Jim Burke

To a golf club's reluctant rejection of a boy player on the ground that he was too young, Australia directly owed the presence of James Wallace Burke as opening batsman and heaviest scorer on the 1956 tour of Britain. As a boy of 12 who had known fairway and wicket since he was too young to spell two-syllable words, Jim was refused membership of Balgowlah Golf Club, a few miles from Mosman, the suburb of Sydney in which he was born on June 12, 1930. So Burke's aptitude for stroking a ball (inherited from his mother, Mrs. Madge Burke, who holed in one twice in nine holes on the Balgowlah course) was given full outlet at cricket--at which he first received hints as a seven-year-old in the class conducted at Manly Oval on Saturday mornings by George Lowe, Leslie Gwynne and James Randall. The only cricketer in the Burke family had been a great-uncle, Percy Burke, who kept wicket for Kent, where Jim's father was a mechanical engineer before migrating from Bromley to New South Wales.

At 14 Jim went straight into Sydney Grammar School's first eleven; at 15 he rose from Manly's third-grade to first-grade team. At 16 his batting average for Sydney Grammar, 94, set a record for a school that has produced many fine cricketers. At 18 he entered the New South Wales XI and in his first Sheffield Shield match scored 76 not out against Western Australia. At 20 he carried his bat through the innings for 162 not out against Victorian bowling headed by Jack Iverson, whose folded-finger spin took six English wickets for 27 in a Sydney Test a year later. Already Burke's powers of concentration were remarkable.

Before he turned 21 Burke made 101 not out in his first Test match, against England at Adelaide. Spurred by expectation that his captain would close Australia's innings at lunch, he was obviously in a hurry until Lindsay Hassett sent out a message to reassure him.

After one more Test (in which he made 11 and 1 as opening batsman) century-maker Burke was dropped to twelfth man against West Indies; reappeared for one match on a rain-affected Adelaide pitch, then drifted into the wilderness for three years. When he lost his place in the State XI for the last match of season 1953-54, his chance of re-entry into the Test team shrank like a laundered sock.

From the depths, Burke determinedly began a come-back by combining business and cricket (and a second honeymoon for his wife, Barbara) in his successful season as Todmorden's professional in the Lancashire League. The Australian selectors remembered him twice in the 1954-55 Tests against England, but he was dropped for the fifth time when left out of the 1955 team to West Indies. These setbacks, coupled with advice about staying in and letting the runs come, put him in such a defensive groove that Sydney barrackers used to shout "Go home, Burke!" before he got to the wicket.

After an ultra-cautious century in Perth, Sir Donald Bradman dropped him a hint that more stroke-play would be advisable. With this encouragement, Burke simultaneously won the barrackers' forgiveness and a place in the Australian XI for the 1956 tour of England. In this mood, his batting possesses the attractions of a clean line, quick movement back or forward and perfect balance, notably in the on-drive.

A little under six feet, he weighs about 12 st. 7 lb., likes a light bat, grips it low and cautiously limits its pick-up, which, as with most Australians, is towards second slip. He plays back rather squarely, with much of his chest facing the bowler, preferring this method of ensuring that he is behind swinging balls to the classic side-on attitude. This had drawbacks against England's Laker on turning wickets.

A season in which the Australians were happy with neither the weather nor several of the wickets often prevented Burke from continuing to play in his best vein, but he topped the team's scoring with 1,339 runs in 37 innings, headed Australia's batting average and was fourth in the season's first-class averages.

For four hours on the last day of the Nottingham Test, he stood between Australia and defeat, scoring 58 not out when time meant everything. Australian players on the balcony stood to cheer him and his last partner, Peter Burge, as they walked off after saving the match. Of 151 for the first wicket with Colin McDonald in the Lord's Test, Burke's share was 65. Finding that he was too liable to be caught in the leg-trap if he played forward to Laker's off-spin on helpful wickets, Burke employed back-play until the bowler pitched the ball up. Jim had to forget the leg-glance which was his most productive stroke in Australia. Laker caused two-thirds of his Test dismissals, but next to Harvey, Burke survived more balls from the Surrey bowler than any other Australian.

With 138 and 125 not out against Somerset, he became the first Australian since Kippax in 1930 to score a century in each innings of a match in England. His 194 on a turning wicket against Warwickshire was the highest innings of his career.

Burke is a handy fieldsman in any position and a change off-spin bowler with a flicking action. He has altered his occupation from stockbroking to stationery. He is the Australian team's humorist, a comical mimic and an entertaining pianist with a touch on the keyboard as deft as on the bat--but a little firmer, if you know what we mean! -- R. R.

© John Wisden & Co