G. L. Jessop
Gilbert Laird Jessop, the most remarkable hitter the world has ever seen, was born on May 19th 1874, and made his first appearance in first-class cricket for Gloucestershire v Lancashire at Manchester twenty years later. On that occasion he scored 29 (out of a total of 99) and 19 and took one wicket for 72 runs, his side being beaten by an innings.
It was not too long before Jessop revealed the unique powers which made him an attraction second to none in what is generally regarded as the most brilliant epoch in cricket’s history. In the last match of his first season, against Somerset at Taunton, he made 61 not out in 50 minutes, sharing with Fred Roberts in a last wicket stand of 55 to which the fast left-arm bowler contributed no more than a single.
Jessop went up to Cambridge in time for the season of 1896 with a big reputation, which he immediately justified by hitting up 102 in the Freshmen’s match in just over an hour. He was four years in the University team, being captain in 1899. His record against Oxford was moderate – 145 runs for an average of 18.12 and 21 wickets at 26.71 apiece – but he did some exceptional things in other matches. His greatest feat was an innings of 171 not out in less than two hours against Yorkshire in 1899.
He did the cricketer’s “double” in 1897, while three years later he scored over 2.000 runs as well as taking 104 wickets. In 1899 he began a Test Match career which extended over 13 seasons. He played regularly for Gloucestershire up to the outbreak of the First World War.
Jessop visited Australia in 1901-02 playing in all five Test Matches and twice in the late ‘nineties he went on a brief autumn tour in the United States. It was in consequence of an innings played in the course of these visits that an American poet was inspired to describe him as “the human catapult who wrecks the roofs of distant towns when set in his assault.”
It is a commonplace that matches are won by bowlers, but if ever there was a match-winning batsman it was Jessop. He was capable of transforming any game in half-an-hour by his terrific hitting. Old supporters of Gloucestershire will remember many such displays on the County Ground. Particularly memorable were two innings against Somerset. The first was in 1904, when Jessop obtained 61 against the Cider County in 24 minutes, punishing Braund for 40 in two overs, and enabling his side to win by three wickets after being set to make nearly 300. The following year he hit up 234 against the same team in 155 minutes, with 40 fours, and despite the rate at which he travelled he gave only two chances. He made another double century at Bristol against Sussex in 1907, when his 240 was scored at the rate of 72 runs per hour without a chance. Four years previously, at Brighton, he had actually hit up 286 out of 355 in less than three hours. He appears to have relished the Sussex bowling, for on two other occasions he made over 150 against it.
Jessop played in a number of Test Matches against both Australia and South Africa. Though he reached 50 only four times in 26 innings, one of these displays – against Australia at the Oval in 1902 – was perhaps the most remarkable ever given in this class of cricket. England, needing 263 to win, had lost five wickets for 48 when Jessop joined the Hon. F.S. (later Sir Stanley) Jackson at the wicket. When he was out an hour and a quarter later he had scored 104, the total was 187, and England, with three wickets left, required a further 76 runs. In a desperately exciting finish these were duly obtained with a wicket to spare. Jessop’s innings was played on a worn pitch against the bowling of Hugh Trumble and Saunders. Only less remarkable was his 93 at Lord’s against the 1907 South Africans, with their galaxy of googlie bowlers. On this occasion he scored his runs out of 145 in an hour and a quarter.
The fastest of Jessop’s 53 first-class centuries was his 101against Yorkshire at Harrogate in 1897. This innings lasted only 40 minutes. The Yorkshire bowlers had good reason to fear Jessop, for he reached three figures against them six times – more often than against any other team. Two of his hundreds were made in one match at Bradford in 1900, while he obtained 233 for the Rest of England in the game in which C.B. Fry put together the last of his historic series of six consecutive centuries (1901). Five times in all Jessop made over 200 in an innings. And on four occasions he made hundreds in both innings of the match – twice against Hampshire. Outside first-class cricket his most astonishing piece of hitting was accomplished in a match between Gloucestershire and the West Indies when he made 157 in an hour. S.M.J. Wood writes: “. . . . . he hit the two famous Black Bowlers (Cumberbatch and Woods) so furiously that not only they couldn’t bowl for laughter, but the rest of the dark ones in the field rolled about and set up a howl of delight.”
The most remarkable features about Jessop’s batting were his rate of scoring, which frequently approached and sometimes exceeded 100 runs per hour,; his consistency, having regard to the speed with which he made his runs; and above all his method, which, though it defied all the canons of orthodox batsmanship, was, in fact, highly scientific. C.B. Fry, the Aristotle of cricket, has observed; “. . . . no hitting was ever less blind. He watches the ball with a concentration which puts many an orthodox defensive batsman to shame . .”
In his younger days Jessop bowled fast, but later on he reduced his speed in order to conserve his energies. As he picked up some 850 wickets during his career it will be realised that his value was far from being limited to his batting, especially as he was also a brilliant cover-point. “His fielding was always miraculous,” says C.L. Townsend, “and I saw him continually doing the impossible.”
In all first-class cricket Jessop scored 26.764 runs for an average of 32.67, an aggregate which has been exceeded by W.G. Grace, W.R. Hammond and Dipper alone among Gloucestershire players