Cult Heroes: John Lever MBE


We delve back into the magical 70’s and 80’s again this week to reminisce the cricket career of another Cult Hero and a true legend of the Club. His record with the ball speaks for itself, which helped the county to a number of honours during the ‘golden era’.

John Lever has a long and distinguished career at Essex and his bowling was savoured by supporters. There are a number of special moments during the 22-year spell, including Surrey’s final wicket in the Benson & Hedges Cup Final, where he bowled Peter Wilson to secure the first piece of silverware for the Club in 1979.

This series is supported by Allen Ford and we thank them for their continued support.

Essex Career Stats (1967-1989)
Debut: 29 April 1967 v Cambridge University (First-Class friendly)
Appearances: 874
Wickets: 2,089
First-Class Average: 23.53
Best Bowling: 8-37 v Gloucestershire at Bristol in 1984
5-wickets in an Innings: 77
10-wickets in a match: 11

John Lever was one of the finest new-ball bowlers to pull on an Essex shirt and a major factor to the domestic honours during the 1970’s and 80’s golden era.

When he retired from the game in 1989 after 22 years, he could point to 1,722 first-class wickets at an average of 24.26. A total of 1,473 were captured while on duty with the county from 1967 to 1989.

During that time, he also collected 616 victims in the one-day game for his county as Essex carved out a reputation as being the team counties feared most in the limited-overs game.

John Kenneth Lever was born in Stepney in 1949. Boasting one of the smoothest of approaches to the wicket and who predominantly swung the ball into the right-handed batsmen, “JK” as he was known was rightly judged to be the finest left-arm pace bowler in the country although sharp rather than genuinely quick.

He was a captain’s dream in that he would never shirk work even on the blandest of tracks and performed with the same verve and enthusiasm at the end of a hot day as at the beginning.

In contrast to his friendly disposition off the field that made him such great company, he was a fierce competitor on it. He was only 18 when he made his Essex debut playing against Cambridge University at Fenner’s and at a time when the county was regarded as “easy meat” by opponents because of their skeleton staff and the relatively inexperienced band of players.

His first Championship match came three weeks later when Essex faced Worcestershire at his home club ground of Ilford. His victims included Test batsmen Don Kenyon and Tom Graveney and Lever became a fixture in the Essex line-up.

He took 100 wickets in a season four times, the first occasion in 1978 when he ended the summer with 106 victims @ 15.18. He was twice elected the Cricketer’s Cricketer of the Year by his fellow professionals.

Spearheading an attack that won the county honours for the first time in their history when they carried off the Benson & Hedges Cup and the County Championship in 1979, ‘JK’ enjoyed another prolific campaign that saw him top 100 championship wickets. His impressive performances that summer included figures of 7 for 27 against Lancashire at Valentine’s Park Ilford, match figures of 13 for 117 v Leicestershire at Chelmsford and 13 for 87 at Edgbaston versus Warwickshire. It was also the year when he was named Wisden Cricketer of the Year.

During 1983, when Essex lifted another Championship title, he claimed another 100 wickets haul despite missing part of the summer when having to undergo minor surgery. The following season, he took 116 wickets as his county retained their title during a season in which the bowler recorded career-best figures of 8 for 37 when playing against Gloucestershire at Bristol. Later that year, he became the first bowler to reach a total of 300 wickets in the John Player League.

On 11 occasions, he took 10 or more wickets in a match for Essex whilst his tally of scalps included 77 hauls of 5-wickets or more in an innings.

He could prove a useful batsman in the late order with his highest contribution made in 1970 when playing against Glamorgan at Cardiff where he scored 91 as a night-watchman during a stay at the crease which spanned five hours and 35 minutes. He was awarded his county cap that summer.

Not only was ‘JK’ a wonderfully effective left-arm fast-medium bowler but he also possessed a very safe pair of hands in the deep – he took nearly 300 catches in all forms of the game – and had the ability to swoop on the ball and throw accurately in one movement.

He was also an outstanding performer in one-day cricket. In 1972, playing in the Gillette Cup Second Round, he took 5 for 8 at Westcliff where Middlesex were skittled out for 41 and other outstanding returns in limited-overs cricket included 5 for 13 at Ebbw Vale versus Glamorgan and 5 for 18 v Warwickshire at Edgbaston (both John Player League matches). He also returned 5 for 16 v Middlesex at Chelmsford during a Benson & Hedges Cup match in 1976.

He made 21 Test appearances for England, the first of which saw him burst upon the scene in dramatic style in 1976. Not only did he emerge with match figures of 10 for 70 against India in Delhi but also scored 53, just one of only two half-centuries he collected at first-class level.

He claimed 73 wickets during his Test career and also made 22 one-day international appearances between 1976 and 1986.

By the end of a magnificent 22-year career, ‘JK’ had achieved legendary status. In his final first-class match, against Surrey at Chelmsford, he left a reminder of his effectiveness as a new ball bowler signing off with 7 for 48. As he left the field, he was afforded a guard of honour by the visitors, convincing proof of his stature and the respect held by his peers. Only Maurice Nichols, Peter Smith and Trevor Bailey had taken more first-class victims for the county.

One of ‘JK’s greatest admirers was Aussie captain Allan Border, who spent a couple of seasons with Essex in the 80’s. “His record over the years speaks for itself and I’m surprised that he did not play more often for England,” he said. “If we had his type of bowler achieving his sort of success year after year in Australia, I’m sure we would have seen him in the Test side more often.”

Awarded the MBE for services to cricket, after his retirement, John took up a position at Bancroft School.