Feel like a Tooheys or two!

Published: Nov 22, 2018, 05:41 IST | Clayton Murzello | Mumbai

The old jingle in an ad for the popular beer holds good for Australia's fragile batting line-up which needs the grit of a Peter Toohey

Former Australia batsman Peter Toohey who scored 409 runs in the five-match Test series against India in 1977-78. Pic: mid-day archives
Former Australia batsman Peter Toohey who scored 409 runs in the five-match Test series against India in 1977-78. Pic: mid-day archives

Clayton MurzelloWithout Steven Smith and David Warner, the Australian batting appears fragile, but not as inexperienced as the line-up which figured in the opening Test of the 1977-78 series at Brisbane. Australia, under recalled Bob Simpson, had three debutant batsmen — Paul Hibbert, David Ogilvie, Peter Toohey. Leg-spinner Tony Mann, wicketkeeper Steve Rixon and fast bowler Wayne Clark too made their debuts.

Of the several rookie batsmen, Toohey emerged the most succesful and finished the five-Test series with five half centuries. He contributed to that 3-2 series win in no small measure and it's the Toohey-like batsman that Australia need to help them pass their biggest examination in recent years. For an eyewitness account on the then 23-year-old Toohey, I called Karsan Ghavri, who bowled to him. Ghavri felt he was the most effective of the young opposition batsmen.

"Toohey had a lot of ability and courage. He wasn't scared to dance down the pitch to tackle our spinners. He would take liberties with Bishan (Bedi), Prasanna (Erapalli) and Venkat (S Venkataraghavan), but was very watchful when it came to Chandra (BS Chandrasekhar). He was a good player. He, and Kim Hughes looked very impressive," said Ghavri. Toohey played for his skipper Simpson's club, Western Suburbs, and was initially announced as 12th man for the Brisbane Test.

However, after a hearty breakfast, he was told that he would be in the XI. "The selectors had a change in thought and I was told that I was playing. There was no time to get nervous," Toohey told me from Sydney yesterday. The right-hander walked in with his side in trouble at 43 for four. He used his feet to the spinners and scored 82, an innings World Cricket Digest writer Brian Bavin felt had, "an unmistakable stamp of class and well merited a century."

Running out of partners, Toohey stepped out to Bedi and was stumped by Syed Kirmani. "I was not thinking about a century at all," Toohey revealed yesterday. Australia were bowled out on Day One itself for 166 with India skipper Bishan Singh Bedi claiming five for 55. "We were just chasing runs." India fared no better than their opponents and were bowled out for 153 by the Jeff Thomson-led attack. In the second innings, Toohey proved his mettle again with 57 and Australia ended up winning by 16 runs. Toohey joined the rare list of man-of-the match debutants and cherishes the medallion he received from the sponsors.

He didn't change his strategy in the second Test at Perth and was stumped again – for a duck – trying to get on top of Bedi. In the second innings, set to score 339 for victory, India were thwarted from a century by nightwatchman Mann and the match might have been pocketed by India after the Western Australian's dismissal. But Toohey stepped in and smashed 83 off 140 balls to get Australia closer. He was dismissed by Bedi when his team needed nine runs for victory and the job was completed by Clark and Thomson.

Though Toohey was dismissed for 14 in both innings of the Melbourne Test which Australia lost, his contribution to the wins in the first two Tests was worth its weight in gold. There was another 80-plus score by Toohey in Sydney after which the scoreline reached 2-2. An ankle injury sustained while fielding handicapped him in the second innings. He perished to the hook shot and while he remembered the severe pain and the innings, he also recalled substitute S Madan Lal taking a great catch in the deep to send him back. "In pain throughout, Peter showed signs of greatness," said Simpson.

An attractive 60 in the first innings of the fifth and final Test at Adelaide was Toohey's last fifty of the series. The knock also taught him a lesson which he revealed in an interview to Australian cricket magazine: "Simmo [Simpson] came in and then reeled off a 100. Not too fast, mind you, but a Test hundred of great importance. I realised then that a dashing 60 is vastly inferior to a more subdued 100 in Test cricket."

Toohey toured West Indies later that year. He carved 122 and 97 in the final Test at Kingston against a second string WI team. But cricket fans remember his Caribbean journey more for the hit on the forehead, trying to hook Andy Roberts in Trinidad. Ace photographer Patrick Eagar captured the image of blood trickling down Toohey's face with Vivian Richards waving for medical help. Toohey can't forget it as well. He called it a "minor incident" but was stunned when he felt "warm blood" running down his eyes.

The only severe pain he felt was when the doctor gave him three stitches without anaesthesia. Half an hour before hooking Roberts the injury, the ace fast bowler broke Toohey's thumb and it was this injury that kept him out of the next two Tests. By December the following year, Toohey had played his last Test under a baggy green. Toohey shares a name with Tooheys, the popular Australian beer firm which had cricketers endorsing the brew in the 1970s and 1980s. Just like in the, "I feel like a Tooheys or two' jingle," the Australian team sure need a Toohey or two!

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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