ico-h1 CRICKET BOOKS

Gilbert Jessop at Cheltenham College

Published: 2020
Pages: 52
Author: Battersby, David
Publisher: Battersby, David
Rating: 3.5 stars

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Some cricketers create interest and excitement that at first blush is seemingly out of all proportion to their achievements, and Gilbert Laird Jessop is certainly a man who falls into that category. As an all-rounder he played as many as 18 Tests for England between 1899 and 1912, yet averaged only 21.88 with the bat, and his ten wickets cost him 35.40 runs each. In seven of those Tests he did not bowl at all, and in another four only one or two overs.

But Jessop was a crowd pleaser. His runs may have been modest in number but they included a single century, 104 in a famous match at the Oval in 1902, an innings which was largely responsible for bringing England victory from a seemingly hopeless position. As a bowler Jessop was genuinely quick, and he was also an electric fielder in the covers at a time when fielding was not considered anything like so important as it is today.

The Great War brought down the curtain on Jessop’s career but, such was his fame, in an era when books about cricketers were rare there was both an autobiography in 1922 and a biography in 1935. In 1974 historian Gerald Brodribb wrote a further biography, The Croucher, which was very much better than CJ Britton’s previous effort, and Jessop has popped up in plenty of other books as well, including another one from David Battersby, only last year, that I reviewed here.

So why, a mere 12 months on, is Battersby writing about Jessop again? The reality must be that he simply finds him a fascinating subject, something which I do not find difficult to understand. The ‘excuse’, if I can put it like that, is twofold and arises firstly out of a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the formation of the Gloucestershire County club, and secondly a desire on Battersby’s part to investigate a legendary hit that some suggest Jessop made at Cheltenham. It was a stroke of such power and carry that it was said to have landed on the steps of the neighbouring hospital. Sadly the truth behind that one has eluded even this most diligent of researchers, but he clearly much enjoyed looking into it.

Other than explaining that background by way of an introduction the bulk of Gilbert Jessop at Cheltenham College comprises a look at each of the 41 First Class matches that, during his career, Jessop played at the famous college cricket ground, one of the most picturesque in England. Jessop’s record at Cheltenham is not exceptional, although there were some stirring performances, realistically in this instance perhaps more with ball than bat. But whatever details they contain cricketing stories are amongst the very best of tales, and for each match Battersby has been back to all the original sources he can find in order to recreate his summaries, some inevitably rather more detailed than others.

Not content with those narrative accounts Battersby has also illustrated the booklet with a number of items of memorabilia and one or two photographs he has obtained with the assistance of the Gloucestershire County Club’s museum, a couple of which have not seen the light of day before. These, combined with the text, potted scores and a few statistics make this a thoroughly worthwhile project and, even if the current pandemic ruined the intention to launch at this summer’s Cheltenham Festival, Gilbert Jessop at Cheltenham College remains an excellent way to mark a significant anniversary and I am confident that it will not be very long before the 120 copies are snapped up. Those interested should contact Dave Battersby by email at talbot@talbot.f9.co.uk

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