Somerset has enjoyed a long legacy of Caribbean cricketers playing for the county. The obvious names spring to mind but the first in line was an unsung hero from British Guiana who came to the cider county in 1953 and made his home here writing his name in the club’s folklore.
In a week when Somerset’s latest West Indian cricketer was in the headlines for controversial reasons, news filtered through that Peter Wight had passed away quietly at the age of 85. There was little fanfare; Somerset offered a short tribute on their official website and Bath CC, for whom Wight was a long-time associate and supporter, also paid their respects. Yet Wight was, at the time of his passing, Somerset’s second highest run scorer in history behind only Harold Gimblett and 14 runs ahead of current skipper Marcus Trescothick (who is most likely going to pass him in 2016).
Peter Wight was born in Georgetown, Guyana, on 25 June 1930. His family, a mix of Scottish and Portuguese blood, was full of good cricketing talent. His cousin, Vibart Wight had represented the West Indies twice and elder brother Leslie Wight would go on play Test cricket for the West Indies too.
Wight came to England at the age of 20 in 1951 with the intention of studying engineering. This ultimately proved unsuccessful. By 1953 he was playing for Burnley in the Lancashire League scoring runs freely. With his engineering ambitions finished he holidayed in Woolavington near Bridgwater to visit his sister when her husband suggested he play for Somerset because ‘they have no players!’” Wight went for a trial and, after two nets and a 2nd XI match against Gloucestershire, was amazingly picked to play the Australian tourists. He scored a first-innings duck and looked forlorn as he left the field and it is said that Richie Benaud comforted him by saying: ‘Cheer up, you’ll get a hundred in the second innings.’ And so he did scoring an unbeaten 109 and Somerset offered him a contract.
He was awarded his county cap in 1954 – his first full season playing for the county – and repaid the faith with 1,343 runs in 50 innings with a Championship average of 27.64 including seven fifties. The county was reeling following the retirement of Gimblett, leaving a gaping hole in the batting, and Somerset finished wooden spoonists for a third consecutive season.
For the next ten seasons Peter would pass 1,000 runs in each season.
The following season saw another bottom placed finish despite Peter’s 1,326 runs and a first league century to compliment another seven fifties. But the arrival of Brian Langford and Peter in 1954 and Ken Palmer (1955) and Bill Alley and Roy Virgin in 1957 gave the club some cause for optimism as the club finished a credible 8th in the table. A year later, in 1958, a 3rd placed finish would give defy the critics (and their own fanbase) as Somerset enjoyed arguably their best season so far with Wight whacking 1,549 runs including 3 x 100’s and 5 x 50’s.
Diminutive in frame Wight was a brilliant batsman, able to force shots and was famed for his crisp drives. They said he was initially targeted by fast bowlers as easy prey – and it is true he had some uncomfortable encounters with Fred Trueman in his early days – but he squared up to the pacemen with glee. In one of his most famous innings he carted Surrey’s Peter Loader all around the park as he helped himself to 175 runs. Loader was aggressive and some would say down right vicious at times.
And behind the great player was a confusing character. In the changing room he often looked nervous and morose and was continually beset by ailments. He would worry about health and finance and did not like the surroundings and lifestyle too much. In 2011 he said: “When I played we changed over in the Old Pavilion where there wasn’t any heat so we were always trying to keep warm and there were splinters in the floorboards.
“We had to travel by train to away matches and sometimes you wouldn’t arrive in a place until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning and then have to go out and field all day.”
But all his worries were forgotten when he got to the crease.
By 1959 the club stepped back a bit finishing 12th but Peter was at the height of powers topping Somerset’s averages scoring 6 x 100’s and 9 x 50’s in a return of 1,874 runs at 55.11 and he enjoyed a top score of 222 not out v Kent.
He was the first to 2,000 runs in the summer of 1960, and was the leading run scorer in the country with 2,375 at an average of 41.66 (including seven centuries) and he reached 2,000 again in 1962. In between was named as one of the Playfair Cricketers of the year.
But 1963 would prove to be his final 1,000 run haul and his playing career ended after two poor seasons – in 1964 he scored 504 in 26 innings and in 1965 just 429 runs in 21 innings – and Somerset released him.
He had scored 27 hundreds in his total return of 16,965 runs. His occasional off-spinners also generated 62 wickets and some say he could, and should, have bowled more. In fact once against Derbyshire skipper Harold Stephenson brought Peter on as his seventh bowler and he took six for 29.
During his time on the Somerset playing staff Peter Wight lived in Taunton but after retirement he moved to Bath where he opened an indoor cricket school, paid for with his Benefit money. He also enjoyed some 29 years on the first class umpires list, standing between 1966 and 1995, before he retired. He carries the record for most post war appearances in first-class cricket in the UK:
In 2011 Peter Wight was entered into the Hall of Fame before a T20 game against Kent, the county against whom he scored his highest ever score. He said then: “It’s an honour to have been made a member of the Somerset Hall of Fame, which I don’t think I deserve but I am very willing to accept it. I enjoyed the time that I was here and unfortunately I couldn’t go on forever but I had a great time and loved every moment.”
He paid tribute to the club’s supporters: “The Somerset crowd were magnificent then and they still are today. Despite all of the changes the County Ground has still got that same atmosphere.”
His team-mates reminisced about him fondly. Graham Atkinson once said: “He was the best player at Somerset in the years I was there. I used to stand at the other end and drool at the shots he played.”
The man who came from Guyana to England to be an engineer was once called The Accidental Cricketer, and Peter Wight himself was rather modest and unassuming of his time as a Somerset player, saying: “I never even thought of myself as a cricketer.”
Somerset’s top five highest runs scorers
- 21,142 H Gimblett
- 16,965 PB Wight
- 16,951 ME Trescothick
- 16,644 WE Alley
- 16,218 PM Roebuck