Obituary: Jack Robertson

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The Independent Online
In that golden summer of 1947 Denis Compton of Middlesex scored 3,816 runs in all matches and hit 18 centuries. Bill Edrich of Middlesex scored 3,539 runs and 12 centuries in all matches. Jack Robertson scored 2,328 runs and 11 centuries for Middlesex alone and yet is hardly remembered.

Robertson was a tall, handsome, stylish right-hand batsman whose greatest misfortune was to be born at the wrong time. A highly accomplished player, he opened the Middlesex innings for 22 years on either side of the Second World War, averaging 38, yet appeared in only two home Test matches, on both occasions being called upon when injury had removed the favourite.

As an opener he had to compete against one of the great England opening partnerships, Hutton and Washbrook, while with Middlesex he came to be regarded as the man - along with his long-term partner Sid Brown - who laid the platform in the morning upon which the glitterati Edrich and Compton would perform in the afternoon and evening.

He passed 1,000 runs in a season 14 times in England (and once overseas), continuing to 2,000 runs in nine seasons, and was chosen for two overseas tours, this in the days when England, then represented by MCC, felt first- choice players could be rested from trips to Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Robertson and Brown, aged 21 and 20, made their debuts for Middlesex in the Parks in May 1937. Roberston batted at number six against Oxford while Brown opened with one E.W. Swanton, of whom more was heard later. Roberston was offered a one-year contract and Brown almost went to Kent, but, when cricket restarted in 1946, the pair made history in one of those social nuances much loved by the game's historians.

MCC, who had told Middlesex in 1938 that they could not play Nottinghamshire at Lord's because the ground was required for Eton v Harrow, relented sufficiently after the war to decree that all players would now enter the field from the centre door of the pavilion, thus abolishing the little side-gate, alongside the pavilion, from which the professionals, as opposed to the amateurs, took the field. Robertson and Brown, accordingly, became the first paid servants to stride out to bat down the pavilion steps.

By 1947 any captain who lost the toss to Walter Robins, the Middlesex captain, on a good batting pitch, returned to the dressing room with his heart in his boots. Robertson, Brown, Edrich and Compton represented, to opposing bowlers and fielders, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, such was the weight and power of their strokeplay.

Robins, a very shrewd tactician, knew his bowlers needed the maximum time to oust opponents, in three-day matches, so his orders to his batsmen were succinct: "350 by 5.30, at the latest." On one occasion Robertson, a solid and satisfactory 60 not out at lunch, was told: "Get on with it, Jack. They've not come to watch you bat, anyway."

In 1949, when Washbrook was injured, Robertson joined three other Middlesex players in the England side to play New Zealand at Lord's. He scored 121 and was dropped for the next match, for once perhaps showing his feelings by taking 331 off Worcestershire at New Road on the opening day of the next Test. His consolation was to be named one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of 1949.

In that season he scored 2,917 runs at an average of 57 without convincing the selectors. There have been few better players of fast bowling. He also bowled a useful off-break and was a good fielder anywhere.

He retired in 1959, a cultured and modest man, much admired and feted by the Middlesex cognoscenti, and became first assistant coach and then head coach to Middlesex, in which position he was later to receive much praise from Mike Brearley for his setting up of the coaching and scouting system that has served the county so well over the past 25 years.

John David Benbow Robertson, cricketer: born London 22 February 1917; married; died 13 October 1996.

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