Peter Moyes (1927-1998)
(2 Tests, 69 runs at 17.25)
The Object Lesson
Peter Moyes was one of the great cautionary tales from the post-World War 2 era of Australian cricket. A rise and fall that would prove an object lesson for Australian first class batters throughout the 1950s. “Guard your wicket, lad,” senior players would advise trembling debutants all through the decade. “You don’t want to be a Moy-boy!”
Moyes was a brilliant all-round sportsman from a young age. As a batter, he was good enough to play in a trial for Country New South Wales at age 15, and the next year scored a century in each innings of a match for the CNSW XI v the Sydney Metro XI. He later played rugby for New South Wales and was first-choice goalkeeper for the Balmain Bull-Rushers association football team. But cricket was his true love, and it’s where his career shone brightest for a time.
While his grandfather and one of his uncles had both represented Victoria, Moyes was a proud New South Welshman. “Let there be no doubt where my allegiances reside,” he once famously told selector Stephen ‘Four Socks’ Johnson when the latter hesitated over selecting him. “A more willing prisoner of the Tweed, Murray and Nullarbor you shall not find.”
Moyes’ early CV included an innings for a New South Wales Country XI at the SCG that contained 15 sixes. It was a knock that highlighted Moyes’ great strengths. At the peak of his form, he would explode the ball over the sightscreen. At times he used his legs in a rudimentary cannonball style, not so much dancing down the pitch as kangaroo-hopping, to the delight of the crowd. “Where’s your pouch, Moy-boy!” they’d shout at him. And Moyes would respond by pretending to chew on the grass. Moyes was also well known for being a ‘truganina’, a word that his father had invented for a person who eschews solemnity for gusto and who acts in an over-familiar manner towards his friends.
Moyes turned 18 in July, 1945, in the final overs of World War 2, and soon proved a revelation in a rejuvenated post-war Sheffield Shield competition. He scored 15 first class centuries in his first three seasons, including one that took only 21 minutes. It was enough to earn him a spot on the 1948 Invincibles tour, where last minute selectorial negotiations saw him tour as a reserve leg spinner, despite a congenital lack of thumb joints that rendered any attempt at over-the-wrist bowling completely untenable.
Indeed, the first time he tried to bowl leg spin was on the boat to England, where he succeeded only in splaying balls directly into the Indian Ocean. It was a display that apparently elicited a wry smile from captain Don Bradman, who summoned the rest of the team on deck to witness the youngster’s wayward efforts. “Try your left hand, lad!” was Keith Miller’s advice. “You may be one of humanity’s opposite-monkeys!” Ultimately, it was agreed that Moyes would focus primarily on his batting.
But Moyes found English conditions bewildering. He had never once experienced a rain delay in almost three years of Sheffield Shield cricket, and sticky wickets were a constant riddle that bedevilled him. His only two Tests were disappointing and his first class average plummeted as the tour went on. Soon he was relegated to twelfth and sometimes thirteenth man duties, lest his onfield presence endanger the side’s burgeoning invincibility status. It was only against the weakest counties that Moyes was given a bat, and even then, he often came in at eight or lower, as the tour proved a chastening comeuppance for the brash young man who had seemed so indomitable in Australian conditions.
Even on return to home wickets, however, Moyes’ batting never regained the heights that he had attained prior to the Invincibles tour. In later summers, he would struggle with his footwork, timing and eventually his eyesight. When a standard visit to his doctor for a tuberculosis test revealed instead that he was blind in one eye, it threw most of his career into sharp relief. It explained his by-now-renowned weakness against right arm bowlers that came around the wicket to him. Moyes simply had never been able to see them, and after the humiliation of the Invincibles tour, had been unwilling to mention it to any of his state captains, lest it be considered an excuse.
By 1950, Moyes had retired from playing cricket, aged just 23. But he went on to achieve arguably greater cricketing fame as a writer. His first book was The Batsmen (1952), which ranked with Ray Robinson’s Summer Game for originality. A Country Cricket Family (with father Johnnie Moyes, ed Peter Roebuck, 1994) was perhaps most renowned for an unfortunate slip of the tongue during a promotional interview on ABC radio. Other acclaimed works included It Might As Well Be Me (with John Harms, 1966), and the unfinished autobiography Last Man Standing.
Moyes’ half-brother, Lindsay, was a Test player too, but 17 years younger (his father would later openly admit that Lindsay was ‘a right bloody stuff-up on my part’). Lindsay Moyes was a fast bowler who too often lacked in pace, lapsing into leg-spin under pressure. He played most of his career for Western Australia, where his first-class figures were 25 wickets at 39.40 and 259 runs at 23.55, with one century. He played one Test in 1967-68.
But it was Peter, the older brother, who has long been considered one of Australia’s great ‘what if’s. It’s intriguing to imagine in these days of the jet aeroplane, IPL scouts and the dedicated statistician, what Peter Moyes might have accomplished, especially given the advances in corneal transplant surgical techniques. A one-eyed Moyes was indomitable for three home summers. A two-eyed Moyes could have been anything.
Moyes’ son by his first marriage, Stephen, captained Queensland Country from 1984 to 1986. He later revealed to the historian Gideon Haigh that after decades of stubborn practice, his father learned to bowl a perfect flipper shortly before his death in 1998, aged 71, and that he’d been buried with a cricket ball to ‘practise his wrong’un in the afterlife’. Stephen Moyes has often spoken about the value he placed on his relationship with his father. “Peter treated me like a mate,” he told Haigh. “He just knocked on my door one night. He didn’t telephone first. He’d done alright for himself over the years. He said, ‘where’s my tea, son?’ He was like a big brother. I thought, ‘thank Christ, here’s a father figure.’”
At present, Peter Moyes has not been inducted into the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame.