James Charles Laker (9 February 1922 – 23 April 1986) was a cricketer who played for England in the 1950s, known for "Laker's match" in 1956 at Old Trafford, Manchester, when he took nineteen wickets in England's victory against Australia. He played 46 Test matches between 1948 and 1959, taking 193 wickets with a bowling average of 21.24; in all first-class matches he took 1,944 wickets at 18.41.
Born in Frizinghall, Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire, he was known as an elegant off-spin bowler. He consistently performed well against Australian cricket teams, and formed a successful partnership with Tony Lock, a left-arm orthodox spinner. He was also part of the Surrey side that dominated the county championship with seven consecutive titles from 1952 to 1958. He was selected as one of the five Wisden Cricketers of the Year in 1952.
Laker was brought up by his aunts in Saltaire. Before the outbreak of World War II, he was called down to the Yorkshire County Cricket Club nets, where his performance was good enough to be offered a place as a batsman. War brought a break to his cricketing career, but reports began to emerge in about 1943 of an off-spinner in North Africa of whom people said, "You can hear the ball buzz as he lets it go."
After the war, Laker settled on the outskirts of London, and was recommended to Surrey. After Yorkshire granted permission, he was registered at the Oval, meaning he never played for his native county.
Laker bowled well at county level in 1947, and was successful against the West Indies in 1947/48, taking 7 wickets for 103 runs in the first innings of the 1st Test, making the 28th Englishman to take 5 wickets on Test debut. However, he was severely punished by Don Bradman's 1948 Australians.
On England's disastrous tour of Australia in 1958–59, Laker was one of the few England players to enhance his reputation, bowling well on unhelpful pitches.
Apart from his figures in 'Laker's match', the other bowling performance for which he is remembered is his 8 wickets for 2 runs in an innings in a Test Trial at Bradford in 1950, playing for England against 'The Rest'.
Laker was the first player to take all 10 wickets in a Test match innings, ten for 53 in the Australians' 2nd innings of the 4th Ashes Test at Old Trafford in 1956 (the only other bowler to take all 10 wickets is Anil Kumble of India in 1999). Having also taken 9 for 37 in the first innings, Laker's match bowling figures were 19 for 90: no other bowler has taken more than seventeen wickets in a first-class match. Laker was married to an Austrian who did not know much about cricket. On the day of his achievement when he arrived home, his wife asked him, "Jim, did you do something good today?" after she had taken hundreds of congratulatory telephone calls. Remarkably, Laker had also taken all 10 wickets in an innings for Surrey against the same Australians earlier in the season, the first time a bowler had taken all ten against the Australians since Ted Barratt did so in 1878.
Laker's effort was part of a record-breaking performance during the 1956 Ashes series: Laker's 46 wickets established a record for a 5-Test Ashes series which remains unbroken. It led to him being awarded the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award in 1956, the first cricketer to win the award.
|Laker in the 1956 Ashes series|
|1||Trent Bridge||29.1–11–58–4||30.0–19–29–2||6||87||Match drawn|
|2||Lord's||29.1–10–47–3||7–3–17–0||3||64||Australia won by 185 runs|
|3||Headingley||29–10–58–5||41.3–21–55–6||11||113||England won by inns & 42 runs|
|4||Old Trafford||16.4–4–37–9||51.2–23–53–10||19||90||England won by inns & 170 runs|
|5||The Oval||32–12–80–4||18–14–8–3||7||87||Match drawn|
|Total||46||441||ave. 9.60, 4 5-wkt innings, 2 10-wkt matches|
Laker retired in 1959. The publication, in 1960, of his ghost-written autobiography, containing severe criticism of his Surrey and England captain Peter May, resulted in his losing honorary memberships of MCC and Surrey. These were both eventually restored.
In later years Laker was a highly regarded cricket commentator for both ITV during the 1960s and later BBC television during the 1970s and 1980s. His habit of dropping the final "g" when pronouncing words ending in "ing" attracted much affectionate mimicry. "Wry, dry, laconic, he thought about cricket with a deep intensity and a splendidly ironic point of view", wrote John Arlott. Laker died in Putney, London, and was cremated at Putney Vale Crematorium. His ashes were scattered at the Oval cricket ground.
A residential street in the Fernhill area of Shipley is named Jim Laker Place, after him.
|BBC Sports Personality of the Year