Jack Robertson

ROBERTSON, JOHN DAVID BENBOW, died on October 12, 1996, aged 79. Jack Robertson was the under-stated, under-rated Middlesex opening batsman who laid the groundwork for Compton and Edrich in what was perhaps the greatest batting line-up county cricket has seen. His own chances of the highest honours were largely blocked by the presence of Hutton and Washbrook. He won only 11 caps for England, nine of them abroad on the second-rank tours of West Indies and India, and never played against Australia at all. There was a perception, strengthened by his failures for MCC and Middlesex against the 1948 Australians, that he was vulnerable against the highest pace. Others thought he was vulnerable to leg-spin. A career record of almost 32,000 runs suggests he can not have been all that vulnerable to anything.

Robertson came from Turnham Green in West London, and his father played for the local club. The son went into the Middlesex Second Eleven at 15, got a chance in the Championship at 21, and a year later won his cap. Unfortunately, this was 1939 and the opening partnership he had already formed with Sid Brown could not re-convene for seven long years.

But in 1947 Middlesex blossomed with a glorious luxuriance. Robertson and Brown not merely paved the way for Compton and Edrich but often reached the destination themselves. In successive matches they shared stands of 310 against Nottinghamshire and 222 against Yorkshire. Robertson scored 2,760 runs in 1947, more than anyone else in the country excluding the big two, and was included in the team for the Oval Test. He scored 133 for England in the Port-of-Spain Test the following winter and 121 against New Zealand at Lord's in 1949. Both innings were match-savers but he was playing at Lord's only because Washbrook was unfit, and he was promptly dropped again.

He seemed to be a player whose triumphs never quite had happy endings. Four weeks later at Worcester he scored 331 not out in a day, still the highest for Middlesex and then the biggest score in England since Hutton's 364. He would ruefully tell how the day ended with his car getting a flat tyre; only Worcestershire players were around to help and they were not feeling very compassionate. His batting, even when less overwhelming, was always stylish; he was said to be one of the few batsmen Denis Compton would go on the balcony to watch.

Robertson was responsible for a famous act of defiance at Lord's in 1944 when a flying-bomb stopped play and the players hurled themselves to the ground as it exploded nearby; then he hooked Bob Wyatt's next ball for six. In all other circumstances, he was soft-spoken, kindly, unfailingly polite and uncynical. He was a teetotaller and lived in a house called Stickiwickits. For some years he ran a small hotel in Cornwall and cricketers often went there for gentle pre-season training and, in some cases, on honeymoon. A number, however, were rather shocked on discovering it was unlicensed.

© John Wisden & Co