BURKE, JAMES WALLACE, the Australian opening batsman for nearly a decade during the 1950s, died by his own hand in Sydney on February 2, aged 48. In his time, this extremely likeable personality had experienced the full circle of changing cricket fortunes at international level; he had also excelled at competitive golf, and enjoyed good company just as much as a wide circle of friends welcomed his fellowship, keen sense of humour, and a versatile musical capacity.
By the time he was twenty, Jim Burke had achieved a highly successful schoolboy batting record with Sydney Grammar, played first-grade cricket with the Manly club at fifteen, and appeared as a New South Wales opener at 18. In his Test début against England at Adelaide two years later, he displayed ideal temperament by scoring a maiden Test century notable for neat cuts and glances. And yet, within a year, he was dropped from the Test team - the first of five such occurrences - and, at 23, suffered a similar dismissal from the NSW eleven. A season in the Lancashire League with Todmorden started the fight back to international level where he became Colin McDonald's dogged but successful opening partner.
In 1956, Burke was chosen with G. R. A. Langley as one of the two Australians featured among Wisden's five Cricketers of the Year. Although his batting was becoming increasingly dour and he had put away some of his best strokes, he scored a century before lunch at Taunton. Moving on to Bombay, he scored against India - in six hours eight minutes - the slowest Test century ever put together by an Australian. India and Pakistan were followed by a successful South African tour in 1957-58 when Burke headed the averages and was the sole Australian to reach 1,000 runs (1,041 at an average of 65.06 per innings), this including a monumental innings of nine hours thirty-eight minutes to score 189 in the Cape Town Test.
Burke never fully recovered his confidence after a broken rib incurred on this tour, and his concern over the growing use of the bouncer precipitated his retirement at 28 after the England tour of P. B. H. May. His record in 24 Tests was 1,280 runs at an average of 33. In all first-class cricket, he scored 21 centuries and just over 7,600 runs at an average of 49, his record in 58 Sheffield Shield matches being 3,399 runs at 44.14 per innings. In addition, off-breaks bowled with a suggestive bent-arm action gained him 101 wickets in the first-class arena.
An honorary life member of MCC, Burke became a widely known and popular radio and television commentator for the Australian Broadcasting Commission cricket service. He had been due to cover the sixth Australia v England Test which commenced a few days after his death.