Les Jackson    Getty Images
Les Jackson Getty Images

The Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales for the years 1870 to 1872, compiled by one John Marius Wilson, had this to say about the place: Whitwell, a village and a parish in the district of Worksop and county of Derby. The village stands 4 miles WSW of Worksop r. station, and has a post-office under Chesterfield .

Coal mining has long been one of the principal activities of the villagers of Whitwell, from the Saturday, May 24, 1890, when His Grace, the 6th Duke of Portland had lifted the first sod as a symbolic act of sinking the first shaft of the Whitwell Colliery. History relates that there were great celebrations at Whitwell on the opening day. A marquee was erected on the Common, bedecked with flowers and shrubs from the Duke s gardens, which were arranged by Mr. Horton, the head gardener. Among a gathering of well-known persons of the day was Canon G. E. Mason, whose speech reflected his respect for and devotion to the miners.

It was into a coal-mining family of Whitwell that Herbert Leslie Jackson was born on April 5, 1921, the year that Warwick Armstrong had led his rampaging Australian team to a resounding triumph in England. Les s father was reputed to have been a well-known local cricketer himself. The youngest of 13 siblings and of 5 brothers in a middle class family, Les had several brothers of marked cricketing ability in local cricket, and he learnt the rudiments of the game in their company.

As a child, Les attended the Whitwell Church of England School and became a coalminer at the age of 16 years, and started playing for the Whitwell colliery side. While at school he had developed into a formidable, if untutored, bowler of immense strength and stamina.

A somewhat late starter, Jackson made it to the Derbyshire Club and Ground team for 2 matches in 1946 and was taken on by Worksop Cricket Club in 1947 at a consideration of 1 per game. He justified his remuneration amply by his performances in the Bassetlaw League (in later years, there would be a trophy named after him in the same League).

It is said that Jackson was signed on by Derbyshire on the recommendation of former Derbyshire wicketkeeper Harry Elliott. A 6 feet tall and wide-shouldered youth with shoulders that no jacket has ever been able to contain , already 26 years old in 1947, Les Jackson made his First-Class debut with Derbyshire against Kent at Sheffield in 1947. It was reported at the time that Derbyshire skipper Eddie Gothard had not been overly impressed by the lad at the time until such time as the coach had very shrewdly arranged for him to face Jackson in the nets. One net session had convinced the skipper that Jackson would be a good investment for the future.

The debutant bagged a pair but took a wicket on debut. In a quirky departure from the accepted norms of cricket, Jackson had used only one batting pad during his brief stints at the wicket in his debut game, as revealed in a private letter to a young fan of his in later years.

Les Jackson, a right-arm fast to fast-medium bowler, was a true champion for Derbyshire over his long career, as his exemplary statistics show. He is reputed to have had a rather unusual and distinctive bowling action from his 13-pace easy run-up to the wicket, with the bowling arm coming over in a distinctive slinging motion somewhere over the middle stump on the bowler s side. This closeness to the stumps had helped him to get many lbw decisions in his favour.

Jackson s accuracy used to be a byword on the county circuit in his playing days, and he would move the ball both ways at a brisk pace, the ball coming at various heights to add to the discomfiture of the opposing batsmen, bruising thighs and ribs and jamming hands against the bat handle.

It is said that one of his former colleagues had once gone out to the wicket at the end of an innings in which Jackson had bowled, and had laid down a pocket handkerchief on the wicket that had completely covered the area on which Jackson had pitched to ball throughout the innings: such had been his legendary pinpoint accuracy.

In a First-Class career from 1947 to 1963 Les Jackson is seen to have played 418 matches in all, capturing 1,733 wickets ay a bowling average of 17.36. He had 115 instances of 5 wickets in an innings and took 10 wickets in the match 20 times. These bowling figures speak of a superlative performer plying his trade year after year with the same zeal and vigour for his team.

Let us examine his bowling figures a little more closely. He is seen to have taken 100 or more wickets in 10 seasons over his career, with a best of 160 wickets at 13.61 in 1960, at the age of 39. Even that pales in comparison to his figures for the wet summer of 1958 when he had 143 wickets at the unbelievable average of 10.99, with 16 five-wicket hauls and 3 ten-wicket hauls. It may be noted that he had suffered from a persistent groin injury throughout 1958 that had reduced both his run-up and speed to some extent.

Wisden confirms that among bowlers who had taken at least 100 wickets in the season, there was no one with a better average in the 20th century among the quicker men. The only two to approach his average had been Wilfred Rhodes (1923) with 134 wickets at 11.54 and Arthur Booth (1946) with 111 at 11.61. It may be noted that both Rhodes and Booth, Yorkshire bowlers, were slow left-arm practitioners. No wonder then, that Les Jackson was considered to be a legend during his playing days for Derbyshire.

Batting was never Jackson s strong point, as can be seen from his numbers: he very nearly took more wickets than he scored runs (2,083 at 6.19) in his First-Class career. There was a prevalent notion at the time that among the several factors that had kept Jackson out of the Test squads, one was definitely his lack of competence with the bat. His highest individual score, as can be seen from his statistics, was only 39*, and he reached the 30s only twice more in his career. Indeed, between July 1949 and August 1950 there was a sequence in which he had played 51 innings without reaching double-figures even once.

In this connection, it may be stated that this prolonged lack of double-figures has been exceeded only by Jem Shaw, Nobby Clark, Eric Hollies (two separate batting draughts), and Mark Robinson. Most of Jackson s contemporary fast- or fast-medium bowlers like Fred Trueman, Frank Tyson, and even Derbyshire compatriot Cliff Gladwin, with whom he had often shared a devastating bowling pair, were better batsmen by comparison.

In 1948, Jackson played only 17 First-Class matches, but picked up 65 wickets with an energetic action rather like that of Lasith Malinga. When The Invincibles were touring England in 1948, Don Bradman had scored 62 against Derbyshire at Derby; even then, his considered opinion was that Jackson was one of the best English bowlers he had encountered on that particular tour high praise, indeed.

The famous slinging action of Les Jackson    Getty Images
The famous slinging action of Les Jackson Getty Images

Ray Lindwall, who knew a thing or two about fast bowling himself, had this to say about Jackson s performance: In 1948, Sir Donald Bradman reckoned Les Jackson the best bowler we met. As every English Test team was announced, we used to look for his name. But it was never there.

It used to be said that, County batsmen are inclined to talk more quietly or laugh a little louder at less funny jokes when they get near Derbyshire. Ted Dexter used to feel that the reason for that was, one name has been on their minds, the best bowler I ever faced Les Jackson.

The other worrying factor for the batsmen when facing Derbyshire would be Gladwin, who would be operating in tandem with Jackson. Trueman, one of Jackson s more famous contemporaries, used to reckon that Jackson was the best six-days-a-week bowler I ever saw in county cricket.

Opinion among the more accomplished batsmen of the time was not very much different. Graveney would remember his as the best bloody bowler in the country , and would add that even when he was among the runs against Derbyshire, I used to finish up with bruises on the inside of both thighs. A more reserved and reticent Peter May would simply refer to Jackson s bowling as magnificent.

As students of cricket history are well aware, Derbyshire have traditionally been blessed with a long line of fast- and fast-medium seam bowlers. One recalls the names of Billy Bestwick, the Pope brothers, George and Alfred, Bill Copson, Cliff Gladwin, Derek Morgan, Ole Mortensen, Devon Malcolm, Alan Ward, Mike Hendrick, and Dominic Cork, all fine bowlers of undoubted pedigree; however, to the diehard Derbyshire fan, there has been but one unparalleled colossus in this context, our Les, as they are wont to refer to Jackson.

Jackson played 394 matches for Derbyshire, picking up 1670 wickets at an overall average of 17.11, with 114 five-wicket hauls and 20 match hauls of 10 or more wickets. Here is the list of the bowlers who have taken 1,000 or more wickets for Derbyshire till date:

W M Bowler
1,670 394 Les Jackson
1,536 332 Cliff Gladwin
1,452 321 Billy Bestwick
1,417 303 Tommy Mitchell
1,216 540 Derek Morgan
1,209 497 Edwin Smith
1,033 261 Bill Copson

Why then, was this universally admired fast bowler, the pride of the Derbyshire attack, selected for only 2 Tests? The theory going the rounds at the time was that, marvellous as his figures for Derbyshire undoubtedly were, his wickets were seen to have been taken on green wickets that suited the seam bowlers. Statistics show that of 1,670 wickets that Jackson had taken for Derbyshire, 860 had come in home matches while the balance of 810 wickets away from home, not much of a home bias in the figures.

Some doubted his stamina and his ability to bowl for long periods. Well, it is on record that his County skipper Donald Carr would frequently have him bowl from one end for the whole duration of the pre-lunch session, and then throw him the ball again after lunch. The archives show that Jackson would regularly bowl an average of about 886 overs a season from 1949 to 1963, hardly the figures of a man lacking stamina or the ability of coming back for a second spell.

There were others who were not comfortable with his unusual and untutored bowling action, one that may have looked ungainly to a purist. The action, however, was never a deterrent to his picking up bags of wickets throughout his career.

Finally, there was the perception that Jackson was, perhaps, not quick enough. Well, Graveney, no doubt echoing the sentiments of several others, was fond of saying that when he used to meet Les Jackson even at social gatherings, he would instinctively begin to massage his thighs.

Many have tried to explain the apparent apathy of the then selectors against Jackson by pointing out that Derbyshire had never been one of the fashionable counties, and that Jackson, coming from a coal-mining background, had lacked the necessary social graces. Then again, Jackson was not an Oxbridge man.

It had all boiled down, as the general consensus went, to a question of snobbery among the selectors in general: Freddie Brown, England captain in 1949, 1950 and 1951, and Gubby Allen, an Old Etonian and also former England captain, a prim and proper Establishment man, in particular.

Jackson s biographer Mike Carey was definite that Jackson s non-inclusion in the Test arena while he was in his prime was primarily due to Brown and Allen s dislike for him, based on social class-related issues. Allen had been Chairman of selectors between 1955 and 1961, Jackson s best period.

Trueman, another man from the coal mines, would observe: My information is that he [Allen] would not have Les at any price and if that s true it s criminal.

Jackson, a modest and reticent professional by nature, never complained himself and always kept his own counsel on the issue. In a golden era of the faster men in English cricket of the 1950s, with the likes of Brian Statham, Trueman, Tyson, Peter Loader, Alan Moss, and the all-round capabilities of Trevor Bailey available for selection, Jackson was the perpetual forgotten man, to the disappointment and anger of his armies of admirers.

Jackson s figures of 6 for 37 for North against South at Edgbaston, a Test trial in 1949, may have finally convinced the selectors that he was worthy of consideration for Test cricket. He made his Test debut against the visiting New Zealanders at Old Trafford, largely as a stand-in for Alec Bedser who was not available. It was a drawn game in which England fielded two debutants, Les Jackson, 28, and Brian Close, having celebrated his 18th birthday in February. The third debutant of the match was 21-year-old John R Reid.

For England, Bailey (6 for 84) and Jackson (2 for 47) proved to be a potent opening attack, and the visitors were restricted to 293 despite a fighting 75 from Martin Donnelly and 50 from Reid, their 5th-wicket stand realising 116 runs.

England declared on 440 for 9 with Reg Simpson (103), Len Hutton (73), Bill Edrich (78), and Bailey (72*) all contributing. The dual international from New Zealand (having also represented the country in hockey), slow left-arm bowler Tom Burtt captured 6 for 162. Jackson scored 7 not out from No. 11.

When New Zealand batted again, the match ended with them on 348 for 7, Bert Sutcliffe contributing 101 at the top of the order. Donnelly played another good hand of 80 runs. Jackson picked up 1 for 25. Derbyshire awarded Jackson his county cap in 1949.

Jackson s eldest brother had been killed in World War I. An incident of Tuesday, September 26, 1950 was to rob the family of one more son and to cast a shadow of gloom on the family. It seems that a fire had broken out underground in the Creswell Colliery at about 3.45 AM during the Night Shift. Among the 232 workers underground at the time, 80 had been trapped behind a wall of flames and had been engulfed in the ensuing fumes of the fire. All 80 had perished underground; one of the deceased had been John Thomas, another brother of Jackson. At the inquest, it had been certified that all 80 had succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Life, and cricket, however, went on; Les Jackson never severed his connection with the coal pits, returning to the mines in the winters. The hard labour in the mines over all the years had strengthened his broad shoulders and limbs. He married Norma, a Whitwell girl, in 1942, and the couple had a daughter. His wife proved to be solicitous and fearful of his safety in the mines. During the latter part of his time with Derbyshire, Jackson stopped going down the pits in the winter, and instead, took up a job as a chauffeur for the National Coal Board, a post he held till 1982.

In 1950 he played 26 matches, capturing 92 wickets at 20.86, with 8 five-wicket hauls. By now, there was no doubt in any body s mind about his intrinsic worth as a new-ball bowler. The cognoscenti were therefore aghast when he was left out of the squad to tour Australia in 1950-51.

When John Warr, the Middlesex and Cambridge man, was the last man selected for the tour, even Bailey, a Cambridge man himself, could not believe his ears. Trueman, always a staunch admirer of Jackson, would become apoplectic at the very mention of the name of Warr in connection with that Australia tour. As it turned out, Warr had a very mediocre tour, playing in only 2 of the Tests and taking 1 for 281. But for his class bias, Brown may well have had the services of Les Jackson in Australia.

Jackson s only stint in an international touring team blazer occurred when he was selected for the Commonwealth XI that toured India and Ceylon under Frank Worrell in 1950-51. Normally a man of placid temperament, he had once been aroused by some disparaging comments about miners made by wicketkeeper Dick Spooner of Warwickshire on the ship going out. It was reported that Jackson had even threatened to throw Spooner overboard. It was not a very happy tour for Jackson: he played only 2 matches, picking up only 3 wickets and an elbow injury that had resulted in his early departure from the tour. The elbow injury was to require surgery before the onset of the next summer.

Derbyshire had awarded Jackson a benefit season in 1957 that had raised 2,944. He repaid the compliment by capturing 141 wickets in the season at an average of 16.27. Very early in the season he warmed up with 3 for 32 and 7 for 38 against a hapless Essex at Burton-on-Trent. In the very next match, it was the turn of Yorkshire to face the music at Chesterfield as Jackson sent them packing to a rare defeat with 5 for 51 and 6 for 63.

He began 1958 in dramatic fashion at The Parks by capturing 7 for 18 against Oxford. Against Worcestershire at Kidderminster he achieved the first of his 2 hat-tricks, with the wickets of Bob Broadbent, keeper Raymond Morris, and Derek Pearson, all three falling to catches behind the stumps by George Dawkes. His stunning performances in 1958 won Les Jackson the Wisden Cricketer of the Year award in 1959.

It was 1961, and the Australians under Richie Benaud were on an Ashes tour of England. By then May was the skipper of the England team. Statham was out of the third Test with an injury, and the selectors, in their collective wisdom, called up the 40-year old Jackson for his second and last Test, at Headingley in early July.

Ironically, Jackson had had a rather indifferent start to the season, being hit on the ankle by David Sayer of Kent in his first Championship match, and being forced to miss a few games. Fate, however, happened to be on Jackson s side as he captured 5 for 53 and 2 for 40 against Leicestershire. England had come calling for Jackson during that match.

England won the third Test by 8 wickets. Dexter, for one, was convinced that Jackson s economical figures of 31-11-57-2 and 13-5-26-2 may have had a lot to contribute to the victory. Jackson s big off-cutter to dismiss Colin McDonald for only 1 in the second innings had left the tourists 4 for 1, and they had folded up for 120. That, however, was the extent of his Test career, 2 Tests 12 years apart, a shameful squandering away of his prodigious talent by the England powers that be of the time.

Jackson was back to First-Class cricket again after his curious Test career was over. EW Swanton, in his appreciation of Jackson s bowling, used to say that Jackson s bowling was hostile, full of stamina, from one summer s end to the next, scarcely guilty of even an indifferent over . He wound up his career in 1963.

In the meantime, Jackson became a part of a cricketing experiment in England when he played for Derbyshire in the Midlands Knock-Out Competition, sponsored by Leicestershire, the brainchild of Leicestershire Secretary Michael Turner.

At 11 AM on May 2, 1962, the first ball was bowled by John Cotton of Nottinghamshire to Mick Norman of Northamptonshire, who became the first victim in the tournament, scoring the first duck. Meanwhile, across the Midlands, Jackson bowled the first delivery for Derbyshire to Maurice Hallam at Leicester in a 65-over game. The ball, then, had been set rolling, as this was the first ever limited-overs Cricket Tournament played in England, later being morphed into the Gillette Cup from 1963.

After his retirement for First-Class cricket, Jackson played for Enfield in the Lancashire League in 1964, taking 67 wickets at 11.07. He was 43 at this time. Playing for Derbyshire against the International Cavaliers at Derby in 1965, aged 44 years, Jackson had an analysis of 6-2-9-3.

He was unanimously elected President of the Derbyshire Players Association in 1995. He kept active by growing vegetables in his garden, and taking up dancing. He also began studying local history and was an active member of his local Methodist chapel.

Les Jackson, the popular and highly respected icon of Derbyshire, passed away on April 25, 2007, aged 86. A Memorial Service was held for Derbyshire s greatest ever bowler at Crooked Spire, conducted by Canon Michael Knight, the Vicar of Chesterfield, while the Bishop of Repton had said a blessing for the departed soul.

Tributes to Jackson were given by TV presenter Nick Owen, President of Derbyshire CCC; Donald Carr, who captained Derbyshire from 1955 to 1962; and Jim Brailsford, teammate of Les at Derbyshire and Undercliffe. Afterwards, there was a reception at Queen s Park cricket pavilion.