Obituary, 2006

Brian Luckhurst

ESPNcricinfo staff


LUCKHURST, BRIAN WILLIAM, died of cancer on March 1, 2005, when he was in office as president of Kent, the culmination of a 50-year rise he recorded in his autobiography, Boot Boy to President. He was 66. Luckhurst was devoted to Kent, and seemed set for a contented playing career opening the batting for them, but was plucked from county cricket, aged 31, to face the top-class Rest of the World attack in the hastily arranged quasi-Tests of 1970.

"Lucky" had already been with Kent 15 years, having been signed from school as a slow left-arm bowler. His bowling disappeared, but - although his team-mate Derek Underwood says Luckhurst started with only two shots, the square cut and the work to fine leg - his batting developed, and he was called up from the second team during an injury crisis to face Somerset at Gravesend in 1962. After helping save the game with 71 not out, he soon found himself as regular opener. A year later he was capped, and started to earn a reputation as one of the most tenacious batsmen on the circuit. Even so, few judges were convinced he was top-drawer until he proved it.

Luckhurst began his England career alongside another newcomer, Alan Jones of Glamorgan, who never did get the chance to play a real Test. But, unlike Jones, he compensated for a first-innings failure with a fighting half-century at the second attempt. And in the second match, he defended stoutly and scored an unbeaten 113 to lead England to their only victory of the series. Luckhurst kept his place all summer and for the real Tests in Australia that winter, when England adopted a three-opener policy, mainly using Luckhurst to open with Geoff Boycott, and John Edrich coming in at No. 3. Routing the doubters who thought he might be undone by the bounce on hard wickets, Luckhurst became, according to Wisden, "an outstanding success". He looked set for a century on debut until Alan Knott ran him out for 74. He made up for it next game by scoring 131, the first-ever Test century at the WACA, and followed with a heroic 109 at Melbourne when his little finger was broken. Coming in at tea, he refused to let the physio, Bernard Thomas, take his glove off: "You'll never get it back on again."

Underwood insisted that Luckhurst was the best batsman in England between 1969 and 1971, and added that, throughout his career, "he was the gutsiest cricketer I ever came across." The Melbourne innings did as much as anything to win the Ashes, blunting the game and thwarting Australia's hopes of squaring the series. He continued his form in England that summer, with hundreds against Pakistan and India. But he lost his place in 1972, and hardly played until Boycott dropped out of the 1974-75 tour, and Luckhurst was sent out to Australia to face Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson. He was not Lucky this time: now rising 36, his courage was no longer enough. His Test career ended amid the general carnage, and his misery was compounded when Barry Wood was flown out as a late replacement and given preference when soft runs were on offer in New Zealand. He asked to go home, but was turned down.

Luckhurst played on for Kent until 1976, but he was not even halfway through his association with the county. He was cricket manager from 1981 to 1986 (though some thought he was not a good enough communicator to be much of a coach), and made a startling comeback, aged 46, against the 1985 Australians. Several men were injured, and as ever Luckhurst was the man for a crisis: he held the Aussies up for an hour, batting No. 10. Affable, equable, unassuming, he imagined no higher honour than the presidency of Kent, which he reached in 2004. Weeks later, he was diagnosed with cancer, and he died before he could have the honour of planting the new lime tree inside the Canterbury boundary.

© John Wisden & Co.