Following an incredible career that saw him become one of the most popular Surrey players of all time – and a recognised commentator the world over – Club great Robin Jackman has sadly passed away, aged 75.
Richard Spiller, Surrey CCC historian, pays tribute to Robin below.
Has there ever been a cricketer who performed with more heart than Robin Jackman?
“Great trier” has become a backhanded compliment in sport, but it was Jackman’s long-time colleague, room-mate and great friend Pat Pocock who summed him up best.
“If anybody could find a way of bottling Jackman’s energy, zest and full-hearted commitment, then the future of cricket would be safe for the next century,” he wrote.
At 5ft 9in Jackman was short for a seamer and there was no electric pace to compensate, but he made up for it – to the extent of 1,402 wickets in a first-class career which stretched from 1966 to 1982 – with a mixture of heart, persistence, nous and sheer bloody-mindedness.
While some felt he would struggle to make it at county level in his early days, Jackman fought ferociously to extract the absolute maximum from his talent, spending winters playing in South Africa.
A longish run-up and side-on action were complemented by a fierce and loud appeal which positively rattled the windows around The Oval. The military bearing inherited from his father, a Colonel in the Gurkhas, mixed beautifully with dramatic genes from Patrick Cargill, an uncle.
Brought onto the staff in 1964, his first-class debut came two years later and he became a regular fixture in the side two years later with a county cap coming in 1970.
With Geoff Arnold spearheading Surrey’s attack as they worked their way towards the County Championship title in 1971, Jackman and the rangy young Bob Willis – an Ashes winner in Australia the previous winter – often competed for a place and it was Jackman’s bad luck that he was omitted from the match at Southampton which secured top spot.
Typically, when the moment came, Jackman marched onto the field with champagne. And it was Willis who left in the end, heading for Warwickshire, leaving his old mate to run in for over after over on Oval pitches which bounced little and gave no encouragement to bowlers for most of the 1970s, until groundsman Harry Brind relaid the square.
Often he was the mainstay of the attack and claimed 50 wickets or more for nine successive seasons through that decade, his lower order batting also making frequent contributions not least in beating Leicestershire to win the Benson & Hedges Cup, the only other success in a lean decade for Surrey.
Jackman was given the occasional outing by England in one-day internationals from 1974 but the likes of Arnold and Willis, Chris Old and Mike Hendrick – followed by the emergence of Ian Botham – kept him out of the Test side.
At last, in 1980, it seemed he might get a call as a season in which he finished with 121 first-class wickets, aided by the much improved pitches at The Oval and having a ferocious new ball partner in Sylvester Clarke. It provoked regular calls for his inclusion, given he was way ahead of any other seamer and he was thoroughly deserving of being one of Wisden’s five Cricketers of the Year in the following spring’s Almanack.
But the selectors, choosing a squad to tour West Indies, baulked at picking a seamer who was now 35 and it was felt his chance had disappeared.
However, when Willis limped out of the tour after one Test, Jackman got the call – yet even then it seemed he would be disappointed.
Joining the squad in Guyana, he was almost immediately declared persona non grata because of his South African connections and the whole tour was threatened with abandonment.
Eventually the other Caribbean governments decided the cricket would continue and Jackman finally earned that cherished England cap in Barbados, removing Gordon Greenidge to a catch in the slips for his first wicket on the way to collecting 3-65.
He appeared in the final Test as well and then had to wait just over a year before gaining two further outings, against Pakistan, finishing with 14 wickets from four appearances. An Ashes tour to Australia followed but he was rather strangely not used until the one-day internationals – despite England’s decidedly lacklustre attack.
The final seasons of his Surrey career – Roger Knight having been preferred to him as captain when John Edrich stood down at the end of 1977 – were to be among his most successful, playing a leading role in the county marching to the final of the NatWest Trophy in 1982, where they hammered Warwickshire by nine wickets. After three losing finals, it was especially welcome, and Jackman cradled the trophy like a baby on the Lord’s balcony.
It was to be almost his last moment as a Surrey player, having been offered a coaching position in South Africa – where he had met his wife Yvonne and they wanted to settle – and after the Ashes tour he moved permanently from his long-time base in Bisley.
Going forward, Jackman was to become familiar to a far wider audience when he moved into broadcasting. For many he was the voice of cricket during the transformative years in which it moved back into the international arena after so long in isolation because of apartheid.
His well-pitched voice, an ability to comment on the game which satisfied viewers both new and expert, plus the capacity to explain sympathetically the ups and downs of cricket ensured his services were in demand throughout the world.
He sounded more gravelly but no less distinguished after bouts with cancer, which was battled and seen off in much the same way he had seen off so many batsmen in his time, and he remained an acute observer even when his broadcasting career was completed.
Trips back to England and meeting up with old friends were relished and when he last visited the Kia Oval in 2019, the warmth of his reception underlined the enormous regard for Jackman; the cricketer and the man.
To watch Robin Jackman speak about his career to Charles Colvile, in 2019, please watch the video below.