CRICKETER OF THE YEAR 1974

Peter Sainsbury

Many distinguished cricketers have represented Hampshire and the deeds of men such as Tennyson, Mead, Brown, Kennedy and Newman still live in the minds of those fortunate enough to have seen them, while it requires no exercise of memory to recall the expertise of Shackleton and Marshall and to-day there is Richards, a masterly technician and arguably the best batsman in the world. Famous cricketers all, but none of them can claim the distinction which, irrefutably, makes Peter Sainsbury unique; he is the only man in the history of Hampshire cricket to be a member of two championship-winning teams. This fact alone would not give him a place alongside Hampshire's best, but his own considerable ability does for he has stood the test of time and change and, as seems probable, will continue to do so for some years to come.

Sainsbury, a genuine all-rounder, has contributed much to Hampshire cricket. Quiet, efficient and always enthusiastic, his approach has never varied, even in the lean years that went before, or were sandwiched between, the triumphs of 1961 and 1973. And at a time when the English county game is in good health, refreshed by the advent of overseas players and the introduction of the one-day competitions, it is right to recognise the part played by Sainsbury and men like him. Like a giant oak, cricket is deep-rooted and it is this which ensures healthy growth with continuing strength being taken from home-grown professionals, loyal and true; Sainsbury is such a man.

Peter James Sainsbury was born on June 13, 1934, at Chandler's Ford, just a mile or two outside Southampton and was educated at Bitterne Park Secondary Modern School where he first picked up bat and ball. That he had talent was seen at an early age and Sainsbury was fortunate to come under the charge of Walter Prevett, a cricket-minded master and club bowler of good quality. The young Sainsbury was selected for Southampton Schools, Hampshire schools and was twelfth man for the South, while Prevett, guiding his pupil wisely, gave him also the opportunity to sample the more demanding atmosphere of good club cricket.

Sainsbury still recognises the debt he owes to his mentor of those early years. There are, he says, three men who influenced his cricket most: Prevett, and Desmond Eagar and Arthur Holt, respectively former captain and coach of Hampshire. Indeed, it was Eagar and Holt who invited him to join the county staff when he left school at the age of fifteen, but Sainsbury's father thought hard and long, as a good parent should, before allowing his son the chance to earn his living from cricket. Yet any doubts which may have lingered in Mr. Edwin Sainsbury's mind must have disappeared quickly. The apprenticeship began and for two summers Peter played eagerly for the second XI and Club and Ground before National Service took him into the Royal Artillery and two years of cricket action for the Army and Combined Services.

This delayed his County Championship debut until 1954 and in that season he played in only nine matches, but no one doubted his potential and it was fulfilled quite dramatically in 1955, from which point he has been a fixture in the Hampshire team. His first full season produced achievements which he still recalls with pride: 102 wickets at an average of 18.50, 586 runs, 34 catches, his county cap and selection for the MCC A team to tour Pakistan. Yet it was one particular day that year, his twenty-first birthday, which even now he regards as the highspot of his career; he dismissed Len Hutton twice as he played an important part in Hampshire's first win in Yorkshire since 1932 and Hutton presented him with the ball and a signed book. Today those two articles still take pride of place in Sainsbury's collection of cricket mementos.

Sainsbury used flight expertly in 1955 and his ambition was to dislodge Tony Lock as England's slow left-arm bowler, but their styles contrasted. Lock spun the ball sharply, Sainsbury did not but wanted to so badly; and on the tour to Pakistan, Lock, at Sainsbury's request, took him under his wing. This brought a point of change in Sainsbury's career for he began to push the ball through, but without any accompanying increase in spin. He continued to perform creditably, but it was not until some five years ago that he really rediscovered the art of flight and in 1971 he again took 100 wickets and, enjoying the best season of his career, finished only 41 runs short of completing the double.

Sainsbury realises that he would almost certainly have played for England had his relatively short fingers been able to impart more spin, but many will argue that his skills have merited something more than that A tour, strong though the side was. He has been England's twelfth man dozens of times -- too many to recall, he says -- because of his brilliance in the field, but failure to win a cap remains his one major regret.

He has never been a man to give personal disappointment public display and in every respect is a model professional: well mannered, entirely sensible and good humoured as a man; thorough, diligent, determined and infectiously enthusiastic as a cricketer. He is also a realist about his ability and admits that lack of spin at times proves a useful weapon, saying: "I took wickets in 1955 with balls that went straight through as batsmen played for the turn and I still do to-day." His method has undoubtedly passed many searching tests in twenty seasons and a return of 1,160 wickets at an average of 24.60 represents no mean achievement, while he has scored 1000 runs in a season six times and has always been an eminently reliable batsman. Indeed, he has now accumulated more than 18,000 runs.

Although naturally left-handed, he bats right and it is, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the right hand which dominates his batting. This is easily identifiable in the come-over, a pulled shot through mid-wicket which he plays so effectively. A prerequisite of his batting is a sound defence he has developed carefully over the years, using it as a springboard for a variety of strokes, some of which can variously be described as nudges, squirts, pushes, dabs and flicks. He does, of course, play orthodox shots and, indeed, has sometimes been used as an opening batsman, but for the most part his role has been in the middle order and he has carried it out with the same degree of responsibility that attends all his cricket. He has shored up many a collapsing innings, but can also score runs quickly, chiefly through expert manipulation, if the state of the game so dictates.

Sainsbury has always been an athletic mover and this is one quality which has helped make him a fielder with few peers. Desmond Eagar was an excellent catcher at short-leg and Sainsbury, as he puts it, just stood next to him. He did so bravely and with amazing success so that Shackleton was to become exceedingly grateful. For years, c. Sainsbury b. Shackleton, was repeated time and time again as this man's incredibly safe hands took catches which continually amazed team-mates, staggered batsmen and left spectators shaking heads in disbelief. Unlike some other short-leg experts, Sainsbury excels in every aspect of fielding -- catching in the deep, picking up at speed and throwing, in one movement, to the top of the stumps. Wise opponents have long learned not to take chances; those who think they can, perish.

Sainsbury has taken to one-day cricket comfortably and has three times been Man of the Match in the Gillette Cup, while even in the 40-over slog of the Sunday League he is often Hampshire's most economical bowler. But, above all else, he is a man who enjoys his cricket and has no thoughts of retiring. He says: "I will play as long as Hampshire want me, providing I am worth my place and am still enjoying the game." And that will probably be for some time, because he can still give men ten years his junior a yard start and catch them. -- B.H.

© John Wisden & Co