Tributes are testimony to great batsman

David Llewellyn on a cricket world mourning the loss of Peter May
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As Michael Atherton's team continue to struggle in the Test arena, the cricket world lost the player widely regarded as the greatest batsman England have produced since the war when Peter May, aged 64, died yesterday after a short illness.

May personified a different era in English cricket, one completely removed from its current association with high-profile failure. He captained his country a record 41 times, and under his leadership England lost just two series. From the time he topped the Charterhouse First XI averages as a 14-year-old, to his retirement from the Test arena at 31 while still an amateur, he was acclaimed as a cricketer of the highest class.

He leaves behind a host of admirers, among them some of the game's most illustrious names. Denis Compton, who played under May when he captained England, said yesterday: "His death is a very great personal loss to me and to all those who played with him.He was a lovely chap and a real gentleman. I consider Peter to have been the best post-war batsman England have produced by a long way, together with Colin Cowdrey."

Fred Trueman, the former England fast bowler, supported Compton. "To me he was England's greatest post-war batsman. It's terribly sad, he was a wonderful man." Trueman also recalled the tough side to May's nature. "He was a fighter. I shall never forget when England ran into trouble in the first Test against the West Indies at Edgbaston in 1957. The off-spinner, Sonny Ramadhin, had bowled us out in the first innings with seven wickets and in the second we looked as though we were going to lose the matchby a mile, in fact most of us had booked out of the hotel.

"Peter came in and, in one of the most outstanding innings I have seen in Test cricket, made 285 not out and in the process destroyed Ramadhin. That was the end of Sonny in Test cricket."

May's opponents were also unstinting in their admiration. Richie Benaud, who captained Australia to a 2-1 triumph in the 1961 Ashes series over May's England, said: "He was the finest batsman I ever played against. There are very few great batsmen. Thereare some who are very good and quite a number who are good, a few others who are ordinary. Peter May was a great."

It was after that Ashes series that May retired - far too early in the opinion of many - from Test cricket because of business pressures, but by then he had already made an indelible impression on the game as his career figures reveal. He scored 27,592 first-class runs at an average of 51.00, his highest innings that unbeaten 285 against the West Indies. His Test record is no less impressive, 4,537 runs at 46.77.

Colin Cowdrey, who shared one of May's greatest achievements in the 1957 Test by contributing to a record partnership of 411 against the West Indies , called him his: "Closest friend in cricket. He was without question the best English post-war batsman.

He was immensely strong and courageous. He was a wonderful competitor when he was out there. Yet off the field he was a loyal friend, a gentle man. It was a real contrast."

May, who was less successful as England's chairman of selectors in the 1980s, was Surrey's vice-president and was due to take over the presidency next year, the club's 150th.

May's former Test colleague MJK Smith, the present England tour manager, said from Australia: "I think it is particularly poignant that he should die while England and Australia are playing a Test match. Peter's death is a very sad loss to cricket."

Ray Illingworth, England's current chairman of selectors, said from Melbourne: "Peter was easily the best English batsman since the war and a genuinely nice bloke. Although he played as an amateur, he was as hard as any professional. If you gave him 100 per cent, then fine. But he wouldn't tolerate anyone who didn't. It was a great pity he retired from the game when he was still in his pomp."

Not only could May bat, he was also a fine leader. He captained England in 41 of his 66 Tests, taking over from Len Hutton. During that time, England lost just two Test series. He also led Surrey to the last two of their seven County Championship titles in the 1950s.

Obituary, page 18