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Ian Thomson: 1929 - 2021

Ian poses with the ball with which he took 10 wickets in an innings at Worthing in 1964

Sussex Cricket is deeply saddened to learn of the death on Sunday 1st  August of Ian Thomson, one of the club's greatest ever bowlers, at the age of 92.

Born in Walsall in January 1929, Ian Thomson was a right arm medium fast bowler who took over 1,600 wickets for Sussex, including more than 100 1st class wickets in 12 successive seasons from 1953 to 1964. He played five test matches for England during the 1964-5 MCC Tour of South Africa, was Man of the Match in the 1964 Gillette Cup Final and, in the same season, took all ten wickets in an innings against Warwickshire at Worthing.

He was a product of cricket in Metropolitan Essex rather than the South Coast game. Though he was born in the Black Country, his family lived at Ilford and had a vehicle business in East Ham. During the war the Thomsons became dissatisfied with Ian’s education when he became an evacuee and eventually sent him to Forest School at Walthamstow, a fee-paying establishment with a considerable sporting tradition. In four summers, 1944 to 1947, in the school’s first eleven he scored 631 runs at 17.05, and took 142 wickets at 11.00, achievements which greatly enthused correspondents of The Cricketer magazine. Surprisingly he never figured in schools representative matches at Lord’s; and he made little progress up the Essex ladder, perhaps because Trevor Bailey thought him ‘not good enough’. National Service with the Royal Air Force brought him cricket but not in the higher echelon matches played by the service. He played club cricket for Ilford and for the Club Cricket Conference. He also played for Ilford in Isthmian League football. When the family took a flat in 1951 in Brunswick Square in Hove, by now 22, he wrote to Sussex seeking a trial. By way of response, the county fielded him as an amateur in all ten of its Second Eleven matches in its final season in the Minor Counties Championship. His batting, typically at four or five, brought him 380 runs at 25.33, and his bowling … just four wickets at 74.25.

In 1952, still an amateur given time off from the family business he established a firm foothold in the first team, playing nineteen first-class matches, latterly as a new-ball bowler. During the following year, in David Sheppard’s only season as captain, Ian played a key role as a professional opening bowler and leading wicket-taker. In eight of the following eleven seasons, he took more wickets than any of his Sussex colleagues and established himself as one of the Sussex all-time greats, before making a very overdue test debut in 1964. Shortly afterwards he was to return to the family business but released himself from its clutches in 1971 and 1972, when aged over forty, to play in 22 limited-overs games and a couple of Championship fixtures. Later in 1972 he embarked on  a new profession, teaching geography, first at Brighton College, and then at Bevendean Primary School in the town’s northern suburbs, where he was a much-respected and popular member of staff.

Following the death of his beloved wife Eileen in 2015, for whom he had cared for many years, Ian became a frequent and hugely respected visitor to Hove for Players Reunions. In 2018 he opened the Sussex Cricket Museum exhibition, which celebrated his “all ten” against Warwickshire, and gave a charming and disarming speech.  He will be sadly missed by all in Sussex Cricket and our thoughts are with his family at this very sad time.

With thanks to David Jeater & Jon Filby for writing this tribute

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