He was blessed with a lot of natural energy

Published : Nov 10, 2001 00:00 IST


THERE are cricketers who achieve lasting fame, if not immortality, on the strength of an outstanding innings, or an excellent bowling spell, or an amazing piece of fielding during one particular time in their otherwise chequered careers. Peter John Parnell Burge, who passed away on October 5, was one such player.

The Aussie had played the innings of his life-time in the third Test against England at Leeds in 1964 and won universal acclaim. Burge not only won the Test almost singlehanded but his tour de force was also instrumental in Australia retaining the Ashes. It was a very wet English summer and the five-Test series in particular was marred by rain. The first two Tests, at Nottingham and Lord's, had been drawn.

After having restricted England to 268, the Aussies were 124 for one at one stage and seemed heading towards a mammoth total. But left-arm spinner Norman Gifford and offie Fred Titmus appeared to have other ideas. They bowled with imagination and accuracy and baffled the Aussies with their guiles and subtle variations.When Neil Hawke came in to join Burge, the visitors were precariously placed at 178 for seven.

It was an opportunity for Burge to prove what he was capable of when armed with the willow. As they say, he grabbed it with both hands and went on to play an innings that had the English gasping. Burge may have taken more than a quarter of an hour to get off the mark thanks to the nagging accuracy of the two spinners, but once he was in his element, there was just no stopping him.

There was a good understanding between the two batsmen. While Burge batted with a judicious mix of caution and aggression, Hawke merely put his head down and plodded away. At 187 for seven the second new ball became due and, irrespective of the fact that the spinners were bowling well and containing the batsmen, Ted Dexter took it without any delay or hesitation.

The English captain, hoping to finish off things in a jiffy, handed the red cherry to Fred Trueman, his trump-card, and Jack Flavell. Dexter's move was not wholly unwise because he probably believed, as did Trueman, that Burge could not hook confidently and so they wanted to beat him with a barrage of bouncers. But it was just not "Fiery" Fred's day. Neither was the pitch fast nor the Aussie in a mood to be cowed by the short-pitched stuff.

Batting like a man possessed, Burge treated the unashamedly arrogant Yorkshireman with real disdain, pulling and hooking with gay abandon, taking 42 runs from seven overs and changing the course of the match and, as it turned out, the series as well. Burge and Hawke, who gave him good company, added 105 for the eighth wicket. As if that were not enough, Burge added another 89 for the ninth with Wally Grout and hammered a few more nails in the English bowling coffin.

Trueman may have had the last laugh when he had Burge caught by the substitute Alan Rees at midwicket trying to pull yet another short delivery but by then the Australian had done his job almost religiously. When he was returning to the pavilion after battling for five hours, Burge was given a standing ovation by an appreciative crowd. His 160 was studded with 24 sparkling fours. Wisden said his century was "reminiscent" of Stan McCabe's heroic 232 at Trent Bridge in 1938.

Australia, riding on Burge's brilliance, did not have any problem defeating England by seven wickets inside four days. With the fourth and fifth Tests at Old Trafford and The Oval also producing no results, the visitors won the rubber 1-0. The unforgettable innings at Headingley continues to remain the highlight of Burge's career. If you talk about Burge and do not mention his 160, it means you know nothing about him. Incidentally, in its recent list of 100 all-time great Test innings, Wisden has placed Burge's performance at No. 72.

Dexter, who was severely criticised by many, including the representatives of Fleet Street, for taking recourse to the second new ball at an "inappropriate" time, was to admit later that Burge "cost" him a Test match. "Captains are said to win the Ashes. Bowlers often think they win the Ashes. It is not often that a batsman can claim that honour as Burge is thoroughly entitled to do," wrote the England skipper.

"Such individuals live uncomfortably in the memory. I can still recall the names and faces of fielders who put down the crucial catches; of umpires who seemed blind to the most obvious decision at the crucial point; of selection committee men who palpably came up with the wrong formula when a better alternative seemed obvious. Thus I can tell you about Peter Burge at Headingley with certainty and feeling," added Dexter.

Born at Kangaroo Point in Brisbane on May 17, 1932, Burge was a right-handed batsman and a handy wicketkeeper in an hour of crisis. In fact, he did the job magnificently on occasions in first-class cricket. Cricket was very much in his blood as his father, Thomas John Burge (1903-1957), was a useful player with Eastern Suburbs who later became a Queensland selector and also an Australian tour manager.

As a schoolboy aged nine Burge scored his first century and offered glimpses of the things to come. He made his Sheffield Shield debut for Queensland against South Australia in the last match of the 1952-53 season, making 54, batting at No. 7, and 46. But he began the next season with a bang, opening the innings and scoring a brilliant 103 against a New South Wales attack comprising Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller and Richie Benaud.

He continued to score well and was finally able to make his Test debut against England at Sydney in 1954-55. Although he managed to score only 17 and 18 not out, he was selected for the tour of West Indies a few weeks later. Incidentally, the Australian team was managed by his father. Though Australia did well in general, Burge was a major disappointment, doing very little apart from an innings of 177 against British Guyana. He played only the first Test.

Although he toured England, India, New Zealand, South Africa and Pakistan in the following years, he continued to be "erratic" for Australia, hardly or never doing justice to his enormous talent. He would show only flashes of his brilliance but the real, vintage Burge the Aussies were desperate to see did not emerge until the dawn of the 1960s.

For the first time did he appear in all five Tests on the tour of England in 1961 and struck a scintillating 181 in the last Test at The Oval. Prior to that he had played a short but sweet innings of 37 not out in the second Test at Lord's. Set only 69 runs for victory, Australia had lost four wickets for just 19 when Burge came to the crease. In the following series down under, he came back splendidly with 103 and 52 not out in the last Test at Sydney and headed the Australian averages with 61.25.

Burge, who played 42 Tests between 1954-55 and 1965-66 and scored 2290 runs at 38.16 with four centuries (all against England), did not have a regular place in the Australian side. He was a prolific scorer at first-class level (twice did he score over 1000 runs in an Australian season, a feat he also achieved on two of his three tours to England) but seemed beset by self-doubt when donning the Aussie colours. Once fondly described as "the fastest-growing sport in Queensland," Burge was a strong man blessed with a lot of natural energy and agility. His height and arms enabled him to attack fearlessly, particularly when bombarded with short-pitched deliveries. Sometimes the best of fast bowlers were reluctant to bowl bouncers at him. His drives on either side of the wicket were a treat to watch and so were his lusty pull and full-blooded hook. Although a shaky starter at times, Burge nevertheless loved to dominate the proceedings.

The Aussie later became one of the first ICC match referees who did not hesitate in handing out punishment to the offenders, whatsoever their status. He officiated in nine different series over the course of eight years. Mike Atherton in particular will never forget Burge the match referee. Atherton was captaining the home side during South Africa's historic tour of England in 1994. Not once but twice in the series did Burge clash with the England skipper.

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