Ireland's Greatest Cricketers 1: Simon Corlett
Simon Charles Corlett
Simon Corlett was a remarkable cricketer. A successful off spinner at school, he began at Oxford the transformation which made him "an elegant and technically correct bowler of considerable pace and accuracy." (Siggins and Fitzgerald). He was also a more than useful lower order batsman for Ireland, completing the 1000 runs and 200 wickets double. At club level he went in higher up, with considerable success. Becoming Irish qualified by residence, because of paternal employment, he gave his all for his adopted country, continuing to serve as selector and administrator when his playing days were over. He was widely recognised as a tough competitor who gave away nothing on the field. Clarence Hiles has described him, "No cause was ever lost with Simon Corlett in the field....a thorough professional. He would have bowled all day if his captain had asked."
His talents were first nurtured at his African prep school, where he had a hat trick and century to his credit. When 14 he went to Worksop College, which though it once had Ken Farnes, England fastman of the 1930s on its staff, was not known for its cricket, being a producer of Rugby Internationals, notably the great England and Lions' centre Jeff Butterfield. Simon was to prove its most illustrious cricketer bar one: Yorkshire and England bat and slip field supreme, Phil Sharpe. Four years in the XI and captain in his last, Corlett took a total 149 wickets at 13.86. His best season was his third, 1967, when Wisden singled him out for praise. He took 54 at 9.60, and played for Nottinghamshire 2nd XI, though not in a Championship match. His last two seasons saw his batting develop to total 646 runs at 37.03. In his final year, he was selected for the Public Schools trial at Lord's. However, though he took 4-32 he was not chosen for the representative Public Schools XI to play the English Schools Cricket Association XI. A pity as the ECSA included two future Test batsmen, Graham Barlow and Brian Rose, besides five others who made their way in the first class game, and would have been an early challenge for his skills.
He entered Oxford in 1969, playing one first class match the following season. His batting was seen to advantage as he defied a Surrey attack of Robin Jackman, Pat Pocock, and a young Bob Willis, to score 21 in an hour. That year he also played in two non first class matches, helping to defeat a Free Forester side in one of them, his three wickets including former DUCC all rounder Army officer Adrian Naughten , whom he was to remove on several future meetings. 1971 was a crucial year in several respects. He did not have a great season with the ball. Wisden declared that neither he nor the other spinners, "unduly troubled the batsmen."
However, more importantly for Irish cricket, he did begin to bowl fast medium, firstly in the nets, then, briefly in non first class matches. He opened the attack v Buckinghamshire and also in a Past and Present match v Cambridge dismissing Mike Brearley. His other achievement that season was to help save the University Match, batting for over an hour for 19* at the death, mostly in partnership with opening bowler Arthur Wingfield - Digby, later to become spiritual adviser to the England team until removed by Raymond Illingworth. In 1974, examinations allowed him only 4 first class matches, in which now mostly operating in his faster style, he took 11 wickets at 24.90. This included 3-52 v Cambridge, easily the best figures. He was however, unable to dispose of Dudley Owen Thomas 114*, whom he had dismissed for 146, the previous year.
In a non first class match he dismissed 4 Army batsmen, including Naughten, for 70. He then toured Malaysia with a combined Oxford and Cambridge team. "The pace attack of Hadley (Cambridge) and Corlett proved too good for most of the opposition" (Wynne - Thomas and Arnold "England on Tour ").The players had to battle against great heat and even greater hospitality but all matches were won. It has been claimed that Simon was one of those originally refused entry to the country until he cut his, deemed to be overlong, hair! From the following season, his cricket was entirely Irish.
Beginning for CIYMS he soon switched to NICC, for whom and for Ulster Town, his performances became legendary. He helped North to three Senior League titles and ten Cup Finals of which three were won, with his help being substantial. Thus in 1982 v Downpatrick, at The Meadow, he was man of the match with figures of 12-129. Again in a low scoring 1990 Final, North lost 7 wickets chasing a moderate 125, Simon's 26 being the top score. In 1982, he saw them to the Final of the first Schweppes Irish Senior Cup. The match, ruined by rain, was restricted to 21 overs. Typically he was man of the match as Leinster, needing 92 at 4.38 finished on 77-9, Corlett 4-26.
In 1981,in the League he took all 10 v Downpatrick and the following season had 104 wickets for North, previously unachieved in NCU competitions. His pace bowling was now classic in run up and action, and attracted claims, from at least one fine judge that he was,"Better than O'Riordan." Swinging the ball both ways at considerable speed, he often added a second string to his bow by bowling his off spin later in an innings. For Ulster Town he took 201 wickets at 12.29, captaining them to the Guinness Cup in 1981. His captaincy was, apart from one occasion when he ordered Stephen Warke to play out for a draw v North West, highly admired.
His 73 matches for Ireland, which only ended when he, rather than the selectors called time, brought him 1045 runs at 17.41 and 233 wickets at 23.12. He was the fourth player to reach the 200 wicket target and also the fourth to pass the 1000 runs and 200 wickets double. Space does not remit a detailed examination of his feats which began with a 4 wicket haul in Amsterdam in 1974. However his 7-69 v Denmark in 1976 and his bowling v Surrey at Rathmines in 1978 surely stand out. On the latter occasion his figures were 22.3-7-44-7. He took the wickets of three former or future Test centurions in Geoff Howarth, Younis Ahmed and Jack Richards as well as that of left hander David Smith who appeared twice for England in the middle order as a renowned player of pace bowling. Other Test batsmen dismissed in Corlett's career included Gordon Greenidge, Lawrence Rowe and Mushtaq Mohammed. Batting, he hit 4 fifties for Ireland, none more valuable than 53 at Coleraine in adding an 8th wicket record 150 with Junior McBrine in 1987, helping the latter to a maiden hundred and saving a potentially dire situation of 102-7.
Several counties expressed an interest in Corlett but he did not return to English cricket. He would certainly have shown that the somewhat unsuccessful undergraduate bowler was a thing of the past. Alan Lewis, long term Irish Captain before he took to full time Rugby refereeing, summed him up, "On the field he had it all and is surely one of the all time best."
In winter months an accomplished hockey player with North Down, he served as Chairman of both Irish and NCU selection panels after retirement and was President of the ICU in 2003. Further, having been President of Belfast Harlequins, following the merger between NICC and Collegians, he also became President of Civil Service North when that merger took place in 2005.
Simon Charles Corlett is profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats" and has a special section in Clarence Hiles "A History of Senior Cricket in Ulster"Simon Corlett's Ireland record
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