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John Rutherford: 1929 – 2022

by Almanack Archive 7 minute read

John ‘Jack’ Rutherford died on April 21, 2022, aged 91. He played his only Test match against India in 1956/57, and was remembered in the 2023 Wisden Almanack.

RUTHERFORD, JOHN WALTER, who died on April 21, aged 92, was the first player from Western Australia to make the national team. Named in the 1956 tour party for England, he did not play an Ashes Test, but won what proved his only cap soon after, scoring 30 – and sharing an opening stand of 57 with Jim Burke – as Australia piled up 523-7 at Bombay.

Born in the small town of Bruce Rock, in the wheat belt 160 miles east of Perth, Rutherford gained a degree in science and mathematics. He also had a sound batting technique, which served him well as an opener for the University side in the Perth competition. Never flamboyant, he was primarily a back-foot player, adept at scoring behind square on both sides of the wicket, though he could drive to telling effect. He also developed into a useful leg-spinner and slip fielder.


Rutherford was soon noticed. In 1954/55, he stood firm against the England tourists’ pace attack, applying himself for 39, the only double-figure score, as a Combined XI wilted for 86. His state had just two Shield matches that season, but Rutherford made a century in both, including a career-best 167 against South Australia at Adelaide. It drew a ringing endorsement from his experienced team-mate Ken Meuleman, another one-cap wonder: “He is a self-made cricketer – everything he has achieved has been done the hard way. He was discouraged as a youth because he didn’t look the part. In my opinion, Rutherford is the best opening batsman in Australia. But I’m afraid that, unless he wanders over to South Australia or Victoria, he may never play Test cricket.”

With the Ashes tour in the offing, a joint testimonial match in Sydney for the former New South Wales Test players Arthur Mailey and Johnny Taylor in January 1956 became a selection springboard. Rutherford’s experiences hardened his sense that cricketers from the west were seen as lesser beings. After a long flight across the country, he had to find his own way to the SCG, where practice was finishing by the time he was offered the chance to have a hit. He was due to face Ray Lindwall next day, but his preparation amounted to “the second wicketkeeper, Len Maddocks, throwing me donkey lobs”. Rutherford’s response was 288 minutes of watchfulness that brought him 113 in a second-wicket stand of 244 with Ken Mackay, sealing places for both.

The tour was a personal disappointment, though he resisted for nearly five hours against MCC at Lord’s, making 98 and putting on 282 with Neil Harvey, who hit 225. Otherwise, he struggled in rain-sodden conditions, averaging barely 20. He did, however, acquire a nickname. On the sea voyage to England, Rutherford had used his mathematical knowledge to answer Keith Miller’s idle query about how far it was to the horizon. His quick calculation impressed Miller: “We’ve got bloody Pythagoras on board!”

On the way home, Australia played their first Tests in India, and Rutherford got his chance in the Second. After Australia’s big total, India escaped with a draw, surviving 137 overs. Rutherford was given just five overs by Lindwall, captaining for the only time, but he deceived the adhesive Vijay Manjrekar. “He tried to cut a straight one,” remembered the watching Dicky Rutnagur.

Rutherford remained in good form: 650 runs at 50 in 1957/58 included 160 at Perth against New South Wales and their tearaway new fast bowler Gordon Rorke. In 1959, he had a season as Rishton’s professional in the Lancashire League, collecting 831 runs and 52 wickets. During the opening match of West Indies’ seminal 1960/61 tour of Australia, however, Rutherford felt dizzy and left the field. He had suffered a mild stroke, and announced his immediate retirement, aged 31. After several months, he returned to teaching, this time at Merredin, another wheat-belt town, where he lifted local cricket to a high standard, and was elected as a local councillor.

In 1965, Rutherford scored 211 in six hours during a Country Week carnival at Perth. And he would always remember his moment in the sun: “As soon as I say I’ve got a Baggy Green, up goes people’s attention. It helped me in many ways. And I was very fortunate in getting eight months with that Australian XI, with guys like Miller and Lindwall. I’m proud of being the first Western Australian to play Test cricket – very proud indeed.”

Jack Rutherford was the first cricketer from Western Australia to play Test cricket.

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