1933 June 28, 2015

The kid who was competition to Bradman

The player who many thought was a better batsman than the greatest of them all

Archie Jackson batting against England in 1930 © Getty Images

Don Bradman's name is almost as famous as the game itself. But, for an all-too-brief time at the start of his international career, it appeared likely that Australia would have two brilliant young batsmen from New South Wales in their ranks. It was a brief dream, and one ended cruelly by illness.

As a youngster just getting into cricket, I remember being bought a limited-edition cricket book which remains a treasured part of my collection and still one of my favourites. That it was about a player I had never heard of from an era which, at the time, seemed ancient history was soon forgotten as I became immersed in David Frith's The Archie Jackson Story.

Although he was almost exactly a year younger than Bradman, Jackson was the first of the pair to make his first-class debut by 13 months. His first-grade debut for Balmain came when he was only a month past his 15th birthday; Frith believes this to be a record.

He started the 1926-27 season in outstanding form and was called up by New South Wales for the game against Queensland in Brisbane. He had only just turned 17. He scored 5 and 86 on his debut and 4 and 100 in his second outing a week later. Jackson retained his place until a run of low scores, coupled with a boil on his knee, forced him to miss New South Wales' game against South Australia in December 1927. His place was taken by Bradman, who scored 118 and 33 on his debut. Jackson, returned to the side as an opener, responded with a pair of hundreds. He was rewarded with a post-season tour to New Zealand with an Australian XI; Bradman stayed at home.

It was Bradman, however, who played for Australia first, 11 months after his New South Wales debut. Both men had featured in the Test trial but neither had made runs, although Bradman ensured his selection with three hundreds in his next four innings.

Although he was almost exactly a year younger than Bradman, Jackson was the first of the pair to make his first-class debut by 13 months. His debut for Balmain came when he was only a month past his 15th birthday

Playing against England in 1928-29, he finished the series with 468 runs at 66.85, missing the second Test when he was dropped for the only time in his career. Jackson debuted in the fourth Test, following weeks of public pressure for him to play. Opening the innings, Australia slid to 3 for 19 against Harold Larwood and Maurice Tate at full pace. But Jackson stroked his way to 164, the manner of his scoring as awesome as the runs themselves. And yet, by the next time England toured, the infamous Bodyline series in 1932-33, Jackson had played the last of his eight Tests.

He toured England in 1930 - the Sydney Morning Herald described him as "the greatest of present-day batsmen", even though Bradman was also on the trip. All eyes were on the NSW pair. But while Bradman, whose career was also blighted by illness, went from strength to strength, Jackson struggled with poor health and with that his form also deserted him. Still, he showed enough touches of class to win over many seasoned observers, some who still regarded him as better than Bradman.

A hundred at Taunton - it was said the West Country sun had thawed him out - meant he was restored for the final Test at The Oval, and there he played his bravest innings. On a treacherous pitch and with Larwood at his most hostile, Jackson "took frequent shuddering blows to the body" but still was in line for the next delivery. It was while watching film of Bradman bat in the same session that Douglas Jardine later exclaimed: "I've got it ... he's yellow". The pair added 243 for the fourth wicket, Jackson's share being a courageous 73. It helped win the match for Australia and with it the Ashes.

But Jackson was unwell. It was nothing major - or so it seemed - but he kept being sidelined. He struggled in four Tests against West Indies, and was dropped after the Melbourne Test in March 1931. It was to be his last first-class match.

He was picked for the first NSW match of 1931-32 but was caught in a rainstorm, and collapsed in his hotel room coughing up blood shortly before the team left for the ground. He was rushed to hospital, but believing he had flu, discharged himself.

At the insistence of the Australian board he was taken to a sanatorium but proved a poor patient. Restless, he often sneaked off into Sydney to see friends. Nevertheless, he appeared to make a good recovery. In 1932 he moved north to Queensland, believing the warmer climate would help him, and he was appointed as a coach to the Queensland Cricket Association.

Thousands lined the streets at Jackson's funeral in Sydney in February 1933 © David Frith

He resumed playing grade cricket in Brisbane for Northern Suburbs, scoring runs at a phenomenal rate. In seven innings he averaged 159.66 and attracted crowds in the thousands. But Jackson's health was in decline and he was sometimes hardly able to run between the wickets, so short of breath was he. One opponent, on the receiving end of a hundred, wrote that it was "delightful in his stroke-making ... but pathetic to witness his suffering".

Still, buoyed by newspaper reports, the public clamoured for him to be included in one of the representative sides to meet the MCC. Those close to him knew his body would never hold up to the strain. He started writing articles for Brisbane's Daily Mail and told friends he harboured a belief that he would be fit enough to return to England on Australia's 1934 tour.

He was still playing for his club at the start of 1933, but by then he was so breathless than he had to use a runner. His last innings was on January 22. With his former NSW team-mate Cassie Andrews running for him, he made 77 in 94 minutes, telling a friend that he was "still in pretty good form".

On February 1, almost four years to the day since his Test debut, he collapsed again and was rushed to hospital. The tuberculosis had spread to both lungs, and his family, still in Sydney, was sent for. Even the Times in London carried a report that Jackson was "seriously ill".

On February 10 the fourth Test started a few miles down the road at the Gabba. A number of players visited him before and during the match but it was clear he was dying. On February 15, with Australia in deep trouble in the match, Jackson sent a telegram to Larwood. "Congratulations magnificent bowling. Good luck all matches."

That day he lapsed in and out of consciousness. Shortly after midnight he asked for the Test score and was told Australia were heading to defeat. A few minutes later he died. He was 23.

With flags flying at half-mast, the teams took to the field at the Gabba later that morning wearing black armbands. England duly wrapped up a six-wicket win and, with it, regained the Ashes.

Jackson's body returned to Sydney by train, the same one that carried the Australia and England sides back to New South Wales for the continuation of the tour. Thousands lined the streets at his funeral, and the pall-bearers were all former Test colleagues: Bradman, Bill Woodfull, Bill Ponsford, Stan McCabe, Vic Richardson and Bert Oldfield. He was buried at the Field of Mars Cemetery in Sydney. The headstone simply said: "He played the game".

The Archie Jackson Story by David Frith (David Frith, 1974)
Australian Cricket by Jack Pollard (Hodder & Stoughton, 1982)
The Cricketer

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  • David on June 29, 2015, 9:52 GMT

    Interesting to note a couple of mentions of Karl Schneider, including from David Frith. Schneider was another very highly rated young batsman himself - looking at the 1927/28 NZ tour, he was indeed rated above both Bradman and Jackson at that stage. Unfortunately he also died young, before he could go further. And to YGKD you are right about the crowds. I have read a contemporaneous report of a Sydney grade match at Redfern Oval when Trumper scored 300 in an afternoon, and the report said that the ground was so full that people were standing on horsecarts in the streets outside.

  • Philip on June 29, 2015, 6:56 GMT

    I should add that by all reliable accounts, the era in question was a time when Australians actually watched cricket. They didn't need gimmicks like we see today to bring them in. There were massive crowds at Sheffield Shield matches. There were many who would have already seen Jackson bat long before he played a Test. There were many who would have remembered Victor Trumper too, so when it was said that this young Scot was that good, it wouldn't likely have been hype.

  • Philip on June 29, 2015, 6:47 GMT

    One only has to look at the limited footage of Archie Jackson to see why the buzz about his batting came about. He had a charisma that over-shadowed the young Don Bradman.

  • randolf on June 28, 2015, 19:16 GMT

    Since only by reading that I can garner any worthwhile information about both Bradman or Archie Jackson, I don't think that I've read anything here; or, what the article say is Jackson's returns in 8 test matches is far from enough for anyone to put him anywhere close to Bradman. And, because I have seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears how bias the favourites of the day are being lauded by their supporters these days, I have no doubt whatsoever that Mr Jackson was nowhere close to Bradman - it was only as a result of fovourite hype why any such absurd comparison was made! Bradman is by distance the best of All Time; and I think followed by Lara.

  • Peter on June 28, 2015, 13:47 GMT

    Bradman also played (1) without a helmet (2) on uncovered pitches (3) without a "supercharged" bat they use in recent times (4) only against strong test playing countries and not against "minnow" nations (5) in the most difficult number 3 position for almost his entire career, rather than being "shielded" from the new ball by other players (6) was the captain for most of the time he was in the team and (7) had his career interrupted by 6 years of way and still came back and did well.

    For these and other reasons, like his astonishing average, he is regarded by well-informed and unbiased commentators as by-far the greatest and best batsman of all time. No one even comes close - perhaps Sir Garfield Sobers is the second best or maybe Graeme Pollock

  • mysecretme on June 28, 2015, 13:22 GMT

    @nickvegas: well, if there exists a current player who has played more number of matches than Bradman against any one country and averages more than him against that one country, he is greater than bradman. Isn't he? The new batsman need not even go above zero against others. That is what is called proportion. I hope you too understand now :) Math is a bit cruel sometimes.

  • Nick on June 28, 2015, 11:23 GMT

    Again another comment that Bradman's figures are out of proportion. As English is your 2nd language I will try to educate you. "Proportion" as a noun "a part, share, or number considered in comparative relation to a whole". Can you see the word "comparative"? Let's try to compare Bradman to Tendulkar shall we, as I am sure this is something you will understand?? Test average Bradman 99.94, vs Tendulkar 53.78. Roughly half. 1st class average Bradman 95.14 vs Tendulkar 57.84, again, roughly half. I know, you are going to say "but Bradman only played against England!". Again, I will try to educate you. Try to remember that there weren't as many test playing countries around in the 30-50s, yet test averages remained the same though 150 years of cricket. Only 1 stood out. A century every 3 innings. Are you getting it now? "Oh but Tendulkar....." Tendulkar what? Failed when his team really needed him? I agree. Eg. World Cup final failure 2003?

  • DAVID on June 28, 2015, 10:41 GMT

    Pity about the confusion over young Bradman and the even younger Jackson. When they arrived in England in 1930 it was Archie Jackson above all others who drew crowds to the practice nets. He truly was a genius. As for Karl Schneider, soon after my book was published, his brother informed me that Karl died from leukaemia, not tuberculosis, so there was no contagion from poor Archie. Those cricket film shows I presented in London over 30 years often included the lyrical footage of Archie Jackson. Thank goodness his elegance was captured forever by the magic of moving images.

  • Indian on June 28, 2015, 8:33 GMT

    Bradman only played against one or two countries and on a very limited set of environments. He was good but always blown too much out of proportion.

  • Deepak on June 28, 2015, 8:14 GMT

    There was Ranjit Khanvilkar from Karnataka/Railways. A very promising all rounder lost his life in Train accident

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