CRICKETER OF THE YEAR 1965

Peter Burge

One innings could be said to have decided the Test series between England and Australia. It was played by Peter John Parnell Burge. His 160 not out completely changed the course of the game at Headingley and led to Australia winning the only match decided. He went in at a time when Australia were struggling, but by determination, skill and aggression he mastered the England attack and played the finest innings of the rubber and one of the best for many years.

This was typical of Burge. He looks a fighter; he is a fighter. Big, strong and rugged in appearance, he is a cheerful, quiet gentlemanly man off the field. On it he loves a challenge and his cricketing life has been full of challenges. Although he has taken part in 34 Tests he has never really been completely established in the Australian side. Yet, just when it seemed that he was going to be left out permanently he came up with a big score, or after being omitted, he made an imposing come-back.

At one stage he was so disappointed with himself that he thought seriously about giving up the game. In contrast, when his employers decided that he was not going to make the grade and declined to give him any more time off, Burge threw in this job and began again.

Burge almost had a duty to succeed. His father was steeped in cricket and became a Queensland selector as well as an Australian tour manager. He was also a good player, but not quite able enough to make the State side. Burge senior had the satisfaction of seeing his son grow into the player he would have been proud to have been himself.

Peter Burge was born at Brisbane on May 17, 1932 and he remembers holding a bat at the age of three. He says he used to infuriate his mother by hitting a ball, inside a sock and tied to a rope, for hour after hour. His mother found the repeated plonk, plonk all day long hard on her nerves. At the age of five he went to the Buranda Boys State School and with the help he received from his father he was far superior at cricket to any of his colleagues.

When eight and a half, he played his first competitive match. About that time he dropped the use of Parnell, his mother's maiden name because he did not want to write four name's each time his full description was needed and he has never used it since. During the war, Burge played little but in his last year at Buranda he showed his prowess with eight centuries, one double hundred, 97 and 0 in 11 innings. At that time he was a wicket-keeper-batsman who went in first.

When thirteen he moved to the Church of England Grammar School and was given leave to play for Queensland in the State Primary Competition in Sydney. He made 100 against Victoria at the number one Oval, Sydney and he recalls huffing and puffing after an all-run five. The ground authorities had forgotten to bring in the boundary fence for the youngsters after a Sheffield Shield match.

The cricket master at school gave him plenty of help and Burge was in the first eleven for three years; he also played club cricket in his last season. By this time he had dropped to number three in the batting order, but continued to keep wicket. It soon became obvious that he was good enough to represent his State. His father was a Queensland selector and he resigned so as not to embarrass the committee when his son's name was being discussed.

Leaving school, Burge studied chartered accountancy and he returned home after the 1964 tour of England, India and Pakistan with two examinations still to complete. He was picked for the Brisbane (under-23) Colts side whose coach was Wally Walmsley, the Queensland State Coach. Burge says Walmsley taught him a tremendous amount and was the best coach he ever met. Walmsley, a teacher by profession, was able to put across his advice.

Don Tallon was then the Queensland wicket-keeper and there was a young man waiting for his opportunity named Wally Grout. Obviously Burge's prospects in that direction were not too bright. Following a talk with Walmsley, W.A. Brown, who also helped Burge a good deal, and his father, Burge decided to give up wicket-keeping and concentrate on batting. So he had to learn something entirely new about fielding.

Burge made his Sheffield Shield debut in the last Queensland game of the 1952-53 season against South Australia. Five wickets were down cheaply in each innings, but Burge was already showing his ability to rise to a challenging situation. He batted number seven in the first innings and made 54, followed by 46 in the second innings.

The following season, when twenty-one, he became a regular member of the side and he began with 103 against a New South Wales attack which included Lindwall, Miller and Benaud.

His progress did not go unrewarded for in 1954-55 he was given his first Test chance against England at Sydney in the last game of the series. Australia had lost the Ashes and tried one or two promising youngsters. Abnormal downpours held up play until 2 p.m. on the fourth day.

The first time Burge touched the ball in Test cricket he caught Hutton at leg slip. He knew it was coming, too. As the players walked out on the field Lindwall told him to watch for the fourth ball. Lindwall gave Hutton three outswingers. The fourth was an in-swinger and Hutton edged it to Burge who just managed to hold the ball at the second attempt.

Burge made 17 and 18 not out, Australia following-on under difficult conditions. A few weeks later he was in the West Indies on his first tour with his father manager of the party.

The first serious set-back came on that tour for while Australia did well in general, Burge disappointed, doing little apart from an innings of 177 against British Guiana. He played in only the first Test. Recalled for the tour of England in 1956, he fared moderately and missed two of the Tests, but regained a place against India on the way home.

In 1956-57 he hit his first double century, 210 against Victoria after being dropped first ball. He toured New Zealand at the end of that season and because of his ability to keep wicket Australia did not send an understudy to Jarman.

Burge was still finding it hard to hold a regular Test place and appeared in only one match for Australia in South Africa in 1957-58. Soon after this his firm decided not to give him more time off for cricket but Burge had faith in his own ability and he decided to accept the invitation to tour India and Pakistan in 1959-60, although a letter declining the trip was in his pocket for a time.

He found another position in accountancy and with encouragement from his new firm he decided to go. His early form was disappointing, but he came back with 60 in the Fifth Test against India at Calcutta.

With his future brighter, Burge enjoyed a successful Sheffield Shield season in 1960-61 and in two Tests against West Indies he headed the Australian batting with an average of 53.75. He told his new employers that if he did not make runs when recalled for the Fourth Test that he would give up the game. He scored 45 and 49 and followed with 68 and 53 in the Fifth Test.

The 1961 tour of England was the first occasion Burge played in all five Tests and he succeeded splendidly, finishing second to Lawry in the Test averages. At Lord's he made 37 not out, but he regards that as his second best innings, for it came at a time when Australia had lost four wickets for 19 runs when set to get 69 to win and nerves were jagged. Once more Burge showed his temperament in a crisis. In the last Test that season he played magnificently for 181 in which he made full use of the sweep, a stroke he has since tended to restrict because of its danger.

Against West Indies in 1962-63 Burge was once more dropped after the first two Tests only to do his now-familiar come-back act with 103 and 52 not out in the Fifth Test at Sydney. As a result he headed the Australian averages with 61.25.

In 1963-64 Burge appeared in all five Tests against South Africa, but was not really fit. He was, in fact, doubtful for the tour of England in 1964. He first noticed his injury in October 1963 during an innings of 283 against New South Wales at Brisbane, a record score for Queensland. After the Fifth Test he underwent an operation on a blood vessel in his left foot and was on his back for three weeks. He found running rather difficult during the early weeks of the tour of England but his 59 at Lord's was a valuable innings in the Second Test.

Burge always considers he bats better against England than anyone else because he feels it is more of a challenge. He has been encouraged to play his strokes naturally. No one has tried to curb his attacking desires. He favours the hook and many a fast bowler has had cause to regret bowling short at him.

Burge has cause to be grateful to Keith Miller for his advice on the 1956 tour of England, and to Neil Harvey and Richie Benaud in 1961. All went out of their way to help him.

Burge is one of the few cricketers in recent years to be given out handled the ball. It happened in a Sheffield Shield game against New South Wales in 1954-59. The ball hit a pad and went up in the air. Without thinking he put up a hand and to his and everyone else's surprise, he found he had caught it.

Married in 1958, Burge has two children, both boys, John born in 1960 and Hugh in 1963.

© John Wisden & Co