England and Surrey fast bowler Peter Loader has died aged 81. In 2009 Jonathan Rice selected him as his favourite cricketer for TWC.
There is no logical reason why my favourite cricketer should be Peter Loader, the Surrey and England fast bowler of the 1950s. It is much easier to explain why Surrey were the county I supported in my childhood: they won the Championship year after year and any nine-year-old will want to hitch his wagon to a successful star.
But Surrey won the title for seven years in a row because they had a team full of great cricketers, any one of whom would have been a more logical choice as My Favourite Cricketer. There was Peter May, probably the best post-war batsman England has produced; Alec Bedser, certainly the greatest medium-fast bowler of the post-war era; Jim Laker, he of 19 Test wickets at Manchester in 1956; and Tony Lock, the hugely competitive left-arm spinner and close fielder without peer. Then came Arthur McIntyre, second only to Godfrey Evans behind the stumps, not to mention Micky Stewart, Ken Barrington and Stuart Surridge, the most successful county captain ever. So why did I pick on Peter Loader?
The similarities are less than obvious. I was short, chubby and unfit and bowled left-arm slow (hoping one day it might spin) for my school under-10s. Loader was a tall, wavy-haired skinny fast right-arm bowler with a brilliant change of pace and tremendous stamina, despite the childhood asthma which only a true fan of his would have known about. Neither of us could bat much but that is the only connection I can find. I suppose what made him my hero was a combination of sympathy for a man whose career coincided exactly with those of Fred Trueman, Brian Statham and Frank Tyson and huge admiration for all he did achieve in what was not a long career – from 1951 to 1963.
Loader made his debut in 1951 but did not attract much notice until 1953 when, deputising for Bedser, he took 34 wickets from three consecutive games, including 9 for 28 against Kent at Blackheath. The last man, Doug Wright, ran himself out. By the end of that summer Loader was an established member of the Surrey attack and the county were Champions for a second year running.
Loader played only 13 times for England, his debut coming in the final Test of the 1954 series against Pakistan, a few days after he and his fellow debutant, Tyson, had been named to tour Australia that winter. England contrived to lose that game and Loader, possibly picked for the Australian tour only because Trueman had misbehaved in the West Indies the previous winter, carried the drinks down under while Tyson and Statham carried all before them.
All the same he was picked as the Cricket Writers’ Club Young Cricketer for 1954 and it was his exploits back home in 1955 which sealed my admiration for him.
We were living abroad that year and the only cricket reports we ever saw or heard were from the airmail edition of The Times, which was at best sporadic and at least two weeks out of date by the time we read it. So it was not until early July that I learnt of how my hero had batted brilliantly against Yorkshire at Headingley on June 18. When he came to the wicket in Surrey’s first innings, the score stood at 119 for 8. By the time he was finally caught behind off Wardle, Surrey had made 268. Loader’s batting, described by Wisden as “of the forthright type expected of a number 11”, had gained him 81 runs, the highest score of his career. That is a statistic that has stuck with me over the years and has always been the score I have tried to beat in village cricket. I have so far failed in my efforts.
Incidentally, we never received the paper of two days later reporting that, despite his efforts, Surrey lost to Yorkshire by six wickets.
The reason Peter Loader is remembered as a cricketer is not, however, for 81 runs in a losing cause. It is for his Test match hat-trick in 1957, the first by an Englishman in a home Test since 1899. His victims were three West Indians, Goddard bowled, Ramadhin caught and Gilchrist clean bowled. I still remember the tabloid headline, “ONE – TWO – THREE, IT’S THE LOADER KNOCKOUT!’ The venue was, of course, Headingley again and nobody else would perform a hat-trick for England at home until Dominic Cork in 1995. A hat-trick is another of Loader’s feats I have yet to emulate beyond the confines of the garden.
Loader was not larger than life like Fred Trueman nor even a truly great bowler like his Surrey team-mates Bedser and Laker but something about his bowling action – silent, whippy, with knees pumping almost to Bob Willis levels – made him compulsive viewing as far as I was concerned. When he retired from Surrey, with over 1,300 first-class wickets at 19 runs apiece, he emigrated to Australia.
He still lives there and will celebrate his 80th birthday later this year. I wish him all the best and eternal thanks for being the unwitting catalyst for my lifelong devotion to cricket.
Jonathan Rice is the author of several books on cricket, including The Pavilion Book of Pavilions and Presidents of MCC