbert) introduced Jackson to an 18-year-old girl called Phyllis Thomas, all of five feet.

Nothing could go wrong for Jackson from there. He had age on his side. He had the talent. He had Phyllis. He was a superstar. He had a steady job at Anthony Horderns, and in addition to that Surridge paid him for using his name on their bats.

14. That Queensland tour

Jackson and Bradman were both part of a team Kippax led to Queensland. They played at Malanda, Cairns, Innisfail, Townsend, Ayr, North Queensland, Bowen, and MacKay.

At Cairns Jackson smashed an explosive 158, the last 58 coming in a mere 8 minutes. Against North Queensland there was that 173 that included 40 from an 8-ball over.

Unfortunately, this remained Jackson’s last recorded tour.

15. Haemoptysis 

Jackson’s confidence was bolstered by his 183 for Balmain in 1931-32. He travelled with NSW to Brisbane for the first match of Sheffield Shield of 1931-32. NSW were a side of outstanding quality, boasting of Kippax, Fairfax, Wendell Bill, Hird, McCabe, Bert Oldfield, Jack Fingleton, Jackson, and Bradman.

Jackson had a bout of influenza just before the match, but he was declared fit to play. Gough decided to bat, and Kippax led his men out. Then Phyllis, sitting in the stands, noticed that there was no Archie in the XI.

Fairfax was the one to approach her: Archie had coughed blood and had to be rushed to the hospital. Nothing came out of it, and he was released five days later. Everyone thought it was an outcome of the influenza.

Note: The encounter was historic in itself, for this was the same match where Gilbert got Bradman out for duck. 

On his return Jackson was sent to Bodington Sanatorium, Blue Mountains (south of Sydney). Cricket was ruled out for some time. He set himself up in a cottage at Leura (near Sydney), and Peggie moved in for the rest of the summer. 

16. Cricket continues

When Mailey took the Australians to North America in 1932 (Bradman was obviously the star attraction), Jackson opted out due to illness. When he travelled to Adelaide in July for subsequent treatment, he continued to bat in the nets.

In July came the verdict: pneumonary tuberculosis with fairly extensive involvement of the lungs.

He moved to Brisbane, perhaps because it was hotter there, perhaps seeking the comforting company of Phyllis. Rest would perhaps, perhaps have at least delayed the inevitable, but incredibly, Jackson declined medical advice and played for Northern Suburbs, Brisbane. He batted magnificently, amassing 968 runs from 13 innings at 121.

But things looked ominous. Alan McGilvray recalled that during one of the long innings Jackson could not come to terms with the exhaustion, gasping after every single. The fielders were left unsure. Should they run him out and put an end to the misery? Should they let him bat on?

The energy was still there for all to see. He wrote for Mail (Brisbane). In September he bought a Chrysler Roadster for £165 and was happy about it. He stayed with Phyllis’ parents. He spent time with Phyllis. He read more and more. He was even optimistic about the Ashes tour of England in 1934.

He went for the matches. He identified a new talent called Don Tallon, whom he predicted would surpass Les Ames (Tallon later became first-choice wicketkeeper of Bradman’s Invincibles). He said with conviction that Eddie Gilbert had a clean action, something that was a topic of debate in cricket circles of the era.

Jackson’s health deteriorated, but to his credit, he refused to give up. England toured that summer for the most controversial Ashes tour, but Test cricket was out of question for Jackson. However, he followed the series in all earnest, and kept complaining that the footwork of the Australians were not nimble enough to deal with Bodyline.

17. The ring and the Reaper

Jackson was still playing cricket (batting with a runner) in February 1933 when he collapsed and was rushed to Ingarfield Private Hospital. Tuberculosis had affected both lungs, said the diagnosis. He had merely days to live.

Phyllis, 21, and Archie, 23, decided to get engaged.

Note: Myth goes that they had got engaged on Archie’s deathbed. Somewhere down the line someone must have thought that the version would have sounded more romantic.

Jackson’s health deteriorated steadily after that. Telegrams were sent all around, and they rushed to be present at Brisbane. Hunt flew down while the family came by train. By the time they arrived, Archie had suffered a severe haemorrhage.

England claimed The Ashes with after a win at The Gabba. A telegram reached Larwood from Jackson on February 15, one that he never parted with: CONGRATULATIONS MAGNIFICENT BOWLING GOOD LUCK ALL MATCHES

A distinguished group came to visit him on the evening of the 15th. Warner, who had queued up to watch him in the nets in England; Woodfull, who had led him in his last 6 Tests; Ponsford; Mailey; George Duckworth; and Len Darling.

Archie Jackson passed away in sleep, at 12.15 AM, on February 16, 1933.

18. Final rites

The word got out. Flags were flown half-mast on the last day of the Brisbane Test. Ironically, Kippax was the radio broadcaster, and was left with the task of paying condolences on air.

Jackson was taken to the South Brisbane Station. The pallbearers included Phyllis’ father and brother, and Hunt. He was taken to Sydney on a train. The same train carried the Australian and English Test cricketers, travelling to Sydney for the last Test.

The men who carried the coffin to the graveyard were as illustrious a group as any: Bradman, Ponsford, Woodfull, Richardson, Oldfield, McCabe, and Richardson. When McCabe fell ill en route, Kippax took over.

The red granite headstone went up on September 3. It was designed by former Test cricketer Tommy Andrews. HE PLAYED THE GAME, it read. It might well have been HERE LIES ONE WHOSE NAME WAS WRIT IN WATER.

“The second coming of Trumper had been short-lived, but the course of cricket history was changed by a few degrees,” lamented Frith, decades later.

The loveliest and the last,
The bloom, whose petals nipped before they blew
Died on the promise of the fruit.

Alas, Jackson never had a Shelley.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)