The late Hylton Ackerman was born on April 28th, 1937. He was selected for South Africa’s doomed 1971–72 Australia tour. He went anyway in 1971–72 as S.M. Gavaskar’s opening partner for the Rest of the World team. He had several seasons for Northamptonshire and became a renowned coach in later years.
In 1963, an outstandingly successful South African schoolboy side led by Barry Richards toured England, and of the fifteen boys in the party, only three failed to play first-class cricket before they were twenty-two. Among these youngsters was a rugged sixteen-year-old destined to return to English county cricket at Northampton and ultimately be selected to play for his country.
He was born in Springs Cape Town, a mining town some thirty miles from Johannesburg, where his father spent almost twenty-five years working underground on the gold reef. Hylton Ackerman started to absorb cricket when he was just six years old. His father, a local club player, was always ready to give him some time, and it became natural to swing a bat or knock a ball against a wall when no one else was around.
At the age of 10, he left the primary school to become a boarder at Dale College in King Williams Town, where his enthusiasm for cricket came under the guidance of Percy Davis, the Northamptonshire opener twenty-five years ago, who was coaching at Dale.
Percy Davis has always had the remarkable ability to communicate with youngsters, and Ackerman’s natural exuberance was carefully nurtured until he was good enough to play for South African schoolboys. He has six caps, including the 1963 tour, and he quietly but emphatically insists that ‘Sparrow’ Davis was the motivation behind any success he has had.
It was Percy Davis who suggested that he try a few seasons in English cricket, Northamptonshire being the obvious county. Back home, Hylton Ackerman has played for four provincial sides, starting with Border in the 1963–64 Currie Cup while still in school, but in 1966 he registered for military service with the Air Force and was stationed in Pretoria, where he played for N.E. Transvaal.
Next to Natal, Hylton Ackerman lived with Mike Procter in Durban, selling cars for a living before coming to England, and now cricket has become a full-time career. At the end of the English season, he relaxes on a leisurely cruise home before taking up his winter appointment as player-coach with the Newlands club and playing for Western Province. Here on the ground, considered by many to be probably the most beautiful in South Africa, he has a flat so that he is never far from the game.
Yet his enthusiasm for coaching and playing does not extend to watching cricket, and when he returns to the pavilion after an innings, it’s not long before he has a book, for he is a prolific reader, glancing only occasionally to check the state of the game. He is essentially a relaxed young man, and at times this attitude causes a lapse of concentration, yet against Leicestershire he scored 97 and 95, regretting that he has not registered centuries, and in the return game at Grace Road he compiled 208 before being bowled by Davison.
When Hylton Ackerman returned for the 1971 season, he had lost a great deal of weight, partly due to the insistence of Eddie Barlow, who captained Western Province and demanded a high standard of fitness in his team, but his weight continued to drop alarmingly, and his fiancé persuaded him to see his doctor.
They diagnosed him with sugar diabetes just a few days before he sailed for England, and on his arrival here, he entered Kings College Hospital for treatment. He talks lightly about his problem and says that it’s an inconvenience that you learn to live with, yet even so, he must never go to the crease without sugar cubes in his pocket. At Northampton, Hylton Ackerman shares a flat with Colin Milburn over Colin’s sports shop and says that living with such a character is indeed an experience.
You can’t be moody or depressed with Colin; he just shakes me out of any periods of introspection. It would have been great to have shared my cricket with him for -a few years.’ Normally, he bats high in the order, usually at No. 3, and his left-hand stance looks so relaxed, almost casual, yet he drives and cuts with a ferocity that seems to come naturally to the South Africans playing for the counties. Most of his runs come off the field, but he is by no means a negative player on the field.
During a county game, he’ll be fielding in the slips, and on rare occasions, he has been known to bowl gentle seamers off a ten-yard run, but really, he jokes about his bowling, and the only worthy wicket he ever claimed was Bobby Simpson ‘He’d scored over 200, and I’m sure he gave it to me out of pity’. `Ackie’ is a young man, only twenty-four, yet already a decade of top-class cricket has passed in representing his country as a schoolboy, provincial cricket in South Africa, and in the English County game, so what has been the outstanding moment?
There is no doubt that this will be the Australian tour with the South African team, playing in the company of some of the world’s best cricketers. He said, To be selected was certainly my happiest moment, and he says it with such fervor that it would be ungenerous to doubt his sincerity. Hylton Ackerman’s son, HD Ackerman, played four test matches for South Africa in 1998.