Gilbert Jessop (1974-1955)

by Stephen Harrison, m.2006)

Gilbert Laird Jessop (19th May 1874 – 11th May 1955) is perhaps the greatest cricketer you’ve never heard of. Between 1894 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914, he played 493 First Class matches and represented England in 18 Tests, scoring over 26,000 runs with 569 of them coming in international matches. However, numbers alone - Jessop averaged an altogether unexciting 21.88 for England - don’t tell the full story. Jessop was an entertainer, a man whose ferocious hitting abilities delighted crowds and dismayed bowlers, a man whose scoring rate dwarfs household names like Hobbs and Bradman.

His most famous innings came during the 5th Test against Australia at the Oval in August 1902. England were chasing 263 to win in the final innings but had been reduced to 48 for 5 when Jessop came to the wicket. In his characteristically swashbuckling style, Jessop immediately set about the Australian attack. A little over an hour later he was dismissed for 104. His 76-ball, 77-minute century is one of the fastest ever – had the rules of cricket awarded a 6 rather than a 4 when a ball cleared the boundary in 1902 as they do now, the statistics would be even more staggering. A bowler as well as a batsman, Jessop took over 800 First Class wickets before developing a serious heart problem whilst serving in World War I, which prevented the resumption of his career in 1919.

Jessop’s cricketing career either side of his time at Christ’s is fairly well chronicled by the links below, but the survival of end of term reports in the College Magazines of the period enable us to make some observations about his time at Christ’s. He matriculated in 1896 just in time to join the cricket team for the season and made an immediate impression, scoring 433 runs from 8 innings and taking 29 wickets for 263 runs. Most impressive was his staggering 212 not out, out of a team score of 281-7, against Clare. He followed this with 50 against St John’s and 109 against Corpus. The writers of the end of season report, published in the Michaelmas edition of the magazine, were effusive in their praise, describing him as a ‘most brilliant batsman of the hitting order. Excellent fast bowler with wonderful knack of bumping. Fine field anywhere.’

Given that he had played First Class cricket before coming up to Cambridge, he inevitably represented the University from the very start; this limited him to 3 appearances for Christ’s in each of the next two seasons. He managed 149 runs in 1897, including a century in a comfortable victory over Magdalene, but struggled with the bat in 1898, scoring just 38 runs with a top score of 29. However, he more than compensated with the ball, taking 19 wickets at a cost of just 42 total runs in 1898. The statistics speak for themselves to the extent that the writer of the end of season player reports simply wrote, ‘nothing can be added to his previous characters.’

In the winters, Jessop represented the college at association football, initially as a goalkeeper and later as a defender. A report of 1899 describes him as ‘invaluable’ and bemoans his absence (for unspecified reasons) from the side during the first half of the season.

By the time he left Cambridge in 1899, without taking a degree, Jessop had already been named one of Wisden’s ‘Cricketers of the Year’ for 1898, and would shortly make his England debut.

Further Information (all links are to external websites)

More information about sport in Christ’s during Jessop’s time at the college can be found here.

Wisden’s obituary of Jessop after his death in 1955 can be found here, whilst an excellent article on his career can be found here. His first class statistics are recorded here.

Complete College Statistics

Batting

Year

Innings

Not Out

Runs

Average

1896

8

1

433

61.9

1897

3

0

149

49.67

1898

3

0

38

12.67

Total

14

1

620

47.69

Bowling

Year

Runs Conceded

Wickets

Average

1896

263

29

9.1

1897

46

8

5.8

1898

42

19

2.2

Total

351

56

6.27