Sturdy, good-humoured and tireless
Ian Thomson was a quite remarkable bowler: sturdy, good-humoured, seemingly tireless. He appeared to be able to bowl all day long, as if he had been bowling from the dawn of time. Of all Sussex’s medium paced bowlers, only Maurice Tate can compare with him. He played for Sussex from 1952 until 1972, twenty years of good service to what became his home club.
Ian was born in Walsall, Staffordshire on 23 January 1929 but his early days were spent in Essex where he excelled at cricket playing for Essex Young Amateurs. Following National Service in the RAF, the family moved to Brighton and he first played for his new county in 1952 as an amateur against Hampshire in the early season friendly and made a quick 115 not out.
100 wickets in twelve successive seasons
His first class debut for Sussex was against Northamptonshire when he took the valuable wicket of the Australian Jock Livingstone before going on to take 45 wickets in the season. He turned professional that year and gained his county cap the following year from David Sheppard. From then until 1964 he took 100 wickets a season in twelve successive seasons, equalling Maurice Tate’s record.
Ian’s bowling was not always classical in style for his approach run was shuffled and his right arm came over quite high, making his natural delivery the in-dipper. On a green wicket, however, he was able to make the ball almost leap out of its seam and he always had a good leg-cutter in his repertoire. He had a number of impressive performances including three wickets in four balls against Gloucestershire in 1953 and also against Kent in 1957. He took eight for 79 against Worcestershire in 1956 and seven for 12 against Northamptonshire in 1957 (including four wickets in eight balls without conceding a run).
The Gillette Cup
In September 1963 Sussex under Ted Dexter’s captaincy won the inaugural one-day competition (later to be called the Gillette Cup). The following year, Dexter again led the team to victory with a side little changed from the previous year. Ian Thomson played in both Lord’s finals and was Man of the Match for his outstanding bowling in the 1964 final against Warwickshire.
Although Ian took just the one wicket in the 1963 final against Worcestershire (that of D.W.Richardson), he did take four wickets in the semi-final against Northamptonshire, bowling three of his victims.
The following year Sussex were back at Lord’s for the final of the cup. Ian had bowled well in the early rounds, but that was nothing compared to what he did in the final. The morning was hazy and the Warwickshire captain, Mike Smith elected to bat. With a 10.45 start, the ball began to wobble about and in the first thirty five minutes Ian removed the top three for 21 runs and Warwickshire stumbled to 127. After lunch Sussex romped home by eight wickets. The Cricketer reported, it was unlikely that the Warwickshire bowlers would have done as well as Ian with his accuracy, prodigious movement and cleverly disguised changes of pace. The Man of the Match justifiably went to Ian for his four for 23, one of the great performances in a final and arguably a supreme example of a seam bowler settling a Lord’s final.
10 for 49
Ian Thomson’s greatest performance was undoubtedly against Warwickshire at Worthing in June 1964. He took all ten wickets in the first innings with another five in the second with his overall haul 15 for 75 in 59.4 overs, including 34 maidens. Yet Sussex lost the match. Click here for more details of this match.
Only Cyril Brand in 1899 had previously taken all ten wickets. At the end of the season Ian had another outstanding performance when Sussex won the Gillette Cup beating Worcestershire.
His Test career
During Ian’s career there were some good seamers around, especially Tom Cartwright and Derek Shackleton, making it difficult to get into the England team but he was selected for the A tour to Pakistan in 1955/56 although he did not play in the representative matches and he had to wait until 1964/65 for a full Test debut on the tour to South Africa. He played in all five Tests, but the conditions were quite different to what he knew in England and his nine wickets cost 63 runs each. He wasn’t given another chance at Test cricket and he retired in 1965, at the top of his game although he was tempted back in 1972 and 1973 to play a few matches but by then he was 43 and past his best.
Batting 403 Matches, 558 Innings, 90 not out, 6,827 runs, HS 77, 14.58 ave
Bowling 14,027 overs, 4,246 maidens, 31,186 runs, 1,527 wickets, 20.42 ave