John Elder - a wholehearted fast medium bowler
John Elder was a tall six feet four inches fast medium bowler, who, according to the late Sean Pender made up "for what may have been lacking in guile and panache by the wholeheartedness of his endeavours." (ICU Yearbook 1990). His height made him an awkward proposition on any wicket because of the bounce he was able to attain. He is generally said to have had few pretensions to batsmanship. However, though he may always be remembered for leaving Ivan Anderson stranded on 198* v Canada in 1973, there were memorable occasions for club and country, when his batting won or saved the day.
Having shown his talents as a schoolboy, John played his club cricket for Bangor, where his bowling feats were legion. When still only 20, he took 8-12 v CIYMS in 1969. He had two seven wicket hauls against near neighbours North Down in 1975, in which season he also took 8-36 against NICC, a repeat of the figures he had obtained v Holywood the previous year. However his best performance for the club was in the long hot summer of 1976, when North were again the recipients of a remarkable display, which resulted in figures of 9-34. His value to Bangor was also seen when he was not playing. They were relegated in 1982, a season in which he was hardly able to bowl because of injury. Typically, he played as a batsman for the Seconds. The following year, they were promoted again, in no small way due to his "astute captaincy". In both 1981 and 1984, he spent part of the summer in Australia. In the former season he had taken 32 wickets in 9 matches and was at the top of the NCU averages when he went "Down Under". The club narrowly avoided relegation. On the second occasion, they were challenging for top spot, when he departed. They had to settle for fourth place.
Yet despite these bowling achievements, many Bangor supporters treasure a batting performance which brought the seasiders a three wicket win over mighty Waringstown in 1975. According to the "County Down Spectator" John was, "the hero of the hour," as one, "who is not normally associated with the skills of batting." Bangor needed 20 off the last two overs and two off the last ball which, "Elder managed to steer in a high arc in the direction of third man and the two runs came amidst great excitement."
In the Interprovincial Tournament, the Guinness Cup for most of John's career, he took 130 wickets in 64 matches between 1970 and 1988. Only Dermott Monteith, Simon Corlett, and Mike Halliday have taken more. He began with Ulster Country but after reorganisation of the NCU teams in 1978, played for Ulster Town, forming a respected partnership with Corlett. Thus in 1978, they combined to defeat John's old team-mates by 58 runs. "Country "chasing 191, were put out for 133, John 4-31 and Simon 3-27. In 1980, when "Town" won the Cup, the pair bowled well in harness against Munster, shooting the Mardyke side out for 46, John taking 4-9, while Simon's return was 5-25. They bowled North Leinster out for 100 at The Green in 1984, John finishing with 4-38 to set up an 8 wicket win. The Garner and Marshall of the NCU area had one last hurrah. In 1986 at Ormeau, they again skittled North Leinster, disposing of them for 86 to gain an emphatic 94 run victory. John taking 5-49 and Simon 4-24.
John took 70 wickets for Ireland at 24.67 in 37 matches. A nagging shoulder injury, caused by his action, did not restrict his appearances, nor was he always available. Nor did he always find favour with the selectors. However when Roy Torrens "took early retirement" John was finally recognised as the next best paceman to Corlett. Eventually injury forced him out of the game when he was still a formidable prospect.
He began, after a spectacular Guinness Cup performance, against Wales at Rathmines in June 1973. He bowled third change with the spinners Monteith and Gerry Duffy in control, but picked up the valuable wicket of the Welsh captain Jim Pressdee in the first innings. This was no mean scalp to start. Jim scored 14267 first class runs for Glamorgan with 13 centuries. The match ended in two days with an innings victory for the hosts and a non-cap 40 over game was played on the third. John sealed his place for the rest of the season and the North American tour with 6-15, five being clean bowled and the sixth out to a return catch. Later that month he helped hustle Denmark to a 2 day defeat, having first inning analysis of 14-6-33-5. Bowling first change, he assisted Dougie Goodwin reduce the Danes to 19-3 from which they never really recovered.
His best season was 1978 when he took three of his five "5 fors" and also had one legendary batting performance. In early June Ireland played Surrey in a remarkable match at Rathmines. Thanks to a magnificent spell of bowling by Corlett, Ireland forced the County to follow on. Surrey then made 254-6 declared with John taking 5-81. His haul included Geoff Howarth, later captain of New Zealand, scorer of 2531 Test runs with six centuries, Younis Ahmed of Pakistan scorer of more than 26,000 first class runs and England's Graham Roope who played 21 Tests and scored over 19000 first class runs. John also removed the Surrey captain and future MCC Secretary Roger Knight also a scorer of over 19000 runs and a medium pacer with 369 wickets to his credit. Knight also found time to be a public school Headmaster. When Ireland batted again they collapsed to 64-9, needing 154 to win. Enter John to face Knight with five balls to survive. His batting record for Ireland at the time stood at 23 runs in 13 innings from 36 balls, mostly against bowlers of a class below the Surrey captain. However as Pender wrote, "Elder's dexterity in keeping Knight at bay proved a source of wonderment to most." With a feat to rival his match winning heroics at Ward Park three years earlier, he had seen Ireland to safety! Later in the month he had a second innings 5-41 against Wales at the Mardyke to give Ireland a 135 run victory. He rounded off the season with another match winning performance against Denmark. The visitors wanted 243 to win, but John swept away the top order, finishing with the figures of 25-11-29-6. He was again in destructive mood against MCC at Ormeau in 1980, when according to Pender, "he tore the heart out of the MCC batting." His second innings 6-43 included the wickets of Mark O'Neill, son of the great Australian batsman Norman, and Asif Din later to be seen as a Test possible.
When injury caused his retirement, John was not lost to the game. He became a leading administrator, chairing the ICU Cricket Committee at a crucial time of change. He also served as a selector and edited the colourfully produced and highly valued Irish Cricket Annual. However, perhaps, his best service to cricket, not only in Ireland, was the development of the CricketEurope website. This has become an essential source of news and comment about cricket beyond the relatively narrow confines of the first class game.
John Watson George Elder, one of the most popular cricketers ever to represent Ireland, is deservedly profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald, "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats."