A tale of solid hard work which ultimately brought its due reward in a sudden rise to the top provides the background to the cricket career of Roland Oliver Jenkins, of Worcestershire.
Jenkins, born at Worcester on November 24, 1918, and the youngest of a family of ten, would have been an unusual boy if, in a family such as his, he had not grown up devoted to sport. His father was well known in the Midlands as a sprinter, owned the winner of the Racing Pigeon Grand National in 1909, and was a club cricketer of marked ability. His six brothers also were good cricketers. His mother and three sisters all took a keen interest in the game. With this atmosphere to inspire him, Jenkins at an early age fell under the spell of cricket. He seized every opportunity of watching his brothers play and, whenever intervals in their games allowed, he practised as near the pitch as he dared approach.
The habit led directly to Jenkins coming to the notice of the county club. One day Jenkins was bowling a few yards from the pitch in a match, at Pitchcroft, the local racecourse, in which one of his brothers was playing. One of the spectators was a member of the Worcestershire club, Mr. R. H. Williams. He noticed the possibilities of the 16-year-old boy, and was so impressed that he obtained full particulars about him.
Next day Mr. Williams made a special call on the lad's employers and persuaded them to grant Jenkins time off to visit the county nets. There Mr. Williams took upon himself the role of coach and chief adviser to his young protégé. That summer Jenkins went to the county club for a trial, as a result of which he was taken on the staff for the next season, 1936, when Worcestershire were forming a nursery. Nearly three seasons of intensive practice mixed with club and ground and second eleven games followed. Jenkins all the while developed flight and control of length and spin; and in due course added a googly to his armoury. As a youth he was also a Soccer player of unusual quality, and before joining the Worcestershire staff signed amateur forms for Wolverhampton Wanderers. But his future lay in cricket.
In June, 1938, Jenkins received his first County Championship chance. Worcestershire easily won the match, with Essex, and he was not called upon to bowl. A few weeks later he was picked a second time, against Yorkshire. His opening over was to Maurice Leyland. Within a few overs Jenkins clean bowled his illustrious opponent. No bowler could have wished for a happier start. From then to the end of the 1939 season Jenkins played regularly for Worcestershire, but, though he showed promise, he did little to suggest exceptional skill.
For six years of war Jenkins belonged to the Worcestershire Regiment. Most of his service kept him at the depot. Back with Worcestershire in 1946, he took some time to settle down again to the first-class game. Next year he improved, and in 1948 came another advance (88 wickets and 1,356 runs) together with one memorable week. In that he hit his first century, at Nottingham, and after scoring 81 at Surrey's expense in his next innings, at The Oval, he did the hat-trick against them.
At the end of the season Jenkins went on holiday. His thoughts mainly centred on finalising arrangements for marriage during the winter. On the first day away Jenkins received a telegram from Worcestershire. He had been picked for the M.C.C. visit to South Africa. Marriage plans had to be delayed in the scramble to be ready in time for the tour--the marriage took place almost as soon as he returned.
The progress made by Jenkins in South Africa was remarkable. Not a little of this could be attributed to the wise handling of his captain, F. G. Mann, and the planned policy of the team selectors. Realising that Jenkins under-estimated his own abilities, they set out to increase his confidence. In short, this consisted of giving him as much bowling as possible in the minor games. As they hoped, Jenkins thrived upon bowling against the weaker batsmen found there. When he came up against the better players he remained just as effective.
Jenkins went from success to success. He played in all five Tests, in which he took 16 wickets, and headed the bowling averages. At the end of the tour he was only eight short of the rare feat of 100 wickets in a South African tour. Figures did less than justice to his fighting qualities as a batsman. In the field he was equal to an extra man.
Jenkins returned to England a much more mature cricketer than when he left. From the start of the 1949 summer he showed himself a bowler of increased skill and cunning. Although not called upon for any Test, he took 183 wickets, more than any bowler in the country, and brought his total of hat-tricks to three--all in Surrey matches--with one in each innings against them at Worcester. The greater demands upon him as a bowler scarcely affected his batting. For the third year running he passed the 1,000 aggregate.
No one, least of all Jenkins, would claim him as a bowling genius, but he has many of the virtues which help men to rise above the common level. He is eager to learn, ready to take advice, and always thinking of the problems before him. His bowling action is typical of a man of restless, nervous energy. After a short, fidgety roll to the wicket there comes a flailing of arms before Jenkins releases the ball with an almost round-arm action.
He tosses the ball higher into the air than most leg-break bowlers, but is swift to adapt his methods against the quicker-footed batsmen. As command of length, flight and spin have developed so has Jenkins been able to concentrate more on exploiting weaknesses in an opponent which his constant watchfulness and analytical mind have detected.
In a crisis there are few more dependable batsmen than Jenkins. He revels in a fight, and though as yet limited in off-side strokes he scores freely to the on. As an agile, aggressive fieldsman anywhere near the wicket, one of the best to his own bowling since Constantine, he is worth runs to his side even before he bats or bowls. In all ways Jenkins is an extremely useful all-round cricketer, the type specially valuable on tours.
Worcester people are proud of him, the only man born in the city itself so far chosen by M.C.C. for a tour. Proudest of all is his 71-year-old mother. When her son is playing on the Worcester county ground she rarely misses a day. -- R.J.H.