Alan Oakman © Getty Images
Alan Oakman © Getty Images

Historians tell us that the family name had originated from Lanarkshire, a former county in central Scotland, and from the city of Glasgow, where the initial mention can be traced to the old barony of Akyne. The first documentation of the name is found in 1340 and later, in 1405. Over years, the family surname has appeared in the records in various forms, such as Aitken, Aiken, Atkin, and Aitkin, among others. The motto under the family crest reads: Robore et vigilantia, which, freely translated into English, means: Strength and vigilance. Cricket knows this family by the modern name of Oakman.

Alan Stanley Myles Oakman was born April 20, 1930 at Hastings, Sussex, and was educated at Hastings Grammar School and Cambridge University, playing cricket for both institutions as a right-hand batsman and off-break bowler.

Oakman played 538 First-Class matches in a span from 1947 to 1968, scoring 21,800 runs. His highest score was 229 not out, and he averaged 26.17. He hit 22 centuries and 101 fifties and held 594 catches (his height of 6’ 6” facilitating his close-in fielding, particularly in the slips). He also took 736 wickets at 27.63, his best innings bowling figures being 7 for 39. He took 5 wickets in an innings 31 times and 10 wickets in a match twice.

This sterling all-rounder played 497 matches for Sussex, scoring 20,117 runs from 847 innings and taking 703 wickets. Let us examine his career in a little more detail.

Oakman began his apprenticeship for his county with Sussex Second XI, for whom he played 25 documented games between 1947 and 1969, the first of those games, against Kent Second XI, being played just before his First-Class debut.

Oakman’s debut was against Northamptonshire at Northants in August 1947, primarily as a fresh-faced, 17-year-old off-break bowler, and was as modest as can be imagined. He scored 3 not out in a team total of 480 for 8 declared, and did not pick up any wickets though he bowled in both innings.

There was something remarkable about that innings of 480 for 8. While Charles Oakes, at No. 6, remained not out on 122, there were 3 individual scores of 73, from openers John Langridge and Henry Parks and No. 4 Robert Stainton.

There was an element of mystery in the innings in that the first wicket to fall, that of Parks, who is shown to have been dismissed stumped by Percy Davis, although the designated wicketkeeper for the home side is shown as a man revelling in the unusual name of Kenneth Fiddling. There is no explanation as to why Davis was keeping wickets at this early stage of the game.

Langridge is also shown to have been caught by a substitute fielder (unnamed), whilst the No. 3 man, brother James Langridge, is shown to have been caught by the same Davis, this time from the field. When the dust had settled down, Sussex had won the game by 9 wickets — an auspicious start for the debutant, even though his personal contribution to the victory was less than spectacular.

In the years of National Service during the war years and beyond, Oakman was commissioned in the Grenadier Guards, and had the opportunity of fulfilling his family motto of strength and vigilance, being given the honour of a posting on sentry duty at the royal residence of Buckingham Palace. Once he was demobilised from the service, Oakman lost no time in his endeavour to establish himself firmly in the county team.

A series of sterling bowling performances in 1951 helped his cause greatly. In the match against Oxford at The Parks in June 1951, Oakman took 6 for 40 in the second innings of 138, his first 5-wicket haul, helping his team to wrap the match up by 8 wickets.

There followed, in fairly rapid succession, a series of 5-wicket hauls over the next month: 5 for 34 against Kent at Tunbridge Wells in end-June; 6 for 113 against Gloucestershire at Bristol in mid-July; 6 for 98 in his very next match, against Glamorgan at Llanelli; and culminating in 5 for 39 against Kent at Hastings in his very next game. These performances earned Oakman his county cap in 1951, a season in which he had 77 wickets from 31 matches.

In his 70th match, against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge in July 1952, he had the misfortune of being dismissed for 99 in the first innings. Against Leicestershire at Grace Road a week later, he scored 98.

His maiden First-Class century had been eluding him all this time, but he struck gold in his 168th match, against Derbyshire at Hove in August 1955, with 102 in a Sussex first-innings total of 302 for 9 declared.

Meanwhile, Oakman achieved his only hat-trick against Somerset at Hove in June 1952, his victims being skipper Stuart Rogers (5), Colin Mitchell (0), and Ben Brocklehurst (15).

1954 was the nearest Oakman ever came to capturing 100 wickets when he was left tantalisingly poised on 99 wickets from 31 matches when the season ended. The season also saw him achieving his best bowling figures in the match against Glamorgan at Eastbourne in August, when Oakman took 7 for 39 in the Glamorgan first-innings total of 142. Oakman picked up 3 more wickets in the second innings, besides scoring 58 in the only innings Sussex batted, his team winning the game by an innings and 97 runs.

The addition of the eccentric off-spinner Robin Marlar to the Sussex attack in 1954 and in subsequent seasons took some of the sheen off Oakman’s bowling, and restricted his opportunities with ball. The paradox was that by the time Marlar retired from active cricket in 1968, Oakman had been firmly established in the Sussex team on the strength of his batting.

Oakman first scored a thousand runs in 1952 (1,429 runs). This was followed by 1954 (1,412), 1956 (1,866), 1958 (1,502), 1959 (1,148), 1960 (1,827), 1961 (2,307, including his highest score of 229 not out, against Nottinghamshire at Worksop), 1962 (2,008), and 1963 (1,447). With less of a bowling load to shoulder, Oakman’s batting blossomed rapidly and he was selected for the first of his 2 Tests in the summer of 1956 — Jim Laker’s summer.

The English selectors had met with the intention of finalising the team for the third Test against Australia at Headingley. After some deliberations, one of the selectors was requested by his colleagues to kindly step outside for a minute. In a short while, the selector was recalled to the room and a strange proposal was made to him: to don the England colours once again, having played his last Test in March 1951 at Christchurch, against New Zealand. Cyril Washbrook was to remark later that the opportunity of playing for England was something that one just could not refuse.

Well, Oakman made his Test debut for England in the same Test, a game England won by an innings and 42 runs. It was a match with a fairytale denouement for Washbrook, who walked in to bat with England on 17 for 3, Colin Cowdrey (0), debutant Alan Oakman (4, at No. 3), and Peter Richardson (5) all back in the pavilion in no time.

Washbrook (98) then teamed up with his young skipper Peter May (101) to forge a fourth-wicket partnership of 187. Oakman did not bowl in either innings, but held one catch in each innings, both times off Laker.

The scene then shifted to Old Trafford for the fourth Test, enshrined forever in legend and song. May opted to bat first. There were two individual centuries in the England total of 459; Richardson (104, opening the innings, and sharing a first-wicket stand of 174 with Cowdrey — 80), and the Revd. David Sheppard (113, at No. 3). Our man Oakman contributed 10 to the total.

Australia finished their first innings on 84, Colin McDonald top-scoring with 32 at the top of the order. Laker finished with 9 for 37 and Tony Lock with 1 for 37. Oakman, with his formidable 6’ 6” height and seemingly prehensile fingers, held 2 catches off Laker in the leg-trap, displaying an agility and anticipation quite remarkable for a man with such a large frame.

Although he did not know it at the time, the last chapter was about to be written in the Test chronicles of Oakman when he took the field along with his England colleagues as Australia followed on. On the team score of 28, McDonald had to retire hurt with a badly jarred knee on his own score of 11, returning to the fray when the second wicket fell at 55.

This time round also, McDonald top-scored for his team, with 89 (337 minutes, with 10 fours — a truly heroic effort, given the circumstances). The rest of the innings fell away and Australia were dismissed for 205. Laker achieved the unprecedented feat of capturing all 10 wickets in a Test innings. He had figures of 10 for 53 in the innings, and 19 for 90 runs in the Test, still a record at First-Class level.

Oakman, strong and vigilant as ever, held the catches of 3 of the batsmen dismissed, all in the leg trap, making it 5 catches off the bowling of Laker in the game, and entered the record books along with the bowler.

There was a Caribbean tour to follow, with Jim Swanton’s XI in March 1956, in which Oakman played 4 games, scoring 235 runs with a highest of 71. He also took 8 wickets.

Oakman was selected for the England tour of South Africa in 1956-57, and scored a fluent 63 against Western Province at Cape Town. This was followed by a scintillating 150 batting at against Orange Free State (OFS) at Bloemfontein, a match MCC won by an innings and 168 runs. In this game, after the first MCC wicket of Richardson (9) had fallen on the team score of 19, Oakman and Cowdrey, the other opener, combined in a second-wicket partnership of 318 runs, Cowdrey scoring 173.

Oakman suffered a back injury that prevented him from doing justice to his talents later on the tour, restricting him to 534 runs from 14 matches. The injury prevented him from doing much bowling on the tour and, sadly, sidelined him for much of the 1957 domestic season.

Oakman represented an England XI against a Commonwealth XI at Hastings in September 1958, scoring 12 and 9 and taking 3 for 56 and 1 for 46, in a game Commonwealth XI won by 3 wickets. He was to play another game for an England XI against another Commonwealth XI about a year later at Hastings, with rather less individual success, although the England won by 2 wickets.

Towards the end of his First-Class career Sussex required his services as a bowler again, and he did not disappoint them, picking up 55 wickets in 1963, 47 wickets in 1964, 51 wickets in 1965and 52 wickets in 1966.

Sussex awarded Alan Oakman a benefit season in 1965 that raised £ 5,900 for him.

Oakman played his last First-Class match representing Sussex against Warwickshire at Hove in September 1968. He scored 29 and 33, opening the innings, and captured 1 for 59 and 2 for 60 to round off a long and fruitful 21 years in the First-Class game.

He stood as an umpire in 23 First-Class games from 1969 to 1970. He also had a brush with Test cricket as an umpire when he was called on to do duty in place of Arthur Fagg, one of the designated umpires for the second Test, England versus West Indies at Edgbaston, in August 1973. Fagg had threatened to withdraw from the Test at the end of Day Two, and, indeed, had refused to start on Day Three in protest against the West Indies’ behaviour on the field. Oakman was required to stand in for the first over of the day, by which time the issue had been sorted out between Esmond Kentish, the West Indies manager and Alec Bedser, the England Chairman of selectors.

Oakman finished off his cricket career by playing a one-day single innings 50-over  game at Lampeter on Jul 25, 1999 in his 70th year, not being required to bat, but capturing 1 for 8 from 2 overs.

The last phase of Oakman’s cricket activities was as senior coach for Warwickshire for 17 years from 1970 onwards, and then as their assistant secretary.

We are informed by the cricket archives that Alan Oakman is still with us. May The Almighty grant him a longer innings.

(Padip Dhole is a retired medical practitioner with a life-long interest in cricket history and statistics)