Ireland's Greatest Cricketers 4: Jimmy Boucher
Jimmy Boucher was, without doubt one of the greatest bowlers ever to play Ireland. Many shrewd judges of the game would not bother with the qualifying phrase! Thus long serving umpire, and world wide watcher of the first class game, the late "Tim" Protheroe - Beynon commented, "At his peak Jimmy was one of the three top spin bowlers in the world...He would have played Test Cricket for any of the major cricketing countries."
His Times obituary called him, "Probably the finest cricketer Ireland ever produced." For Derek Scott, long time ICU administrator and colleague, he was, "The best known, the most famous and most illustrious personality in the annals of Irish Cricket."
At school, where he and Eddie Ingram made a formidable combination, he benefited from the coaching of Leicestershire batsman Albert Knight and played his first senior match, for Civil Service, in 1924, aged 14. Red haired, he bowled his off spin at near medium pace, usually to three short legs, with a rather long, jinking run, his large fingers, enabling him to impart vicious spin to the ball, so that, on a helpful wicket, his long term Phoenix colleague DR Pigot (the first of the three to bear that name), was "unable to see any way in which a batsman might successfully defend his wicket."
His main weapon, however was flight, which deceived many a batsman as to the length of the ball and made him a threat to the world's best, even on a plumb wicket. He was almost never collared in domestic cricket, and very rarely on the international stage. The exception was by the 1951 South Africans in College Park, when Roy McLean, "threw all ideas of correct play to the winds," according to Pat Hone, slogging Jimmy to square leg, hitting five 6s and fourteen 4s in 107. Even then, Boucher continued to attack.
He took 13 wickets for Civil Service at 10.69 from 9 matches before "moving up the road" to join Phoenix, typically his best performance had been against them, 4-27, having made 25, in 1927. Statistics cannot recall the majesty of his bowling but they do not lie as to its excellence. In all competitive cricket in Dublin, in a career, which lasted until 1964, he took 1303 wickets at 11.48.
Only two others have passed 1000: Gerry Kirwan and Niall McConnell. His 124 "5 fors" are also a record with no other bowler getting close. The only figures that eluded him was an all 10, though he twice took 9 against Merrion. He began the 1943 season with 27 wickets for 72 in four matches, including a hat trick; he performed the latter feat on four other occasions. He took 50 or more in a season 7 times with 72 in 1942 his best.
He won the O'Grady Cup, for Leinster's leading bowler 7 times and, showing that he was also a highly competent batsman, won the Samuels Cup for the leading all rounder on 5 occasions. Once describing himself as "the best number 8 in the world," he scored 7475 runs in Senior cricket at 20.64 with 4 hundreds. He was also a very safe slip. He captained Phoenix for 3 seasons and shared in 5 League and 8 Cup triumphs.
He began for Ireland against The Catarmarans, an Indian side including the young Nawab of Pataudi, later to play for England and India, besides being the only Bodyline tourist to stand up to Douglas Jardine. On debut Jimmy took 3-22 and 3-12 as he and Tom Dixon proved too much for the visitors. He never looked back on his way to 307 wickets. His performances for Ireland are the stuff of cricketing legend and a few must suffice here.
He headed the English first class averages 3 times; his first class career average is better than Clay's, Verity's or Jim Laker's. He had 31 "5 fors" and 10 in a match 7 times. His most frequent successes were against Scotland and MCC, but India, New Zealand and South Africa were also made to suffer. Thus he took 6-30 v India in 1936, though VM Merchant saw India to victory. His 7-13 v New Zealand at Rathmines in 1937, was part of an extraordinary day's play' enough for an entire first class match to be finished.
At Ormeau in 1947, he bowled Ireland to victory in a one-day match v South Africa with 7-37, reducing the great AD Nourse to shoulder shrugging admiration. He held 42 catches, mostly at slip. Only as Captain with one win in 9 matches was he not so successful. He retired from all cricket in 1964, having been Hon Secretary of the ICU since 1954, a post he was to hold until 1973. He was a selector from 1963 to 1976. He also gave the first TV commentary from Dublin.
Otherwise cricket remained his dominant interest, though golf and Old Belvedere RFC were also important. Unmarried, he never sought to leave the ESB to play county cricket. Thus it can never be known how far he could have gone. Most, who saw him, from all over the cricket world, would not dispute Protheroe - Beynon's verdict.
He can be left with the words of the late Sean Pender, one of Ireland's best cricket journalists, "A legend in his own lifetime, his name and fame will live on in Irish sport for all time."
His obituary is in Wisden 1996 and he is profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats.