Cricket: Such's good life at Essex distances the hard times: Michael Austin on the lanky Scot whose career has taken a turn for the better with a move to the home of the holders

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The Independent Online
WHEN Essex reflect on winning the County Championship this summer, as they surely must, a lean six-foot off-spinner, shy and almost self-effacing, will sit quietly in the corner, brushing aside his own contribution.

Peter Such, first of Nottinghamshire, then Leicestershire, has at last found a niche, his career rising from potential extinction a few years ago to something beyond almost every one's vision, except his own.

In the past five Championship games, Such has resuscitated a somewhat ailing team by bowling them to wins over Sussex and more pleasingly for him, Nottinghamshire. He has taken 23 wickets at 12.95 runs apiece, in that time, justifying the faith of his third employers and of Bob White, the former Nottinghamshire off-spinner and his original mentor.

White, now a first-class umpire, recalled Such bowling in the Trent Bridge nets as a 16-year-old. 'He did not look out of place even then with the professionals. He has a good action, sound control and turns it.' At 28, Such still has cherubic looks and conceals the indifference of his younger days, understudying first Eddie Hemmings with Nottinghamshire, then Peter Willey at Leicester.

Such left both counties at his own request, seeking pastures not so much greener but drier, like Ilford, Southend and Colchester on which to make the ball bite and turn. Sussex were among those reputedly willing to offer him a contract. 'If I had stayed with Leicestershire, I think I would have retired by now and ended up regretting it. You have only one life,' he said in an accent not, surprisingly, giving any hint that he is a Scot.

At the age of three, Such moved with his family to Kegworth, on the Nottinghamshire-Leicestershire borders from Helensburgh in Dumbartonshire and so developed one of the more curious cricket stories in the past decade. In almost 11 seasons, he has played in only 128 first-class matches but staunchly refused to allow his career to die of neglect. 'I am not a great sleeper and in many of my waking thoughts I play the game in my mind,' Such stressed.

'Bowling well has a lot to do with being in a rhythm. For much of my career, I could go a week or 10 days without turning my arm over in a match. With Essex, I know that if I miss a weekend Championship game, I will play on a Sunday.' A crisis of confidence is a spinner's worst foe. An Essex predecessor used to hide behind his settee at home before being picked up and taken to matches. He was led off to the car, muttering: 'I can't bowl today. I know I can't'

A series of left-armers have 'lost' their action and Mushtaq Mohammad, the former Northamptonshire and Pakistan leg- spinner, once said: 'When I wake, I look to the skies and say: 'Please make the ball turn today. Oh, please' .' These thoughts do not trouble Such, a bachelor, who has ambitions of playing for England with the intermittent encouragement of being selected for representative matches five years apart.

When in Nottinghamshire's second team, Such was picked remarkably for the Test and County Cricket Board XI against the New Zealanders in 1976 and last summer, in two one-day games for England A against Sri Lanka. 'I was not disappointed about missing out on selection for last winter's A tour. I did not think playing in limited-overs matches was a yardstick,' he admitted.

Of the team who played against the New Zealanders, only three, Mark Nicholas, Ashley Metcalfe and Such have not progressed to play for England. It would not surprise Nigel Briers, his former Leicestershire captain, if Such makes further advances. 'Peter has always had a lot of ability but not enough cricket. He knew what he wanted and has now got it with Essex,' Briers said.

Such has played and coached in Zimbabwe during two of the past three winters and this season, twice overtaken his career best, stretching back to 6 for 123 against Kent at Trent Bridge nine years ago. He returned 6 for 39 against Nottinghamshire and 6 for 17 against Sussex and improved his fielding, partly through the high standards Essex set, and, whisper it softly, strengthened his batting.

Such has borne his much- publicised status as the specialist No 11 bravely and has just pushed his career average beyond four, with a highest score of 27. 'I have got better, but then I could hardly fail to do so,' he said dryly as he approaches 50 runs in a season for the first time.

Whatever Such does, he takes seriously, despite the light relief of an Essex dressing-room famous for wit, repartee and practical jokers.

Before his move south, Such had an overnight six not out in a match against Nottinghamshire at Worksop. James Whitaker, his former Leicestershire team-mate, took up the story: 'Suchy gave it the whole works. An early night, an arrival at the ground the following day at 8.30, batting in the nets, the lot, before facing Franklyn Stephenson. He put every bit of kit on he could find. Forearm protector, padding, just about everything except chain- mail. He prodded at the first ball. It stuck between his bat and pad and he stumbled off for a single, only to be run out by a direct hit from Paul Johnson.'

His team-mates also remember his conversation with a 'local' in a Dutch bistro during a Leicester tour match being so animated that, without his realising, an adjacent candle set the sleeve of his sweater on fire.

Nowadays, Such does a lot of talking to John Childs, the Essex left-arm spinner. 'He is a good guy to relate to and Graham Gooch is a very positive influence on me,' he said. 'I am at my happiest on the fields of Essex. Winning the Championship last season was my best moment in the game - better even than playing for England A. I am determined we will do it again.'

(Photograph omitted)

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