Thursday, 10 May 2012

William J. R. Jackson

RHODESIA has bred many outstanding men's bowlers, including a Commonwealth Games Gold Medal singles winner in Ralph Hodges, but none has been as charismatic controversial and consistently classy as Bill Jackson.

Born at Cape Town on 19 October 1915, William J. R. Jackson attended Wynberg School and began rolling woods while in his teens. But he only took to the sport seriously in 1936 when a severe rugby injury ruled him out of contact sports.

And that's when his winning streak began, for he won the Plumstead Club singles title in his first year as a bowler. When he moved to Johannesburg, he won the All Transvaal singles in 1948, was Johannesburg champion in 1953 and runner-up in the South African fours in 1950.

Jackson came to Salisbury from Johannesburg on transfer in 1954, and when he departed in August 1979 to retire to the Cape with his wife, Elizabeth, he had built up a proud record that will be difficult to emulate on Rhodesian greens.

He first joined Alexandra Club and took the singles title in his only year there (1955) before he moved to Avondale — a club he was to serve with distinction until he returned to the place of his birth at the age of sixty-three.

He became Avondale singles champion in 1956, when he also won his first national title as third in the Avondale rinks team, while also being a semifinalist in the singles. One of his most notable years was 1957 when he pocketed six titles — the Salisbury Bowling Association champion of singles champion, the Mitchell fours as skip, the Avondale pairs, fours and singles and, most importantly, the inaugural South African Inter-Districts fours championship. This was at Bloemfontein where Jackson skipped the team of A. D. Bradley, E. B. Roberts and J. J. Susman.

This prestigious event was won again by Rhodesia in 1960 at Kimberley (A. D. Bradley, J. P. Margach, E. L. Davey, M. M. J. Bibb) and in 1966 at Maritzburg (P. Siebert J. Elliott, W. J. Howe, R. Nesbit).

Jackson played in two Empire Games for the country — 1958 at Cardiff in Wales, and 1962 at Perth, Australia, distinguishing himself on both occasions.

In the 1954 Games at Vancouver, Canada. Ralph Hodges had become Rhodesia's only Games Gold Medallist for bowls when he won the singles with a record of eight wins and one loss. In the next Games four years later, it was up to the silver-haired Jackson to attempt to emulate that brilliant feat... and he came agonisingly close.

At Cardiff, Jackson was representing the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and he was in superb form, only a surprising defeat 21-18 by last placed Jersey {their only win in eleven games) and a photo-finish 21-20 loss to South Africa preventing him from striking Gold.

The Rhodesian had to settle for the Bronze Medal, losing only to South Africa. Jersey and Australia (14-21). It was the Springbok A. P. Danilowitz who won the Gold, with England taking the Silver after a 21 -18 play-off victory against Jackson, who had beaten their player by the same margin earlier in the event.

Four years later, Jackson was back at the Empire Games, this time as skip with Stewart Bradley of Bulawayo in the pairs team at Perth. Again Rhodesia won the Bronze Medal, beating England 23-14 in a play-off for third and fourth places. New Zealand won the Gold, and Scotland the Silver, though Rhodesia had the satisfaction of beating the Scots 25-14 in general play.

In home Tests against Australia (1964), New Zealand (1968) and America (1977) Jackson was unbeaten in five singles matches. He skipped the pairs, playing with Geoff Knott {they finished fifth) at the first world bowling championships at Sydney, other members of that history-making team being Ronnie Turner, Edgar Morris and Chappie Royston. Among their best pairs victories was the 18- 14 victory over South Africans Tommy Press and 'Snowy* Walker. In the world singles, Jackson finished seventh, though he again had some good wins, notably 21-14 over Geoff Kelly of Australia.

In South Africa, Jackson represented Rhodesia at three consecutive Masters singles tournaments (1969-71), winning the Bronze Medal in 1970 at Johannesburg where he won five and lost two of his games. In 1969 he had become Rhodesia's first participant in this prestigious invitation tournament.

At the 1973 South African Games at Pretoria he won the Silver Medal in the pairs and the Bronze for singles. And even in the year he left Rhodesia (1979) he was a champion, winning the Salisbury Bowling Association singles championship and the pairs with Avondale club-mate Hugh Morton for the second year in succession.

At national level, Jackson was three times Rhodesian singles champion (1964, 1966, 1976) and four times rinks champion (1956, 1958, 1972 and 1978). He holds the unique distinction of reaching the national singles final in four successive years, losing the first three and eventually taking the crown for the first time by beating Robbie Roberts at Bulawayo. Jackson appeared in eight national singles finals — an unmatched record.

Super-concentration, world-class ability and technique, and a relentless fighting spirit were the hallmarks of Bill Jackson. Although a straight-talker who had clashes with officialdom, his sportsmanship and popularity were unquestioned during his twenty-five years as a Rhodesian.

His biggest disappointment must have been his omission from the national World Bowls team that played at Zoo Lake. Johannesburg in 1976 — an unacceptable selection blunder to many aficionados of the game. Despite his bitter disappointment Jackson would never publicly complain at this injustice.

Jackson was a beloved figure at his Avondale Club and at his farewell function, champion woman bowler Anna Bates summed it all up perfectly with the sad reflection: "Imagine coming to Avondale ... and no Bill Jackson."


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