26 Dec South African cricket loses its voice on Christmas day
A regular voice of the South African summer fell silent on Christmas Day.
Robin Jackman’s passing left many in the cricketing fraternity shocked and saddened. From players he coached, teammates he played alongside, colleagues with whom he shared the commentary booth and the players whose deeds on the field he described, paid tribute to one of the game’s brightest characters.
Jackman was the smooth voice of cricket in South Africa, that circulated in living rooms, around braais and in bars when the game was played. Following the country’s return from isolation, his commentary became the sound associated with the sport and the national team.
He had a deep love and knowledge for the sport. His skill as a fast bowler made him a legend at Surrey County Cricket Club in England, and saw him play four Tests for England, along with 15 One-Day Internationals.
It was the summers spent playing cricket in South Africa in the 1970s that nearly saw him not earn a Test cap. He was a late call up for England’s tour to the Caribbean as a replacement for Bob Willis, and was due to play the second Test in Guyana. When that country’s government objected to his presence in the playing eleven, the Test was eventually cancelled.
However the other nations in the Caribbean gave England the go-ahead for the rest of the tour, Jackman got the chance to earn his first Test cap in the third Test in Barbados.
For many South Africans however, he was better known first as the coach of Western Province during the 1980s, and then especially for his commentary, first for the SABC from the mid-1990s and then later Supersport.
Jackman wasn’t one for continuous chatter. He learnt at the BBC in the late 1970s working alongside Richie Benaud among others. “Times have moved on,” he said in an interview with the Saturday Star in 2011, upon the release of his book, Jackers – A life in Cricket. “That was the old BBC way, which was less is more, but the modern way of commentating is that people do talk a lot more on television, wall to wall, I still try to avoid that because it isn’t me. Whatever reputation I have, has been built up over a period, I don’t want to have to change now to keep up with everyone. I honestly believe there are people perhaps sitting in their lounge going ‘oh, it’s Jackers again, because it isn’t quite so talkative’ and I don’t want to change that.”
Perhaps the moment on the mic that most resonates with South Africans is one Jackman held as a favourite.
(The Jacques) Kallis double hundred was one,” Jackman said in that same interview in 2011. “Early in my commentary career I used to check the rosters and see what time I was on, I’d see a guy in the 90s and hope that he wouldn’t get his 100 in the next 10 minutes because you wanted to be there to describe it, and depending on the individual be prepared for exactly what you were going to say. As it was, with Jacques, I didn’t actually prepare anything, I think I just said ‘the monkey is off his back.’”