CRICKETER OF THE YEAR - 1948

Jack Robertson

Considering that his pre-war experience in first-class cricket amounted to less than two full seasons, JOHN DAVID ROBERTSON, the Middlesex opening batsman, surpassed all reasonable anticipations in 1947, when his aggregate of 2,760 runs was exceeded only by his county colleagues, the record-breaking Denis Compton and W. J. Edrich. These men, together with S. M. Brown, formed a batting quartette whose combined performances and remarkable rate of scoring played a major part in bringing the Championship south for the first time since 1921; and, though Robertson's feats sometimes became dimmed by the greatness of Compton and Edrich, his value to Middlesex was scarcely less, as so often he proved during their absence. Many good judges considered him unlucky not to be picked for the Australian tour the previous winter, and, though he was twelfth man in the Third Test, for most of 1947 it seemed that the highest honours would miss him again. Then, after a particularly fine run in August, Robertson realised his ambition of an England cap by selection for the Fifth Test. That he scored only 4 and 30 in the unaccustomed position of first wicket down was of small account, for, both in skill and temperament, he showed himself fitted for Test cricket and was one of the first picked for West Indies. Given normal fortune, he then seemed on the road to further glory.

In the second consecutive year after the war when Robertson passed the 2,000 mark, he began with twelve centuries in his first forty-two innings, the peak period at the end of July and the beginning of August bringing him six in eleven innings. With scores of 164, 229 and 184 he passed his previous highest in cricket on three occasions, and over and over again he and Brown gave Middlesex an early initiative by quick run-getting in a big stand. At Lord's in June they established a new Middlesex first-wicket record with 310 against Nottinghamshire, and they put up 222 against Yorkshire in the next match. Typical of their rapid partnerships was 169 in seventy-eight minutes against Essex, Robertson's share being exactly 100. Yet, when the numerical details of his play are forgotten, the classical style and elegant stroke-play remain a pleasurable memory. By the short, quick steps of his walk, the sloping shoulders, height and general build, Robertson bears a striking resemblance to his Middlesex predecessor, the polished J. W. Hearne. That impression is immediately heightened when he begins to bat, for the same quiet confidence and technical mastery portray the finished player. When he steps back and forces the short ball wide of cover-point's left hand the Hearne stamp is imprinted on the stroke, and he also possesses Hearne's facility for playing a ball off his legs. The comparison must not be taken too far. By reason of health and strength, Hearne was to some extent a defensive player and at his best on turning wickets. Robertson looks happiest when giving rein to his natural bent for aggression, as at Nottingham, where he made 100 before lunch. Indeed, few opening batsmen--Barnett apart--score so freely. This readiness for attack, conforming as it did with his captain's expressed desire, occasionally cost Robertson his wicket in 1947; but, as he so frequently showed, he is a 100 per cent team man.

When he was making his way in the cricket world three points were urged against Robertson as a potential England player. It was said that a round-the-corner stroke occasionally terminated his innings unnecessarily, that at times he seemed to lose concentration in the 30's or 40's, and that he was not in his element facing a good leg-break bowler. On the advice of Sir Pelham Warner, Robertson abandoned the first stroke, and the concentration of a man who went on to complete 100 on twelve of the eighteen occasions when he reached 50 could scarcely be faulted. Moreover, it would seem hypercritical to suggest that a batsman who last summer obtained two centuries when against D. V. P. Wright and two off T. P. B. Smith remained uncertain against a leg-break bowler, but the one possible flaw in Robertson's make-up did appear still to be an inclination to drive the leg-break towards mid-on rather than with the spin towards mid-off. When that tendency is overcome, as it surely will be, Robertson's future will look even brighter. A. Melville, the South African captain, and R. W. V. Robins, the Middlesex leader, hold that Robertson is the best player of a new ball in England: in driving and cutting he is particularly attractive. Above all, his forward defensive stroke could be used as a model for the cricket student. Left foot, wrist, elbow and shoulder are all perfectly co-ordinated and in position.

The encouragement of a cricketing father and an understanding school headmaster were important factors in Robertson's early cricket life. Born on February 22, 1917, at Chiswick, Robertson went to school at Arlington Park College, Turnham Green, where he was in the first team for five years from 12 to 17 and captained the side for the last two seasons. His father, when teaching his son the rudiments of the game, played, as now, at 50 years of age, regularly for Turnham Green C.C., a club which provided Middlesex with E. P. Hendren. Not infrequently the Thursday eleven were a man short for their half-day games, and on such occasions Robertson senior would visit the nearby school and seek permission from the headmaster, Mr. T. Williams, an old Cambridge Rugby Blue, for his son to leave a trifle early to complete the side. Mr. Williams always willingly agreed, and so young Robertson, then about 14, gained valuable experience in good class club cricket. About that time Robertson won a bat awarded by a London newspaper for a school performance of 52 runs and seven wickets for 7; but it is as a batsman rather than a bowler that he has excelled. From an early age his father encouraged him by giving him a half-crown for every score of 50 or over. This happy gesture has continued ever since, but when Robertson entered first-class cricket the qualification was raised to 100, and the twelve half-crowns which he received from his father in 1947 are among his most valued possessions. When nearing school leaving age and already a member of the Turnham Green first team, Robertson was brought to the notice of T. J. Durston, the former Middlesex fast bowler. Durston saw Robertson make 70 against Indian Gymkhana and was so impressed that he took him under his care for the 1933 winter at the Acton Indoor School and imparted much valuable advice to his protégé. Sir Pelham Warner watched Robertson in the nets at Acton, and an invitation soon followed to go to Lord's for a trial next spring. This resulted in an engagement, and, after the usual probationary period, Robertson began playing for the county Second Eleven. His 106 against Norfolk in 1937 was the first century hit by a Middlesex professional in the Minor Counties Competition, and his big chance came in 1938, against Sussex at Lord's, where he met with immediate success. Robertson opened with Edrich, and, after taking part in a stand of 129, he reached 81. A score of 73 in the next game gave him increased confidence, and by the end of the season he claimed 905 runs. In 1939 he raised his total to 1,755, and when war broke out he was beginning to acquire the big innings complex, for in successive matches, against Sussex and Warwickshire, he hit 140 and 154, getting 100 before lunch on the first day of the Warwickshire game.

First as a driver in the R.A.S.C. during the Dunkirk campaign, then as a battle school instructor when he was a captain in the Duke of Wellington's Regiment, Robertson found few chances for cricket during the war. Indeed, often in 1945 he did not touch a bat seriously between one Victory Test and another. His only means of practice at his Norfolk station was to induce fellow-officers to send down a few balls to him on the lawn in front of the mess. Nevertheless, he fared reasonably well against the Australian Services team in the four Tests of 1945 in which he took part and was obviously not out of his class.

Robertson is a splendid fieldsman anywhere, safe in catching either close to the wicket or in the deep, and from a distance of some 70 yards he is one of the quickest and most accurate throwers in the country. Reserved and modest, Robertson is a teetotaller and a non-smoker. Married, he has one son. -- R.J.H

© John Wisden & Co