The greatest county cricket team of all time is generally agreed to be the Surrey side of the 1950s. Their success was built on a quartet of outstanding bowlers, the last of whom was Peter Loader.
Jim Laker and Tony Lock, right- and left-arm spin, were household names, as was Alec Bedser, with his medium-pace cutters. But Loader was just as important a part of the county's seven successive championship titles. He was fast, he could swing the ball to devastating effect, and he had the mastery of a lethal bouncer and a cunningly disguised off-break. He had a fast bowler's snarl, too. Few batsmen relished the prospect of facing him.
His potential was not spotted early. He was excused National Service on account of asthma, and his tall, wiry physique suggested a frailness that would not cope with the six-days-a-week schedule of county cricket. In the summer of 1951, at the age of 21, he was a trainee dental mechanic playing for the Beddington club when Surrey, deprived of the services of Bedser (on Test duty) and Stuart Surridge (at his father's funeral), gave him a single game. His three wickets were expensive, but he impressed sufficiently to be offered a contract for the following summer.
That summer of 1952 was Surridge's first year as captain, the start of Surrey's triumphant run, and Loader, whose asthma had now disappeared, played several times in July and August. Surridge, whose family ran a bat-making business, sent Loader off for a winter on one of their willow plantations, where the gruelling work broadened his shoulders and toughened him physically. The benefits were clear by July when, in a golden nine days, he took 34 wickets in three matches, twice taking eight in an innings, and against Kent at Blackheath taking nine for 28, the other wicket falling to a run-out. His winter programme this time was five months in India with a Commonwealth team that included the great West Indians Frank Worrell and Sonny Ramadhin. In unhelpful conditions he topped the tour averages.
There was a dearth of fast bowlers in England in the immediate aftermath of the war, but by this time a new generation of quicks was emerging, spearheaded by Brian Statham and Fred Trueman. The selectors, influenced by events in the Caribbean the previous winter, when Trueman had clashed with the England captain Len Hutton, were keen not to have to pick the Yorkshireman for the 1954-55 tour of Australia, and their prayers were answered in the showcase Gentlemen-Players match at Lord's when Loader destroyed the Gentlemen's batting with seven wickets for 37. His bowling, now controlled and accurate, had come of age.
In Australia it was another young bowler who gained all the headlines, the lightning-fast Frank Tyson, and Loader was an outsider in Len Hutton's Ashes-winning party. He reckoned Hutton only spoke to him once off the field, asking him in the gents after the Ashes had been won, "Did you have a good tour, lad?" Hutton was an enigmatic introvert, deploying the strategy of a slow over rate to keep his fast bowlers fresh; that was not how they played at Surrey, where Surridge was loud, aggressive and always impatient to get on with it.
Loader played just 13 Tests forEngland, mostly when Trueman was out of favour or Statham injured. He bowled well without luck in South Africa in 1956-57, but his moment of glory came at Headingley the following summer against the West Indies. He took three early wickets, the illustrious trio of Sobers, Worrell and Weekes, and he returned in the evening to finish off the innings with a hat-trick. It was the first by an Englishman in England for 58 years, and it would be 38 more before Dominic Cork would repeat the feat.
It was an age when the fall of a wicket was greeted with little show of emotion but, when his third ball demolished Roy Gilchrist's stumps, Loader went on a wild celebration. "He danced a fandango," wrote one reporter, "and his curls stood on end." Trueman, by all accounts, was less ecstatic. "That Gilchrist, he bowled me a bloody bouncer. I were gonna nail 'im to t'sight screen."
Most of Loader's great days were with Surrey, though. In five summers from 1954 to 1958, some of themwet and unhelpful to fast bowling, he bowled almost 4,000 overs andtook 563 wickets at an average of just 16. He was in his prime, and he enjoyed the sense of menace that came with being a fast bowler. "Wife and kids?" he snorted when the Gloucestershire opener Martin Young enquired after his family's health. "I'll give him wife and bloody kids."
His courage did not extend tobatting, however, not when the bowling was quick. On one occasion, going out in a crisis, he provoked his veteran team-mate Bernie Constable to threaten him: "One step to square leg, and you'll have this bat round your head. And I tell you, it'll hurt a lot more than a cricket ball." They scraped home by one wicket.
As a bowler he lost a little of his fire at the same time as Bedser turned 40, Laker left and Lock had to remodel his suspect bowling action. Surrey's dominance was over, though Loader played till 1963, passing on his knowledge to the emerging Geoff Arnold before emigrating to Perth, where he ran a transport business and did cricket commentaries on television.
Micky Stewart, a Surrey team-mate and future England manager, remembers Loader above all else in the evening time at The Oval. "If we declared half an hour before the close, he always seemed to knock two or three over that night. He was quick and he was accurate, and he would bowl them out or have them lbw. He was a crucial part of our success."
With the death of Loader, only Stewart and David Fletcher now survive of the regulars in that greatest of county sides.
Peter James Loader, cricketer: born Wallington, Surrey 25 October 1929; played for Surrey 1951-63, and 13 Tests for England 1954-59; married Jocelyn (two sons, one daughter); died Australia 15 March 2011.