James Charles, or "Jim", Laker was perhaps the best off-spin bowler the game has ever seen. Tall and powerful with a lively action, the power of spin, pace as well as flight he was capable of long accurate spells on good wickets - and devastating ones on those giving assistance. He is best remembered for the remarkable performance of taking 19 wickets for 90 runs in the 1956 Old Trafford Test against Australia; a feat unequalled in the history of the game and unlikely to be surpassed.

Before he was able to represent his native Yorkshire the Second World War broke out. During his tour of duty with the ROAC in the Middle East, however, Jim Laker displayed great potential in the good class of cricket played at Cairo where he picked up valuable experience bowling to names such as Dudley Nourse, Tom Dollery, Arthur Wellard, George Emmett, Peter Smith, Sam Pothecary, Bert Sutcliffe and Tom Prichard.

On his return to England he served out his days in the Army at the War Office in London, then embarked on a career in banking before he was persuaded by Surrey to play cricket professionally. In his first full season, 1947, Jim finished top of the Surrey - and seventh in the National - bowling averages and was selected for the MCC winter tour of the West Indies. On his debut in the first Test he took seven for 103 in the second innings at Barbados, including 6/25 in the last nine overs on a pitch which had been freshened by rain.

Jim Laker bowling for Surrey against the
Australians at The Oval in May 1956
In 1948 Laker came in for some heavy punishment against the formidable Australians, and his failure cost him dearly in the eyes of the selectors. Apart from the 1953/54 tour of the West Indies he did not command a regular place in the side until 1956, although his ten for 119 against South Africa at the Oval in 1951 had much to do with England's victory there.

For Surrey Jim enjoyed eight 100-victim seasons from 1949 to 1955 and again in 1957, playing a major role in the county's seven championship titles between 1952 and 1958. His best season came in 1950 when he "bagged" a total of 166 first-class wickets, with one performance of 8 for 2 in the Test trial between England and The Rest at Bradford. He bowled Surrey to victory with 15 wickets against the MCC at Lord's in 1954, but the selectors were only sufficiently impressed when he recorded innings figures of 46-18-88-10 in the Australian tourists match against Surrey at the Oval in 1956.

A month later Laker went one better with a career best ten for 53 (after having taken 9/37 in the first innings) for England against Australia at Manchester, becoming the only bowler ever to have collected nineteen wickets in a first-class match. With a further eleven victims for 113 in the Leeds Test he was on his way to totalling 46 wickets (Average 9.60) in the series. From then on, with his selection guaranteed, Jim played 17 more Tests between 1957 and 1959 in which he captured 61 wickets at an average of 20.70; taking his career total to 193 from 46 at a cost of 21.23 runs apiece.

Sadly, his later years with Surrey as a player were marred by disagreements and after his retirement in 1959 he wrote a controversial book entitled 'Over To Me', which caused the MCC to withdraw his Honorary Membership and Surrey his pavilion privileges (though both were later restored). Jim became specially registered for Essex in 1962 and appeared for them on and off for three seasons, in which he took his tally of first-class wickets to 1,944 at an average of 18.40. At the time of his death on 23 April 1986, aged 64, Laker was Chairman of Surrey's cricket committee and a well established BBC television cricket commentator. With a thorough knowledge of the game he was an uncomplicated arbiter and, though outspoken, was never considered to be unfair.