Peter Burge

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Peter John Parnell Burge, cricketer: born Brisbane, Queensland 17 May 1932; died Brisbane 5 October 2001.

According to one England cricket captain, Peter Burge was "one big hunk of muscle". In his time, 1952-67, he was one of the most feared and respected middle-order batsmen in world cricket, a tall, powerful right-hander with a good defensive technique, unlimited patience and the ability, given the signal, to score very quickly, driving and hooking the best bowling to be found anywhere.

He was born of a cricketing family in Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, and made his début for Queensland at the age of 21, scoring 54 and 46 against South Australia when runs were at a premium. The following season his maiden century came against the strong New South Wales attack and won his "baggy green" in the last Test of the 1954-55 series in Sydney against England. His first touch of the ball was to catch Len Hutton at slip off Ray Lindwall. New South Wales was suffering severe flooding at the time and the Test lost the first three days to the wet at the Sydney Cricket Ground; there were few opportunities for further glory.

Burge was chosen for the tour of West Indies in 1955 and made the first century by an Australian in South America, 177 against British Guiana (now Guyana). The tour was fondly remembered for Ian Johnson's captaincy; he was an experienced pilot and on one occasion persuaded the pilot to allow him to take the controls during an inter- island flight. When the Australian Board heard of it they fired off an angry letter to the tour manager Jack Burge, Peter's father, pointing out the insurance risks.

Like most Australian batsmen, Peter Burge had only a moderate tour of England in 1956, the year of Jim Laker. He scored 35 not out in the second innings of the drawn Trent Bridge Test, reached 21 and 14 before falling to Brian Statham and Fred Trueman at Lord's, was twice a victim of Laker at Headingley, then lost his place to Ian Craig, thus missing the famous Old Trafford Test in which Laker took 19 wickets and England won by an innings and 170.

Back home Burge recovered his equilibrium with a huge 210 against Victoria in 1957 and was recalled to Australia's ranks for the tour of South Africa where he again had to face a master off-spinner in Hughie Tayfield, again losing his place to Craig after playing in the opening Test in Johannesburg.

Again he was restored, for the first Test against Peter May's visiting Englishmen in 1958-59, before being displaced this time by Norm O'Neill. He was a member of Richie Benaud's team that scored Australia's first victory in Pakistan in 1959, recovered his place for the third Test, but batted at number eight (to be fair, Benaud was at number nine). What Dwight Eisenhower, the first US president to view a Test match, thought of this extraordinary demotion is not recorded.

Burge recovered his place, at four or five, for the last two Tests of that series, making 35 and 60. He also made a late appearance in the next series, against Frank Worrell's West Indies in 1960-61, when his sequence in the last two Tests of 45, 49, 68 and 53 won his place for another tour of England the following summer. Again he had mixed fortunes on English turf but his 181 at the Oval guaranteed Australia from defeat and clinched a 2-1 win in the series. He played in three of the Tests against Ted Dexter's tourists in 1962-63, the prelude to his finest moment.

In July 1964, at Leeds, Australia were struggling against the spin of Fred Titmus when replying to England's 268. Burge, then 38 not out, was sent a message by his captain, Bobby Simpson, to counter-attack and when England took the new ball the first seven overs cost 42 runs. Burge went on to make 160 in a match in which the next highest score was 85, Australian won by seven wickets to record the only win of the series and thus retain the Ashes. Wisden said of him that tour: "He assumed the mantle of Neil Harvey as Australia's leading batsman." Dexter wrote of him:

(He) is the man I would most like to have in any team batting at number five or six when a cause was apparently lost because he might be just the man to turn the match entirely on his own. This obviously needs great technical skill and a stubborn will to survive but it takes a special level of resource and imagination to turn the tide single-handed as Peter Burge did more than once in his career.

Wisden was also to compare Burge's 160 at Leeds with Stan McCabe's 232 at Trent Bridge on 1938, an innings that Bradman always regarded as one of the greatest ever played. Dexter added:

We used to post a forward short leg to him when he first came in but woe betide the unfortunate fielder if the bowler pitched slightly short because no one was quicker to latch on to a full-blooded, cross-batted fore-arm smash than Peter Burge.

He played in 42 Tests, at an average of 38, and scored four Test centuries. His career average was 47 and included 38 centuries. He was a keen golfer, possessing a long, powerful drive, was a follower of trotting and pacing and remained connected to Queensland cricket throughout his life.

Derek Hodgson

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