As a student - and later a teacher - of history, Alan Jakes understands that most things that happen have happened before, or will happen again. Sydney University Cricket Club’s record books are full of records that are ripe to be broken. Very few of them, no matter how impressive, will survive for very long.
But this one will.
Never again, in these days of flat, covered pitches and massive bats, will a bowler play for nearly ten years, take nearly 300 wickets, and pay just eleven runs for each of them.
Between 1964 and 1973, Alan Jakes played only five full seasons for Sydney University, but he gathered 295 wickets at the ridiculously low average of 11.22. Actually, he took a few more wickets than that – record-keeping being a fairly haphazard affair in the 1960s, he played several game in Thirds in which he enjoyed some success, but for which his bowling figures haven’t survived.
And he did it after starting his career, after graduation, as a batsman in Fourth Grade. “I did my History Honours degree as a night student”, he recalls. “I was very busy, but I played a bit of church cricket on the weekend. When I graduated, I decided to give it a go at University. I started as a batsman who occasionally bowled, then I became an all-rounder, and then I got to Firsts as a bowler.”
Jakes’ career with the Club followed a peculiar trajectory. He was graded as a batsman in Fourths in 1964-65, and in nine games there he batted consistently but bowled only 23 overs. But when he was promoted, his captain in Thirds spotted his potential with the ball, and by the start of his second season, he was taking the new ball in Third Grade. In 1965-66, he won the trophy for the Club’s leading wicket-taker – which he would win on three more occasions – and became a key member of the Second Grade side. He was tireless, relentlessly accurate and utterly reliable. “Give him the ball”, John Everett wrote in the annual report, “with instructions to bowl 15 overs, and no captain need worry any more”. Perhaps his best effort was against Manly, when he followed an unbeaten 42 with 3-10; his 4-37 clinched a victory over Sydney.
These efforts won Jakes a place in the Intervarsity team that visited Melbourne, where he encountered Melbourne University’s Paul Sheahan, who had just won his place in the Victorian Sheffield Shield team. “We found him rather difficult to dismiss”, Jakes remembers – accurately enough, as Sheahan was undefeated on 175 when Melbourne University declared at six for 406. A tired Sydney team collapsed meekly and followed on. An innings defeat seemed inevitable after a second collapse, and two hours play were left in the game when Jakes, batting at nine, joined all-rounder Bill Armstrong. Armstrong counter-attacked, while Jakes blocked diligently. After Armstrong was removed for a defiant 85, Jakes and leg-spinner Peter Cross survived the last few overs. His 19 not out salvaged a draw from the wreckage of the game, and remained the batting performance of which he was most proud during his time at the Club.
Another good performance against Sydney in Seconds (6-57) earned Jakes his First Grade debut, against North Sydney, in December 1966. He took only one wicket, but it was a good one, Test batsman Barry Shepherd, caught by Graham Dawson. The following week, Jakes dismissed Gordon’s first three batsmen, including State opener Marshall Rosen, on his way to 3-48. Clearly, Jakes had the ability to dismiss high-quality batsmen. It looked as though a promising First Grade career had begun. But the next match, against Northern District, was Jakes’ last in the top grade. He had decided to travel overseas, and he played no more cricket for over a year.
“When I came back from overseas”, he says, “I had a lot of demands on my time. “I wasn’t so serious about playing in the higher grades. But the Club asked me to come back and play lower down, as captain of Fourth Grade.” Whoever thought of this, it was an inspired idea. Fourth Grade played 13 matches in 1969-70, in which Jakes bowled 236 overs (50 of them maidens) to take 76 wickets at an average of 9.77 – a club record which still stands, and is unlikely ever to be broken. His own account of his success was that “the captain’s sustained impersonations of new ball exponent, medium pace hack and sub-medium off-spinner exposed the gullibility of 76 batsmen.” More seriously, he reflects that “I had the ability to bowl off-breaks at medium pace, and on any pitch they turned a bit.” On some of the pitches Fourth Grade played on – which could be primitive and were usually open to the elements – the ball turned much more than a bit and this, combined with his accuracy, made Jakes a deadly proposition. Seven times, he took five wickets in an innings, with 7-20 against Manly his best performance. Despite it all, Fourth Grade missed the semi-finals – its batting was so horribly fallible that Jakes, with 227 runs, was the season’s highest scorer.
Jakes was almost as effective in 1970-71, and in 1971-72, when stepped down as captain to play Fourths under Austin Punch, he was irresistible. Over the course of the season, he conceded fewer than two runs each eight-ball over, and took a wicket, on average, every 28 deliveries. His 65 wickets in Fourths cost him only 6.98 runs each – figures that may well have been even better had he not been recalled (successfully) to fill a gap in Seconds. When North Sydney was bundled out for only 77, Jakes took seven of the wickets for only six runs, setting up an outright victory. His efforts carried University into the semi-final, where it was caught on a drying pitch and was forced to follow on against Petersham, but a belligerent second innings allowed University to declare and set Petersham a target of 114. On a pitch that was now blameless, Petersham crashed to eight for 48, but was able to hold on and preserve its win on the first innings. Jakes’ contribution, in his last match in Fourths, was 4-39 and 4-8.
There were three more matches, in Thirds, in 1972-73: in the last, he took 5-26. But “I got married in 1972”, Jakes says, “and after that my time was spent elsewhere. And my knees were starting to sag.” Jakes had embarked upon a lengthy career as a history teacher in the New South Wales state system, taking posts as the History Master at Epping Boys High, Cronulla High School and then Port Hacking High School. “I found that the best balance of the intellectual work, and interacting with young people”, he reflects. “I lectured for a while in the University of NSW Diploma of Education course, teaching history theory, but I found I was happier in schools.” He served as a popular, highly-regarded and teacher until his retirement.
Grade cricket has changed in all sorts of ways since Jakes played, but here’s one statistic to consider: last year, the leading bowler in Fourth Grade took 30 wickets at an average of 15. Jakes, one suspects, would have regarded 30 wickets at 15 as five slightly disappointing matches. Don’t expect to see another player like him any time soon.