Peter May (cricketer)

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Peter May
Personal information
Full namePeter Barker Howard May
Born(1929-12-31)31 December 1929
Reading, Berkshire, England
Died27 December 1994(1994-12-27) (aged 64)
Liphook, Hampshire, England
Role Batsman
International information
National side
Test debut(cap  361)26 July 1951 v  South Africa
Last Test17 August 1961 v  Australia
Domestic team information
1950–1963 Surrey
1950–1952 Cambridge University
Career statistics
Competition Tests FC
Runs scored4,53727,592
Batting average 46.7751.00
Top score285* 285*
Balls bowled102
Wickets 0
Bowling average
5 wickets in innings
10 wickets in match
Best bowling
Catches/stumpings 42/–282/–
Source: Cricinfo, 19 May 2019

Peter Barker Howard May CBE (31 December 1929 – 27 December 1994) was an English cricketer who played for Surrey County Cricket Club, Cambridge University and England. Already a cricketing prodigy during his school days, May played his entire cricket career as an amateur, and was regarded by many players and fans as England's finest batsman in the post-war era. [1] He was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1981, and was posthumously inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame in 2009. [2]


Early career

Born in Reading, Berkshire, he was educated at Leighton Park junior school, Charterhouse and Pembroke College, Cambridge, and at both he was regarded as a batting prodigy. Across the 1950s, he was the most consistent and prolific English batsman in both county (representing Surrey) and Test cricket. He made his Test match debut against South Africa at Headingley in 1951, scoring 138, and was then a regular England player until forced out by illness at the end of the 1950s. [3] May was one of the Wisden Cricketers of the Year in 1952. May was the natural successor to Leonard Hutton as England captain after the successful defence of the Ashes on the 1954–55 tour of Australia.


Peter May cracks another on-drive off Bill Johnston in 1954-55. He was England's top scorer in both the triumphs of 1954-55 and 1956 and the debacle of 1958-59 and was seen by many as England's greatest post-war batsman Peter May.jpg
Peter May cracks another on-drive off Bill Johnston in 1954–55. He was England's top scorer in both the triumphs of 1954–55 and 1956 and the debacle of 1958–59 and was seen by many as England's greatest post-war batsman

May enjoyed a largely successful captaincy of both his county and country. Surrey had been County Champions for seven years running, with May the captain for the last two seasons, and until 1958 England was never defeated under his leadership. He had beaten South Africa 3–2 in 1955, considered by many to have been the most exciting Test series since the war, Australia 2–1 in 1956, the West Indies 3–0 in 1957 and New Zealand 4–0 in 1958. He was widely regarded as the best post-war batsman England produced, tall, strong and disciplined with a near-perfect technique, a straight bat and a complete range of strokes. [4] [5] [6] His standards improved with the responsibilities of captaincy and his Test average as captain was 54.03. [7] His highest score was at Edgbaston in 1957 when England trailed West Indies by 288 runs in the first innings; he made 285 not out, [8] the highest score by an England captain until Graham Gooch's 333 in 1990, [9] adding 411 with Colin Cowdrey (154) – still an England record for any wicket – and destroyed the mesmerising hold the spinner Sonny Ramadhin had over English batsmen. In the low scoring Ashes series of 1956 he had made 453 runs (90.60) and was out only once for less than 50, when he made 43. Although himself a highly educated amateur and a gentleman he realised that the old class divisions in English cricket were breaking down and under Len Hutton's leadership the amateur and professional had merged. He enjoyed the complete loyalty of the team and the selectors and was ready to help his players and smooth down feathers. [10] As a captain he was a strict team disciplinarian who expected high standards, he was ruthless when the occasion demanded, but could be inflexible and unimaginative and lacked the charisma of a natural leader. [5] [6] [11] In 1958–59 he played too defensively and surrendered the initiative too readily to Richie Benaud and he concentrated on saving runs instead of trying to get batsmen out. Faced with Ian Meckiff's questionable bowling[ citation needed ] in the disastrous First Test he declined to make an official complaint as it would appear unsporting. After the Australian tour May beat New Zealand 1–0, India 5–0 and led England to its first series victory in the West Indies 1–0. He lost 2–1 to the 1961 Australians and retired due to ill-health having been captain in a then record 41 Tests (20 wins, 10 defeats and 11 draws), Benaud being the only man to defeat him in a Test series. He retired entirely from first-class cricket in 1963, taking up a post in the City [3] with the insurance brokerage Willis Faber Dumas; now Willis Group.

Cricket administrator

May succeeded Alec Bedser as Chairman of the England cricket selectors in 1982 and held the post for seven years, including presiding over the notorious 1988 Summer of four captains. The reappointment of David Gower as captain for the disastrous 1989 Ashes series was widely seen as a mistake and precipitated May's departure from the role. [3] He served as President of the Marylebone Cricket Club and posthumously as President of Surrey County Cricket Club from 1995 to 1996.

Personal life

In 1959, May married Virginia Gilligan, a daughter of the former England captain Harold Gilligan and they had four daughters. May died at Liphook, Hampshire, from a brain tumour on 27 December 1994, four days before what would have been his 65th birthday.


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Australian cricket team in England in 1953

The Australian cricket team toured England in the 1953 season to play a five-match Test series against England for The Ashes.

Len Hutton captained the English cricket team in Australia in 1954–55, playing as England against Australia in the 1954–55 Ashes series and as the MCC in other matches on the tour. It was the first time that an England team had toured Australia under a professional captain since the 1880s. After losing the First Test by an innings, they beat Australia 3–1 and retained the Ashes. The combination of Frank Tyson, Brian Statham, Trevor Bailey, Johnny Wardle and Bob Appleyard made it one of the strongest bowling sides to tour Australia, and it was the only team of any nationality to defeat Australia at home between 1932–33 and 1970–71.

Peter May captained the English cricket team in Australia in 1958–59, playing as England in the 1958-59 Ashes series against the Australians and as the MCC in their other matches on the tour. It was widely regarded as one of the strongest teams to depart English shores, comparable with the great teams of Johnny Douglas in 1911-12 and Percy Chapman in 1928-29. It had no obvious weaknesses, and yet it was beaten – and beaten badly. By the First Test the top batsmen had made runs, the Surrey trio of Loader, Laker and Lock had taken wickets, as had Lancashire's Brian Statham. South Australia, Victoria and an Australian XI had all been beaten – the last by the crushing margin of 345 runs – and all seemed rosy for Peter May's touring team. But in the Brisbane Test they lost by 8 wickets and the rest of the series failed to offer any hope of reversing their fortunes. The reasons for their failure were manifold; the captain was too defensive; injuries affected their best players; others were too young and inexperienced such as Arthur Milton, Raman Subba Row, Ted Dexter, Roy Swetman and John Mortimore, or at the end of their career; Godfrey Evans, Trevor Bailey, Jim Laker, Willie Watson and Frank Tyson. Their morale was further bruised when faced with bowlers of dubious legality and unsympathetic umpires. Peter May was criticised for seeing his fiancée Virginia Gilligan, who was travelling with her uncle the Test Match commentator Arthur Gilligan. The press blamed the poor performance on the team's heavy drinking, bad behaviour and lack of pride – a foretaste the treatment losing teams would receive in the 1980s. It was not a happy tour by any means and it would take 12 years to recover The Ashes. As E.W. Swanton noted

It was a tour which saw all sorts of perverse happenings – from an injury list that never stopped, to the dis-satisfaction with umpiring and bowlers' actions that so undermined morale. From various causes England gave below their best...

Ted Dexter captained the English cricket team in Australia in 1962–63, playing as England in the 1962-63 Ashes series against the Australians and as the MCC in their other matches on the tour. In October, the team played a match in Colombo during a stopover on the voyage to Australia. After leaving Australia in February, they played a three-match Test series in New Zealand.

M.J.K. Smith captained the English cricket team in Australia in 1965–66, playing as England in the 1965-66 Ashes series against the Australians and as the MCC in their other matches on the tour. The 5-Tests series ended in 1-1 draw. Although they failed to reclaim the Ashes this was not unexpected as the Australian press labelled them the weakest MCC team to arrive in Australia and the bookmakers were giving odds of 7/2 on their winning the series. These views rapidly changed as they set about winning their state matches with exciting, aggressive cricket and by the First Test the odds against them had been reduced to evens. Lindsay Hassett said "other teams from England may have been better technically but none had tried so hard to make the game as interesting as possible". Financially the tour's receipts were much lower than in 1962–63 due to the number of rain-affected games in a wet Australian summer and the general doldrums of the sixties.

Mike Denness captained the English cricket team in Australia in 1974–75, playing as England in the 1974-75 Ashes series against the Australians and as the MCC in their other matches on the tour. They lost the Test series and the Ashes 4–1 thanks to the battering they received from the fast bowling of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, but won the One Day International and with Lillee and Thomson injured they came back to win the Sixth Test by an innings.

1958–59 Ashes series

The 1958–59 Ashes series consisted of five cricket Test matches, each scheduled for six days with eight ball overs. It formed part of the MCC tour of Australia in 1958–59, and the matches outside the Tests were played in the name of the Marylebone Cricket Club. The England team led by Peter May was labelled the strongest ever to leave England. It had the formidable bowling attack of Fred Trueman, Frank Tyson, Brian Statham, Peter Loader, Jim Laker and Tony Lock; the all-rounder Trevor Bailey; the outstanding wicket-keeper Godfrey Evans; and the batting of Colin Cowdrey, Tom Graveney, Raman Subba Row and Ted Dexter. They had won the last three Ashes series in 1953, 1954–55 and 1956, but lost the series 4–0 to Australia. It was one of the biggest upsets in Test cricket history and the biggest margin of defeat in an Ashes series since the 5–0 "whitewashing" inflicted by Warwick Armstrong's Australians in 1920–21.

The 1958-59 Australians defeated the touring England team 4-0 in the 1958–59 Ashes series. They were seen by the English press as having little chance of winning the series against the powerful England touring team. They had only one recognised great player, Neil Harvey and had lost the fast bowling combination of Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller and the other veterans of Don Bradman's Invincible 1948 team. There were, however, signs of recovery to those who would see them and E.W. Swanton believed that on their home ground Australia would be a shade better than England. The best indication of the forthcoming series was the M.C.C. and Australian tours of South Africa in 1956-57 and 1957-58. South Africa had a strong team in the 1950s, stunning the cricketing world by drawing 2-2 in Australia in 1953-54, losing 3-2 in the closely fought 1955 series in England and fighting back from a 2-0 deficit to draw 2-2 with Peter May's England in 1956-57. In 1957-58 Ian Craig led a team labelled as the weakest to leave Australia to a 3-0 victory over the Springboks with Richie Benaud, Alan Davidson, Wally Grout, Ken Mackay, Colin McDonald, Jim Burke and Lindsay Kline all in fine form. Norm O'Neill was not taken on tour, but struck innings of 175 in three hours and 233 in four hours in successive games against Victoria and was regarded as the "New Bradman".

The 1954–55 Australians lost 3–1 to the touring England team in the 1954–55 Ashes series. The Australian teams of the 1940s and early 1950s were strong even after the retirement of Don Bradman as many of his great 1948 side remained. Australia had lost only one series since 1932–33, when they lost he Ashes to Len Hutton in the exceptionally close fought 1953 Ashes series, but had played no Test cricket since. They had thrashed John Goddard's West Indian team 4–1 in 1951–52 after his triumphant 3–1 win in England, but had surprisingly been held to a 2–2 series draw against Jack Cheetham's South Africans in 1952–53. The general opinion in Australia was that they would win the return series, especially after the great victory in the First Test. "Although Australian batting was unsound by the old standards the presence of more all-rounders gave them the slightly better chance" wrote E.W. Swanton "all-rounders are said to hold the key to Test matches. Australia had four or five to England's one..."

The 1962-63 Australians drew 1-1 with the touring England team in the 1962-63 Ashes series. Australia had beaten England 4-0 in 1958-59 and 2-1 in 1961 and it was thought unlikely that the tourists would beat Australia on their home ground. Richie Benaud was a keen advocate of "go ahead" cricket and his attacking tactics and brilliant captaincy had won Australia five series in a row with what were seen as average teams. Ironically, now he had a better team he drew his first series and his negative play in the last two Tests tarnished his reputation, though he did retain the Ashes. This was the last Test series of Neil Harvey, Alan Davidson and Ken Mackay and Benaud himself played for only one more season. There was a feeling that this was an end of an era and commentators wondered where the new batsmen and bowlers would come from. Fears about the Australian batting proved short-lived as Bobby Simpson and Bill Lawry formed one of Australia's great opening partnerships and were supported by Peter Burge, Brian Booth, Norm O'Neill and Barry Shepherd. But they would soon be short of a decent bowling attack, which would rest on the broad shoulders of the 21-year-old fast-bowler Graham McKenzie until the emergence of Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson and Max Walker in the 1970s.

MCC tour of Australia in 1954–55

The Marylebone Cricket Club tour of Australia in 1954-55 under the captaincy of Len Hutton was its eleventh since it took official control of overseas tours in 1903-1904. The touring team played as England in the 1954-55 Ashes series against Australia, but as the MCC in all other games. In all there were 23 matches; 5 Test matches, 12 other First Class matches and 6 minor matches. It was the only time that a professional cricketer captained a MCC tour of Australia. It was one of the MCC's most successful tours, the Ashes being retained and the team winning five of their victories by an innings.

The 1965-66 Australians drew 1-1 with the touring England team in the 1965-66 Ashes series. They were strong in batting, but weak in bowling and by the end of the series had seven batsmen, an all-rounder, a wicket-keeper and only two specialist bowlers in the team, with the batsman helping out with their part-time bowling skills.


  1. Woodcock, John. "Peter May - the complete master". Wisden Almanack . Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  2. "Chappell, May, Graveney inducted into Hall of Fame".
  3. 1 2 3 Bateman, Colin (1993). If The Cap Fits. Tony Williams Publications. pp.  118–119. ISBN   1-869833-21-X.
  4. p72, Bailey, etc…
  5. 1 2 p175-77, Arlott
  6. 1 2 p53-54, Graveney and Giller
  7. Most Runs in a Career as Captain [ permanent dead link ] from CricketArchive.
  10. p219-220, Trueman
  11. p128, Brown

Sporting positions
Preceded by
Len Hutton
English national cricket captain
Succeeded by
Colin Cowdrey
Preceded by
Colin Cowdrey
English national cricket captain
Succeeded by
Ted Dexter