The passing in January of John Edrich and Robin Jackman brought English cricket and Surrey County Cricket Club to a standstill.
Surrey legend Alan Butcher, who played with both, remembers them for Issue 40 of Wisden Cricket Monthly.
As if Christmas 2020 wasn’t difficult enough for families in general, it delivered a double blow to the Surrey cricket family in particular. To discover within the space of 24 hours that two of the pillars of the club had passed away was beyond sad. It felt raw and savage.
Of course, I knew that John had battled ill health and was of an age when his time was drawing to a close. I knew too that Jackers was suffering multiple health issues and dealing with them in his own inimitable gung-ho style. But still, it comes as a shock.
John was a giant of Surrey and England cricket. He was a rock. He’d taken on leukaemia and won. Jackers was larger than life, a craggy Peter Pan, the Rhinestone Cowboy who would swagger on forever; the song I repeatedly played for solace on Christmas night was Bob Dylan’s Forever Young.
Both men were integral parts of my early professional cricketing life, although of course John had come into my consciousness much earlier through his heroics for England.
My relationship with John at the start of my career was not an easy one and looking back it’s not difficult to see why. Culturally the England of 1972 was light years away from the one that John grew up in, first through the war years, then 1950s austerity and National Service. We had different values: his were forged in fire, mine in airy-fairy hippy-trippy nonsense, though without the drugs. We were wary of each other.
But how I respected his ability, his courage, his obduracy and single-mindedness. I just couldn’t put his example or advice into practice during the early part of my career. Or perhaps it was more wilful on my part? Perhaps, like teenage sons through history, I rebelled against the out-of-touch father figure, decided that I knew better and just didn’t listen.
Whatever the truth of that period I was delighted to discover while hosting supporters’ groups on various England tours that the wariness had fallen away and we enjoyed many chats over breakfast or a G&T. I was able to thank him for the knowledge and experience he had tried to impart and that I had finally put into practice in the service of Glamorgan.
The lasting memory I have of John Hugh Edrich the batsman, is of several Surrey players sitting in the dressing room at The Oval watching that terrifying session of the Old Trafford Test versus West Indies in 1976.
Seasoned professionals winced, groaned, ducked involuntarily and gasped with horror at the onslaught John and Brian Close faced that evening. That was courage. That was commitment. That was giving everything to get a job done. That was John.
Robin Jackman was not short of such qualities either, though as a man on the other end of the introvert-extrovert scale to John, he displayed them in a very different way. Jackers bounded joyously to the wicket, tempted batsmen with juicy-looking, swinging half volleys, or invited the hook or pull shot. Had he gone for two fours in an over he reasoned that he may as well risk going for another while gambling for a wicket.
Jackers was a lover of life. He lit up cricket grounds and bars and touched people’s lives wherever he went. Cricket was serious for him, he was a ferocious competitor, but it was also to be enjoyed to the maximum on and off the field. Quite how he endured so long on a regular daily diet of 25 overs, 30 odd Rothmans, several pints of lager and more “whisky paani’s” is remarkable and a testimony to his strength of body and mind. He ignored pain and fatigue and carried on for the sake of the team and for his own enjoyment.
When I contacted Geoff Howarth to pass on the bad news he immediately burst into tears, just as I had myself. Two ageing men, mourning the loss of a revered comrade and of a cherished part of our younger selves. In an instant being transported back to those glory days when Robin and Sylvester Clarke dismantled batting orders up and down the country, to raucous nights when Jackers would sing Rhinestone Cowboy from a bar top, to hilarious nights when he would hold court after a meal and tell an endless string of brilliant stories, to the many kindnesses that he and his lovely wife Vonnie bestowed upon our families. Robin, Geoff and I had felt like the three musketeers for so long; so many memories came bubbling to the surface that it was impossible to keep them down.
However, and this is entirely characteristic of Robin, it was not long before I found myself thinking about his passing and something would come to mind that would leave me chuckling out loud. A few days ago I received a reply to the message of condolence that I’d sent to Vonnie. She told me that although she was incredibly sad, she was experiencing exactly the same thing. This is a man who left an enormous number of people with joyful memories. What a fantastic legacy.
This piece featured in Issue 40 of the Wisden Cricket Monthly. Surrey fans get a 15% discount off a new WCM sub starting from Issue 41. Enter code SCC21 at https://wisdenmag.imbmsubscriptions.com. [UK only]