One of the few downsides of the modern trend towards professionalism in cricket is that it produces fewer comedy batting performances from genuine tailend batsmen, with the obvious exception of Chris Martin. The likes of Monty Panesar might be rubbish but at least they make a bit of effort, trying to get into line and bat sensibly. Unfortunately, such players are routinely undone by their poor execution of the basics. We say routinely but, of course, that doesn’t mean always:
But if we were to travel back just a few years we could find a number of comedy tailend batsmen donning their whites to play Test Cricket for England. We’ve already talked about one of them, Devon Malcolm, in glowing terms but that was due to one of the most incredible days of bowling that you’re ever likely to see. Our latest Unlikely Lad unfortunately doesn’t have quite such a legendary performance to fall back on. He is, of course
Throughout our run of Unlikely Lads articles, we’ve generally focused on those players who just didn’t perform at the very top level. There were a number of reasons for this, such as being unable to bowl a hoop downhill, bowling a shitload of no-balls or just being Australian at the wrong time. In Peter Such’s case, it was more complicated than that. Yes, his batting was hilariously poor (as a Test average of a fraction over six testifies) but as a bowler he did a pretty decent job, finishing his 11 match Test career with 37 wickets at a perfectly respectable average of 33.56.
Were we a friendly, hagiographical sort of website, we’d probably be talking about the superb six wicket haul he took on debut, single handedly keeping Australia’s traditional first Ashes victory down a mere 179 runs back in 1993. Instead we find ourselves drawn to his comedy batting, particularly in the face of a hostile spell from Merv Hughes. Hughes wasn’t exactly renowned for going soft on his opponents and seemed to take immense pleasure from following Such around the crease, even as he edged closer and closer to the safety of hiding behind the square leg umpire. A normal person might have aimed for the distinctly unguarded stumps; Hughes instead bowled bumper after bumper aimed at the flailing torso of Such. With hilarious results.
Such’s final Test innings sums him up beautifully: a 72 minute, 51 ball duck against New Zealand in the series that saw England drop to the very bottom of the world rankings. In conjunction with Mark Ramprakash he added 31 runs for the ninth wicket, a relative hatful in the context of yet another innings for the team that ended short of 200. Such left the field to a standing ovation, the Old Trafford crowd displaying a masterful grasp of irony.
As a bowler, Such was a confusing sight for opponents. Bowling from a run-up that began somewhere near the sightscreen, he could genuinely turn the ball. That was if it ever emerged from the complicated tangle of arms and legs at all. And yet he never captured the attention anywhere near as much with the ball as with the bat. His eleven Tests spanned six years and four captains, symptomatic of England’s selectorial roundabout of the time. After taking six wickets in his debut innings he didn’t manage more than three in an innings again, until doing it twice in his last two innings. By then he was 35 and England had a new coach on the way – a certain Duncan Fletcher – who had different ideas about what a spin bowler should be.
Let it never be said that a leopard never changes its spots: Such’s last recorded appearance was in a T20 for a PCA Masters XI against an Australian Masters side. After taking two wickets in his four overs he found himself arriving at the crease at the heady heights of number ten. He made 11* from just three balls, before presumably leaving the stage to a genuinely earned ovation.
Such can of late be found hanging around the environs of Loughborough, where he was recently promoted to the lofty position of National Lead Spin Bowling Coach. However part of us hope he still passes on some words about batting / taking evasive action as well.