Peter Lever, born on September 17, 1940, was a Lancashire and England fast bowler. Abhishek Mukherjee looks the workhorse who killed a batsman in a Test match — temporarily.
There are the poster-boys of fast bowling — the ones with long run-ups, snarling aggression, and ruthless pace and bounce. They intimidate batsmen into submission. There are a few others who fox batsmen with their guile and amazing mastery over seam and swing.
The batsmen decide to be cautious against these masters. They know that they will wear out these men after their initial bursts, or maybe a second spell. This is where the third category comes in.
These men perform a thankless job, over after over, day in and day out, year after year. They are the masters of the other nuances of fast bowling as well, but they rely mostly on relentless stamina. They are not worn down by batsmen; it works the other way round.
These men usually do not earn fans in the crowd. However, years of unyielding stamina and perseverance do find them supporters in their captains. Peter Lever was one of these workhorses. As John Arlott had described, Lever was “an honest and respected performer at the highest level of cricket. He bowls at full effort. His stamina and application are such that he can, and does, bowl long spells without loss of control or enthusiasm.”
Lever bowled quite fast at times, and had that uncanny ability of extracting bounce off a good-length. What really set him apart, however, was the fact that he went on with as much enthusiasm at stumps as at the beginning of a new day.
Despite the hard work and toil he put in, Lever was a very amicable personality. “The great thing about Peter is that, unlike many sporting heroes, he has been far nicer than I could have imagined he would be when I’ve since got to know him,” Jonathan Agnew wrote about him.
From 17 Tests, Lever picked up 41 wickets at 36.80 with two five-fors. He also had 11 wickets from 10 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) at 23.72 and an economy rate of 3.55. In First-Class cricket, however, the Lancastrian had a tally of 796 wickets at 25.59 from 301 matches with 28 five-fors and two ten-fors. He also scored 3,534 runs at 14.25 with 11 fifties.
Colin (also a First-Class player) and Lever were born within a year of each other at Todmorden, Yorkshire, just when World War II broke out. The strict parents admitted him to Todmorden Cricket Club when he was seven with the words “you’ll be loafing around street corners”.
The South Australian leg-spinner Neil Dansie used to be the Todmorden professional in the 1950s. The Todmorden XI was all ready to play; the team had already left for Colne when a fire broke out at the last moment and the fireman-cum-Todmorden-opening bowler Colin Sunderland had to opt out. Lever, the only one available made his debut at the age of 13.
Both Colin and Peter became established players for Todmorden. Colin later played for Heywood and then for Buckinghamshire in the Minor Counties. Peter continued with Todmorden and impressed Dansie with his willingness to learn and the hours he put into practice.
Dansie later recalled: “One lad was always first to arrive and last to leave — Peter Lever. I said with that dedication and enthusiasm this boy is destined to go far in the game. Fifteen years later, there he was, getting off the plane to represent England in Australia.”
Peter was originally a batting all-rounder; his bowling first came into prominence in 1959 when he scored 222 runs and picked up 30 wickets. He went for a trial for Lancashire (which was not the usual choice of county for a Yorkshireman) at Old Trafford and managed to impress everyone almost immediately.
Lever joined Lancashire in 1960. He also made his First-Class debut that season, playing a single match against Oxford University at Old Trafford where he did not bat and bowled eight wicketless overs.
He matured under the tutelage of Brian Statham and Ken Higgs. He waited patiently, working hard in the nets, and improved on his fitness and stamina by hard work. His winter cross-country runs became quite famous in the 1960s.
His first match in 1961, against Glamorgan at Old Trafford, saw Lever share the new ball with Colin Hilton. Lever picked up four for 62. The first five-for came next season at the same ground: he picked up five for 55, and bowling in tandem with Statham, helped bowl out Surrey for 115.
1963 saw him emerge from the shadows of Statham and Higgs. He played 24 matches (he had played 15 matches in his first three seasons combined) and picked up 59 wickets at 30.62. He also scored 573 runs at 22.92 with three fifties, and had created a niche for him as an all-rounder of sorts.
Lever won his Lancashire cap in 1965. With Statham quitting in 1968 and Higgs in 1969, he emerged as the spearhead of the Lancashire attack. Responsibility suited him well: he picked up 39 wickets in 1968 at 23.43 and 52 more at 21.78 in 1969, thus getting into contention for a Test cap.
He began 1970 on a promising note: he picked up six for 37 and four for 59 against Middlesex at Lord’s, crafting out a 10-wicket victory almost single-handedly. This was followed by match hauls of seven for 76 against Glamorgan at Blackpool and seven for 103 against Surrey at Hove in consecutive matches. In the rain-affected match at Old Trafford that followed, he picked up six for 57 in Derbyshire’s only innings. This earned him a ‘Test cap’.
The Test debut that wasn’t
England’s tour to South Africa had been called off, and a Rest of the World XI was conjured to play a five-Test series in England. The Tests were given official status at that point of time. Already down 1-3 in the series, England decided to include Lever in the side for the final Test at The Oval.
England batted first and scored 294; Lever was brought on second-change after John Snow, Chris Old, and Don Wilson. In a short burst he had Eddie Barlow out caught by Dennis Amiss, and clean bowled Mushtaq Mohammad shortly afterwards, before Rohan Kanhai and Garry Sobers clobbered the English bowlers for a 167-run partnership.
Lever came back, running through the defence of both batsmen. He had Clive Lloyd caught-behind cheaply, and ended Mike Procter’s blitz, having him caught by Geoff Boycott. Intikhab Alam went the same way, and Lever finished with seven for 83 on debut. Cricket Monthly wrote that he “bowled with heart and fire on an unresponsive pitch and quite astonishing success.”
Despite Boycott’s fervent 157 (that won him the Walter Lawrence Trophy against all odds) and Snow’s excellent fourth-innings spell, England lost by four wickets. Unfortunately, International Cricket Council (ICC) decided later that the Tests would not be considered as official ones. The records were erased and Lever was stripped of a dream debut haul that included seven quality batsmen.
However, he had his best season of his career, with 83 wickets at 21.37 from 22 matches. His performance earned him a place on the Ashes tour of 1970-71.
The real Test debut
Despite some ordinary tour matches, Lever was selected for the second Test at WACA. He found himself bowling into the Fremantle Doctor — the strong sea breeze that so exemplifies Perth. He was used mainly as a support to Snow and Ken Shuttleworth. Lever finished the Test with the wicket of Doug Walters in each innings.
He generally had a quiet series but eventually came to his elements in the sixth Test at Adelaide. In a short spell he created a major dent in the Australian middle-order, removing the Chappell brothers and Walters inside half an hour. He finished with four for 49.
England were 1-0 up going into the seventh Test at SCG. After England scored 184, Snow and Lever reduced Australia to 32 for three; Lever eventually picked up three for 43 and followed it with another wicket in the fourth innings. England retained the Ashes on Australian soil.
Sandwiched between the Tests was the first ever ODI, in which Lever achieved the dubious distinction of having the winning runs scored off his bowling.
Heroics at Old Trafford
After series against New Zealand and Pakistan, Lever was selected to play the second Test against India. He had missed out on the first Test at Lord’s. India began well, with Abid Ali reducing the hosts to 41 for four before Brian Luckhurst and Alan Knott put up a resistance of sorts. However, after three more wickets fell in quick succession, Lever walked out to join Ray Illingworth at 187 for seven.
Lever added 168 with his captain in 187 minutes — still the record eighth-wicket partnership for England against India. Lever took charge after Illingworth’s departure for 107 but eventually ran out of partners. He remained stranded on a 214-ball 88 with seven fours. It would remain his highest First-Class score.
He was not finished, though. He began by having Ashok Mankad caught-behind, and came back to clean bowl Dilip Sardesai and Gundappa Viswanath in quick succession. With the wickets of Farokh Engineer and Srinivas Venkataraghavan in his tally, Lever finished with five for 70. The Test, however, was drawn after Day Five was completely washed out.
In and out and Perth
After a single Test in the 1972 Ashes at Trent Bridge, Lever found himself out of the Test side for two-and-a-half years. He continued to deliver at domestic level. That season he picked up seven for 70 against Glamorgan at Old Trafford: it would remain his career-best haul. It was also his benefit season — one that yielded £7,600.
He was eventually selected for the 1974-75 Ashes and went wicketless at The Gabba in a Test where Jeff Thomson blew the visitors away with some help from Dennis Lillee and Max Walker. He was injured during the match and did not play until the sixth Test at MCG when England were already 0-4 down in the series.
Mike Denness threw the ball to Lever ahead of Chris Old. Opening bowling with Geoff Arnold, Lever tore through the Australian top-order. Rick McCosker, Ian Redpath, Greg Chappell, and Ross Edwards all fell to him; between them they scored two runs in 46 balls, and Australia were 23 for four.
Ian Chappell stood firm, but with the score on 141 for seven Lever removed Lillee and Ashley Mallett in quick succession. Australia, so dominant in the series, finished with 152; Lever had bowled them out with figures of six for 38. It was England’s chance to dominate, and both Denness and Keith Fletcher scored big hundreds to acquire a 377-run lead.
Australia began well and at 215 for one, it seemed that they might be able to save the Test. The English bowlers kept striking, though; Lever removed Rodney Marsh and then ended Greg Chappell’s 177-ball 102 by hitting his timber. He finished with three for 65 (nine for 103 in the Test) and England won by an innings.
The Chatfield incident
The Test at Eden Park began with England dominating the proceedings. Once again Denness (181) and Fletcher (216) scored big and England finished with 593 for six. New Zealand had to follow-on after being bowled out for 326. Lever did not manage a wicket in the first Test.
Lever picked up Glenn Turner and Brian Hastings early in the second innings; and despite some resistance from John Morrison, an innings defeat seemed inevitable. New Zealand were nine down for 140 when Ewen Chatfield joined Geoff Howarth; they frustrated England for 79 minutes and Howarth got to his fifty and carried the match beyond the rest day. Then it happened.
A frustrated Lever bowled a bouncer to Chatfield: “I thought this was the way to get him [Chatfield]. I brought in two close fieldsmen and aimed another one at the glove,” Lever later recalled. The ball bounced, hit Chatfield on the glove, and then hit him on his left temple.
“I lost sight of it and I knew it had hit me on the head. For a few seconds I staggered and then fell over,” recalled Chatfield. The players huddled around Chatfield, unsure of what to do. Since an early finish was expected there was no doctor ready at the ground; the English physiotherapist Bernard Thomas rushed to the ground.
Thomas realised that Chatfield had actually swallowed his tongue; he asked for the resuscitation equipment to be brought out; he was told that there was none. For a few seconds Chatfield was actually clinically dead: his heart had stopped beating.
It took some prompt thinking on Bernard’s part to rescue Chatfield from the imminent danger: a mouth-to-mouth breathing brought the heartbeat back, and Chatfield was eventually carried away on a stretcher to the hospital. He was diagnosed with a hairline fracture of the skull as well.
Meanwhile, Lever had broken down into tears; he was virtually inconsolable. He followed the stretcher out of the ground, still in tears though the imminent danger had passed. He visited Chatfield in the hospital to find the Wellington fast bowler unconscious. He returned and finally breathed easy when Chatfield assured him that it was not his fault.
After the series Lever played only one more Test, in the Ashes Test at Lord’s. In a high-scoring match he removed McCosker and Walters, and that was it. He had an excellent 1975 where he picked up 61 wickets at 18.00. However, a persistent back problem led him to quit cricket after 1976, a season where he had 39 wickets at 29.41.
His last First-Class match was a Roses match at Old Trafford where he finished with two wickets. He made an unexpected comeback in a single NatWest Trophy match against Somerset at Old Trafford and finished with rather impressive figures of 7.5-2-17-0 as Somerset eased to a win.
Lever became a Lancashire coach in the mid-1980s and went on to become England’s bowling coach in the mid-1990s. He currently works as the head coach as well as the Fixtures Secretary of Lewdown Cricket Club in Devon.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)