Monday 16 September 2019

Select few about to join a very exclusive club

Eoin Morgan: Played 16 Tests for England between 2010 and 2012. Photo: Sportsfile
Eoin Morgan: Played 16 Tests for England between 2010 and 2012. Photo: Sportsfile

Gerard Siggins

They've been playing Test cricket since 1877, and in all that time just 2,913 men have been able to call themselves Test cricketers. Our island's history, with emigration and colonialism a large part of the experience, ensured that 11 of them were Irish.

Four were from Dublin, two from Co Kildare, and one each from Antrim, Cork, Derry, Down and Waterford, and a more disparate bunch it would be hard to find.

The first two played for Australia - Tom Horan, whose family had left Midleton for Melbourne, played in the very first Test of all. He top-scored with 20 in the second innings as his new home won by 45 runs. He was a regular in the Test team for the next decade, playing 15 tests and making 124 against England in 1881/82. Horan later became Australia's leading cricket journalist under the pen name 'Felix.'

In the second Test of that initial series he was joined by a fellow Munsterman, Thomas John Dart Kelly from Waterford. Kelly was brought up in England before emigrating at 19 and was flamboyant on and off the field - he is credited with introducing that sporting icon, the blazer, Down Under.

The second of his two Tests was in 1879 when he joined Horan and a third Irishman, Leland Hone, who was playing for England. Hone was from a famous family of cricketers - and artists - and despite only playing club cricket in England he was a late call-up as stand-in wicketkeeper. He had a poor tour, but still played in the Test scoring seven and six.

Emile McMaster was the son of a linen magnate from Gilford, Co Down, and toured South Africa in 1888-89 as one of three amateurs in a selection of county pros. His entire first-class career lasted less than two days, albeit for England in a game later given Test status. He made a first-ball duck, and neither bowled nor held a catch.

As at Melbourne in 1879, Johannesburg in 1896 was the other occasion that three Irishmen played in the same match.

Sir Timothy O'Brien had stood in as England captain in the previous Test and played five in all since 1884. Born in Baggot Street in Dublin, his baronetcy was inherited from his grandfather, the Lord Mayor who organised Queen Victoria's 1849 visit to Dublin. Tim had a long career in Middlesex and was famously fiery, threatening to fight WG Grace and earning a lifetime ban from the Oval. He also invented the reverse sweep and sired ten children despite never wearing a box while playing.

Against him that day were a pair of Irishmen - Clem Johnson from Carbury, Co Kildare who had left Trinity after captaining the students to wins over Warwickshire and Leicestershire. Johnson had health problems which required moving to South Africa but he failed in his only Test there.

His team-mate, Robert Montagu Poore, was born in Carysfort House, Blackrock in 1866, and was a career soldier. He was based in the Cape when he was called up for the series and played in all three Tests. He had a handful of seasons with Hampshire and his 1899 average of 91 was the English record until Don Bradman broke it in 1948.

Fred Fane came from a military background and was born in the Curragh Camp. He had a long, prolific career with Essex and his 18,548 runs has him 134 ahead of Ed Joyce as leading Irish run-scorer. Fane made 143 against South Africa in 1906 and captained England in five of his 14 Tests, all played overseas.

There is a gap of more than 80 years until the next Irish-born Test player, Martin McCague from Larne. McCague was raised in Australia but played for Kent under his UK passport and was called up for England in 1993. He had a stellar debut but injury ruled him out until the disastrous Ashes tour of 1994/95 when he was labelled 'the rat who joined the sinking ship' by one Australian headline writer. He missed most of his last Test with stomach issues, a complaint that returned no doubt on his stag weekend in Dublin when he sank 72 pints of Guinness.

The last two men made their Ireland debut together in 2003 and were part of the World Cup squad four years later. Eoin Morgan was first capped at 16 but after 63 caps declared for England, for whom he is a successful white-ball captain. He played 16 Tests between 2010-12 and scored centuries against India and Pakistan.

Ireland were not yet a Test nation when Morgan left, and the same ambition forced Boyd Rankin to opt for England in 2013. He won seven ODI and two T20 caps, as well as playing one Test in Sydney in January 2014.

Rankin returned in 2016 and this week will be joined by ten other proud men who can forever call themselves Ireland Test cricketers.

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