Robin Jackman was denied permission by the Guyana government from playing in a Test for England, which was to be later called off © Getty Images
February 28, 1981.The Test match to be played between West Indies and England at Georgetown, Guyana, was cancelled because the visiting team had been reinforced by the arrival of Robin Jackman, a bowler with South African connections. Arunabha Sengupta recalls one of the many apartheid related controversies to take place in cricket.
The call up
Named in the English squad for the Centenary Test against Australia in August 1980, 35-year-old Robin Jackman had been over the moon. His long-cherished, rosy and increasingly impossible looking dream was ultimately crystallising into reality. The Surrey medium pacer with the big, big heart had been the most successful wicket-taker in the county championship that season, and fully deserved the cap. And when he reported to the team hotel on the eve of the Test, the receptionist brought him crashing down to earth with the greeting, “Ah, yes, Mr. Jackman. Now you’re only booked for two nights, aren’t you?” The disappointed bowler immediately knew that he had been appointed as a standby.
Eccentric commentator Alan Gibson had christened him Shoreditch Sparrow, although he did not have any obvious connection with Shoreditch. Jackman had little ability but toiled his way to wickets.
He did not find a place in the side led by Ian Botham that flew to the West Indies that winter. Perhaps the selectors considered him over the hill. After all, he had turned out for Surrey alongside Ken Barrington, the manager of the team.
Jackman had decided to make a living out of cricket in 1968. And hence, when cricket was over for the summer in England, he followed the sun down south to Cape Town, where he had a coaching job and turned out in Currie Cup matches. Down the years, he married a South African girl and every English winter was spent in the diamond country.
It would have been the regular South African summer again had vice-captain Bob Willis not twisted his knee early in the tour. Jackman was called up as replacement.
He arrived in Georgetown, Guyana, with England slightly demoralised after a heavy defeat in the first Test at Port-of-Spain. However, Jackman himself was in excellent spirits. On the evening of his arrival, he proved to be the life and soul of the party thrown by Joe Solomon, chairman of the Guyana Cricket Board, and Roy Fredericks, Minister of Youth and Sports. According to Frank Keating in Another Bloody Day in Paradise, when suggested that he was in for a roasting from the blades of Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes, Jackman responded saying, “What the blazes do you know? Nothing, nothing could ever stop me going anywhere or giving up anything for a chance to play for England.”
However, something did.
On the eve of the One-Day-International (ODI) in Berbice, a broadcast from Jamaica alerted the Guyanese Government about Jackman’s ties to South Africa. Rumours flew about during the night. After all, Guyana had been severely anti-apartheid for ages. They had banned the great Garry Sobers and even their own favourite son Rohan Kanhai from playing in South Africa. On the other hand, Clive Lloyd regularly faced Clive Rice, and Viv Richards squared up to Vince van der Bijlin the English county season. No one knew what reaction would transpire.
Jackman himself, up early due to the unadjusted body clock, displayed little concern. He lurked among newsmen, ostensibly asking the press photographers how to use his Instamatic camera, doing an excellent job of hiding any misgiving. He was the nephew of well-known British character actor Patrick Cargill and had once considered training for a career on the stage. His face betrayed no emotion.
But administrative manager Alan Smith was not very sure. The local 7 am radio news had categorically stated that Jackman was not welcome in the country. A potential Basil D’Oliveira situation was on hand.
The teams flew to Berbice for the ODI. However, Smith and a large contingent of press men stayed back to pay a visit to the British High Commissioner. The administrative manager carried a photocopy of the Gleneagles Agreement, which stated forbidding conditions — all laced in diplomatic ambiguity: “The Commonwealth heads of the state have accepted it as the urgent duty of each of their governments vigorously to combat the evil of apartheid by withholding any form of support for and by taking every practical step to discourage contact or competition between their nationals and sporting organisations, teams or sportsmen from South Africa or any other country where sports are organised on the basis of race, colour or ethnic origin.”
Few knew how to interpret this with regard to the Jackman case.
Alec Bedser, chairman of the England selection committee, was asked live on British television about Gleneagles. He had responded, “Well, I dunno, all I know is there’s a nice golf course there.”
Neither did Phillip Mallet, the High Commissioner, have any idea what the Guyanese Government would decide. He just expressed his regret when news flew in that at Berbice, England were 37 for three: “Oh dear, that means [Geoff] Boycott is out.”
Jackman was not playing in the ODI and the West Indies won by six wickets. The teams returned to the hotel, with the medium pacer wondering what was in store for him.
Soon, a man in a stiff uniform arrived at the hotel, asking, “Which is Mr Jackson’s room?” The notice he served to the Surrey bowler read:
“REVOCATION OF PERMIT
Section 21 (4B) of Immigration Act
Take Notice that on the direction of the President the permit granted to you on the 23rdFeb 1981 to enter and remain in Guyana for a period of two weeks is hereby revoked with immediate effect.
(Signed) J. Thorne, Deputy Supt, Immigration”
The Georgetown Test was called off. Strangely, a heated argument that followed among the journalists accompanying the team regarding whether Wisden should label the Test as ‘abandoned’ or ‘cancelled’. However, there was a more than serious shadow of doubt about the rest of the tour as well.
Thankfully, the Barbadian Government did not follow the same policy and allowed cricket to be played. Jackman at long last donned the English sweater. He bowled well to take four for 68 against Barbados and made his international debut in the third Test at Bridgetown.
England were trounced by a huge margin of 298 runs with Viv Richards scoring a majestic 182 in the second innings. But, Jackman managed to impress with figures of three for 65 and two for 76.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)