October 2005

The Way It Was - The accidental cricketer

Stephen Chalke talks to Peter Wight


He thought he was a factory man but instead clocked up a record at the wicket. Stephen Chalke on Peter Wight.



Peter Wight. Only Harold Gimblett has scored more first-class runs for Somerset © Somerset CCC

"There was always a lovely ring to his bat," Graham Atkinson says of his Somerset team-mate Peter Wight. "He seemed to middle the ball so well. If he'd gone out with an old chair leg, there'd still have been a nice ring to it."

"Peter was such a good player of fast bowling," says Brian Langford. "He'd step back a little, give himself some room and let the arms go."

"He had a magnificent eye," Atkinson says. "He picked up the length so quickly and he had such strong wrists. He was the first person I saw who hit the ball at the top of the bounce. And, when it was short, his square cut was like a rifle shot. Crack. His timing was so good."

Only Harold Gimblett has scored more first-class runs for Somerset. Yet Peter Wight would never have been a professional cricketer if his employer in Burnley had released him, as promised, for his motor mechanic exams.

He had grown up in British Guiana, his family a mix of Scottish and Portuguese. His cousin Vibart had been West Indian vice-captain in England in 1928, his brother Leslie played one Test in 1953 and other brothers represented Guiana at cricket, hockey, tennis and soccer.

He came to England on a cargo boat in 1951, a 20-year-old shivering in his tropical clothes and shocked by the rationing and outdoor toilets. "I came to learn engineering, not to play cricket." But, after missing his exams, he emigrated to Toronto, then returned to work in a factory. He was scoring runs in the Lancashire League and in the summer of 1953, when he visited his sister near Bridgwater, her husband Bill made a suggestion. "`Why don't you play for Somerset? They've got no players.' We went down on the bus the next day."

After two nets and a 2nd XI match he was picked to play the tourists. "A trial game against the Australians?" Atkinson laughs. "It's amazing how Somerset did things."

He followed a first-innings duck with a century and Somerset offered him £250 a year. He preferred his factory wages but the offer was improved and for the next 12 years he delighted the county faithful.

He was not a hard-living extrovert like the Australian Bill Alley. He never swore, never lost his temper and believed in an early night. A white man in the Caribbean, his darker skin earned him the nickname Rajah. "He was a quiet guy," Atkinson says. "His bat did his talking."

A frail-looking figure, he often seemed to be under the weather and fast bowlers grew excited when he did not get behind their short-pitched balls. "Even Brian Statham used to bowl bouncers at him," recalls Ken Palmer, another Somerset team-mate. "And Fred Trueman used to chirp away. `Your room-mate, Ken,' he'd say to me. `He's turned white now.'"

Trueman, with his banter, always got the better of him but he made runs against all the other quicks - especially Surrey's Peter Loader. "Loader could be the most vicious of them all," Langford says, "and Peter used to murder him."

"To tell you the truth," Peter says, still with a high-pitched West Indian lilt to his voice, "I'd heard so much about county cricket but I thought it was just as ordinary as anything else."

The shining rolled clay of The Bourda was very different from the uncovered pitches of England and he never really changed his technique. But on a wet wicket at The Oval in 1956, batting at No. 4, he played two of his finest innings. Against Loader, Tony Lock and the Bedsers he hit an unbeaten 62 first time round. "I came in and sat down. We had to follow on and they said, `Don't take your pads off.' So I had a drink and a stretch and blow me down, within minutes, `You're in, Peter.'" Loader took seven wickets as Somerset were dismissed for 196 but the waif-like Guianan came off with 128 not out.

Two years later, at Taunton, he hit the Surrey attack for 175 while suffering from all manner of ailments. "I used to love it when he came in and said he wasn't fit," Langford says. "He always seemed to bat better."

"I put on 300 with him at Bath," Atkinson remembers. "I think he was dying that day. I remember saying, `Keep going, Rajah'. He always played better under duress."

He was the first to 2,000 runs in the summer of 1960, he reached 2,000 again in 1962 but in 1965, after a poor season, Somerset released him and he went on to the umpires' list, where he stayed for 30 summers.

In all first-class cricket in the UK since the War nobody - as player and umpire - has taken part in more matches. Yet he never stood in a Test. "I've never been at an international match in my life," he says.

Postwar appearances in first-class cricket in the UK
Player Umpire Total
PB Wight 328 567 895
A Jepson 353 528 881
JH Hampshire 529 329 858
JG Langridge 298 556 854

With his benefit money he built an indoor cricket school in Bath, where for 35 years his cheerful patience made him many friends. "He's done so much for cricket," Langford says. "He doesn't get the recognition he deserves."

"He was the best player at Somerset in the years I was there," Atkinson says. "I used to stand at the other end and drool at the shots he played."

And Peter Wight, how does he think of himself? "I don't think of myself as anything," he says. "I never even thought of myself as a cricketer."

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