RICHARDSON, PETER EDWARD, who died on February 16, aged 85, made a startlingly successful entry into Test cricket in 1956. Two years later, he seemed to have become England's permanent replacement for Len Hutton but, from this high point, his international career swiftly declined. Not that it appeared to trouble him too much: Richardson was an engaging personality and an inveterate joker, whose target was frequently the Daily Telegraph's panjandrum E. W. Swanton. A stocky, resourceful, left-handed opener, Richardson divided his county career between Worcestershire and Kent, and had the flexibility to adapt: his inclination was to attack, running sharp singles and using his strong forearms to drive and cut, but when he first played for England he was often required to temper his natural aggression.
At Johannesburg in 1956-57, he crawled to what was then Test cricket's slowest century, in 488 minutes, driving the crowd to distraction in the first international at the New Wanderers. Swanton observed: "Richardson played like a man who, as some sort of penance, has denied himself the pleasure of playing a stroke."
Perhaps the most crucial - and most overlooked - of his five Test hundreds was his first, against Australia at Old Trafford in 1956. He put on 174 with Colin Cowdrey, and reached three figures with a typically scampered single. The ovation, wrote Alan Ross, "drowned the shunting of a departing engine from Old Trafford station". Then came Jim Laker's 19 wickets. Richardson felt he "batted bloody well", but did not mind being so comprehensively upstaged. "It was a privilege," he wrote, "to be part of one of cricket's most famous matches." He was almost responsible for spoiling the story, when his throw nearly brought a run-out. He apologised to Peter May, his captain, and Laker, but May assured him he was more interested in victory than a Laker ten-for. Richardson made 364 runs in the series at 45, having taken a century off the Australians for Worcestershire in the tour opener. He was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year.
He was one of three brothers - all first-class cricketers - from a family of farmers. Educated at Hereford Cathedral School, he soon came to the attention of Worcestershire, where he was coached by senior pros Dick Howorth and Syd Buller. He made his firstclass debut aged 17 in 1949, but his career did not take off until 1952, when he cemented his place as Don Kenyon's opening partner, passing 1,500 runs and making his first hundred, against Oxford University in the Parks. The following season was even better - 2,294 runs at 39, with three hundreds - and he might have been a candidate for England's tour of the West Indies had it not been for national service. On leaving the Army in 1955, he followed a familiar course for amateurs and became Worcestershire's assistant secretary, succeeding Reg Perks as captain in 1956.
After his performance in the Ashes, he was a natural selection for the winter tour of South Africa, but had to adjust to a new opening partner when, on the outward voyage, Colin Cowdrey decided his technique was not up to facing Neil Adcock and Peter Heine with the new ball. Trevor Bailey was given the job - 15 minutes before the start of the First Test. He recalled: "I said, 'Peter, we are following in the footsteps of Hobbs and Sutcliffe. I've only got three shots and you've got four. You can be Herbert, I'll have the knighthood.'" The pair used "Sir Jack" and "Herbert" for their calling throughout the series. The first day was at Johannesburg on Christmas Eve, and Richardson batted until stumps for 69. "He rarely attempted a scoring stroke unless absolutely safe," said Wisden.
That night the team attended a party, and Richardson fell into conversation with a woman. "Were you at the cricket today?" she asked. He admitted he had been. "I hope that fellow Richardson is more entertaining socially than he is to watch batting." Play resumed on Boxing Day, and he was eventually out for 117 in 525 minutes. "Richardson will now be bracketed in Wisden with the game's great stonewallers," said The Times. But his innings laid the foundations of a 131-run victory, and he was England's leading scorer in the five-match series, with 369 at 36. He was equally impressive at home against West Indies in 1957, scoring more than 400 runs at 58, including hundreds at Trent Bridge and The Oval. At Trent Bridge, his brother Dick won his only Test cap - the first time brothers had appeared for England since Alec and George Hearne in 1891-92; it did not happen again until Adam and Ben Hollioake, also at Nottingham, in 1997.
More runs followed against New Zealand in 1958, but in Australia that winter he was dismissed four times in eight innings by Richie Benaud, passing 50 only once - though he was not the only England batsman to struggle. But his future Test prospects were damaged by his decision to join Kent as a professional. Worcestershire contested the move, and he was forced to spend the 1959 season qualifying by residence. He played for Kent Seconds, and shared driving duties with captain Derek Ufton. "He frightened me to death," said Ufton.
By the time he was available for selection again, Geoff Pullar and Raman Subba Row had proved themselves as Test openers. Richardson returned for the tour of the subcontinent in 1961-62 but, though he performed creditably, was not selected in the home summer of 1962, nor for the subsequent Ashes. After one match against West Indies in 1963, his Test career was over. He had won 34 caps, scoring 2,061 runs at 37. After the delayed start to his Kent career, he was soon into his stride, and passed 2,000 runs in three of his first four seasons. By the early 1960s, he had matured into one of the most attractive batsmen in the game. "He had a tendency to nibble outside off stump, like a lot of left-handers," said Kent batsman Bob Wilson. "But hitting across the line he was as good as anyone since Arthur Fagg."
He led Kent in Cowdrey's frequent absences, but the next prank was seldom far away. At Trent Bridge in 1964, the dressing-room attendant collected the teamsheet and conveyed it to the operators of the ground's impressive new scoreboard. Richardson had included the names of Harold Macmillan, John Profumo, Arnold Palmer and Harold Pinter, who duly appeared on the board. The joke made the papers and - in Richardson's telling - led to his instant removal from the captaincy. In fact, he led Kent five more times. He retired in 1965, after scoring 26,055 runs at nearly 35, with 44 centuries. He fell just short of scoring 10,000 runs for two counties - achieved only by Tom Graveney and Mark Ramprakash. Richardson loved to prick Swanton's pomposity, and wrote pseudonymous letters to him in the hope that some of his cast of fictitious characters might find their way into the Telegraph.
At Canterbury in 1963, Richardson and Brian Johnston cooked up a scheme that left Swanton fuming. Richardson was batting, and Johnston waved a handkerchief to signal that Swanton had begun a commentary stint. A few minutes later, Richardson complained to umpire Bill Copson, who was in on the joke, that he couldn't concentrate because of a commotion on the boundary. Copson marched over and shouted towards the box: "Will you please stop that booming noise - it's putting the batsmen off." Swanton, who had assured listeners that the break in play was almost certainly being caused by sun on a windscreen, or unruly boys moving behind the arm, took a few moments to realise he was the butt of the joke. Later, he penned a sharply worded note to Richardson advising him to concentrate on his batting.