In the late summer of 1953, two 14-year-old boys took the last bus from Sittingbourne to London and slept outside The Oval to make certain of seeing the final Test of the series between England and Lindsay Hassett's Australians. Seventeen years later, one of these cricket-mad boys, Brian William Luckhurst, returned to The Oval as one of England's opening batsmen against The Rest of the World. Alas! -- for Luckhurst and England -- the fates were in an unromantic mood and did not allow him even one celebratory run!
Yet Luckhurst had done more than enough in the four previous Tests, and for Kent, the Champions, to ensure his place in the MCC party to tour Australia. He was one of the season's outstanding batsmen, and, as ever, a superb fielder in any position.
Cricket has been Luckhurst's life. The Medway towns and Canterbury were within cycling distance to follow Kent, and, as a boy, he was particularly fascinated by Arthur Fagg and Leslie Todd, the openers of the day.
Born at Sittingbourne on February 5, 1939, he was only 12, when as a pupil at Murston County Primary School, he won a prize bat from a London evening newspaper for scoring 90 out of 97 and taking 7 for 15 with quick left-arm bowling against Holy Trinity. Later at Westland Secondary School he found a staunch ally in Dennis Jarrett, his form master and himself a keen club player. About that time Kent sent a circular to all schools within the county asking to be told of any budding talent.
Jarrett needed no second bidding to recommend Luckhurst, and Claude Lewis, then the county coach, took him over. Every Thursday for two years, 1953 and 1954, Lewis, the former left-arm slow bowler and now Kent's scorer, called for his pupil at the end of classes and took him to the club's Indoor School at Eltham. At that early stage the young Luckhurst was seen as a slow left-arm bowler, and, indeed, it was a bowler that he was enrolled as a professional at the age of fifteen years two months after the Easter coaching classes at Canterbury in April, 1954.
His batting position was normally No. 10 but by the time he was 17 he had risen to six or seven, and was something of an allrounder. It was as an allrounder that he first made the championship side in 1958.
National Service, as a Gunner in the Royal Artillery, interrupted his progress, although he played both for the Army and Combined Service. When he returned to Kent he found his bowling skills had gone. There was no logical reason, but he had to face up to the fact. Moreover, his first season in 1961 coincided with a poor record with the bat. His future was at the crossroads. Fortunately Kent, who had had some experience of ex-National Service boys finding it hard to resettle, were patient and gave him time. They were well rewarded.
The next season saw his long-awaited chance arrive. Leslie Ames, the secretary-manager, suddenly found himself short of two players on the eve of a match at Gravesend against Somerset. An SOS was sent to Colin Page, in charge of the second XI, which had just finished playing at Northampton. One of the two recommended by Page was Luckhurst, who fortunately unbeknown to Ames, had just collected a pair! Luckhurst is eternally grateful to Page, who has done so much behind the scenes in encouraging the young players, for his faith in him, and for displaying a discreet silence at the right moment.
Page's gamble had a happy sequel, for batting at No. 8 Luckhurst stayed with Peter Richardson, the Test opener, to add 116 when Kent were heading for defeat. Luckhurst made 71 not out, and Wisden praised Richardson and Luckhurst for saving the match. Luckhurst completed the season with 1080 runs, was fourth in the county averages, and was able to read in Wisden: "Luckhurst, a dedicated youngster, looked a splendid prospect in his first full season." Dedication -- a still apt description of him.
Now Luckhurst's feet were firmly set on the ladder of progress. His county cap came in 1963, the season he finished with 1501 runs in all matches, and when Richardson left to start a business career, Luckhurst was chosen as his successor; his association with Mike Denness, now one of the most famous and flourishing in the game, began to develop. Again Colin Page played a part. He suggested Luckhurst's technique and temperament were ideal for the specialised job of opening.
Luckhurst had cause to be grateful to Page in many ways. There are others who have significantly helped apart from Jarrett, Claude Lewis and his mother. None has been more encouraging than Colin Cowdrey, of whom Luckhurst has this to say: "I am exceptionally lucky to play under him. The skipper's advice is always good, particularly when you are out in the middle with him. He is such a great player himself, and he has had such long experience. It's invaluable to have his advice, which is always offered in a thoughtful and kindly way. He is tolerant, too, when things go wrong. No professional wants to make a hash of things, and the skipper's understanding means a lot to me and the whole side."
It was Cowdrey who suggested a winter coaching job in South Africa to add to his experience. By now Luckhurst consistently passed his 1000 for the season, and often many more beyond that figure. Oddly he did not make many runs in that winter of 1965-66 in Johannesburg, but playing for the Old Edwardian Cricket Society he was one of the most successful bowlers in the competition. Later he toured Pakistan under Richie Benaud, the former Australian captain, with a Commonwealth part. His outstanding performance was on a difficult pitch at Rawalpindi. With the International Cavaliers in Jamaica he enjoyed the spectacular success of hitting three centuries in four matches.
His selection for England against The Rest of the World caused him some surprise as he had not started the season particularly well. But, after only a single in the England debacle of the first innings at Lord's, he scored an impressive 67 in the second, and won praise for the way he used his feet to attack the spin bowlers.
It was in the second match at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, that he made his reputation and secured his position for the rest of the series. In conditions defeating most he took England to victory with 113 not out scored over seven hours. To many it was an unglamorous exercise in patience and concentration, but clearly someone had to be the sheet anchor and Luckhurst played his part to perfection. "I never enjoy batting defensively for long periods" he says, "but if needs must there is no alternative. A grafting innings was necessary at Nottingham, and the job fell to me. Once such a task is begun you have to see it through."
His one private sorrow is that his mother, who nourished his early love for the game, died in December, 1969, and did not live to share his triumphs. His cricket inheritance must have come from his mother's side for while her relatives were notable local players, his father had no background in the game whatsoever. Mother avidly followed her son's career.
Blackheath, the traditional meeting place for the ancient rivalry of Kent and Surrey, was not only the setting for Luckhurst's maiden championship century in 1963, but for an innings of 183 he rates as his best. "The pitch was full of holes and the ball turned square," he recalls. In their second innings Surrey managed only 76 for 9. Yet Luckhurst stayed for five hours, and hit twenty-nine fours. The next highest Kent scorer was Alan Knott with 46, which gives a liberal idea of the batting conditions.
Another performance giving deep satisfaction was his 156 not out last season in the crucial fixture with Nottinghamshire at Folkestone. At one point Kent were 27 for 5, and facing a follow-on which might have ended their championship dreams, Luckhurst, in one of his finest hours, stood firm, and Kent eventually recovered and won after a fair declaration by Gary Sobers.
Luckhurst, always immaculately turned out and correctly behaved both on and off the field, is the personification of all that is best in the professional cricketer. He is a fighter by temperament, instinctively serving the needs of his side, and, apart from one poor season, has been a consistent run scorer. Once established, his progress has been steady and marked, and his fielding is worth many runs a season to Kent. His understanding with Denness has not only made them a successful opening pair, but has played an important part in the county's revival.
Never is Luckhurst anything but a credit to the game.