Jack Meldon - a trait for big hitting
John (Jack) Michael Meldon
Jack Meldon was probably the best known of a remarkable generation of one cricket family. His father and an uncle had already played for Ireland. He, his brother and four cousins were to do so, while yet another cousin played first class cricket for Dublin University in 1895. Jack was tall free scoring middle order batsman, at his best attacking the bowling with lofted on and straight drives. However his record for Ireland was most disappointing. His average, in 11 a side matches, of 20.19 was no reflection of his true ability, nor was his failure to pass 1000 runs. A possible explanation lies in his trait for big hitting, which he was always reluctant to curb. Further his decline set in after he left regular Dublin cricket and set up as a solicitor in Galway. Here, it has been claimed, a combination of easy runs and the life of a "sporting squire" did his batting few favours.
He had played cricket since infancy, but his game developed at school. He was briefly at Beaumont in Old Windsor where he was in the XI, despite his youth, before going to St Stanislaus, Tullabeg. Here cricket was of a high standard with Father Wisthoff, a German Jesuit, aided by Brian Splollen a one- eyed alcoholic groundsman, the unlikely inspiration. They had developed cricket facilities which one member of the well known Lyttleton family, which for years dominated cricket at Eton, said were better than those enjoyed there. In 1885 Clongowes and Tullabeg combined to tour Dublin and Jack hit an excellent 75 v the full Phoenix side. In 1886, Tullabeg closed its doors to students and its pupils, plus the German and the groundsman, went to Clongowes, Here Wisthoff and Spollen established the magnificent ground the College still enjoys today. It was widely considered the best in Ireland until SH Cochrane opened his at Woodbrook. Jack spent his last year there, with others who were to join him in Irish XIs, including Bill Harrington, Tom Ross and Dan Comyn.
Jack entered Dublin University in 1887 and was in the XI from 1888 to 1893. He was captain for three years, an honour which was unusual but not unique, from 1890 to 1892. He found form immediately and was a member of the Irish XI, virtually a DUCC Past and Present side, that toured America in 1888. This was because a number of other players were unavailable. For the University Jack was always a formidable bat, being one of several players brought on by the fine coaching of professional Jesse Richards. Few could point to a clutch of cricketers as impressive at the wicket as, for example, John Hynes Dominic Cronin, Frank Browning, the Gwynn brothers, and Jack.
He hit three big hundreds for the University. In 1891, as his side reached 446 v Phoenix he struck thirty five 4s and one 5 to make 208, including 110 before lunch. The following year he made 170 at the Curragh v Curragh District, as the University reached 315-4 declared. Clearly the ground suited him. He was back there again in 1893 scoring 180* v The Curragh Brigade. Dan Comyn made 102, enabling CL Johnson to declare on 353-3. Incidentally, the bowling must have been weak. The XI returned a few weeks later to total 390 with Lucius Gwynn getting the statutory hundred. Arguably, however Jack's best innings for the University was not a century but the 97 he made v Cambridge in College Park in 1892. The visitors were very strong and had ten Blues including the captain FS Jackson, later, in 1905, to lead England to an epic Ashes victory. The visitors eventually won by 6 wickets, Jack took 6-99 in the first innings, easily his best bowling in important cricket. He had also batted well against major opposition in 1890. Captaining a Past and Present XI v WG Grace's USE XI in 1890, Jack who made 45 and Browning with 50, were the only batsmen to shape confidently against a varied attack. Years later Jack was to claim that Grace hoodwinked him over the toss by calling, "Woman," so that whether the coin fell with the Queen or Britannia uppermost, he would have choice of innings. That may well be the case but the story has other tellers than Jack and other venues than College Park.
Jack began well enough on the 1888 tour with 37 v Kingston, Ontario, and a typically robust 46 v XV of North Ontario on a dangerous wicket at Orilla. However v Canada at Toronto, his first cap match for Ireland, he was out for 0, caught off the bowling of Alec Gillespie who was a leading Canadian all rounder for 20 years, playing 14 matches v USA. Jack was unable to improve his debut as Ireland won by an innings. His best innings on the tour was a first knock 69 v All New York at Staten Island. Batting at 7, he saw Ireland past 300 after a century from the Army bat John Dunn had prepared the way. Ireland had a 126 lead, largely thanks to Jack's skilful marshalling of the tail. and won by 9 wickets. He was to score only 5 more fifties for Ireland, while making a further six ducks. Two of the fifties came in the same match v Scotland at Raeburn Place, Edinburgh in 1890. A first innings 59, at 3, was followed by his highest score for Ireland, a second innings 92. He was run out having previously given only one chance, fortunately this had been to the Scots' opening bowler FK Weir, the type of fielder whose catching ability would put Monty Panessar in the Jonty Rhodes class. Jack's innings were vital as the Scots finished 2 runs short with 6 wickets standing.
He captained the Irish team in north America in 1892: a selection dispute - endemic in Irish cricket at the time - resulted in him doing the selecting himself and finding unavailability a major stumbling block. The voyage out nearly cost the life of his University team mate and future South African opening bowler Clem Johnson. It was also enlivened by the captain's talents for banjo and piano playing as well as singing. In all matches on tour, including non cap ones he scored 224 runs at 16. The leading bat on the tour was the left handed opener MW Gavin. Against Philadelphia at Manheim, Gavin carried his bat for 90 and Jack, who had made 59 against Canada at Toronto, hit 81. Both men were severe on the bowling of JB King. The great Bart, who was then purely a fast bowler, still took 18 wickets in the 3 matches he played against the Irish. Together the Irish pair added 131 for the sixth. Jack, on 22, survived an appeal for a diving outfield catch by Philadelphia's English professional AM Wood. The stand was crucial set up a 127 run victory.
Jack captained Ireland on two further tours of England in 1893 and 1895. He made a typically hard hitting 71 v WH Laverton's XI at Westbury in the former year, but otherwise did little. "The Cricket Field" a short lived periodical published an article and photograph in 1895 when he was asked to play for the Gentlemen at The Oval, but was unable to accept. It would have been interesting to see how he fared against high class bowling but he had left University to become a solicitor in Galway in 1893 and his form, as two poor scores v weak IZ bowling sides in 1894 and 1896 would indicate, seems to have deserted him.
A few flashes of his old brilliance remained. In 1899 he played again in College Park for Co Galway v the University Long Vacation XI. He scored 117 judged by the paper "Weekly Sport" to be, "one of the best innings seen in College Park this season." There after he played little cricket until 1902. He became a figure much in demand in Galway social life, often to be found , playing the piano and singing far into the night, He would carry on, "Until, well primed, he fell off his seat quite insensible". From this background, he was, strangely, asked to play in the trial in April before the 1902 tour of England. Even more surprisingly, captaining one team, he made 81, showing himself one of the few capable of handling Ross and Harrington on a turner at College Park. There was, however, heavy criticism of his selection. This proved justified as, though his musical talents greatly amused WG, "he was an absolute failure," in the words of the periodical "Cricket." He was dropped for the last match.
He was to be recalled twice more, against Philadelphia in 1908 and Scotland two years later. He was the third choice captain on the latter occasion, Oscar Andrews and PWG Stuart having had to decline the invitation. Alas his poor form continued. He managed only 16 runs in 4 innings. He did however show his old form in a handful of club matches, with Cochrane's ground at Woodbrook proving to his liking. In 1908 he rolled back the years in smashing a brutal 87 for Woodbrook v Cambridge, the pace of Michael Falcon denying him his hundred. He did reach three figures on the same ground for Co Galway the following year. His 117 was the highest score of the match but was overshadowed by his cousin WW Meldon taking 10-126 in the Woodbrook first innings and by South African googly bowling all rounder, Bert Volker, one of Cochrane's professionals, matching both Meldon's, with 100 and 10-41. Woodbrook won a 2 day match by 10 wickets.
That same year Jack provided the first recorded incidence in Ireland of a century in each innings, for Phoenix v Royal Artillery. In the same match the following year GA Morrow was to repeat the feat. Jack played no more important cricket. A photograph taken in 1909 shows him looking old for his 40 years. However he was to live until 1954, having retired to Tunbridge Wells in the mid 1930s. He returned to Ireland annually to fish in the Mayfly season and was a regular attendee at the Lord's Test Match. The press in both Ireland and England failed to obituarise him as did Wisden. There is however a biography in S & B Vol 15 and he is, deservedly despite his failures, profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats."