Cricket: Such enjoys turn of luck: Derek Pringle meets a revived spin bowler eager to win back his Test place

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The Independent Online
OVER the past decade, Essex have had something of a reputation for taking other counties' wastrels and strays and turning them into Test bowlers. A cricketing equivalent of the Battersea Dogs' Home that somehow turns out the Crufts champion a few years down the line. The first to benefit from this Midas touch was John Childs, the Gloucestershire left-arm spinner who joined Essex in 1985, making his Test debut some three years later. In 1990, Peter Such took much the same route joining Essex after inauspicious stints at Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire.

Three years later, Such made his mark in Test cricket, too, following a sensational debut against Australia last year, when he took six for 67 on a damp Old Trafford pitch. If his bowling never quite reached those heights again during the series, he bowled well throughout, finishing with 16 wickets and what should have been a winter berth to the West Indies. Instead, he toured South Africa with the England A team.

His omission was a shocking oversight on the part of the England selectors, who clearly had not foreseen the likelihood of four left-handers occupying the West Indies' middle order. Not as shocking, though, as Such's discovery when he flicked on Teletext to find his name omitted from the touring party, with no courtesy call to warn him, or any subsequent explanation other than the need for bowlers who turned the ball away from the bat. This reasoning was heavily flawed. After the first Test, only two of the West Indies' top six were right-handers, and it was two left-handers, Brian Lara and Jimmy Adams, who scored the bulk of the runs.

Four years ago, having just joined his present county, that kind of rejection would have sent him reeling into depression. On one occasion, he took a battering from the Yorkshire batsmen during a Sunday League match at Middlesbrough, and, blaming himself for the shambles, did not go to the Mayor's reception afterwards, claiming to have a migraine. The truth is that he simply wanted to be left to brood alone, something he did often when things went wrong.

All that introspection is happily behind him now, and he is a far more self-assured and phlegmatic performer. As Such acknowledges: 'The biggest problem has been between my ears. But since coming to Essex I have felt happier and more confident as a cricketer and a person. The people around me have believed in me and genuinely encouraged me and that has helped enormously.

'Although at the start, I didn't play regular Championship cricket, I played all the one-day matches for Essex. This was beneficial, as at least I knew I was going to get a game. Just being a part of it was a great boon.' In contrast, his days at Leicester were marked by an almost total absence from first-team cricket. Having moved from Nottinghamshire in 1987 - there being no obvious way into the team past the veteran Eddie Hemmings - Leicester's seemingly greener pastures turned out to be less lush than their pitches, and Such spent a miserable three years wallowing in the second team.

'I didn't fit into Leicester's plans of playing on seaming pitches,' Such says. 'At the start of one season, David Gower told me that I wouldn't play unless it was going to turn a lot. So I looked at my fixture list and earmarked three or four matches where the pitches might turn. I was 50 per cent right, and I played two first- team games that year.'

For a spin bowler who had taken five wickets in a match four times by the time he was 20, Such's omissions were a condemnation of how county cricket was played on seamers' pitches throughout the Eighties. It is only because of four- day cricket that most counties now field a balanced attack, comprising two spinners. Such, who will be 30 in June, has been making the most of this new trend, with 76 wickets last season and with another 17 already in the bag this year.

But bowling better than ever has not prevented him from scrutinising and tinkering with his own game. He has a new run-up this season that begins with a Tufnell-like skip. Such explains: 'At the end of last year I felt I'd lost my loop because I was not getting enough shoulder and body into the action. A slower run-up allows me to do this. I'm also bowling from wider on the crease having watched and chatted with Tim May, the Australian off-spinner. The main reason for going wider is that you can bowl a testing line just outside off-stump without having to ask the ball to do quite as much as you would when bowling from wicket to wicket.'

His skipper at Essex is convinced that Such is now the best spinner in England. 'He just doesn't bowl a bad ball,' Graham Gooch said, 'and his line this season has just been superb. He has tested batsmen even when the pitch hasn't helped him.'

His batting, unfortunately, invites none of these plaudits and he once went out to face Curtly Ambrose without his bat, but clutching two helmets. The Australian batsman David Boon said he would go on holiday to the West Indies just to watch Such bat against them.

In an era that promises to resurrect the all-rounder, his inabilities with the bat may count against him if Graeme Hick, who can bowl passable off- breaks, remains in the side. But with Phil Tufnell out of action, Such should again get his chance. When he does, England's opponents may be looking inwards for answers.

(Photograph omitted)