Old team-mates remember passionate cricketer Peter Cooke

SIDMOUTH'S historic pavilion will be a quieter place in the season ahead following the death of clubman and club character Peter Cooke.

Cooke, who was approaching his 70th birthday, died after contracting cancer.

Peter Cooke was one of those people who keep cricket clubs running with their work behind the scenes.

Peter CookeCommittee work wasn't for him. He had seen enough bits of paper during a 25½-year career in the police service, but doing something useful was.

If there was work on the ground to do, or maintenance around the pavilion that needed attention, Cooke was at the front of the queue.

Cricket was his passion, one he shared with anyone who would listen and a few who couldn't help hearing.

Cooke was never afraid to offer his occasionally controversial and inevitably strident views on cricket, whether they were needed or not. The conversation was always lively and seldom dull when he chipped in.

Peter Cooke was born on the Isle of Wight in 1947 and moved to the mainland in the 1950s. He was educated at Beale Grammar School, Ilford, then Newbury Grammar, where he first played cricket seriously.

"My interest in cricket had started when I was aged nine after Jim Laker took 19 Australian wickets in the Old Trafford Test," he later recalled.

As a keeper-batsman he earned a place in the Newbury Grammar School 1st XI. A team-mate was future Surrey and England off-spinner Pat Pocock. He had been a member of the town club for a couple of years and would often help out on the ground between matches.

Cooke studied French at the University of Exeter between 1965-69 and played in the 1st XI for three seasons. It was while studying in the city he met wife-to-be Jill, who was a Classics student at the university. Exeter Cricket Club was only a six-hit away from the university campus and Cooke soon signed up.

Jeff Stanyer, who played at the same time, said Cooke appeared at the club occasionally at first then became more involved after joining the police.

"Police work involves shifts and Peter often had time free in the day," said Stanyer.

"I often saw him on the County Ground helping John Harris, who was our groundsman then, working on the ground.

"I remember him playing a fair bit of league cricket and quite a lot in the third team.

"He was a bit unfortunate to join at a time when we already had two other keepers, Bruce Coleman and Geoff Evans, who were both county players."

A policeman's lot involves postings around the force area and Cook was transferred to Okehampton in 1976, playing a season there before moving on again.

The next stop was for Cooke was Plymouth, where he played for six seasons up to 1982, appearing in 47 1st XI league games and winning the Devon Cup.

"Plymouth needed a wicketkeeper to replace Tony Ward and Alan Swift asked me if I would play for them," said Peter, by then a sergeant at Crownhill Police Station in the city,

Cooke was highly thought of at the time by skipper Peter Moxam, who said he was good enough to play for Devon.

"I believe he could become an automatic selection for Devon," Moxam said after Cooke was called up to play against Cornwall in the 1979 Peninsula Cup match at Bovey Tracey.

Devon won by 10 wickets and Cooke was not called on again.

"Peter was a good keeper and easily good enough to play for the county," Swift says now.

"He was unlucky to be around at the same time as a number of other very good keepers and I suspect his batting counted against him."

Cooke won a Devon Cup with Plymouth in 1978 - Paignton were defeated at Exeter - and finished his time at Peverell Park with a Premier Division 2nd XI champions' medal in 1982.

Mark Stevens, who kept for Devon then Berkshire, had joined Plymouth and Cooke stood down in his favour.Flashback! Peter Cooke keeping wicket for Plymouth against Plymstock in 19982

A posting to east Devon came next, which prompted Cooke to play for Axminster for a season on their old ground in the town centre.

His last two years were spent playing second-team and midweek cricket for Sidmouth.

Cooke's police career ended in 1997 when he retired with the rank of inspector. For the next  five years he worked as an assistant in Potbury's auction rooms in Sidmouth.

"My dad was very keen on antiques and collected lots of cricket memorabilia over the years," said son Matt.

"Working in Potbury's was the best of both worlds for him as it gave him an interest in something he was keen on anyway."

Cooke was lost to club cricket for a decade, but started to show an interest again when son Matt began playing in the juniors at Sidmouth.

A new career as umpire, scorer, chairman of selectors and assistant groundsman beckoned - and he revelled in it.

When Sidmouth entered their 3rd XI in the Devon League in 2001, they needed a ground to play on and came to an arrangement with Bicton College at East Budleigh to use their redundant cricket field, sharing it with Exeter 3rd XI.

"For my dad it was a dream come true as he had always wanted his own cricket ground - and Bicton became it," said Matt.

Cooke looked after Bicton for six seasons before ill health obliged him to scale down his activities. His service to the club was recognised in 2014 when he was made a life member.

Until last season he kept busy at Sidmouth's sea-front ground doing odd jobs, or sharing his forthright views on cricket.

Cooke was an avid collector of cricket books and memorabilia, ranging from a full set of Wisden Almanacks to autographed cricket bats. His book collection grew to around 1.000 titles.

Away from cricket he was interested in the music of the 1960s and 1970s - Bob Dylan was a favourite - and had an enviable collection of records from the period.

Peter Cooke is survived by his wife of 45 years and only son Matt (29). His funeral will take place at the East Devon Crematorium, Whimple on March 30 (2.30pm).