Clayton Murzello: A character called Richardson
Erstwhile England batsman Peter Richardson. PIC/Pageant of Cricket by David Frith, published by Macmillan
Today cricket is such a serious business, even the players seem to have forgotten that it is, at the end of the day, still a game. Now, more than ever, one needs personalities like England's former opening batsman Peter Richardson on the pitch. Sadly, Richardson — who toured India with Ted Dexter's team in 1961-62 — passed away in England last week; aged 85.
He was famous for his practical jokes just like another England opener who answered to the name of John Berry 'Jack' Hobbs, who used to replace water with gin in his teammates' (captains included) flasks when their backs were turned. Sir Hobbs was also known for 'pick-pocketing' his visitors, only to return their belongings after they got up to leave.
Mumbai-based erstwhile India captain Nari Contractor remembered Richardson walking up to him in the 1961-62 series in which he led India, and stressing how one of India's bowlers hated opening batsmen like him (Richardson) so much that he refused to speak no more than one word. "Apparently, this colleague of mine couldn't understand what Richardson kept telling him, so his response to everything was, 'Huh'," said Contractor.
Southpaw Richardson's prime 'target' was EW Swanton, the well known writer and broadcaster of his time. Every now and again, Swanton was fed vital statistics by Richardson who seemed to keep a record of all cricketing feats. The only problem was that they were bits of fiction which Swanton mistook for facts at times and relayed it to his readers and listeners.
Pseudonymous letters about broken records and milestones reached the office of the Daily Telegraph, for whom Swanton wrote. On one occasion, Richardson complained to the umpires that Swanton was too loud and something should be done about it. The tension turned to laughter when it was realised that the complaint was a bluff.
Doubtless, Richardson could lift a dressing room. When he decided to shift from Worcestershire to Colin Cowdrey's Kent, the England captain was not only delighted because of the migrant's batting prowess, he was also happy to have a funny man on board, who would put smiles on worried faces. "When Peter Richardson came to leave Worcestershire and moved south, he chose Kent as a place to farm and to play cricket, and naturally his skill and gaiety have brought colour to the scene," Cowdrey wrote in his autobiography.
Dwelling more on Richardson's batting ability and personality, Cowdrey, who was involved in two century partnerships in the Nottingham and Manchester Tests of the 1956 Ashes, added towards the end of the book: "Richardson was a romantic figure. His blond hair and relish for scampering the quick single caught the public imagination. He had a rare bubbling humour which led him into trouble from time to time, but it certainly enlivened grey days."
At times, Richardson was made to swallow a bitter pill, like he did when he landed up for breakfast on the 1958-59 tour of Australia in a dashing red shirt, only to be reminded of a coat-or-tie dress code which hotels Down Under used to insist on. Richardson had to return to his room and dress as per the rules.
Richardson was great at story-telling. In his cricket leadership bible, The Art of Captaincy, Mike Brearley revealed that Richardson related an incident of him being congratulated by the Worcestershire cricket sub-committee chairman after a successful morning session by his bowlers against the 1953 Australian tourists. After the praise, the chief added that he and his committee members had noticed that all the runs Australia scored were courtesy gaps in the field that captain Richardson had set. Wonder whether Richardson had a prank in mind for the chief as revenge for that ill-educated remark.
The lack of characters like Richardson should be bemoaned. But luckily for the Englishmen, new captain Joe Root is one. He has been seen on our television screens, doing fine impersonations of his teammates as well as the legendary Geoff Boycott.
Cricket could well do with some occasional clowning around, because like Richardson viewed it, there is more to this great game than just runs, wickets, catches and misplaced competitiveness. There should also be some place in that dressing room for no-malice-intended humour. Hobbs used to believe that humour could go beyond changing room doors as well because a next-man-in batsman would be busy in some letter-writing and on hearing Hobbs' "He's out, he's out," chant, would make his way down to the pavilion steps only to realise that his colleague was still batting.
The likes of Richardson and Hobbs gave LBW — Laughter Before Wicket — a good name. And long may they be remembered for it.
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org