The Archie Jackson Story April 26, 2008

The late lamented

Frith brings to life a man who was as much a hero to Australians as Bradman

The Archie Jackson Story is achingly sad. Even now, 75 years after his death, there remains a profound sense of loss at the passing of the man.

The death of a young person is always deeply distressing and Jackson was cruelly claimed by tuberculosis at the age of 23.

And, of course, he was not just any young person. He was a cricketer who had been kissed by the gods; a batsman who evoked in old men memories of the immortal Victor Trumper; a batsman who, dare it be said, stood comparison with Don Bradman.

When he scored his one Test century - on debut against England in Adelaide in February 1929 - the incorrigible legspinner, cartoonist, journalist and raconteur Arthur Mailey commented that it was Don Bradman's bad luck to have batted with a partner whose brilliance would have overshadowed any man.

As David Frith notes in his introduction: "In such premature death there is a danger that the legend becomes gilded: That is not the case here."

True, this is not the case. Frith, who has served the game with distinction as a historian, author, editor and archivist for many summers, has given Jackson more than an identity in this splendidly researched and warm account. He has gently and affectionately given life and personality to an uncomplicated and self-effacing young man who was as much a hero as Bradman to Australians of all ages from 1926-27 to that dreadful Bodyline summer of 1932-33.

Frith is a meticulous researcher and when he embarked on this most worthwhile project in the early 1970s he established a close rapport with Jackson's best mate, Bill Hunt, a left-arm medium pacer and slow bowler who played 18 times for New South Wales and once for Australia, against South Africa in 1931-32. Hunt, who died in 1983 at the age of 75, provided Frith with priceless insights into the life of Jackson and his family and social intimates.

Jackson played only seven more Test matches after his tour de force at Adelaide at the age of 19 years and 152 days. His health began to deteriorate on the tour of England in 1930 and he died at Albion, Brisbane on February 16, 1933 as England took an unassailable lead in the Bodyline series at the nearby Gabba. His body was taken back to Sydney in the same coach of the mail train that carried the solemn Test cricketers of Australia and England.

At least in the pages of cricket literature Jackson is assured a long life. And for that we are all a little richer.

From the book:
The second coming of Trumper had been short-lived, but the course of cricket history was changed by a few degrees. When Jackson's summers were gone forever, men, women and children grieved. A torrent of words came forth in the vain wish to do justice to the young man and his deeds. Then life went on again, almost as before, leaving only photographs, grey columns of prose, a few handwritten letters, and, over a plot of Australia's hard brown earth, a gravestone on which the inscription proclaims with beautiful simplicity: "He played the game."

The Archie Jackson Story
by David Frith

The Cricketer, 1974

Mike Coward is a cricket writer with The Australian