Peter Toohey, born on April 20, 1954, was a pocket-sized explosive batsman. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at one of the torchbearers of Australian cricket during the days of World Series Cricket.
“First there was [Victor] Trumper, then [Don] Bradman, then Doug [Walters], now comes a cricketer so great they named a brewery after him” – ran a banner just atop the (rather affectionately nicknamed) ‘Peter Toohey Stand’ at the Sydney Cricket Ground during the 1978-79. The reference, of course, was to Toohey Breweries, a popular brand in Australia.
When Kerry Packer struck Australian cricket hard in the late 1970s, the Australian selectors had to recall Bobby Simpson as the captain. With Jeff Thomson as the only regular player available, they had to get an entirely new group of cricketers. The team that took field against the visiting Indians, thus, had six debutant Australians.
Toohey began his Test career well. Coming out to bat at 49 for five, Toohey scored a dazzling 82 in 142 balls to lift Australia to 166. After the Australian fast bowlers restricted India to 153, Australia were reduced to 100 for four, when Toohey made a 105-ball 57, and the rookies won against the experienced Indian side by 16 runs.
With three more fifties in the series (83 at Perth, 85 at Sydney, and 60 at Adelaide), Toohey proved to be one of the vital cogs in the new-look Australian batting line-up that managed to beat the Indians 3-2 in a keenly contested series. He finished the series with 409 at 40.90.
Toohey was born in Blayney in New South Wales. After playing cricket at various levels since 1968, he was selected to tour New Zealand for Western Districts in 1971. He shifted to Sydney in 1972, and found himself under the tutelage of Simpson.
After a solitary match for New South Wales Colts (in which he did not get a chance to bat), Toohey was selected to play an exhibition match for a Rest of the World XI against an Australia XI, that too as a wicket-keeper — in a match featuring stars from all over the world. He made his First-Class debut later than month, scoring 0 and 12 against Queensland.
Toohey scored his maiden First-Class hundred the next season: playing against a Western Australia attack comprising of Dennis Lillee, Terry Alderman, Mick Malone, and John Inverarity, Toohey counterattacked, scoring 125 out of the 205 runs scored during his stay at the wicket.
He kept on scoring runs consistently, and after his 64 and 31 against the touring Indians, followed by a 39 and 95 in the next match against Victoria, Toohey got a Test call-up against India — and began with a much-needed reassurance in the troubled times of the late 1970s.
The injury and the fightback
Toohey was an obvious selection for the West Indies tour later that season. Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, and Colin Croft proved to be more than a handful for the Australians. They were bowled out for 90; Toohey was hit between his eyes by a snorter from Roberts, and had to retire hurt; when he came back, he was hit on his thumb again by Roberts. He showed great courage and continued to bat, and was eventually clean bowled by Garner for 20 — the second-highest score of the innings. He did not bat again, and Australia were routed by an innings.
After missing the next two Tests because of the injury, Toohey returned in the fourth Test, and scoring 40 and 17, but West Indies won again, sealing the rubber. The teams then met for the dead-rubber Test at Sabina Park.
After Simpson won the toss and elected to bat, David Ogilvie fell for a duck. Toohey strode out at number three, and though he lost Graeme Wood soon, he continued to bat on. He reached his hundred towards the end of the Day One, and eventually scored 122. It would remain his only Test hundred.
After Australia secured a 63-run lead, they needed quick runs, and Toohey rose to the occasion once again. He top-scored again, scoring a rapid 97 with eight fours and a six, and Australia set West Indies a target of 369. However, when Vanburn Holder fell as the ninth wicket — he showed some dissent, which triggered a riot, involving tear-gas and false-shots, resulting in a draw.
He also made his One-Day International (ODI) debut on that tour; in his second ODI at Castries, Australia were chasing 140 for a victory on a treacherous track. Toohey top-scored with a 44-ball 30, and the innings proved crucial as Australia won the match in the very last ball by two wickets.
The abrupt end
Toohey’s career ran into a dead end in the home Ashes that followed. Though he top-scored with an unbeaten 81 out of a team score of 190, he crossed 10 only twice more in the entire series, and finished with 149 runs at 16.55, with two ducks and three ones. England took the Ashes 5-1.
To his credit, Toohey turned down the World Series Cup offer made to him during this time. Though he knew that his Test career would reach an end soon, he chose to play for his country than go for the moolah. In his words, “I was better off staying where I was”.
He played decently in the ODIs, top-scoring at Melbourne with an unbeaten 54 off 55 balls to guide Australia to a six-wicket victory. He remained unbeaten in the final ODI as well — which turned out to be his last. From five ODIs he finished with 105 runs at an average of 52.50 and a strike rate of 79.
With the stars back and the Ashes relinquished, the selectors needed a few scapegoats, and Toohey was one of the first targets. He played only two more Tests — scoring 19 and three in another Ashes Test at Perth, and 10 and seven against West Indies at Melbourne. He finished with 893 runs from 15 Tests at 31.89.
He continued to play for New South Wales till 1983-84 season, but eventually found himself out of the side. He quit cricket at an early age of 30, finishing with 5,735 runs from 94 First-Class matches at 37.98, and scored 12 hundreds.
On quitting, Toohey became a selector for New South Wales for several seasons before moving to Brisbane. He currently works in the financial sector.
Despite not being a champion of the sport, Toohey will be remembered as one of those who held fort for Australia when they were hit by one of the worst blows in their history.
(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 Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/