Famous Irish cricketers: Noel Ferguson
William Henry Noel Ferguson
Noel Ferguson was a much admired cricketer, belligerent on the field and highly popular off it. A successful all rounder at club level, he was an attacking left hand batsman who sometimes opened the innings, but, was, perhaps, more at home in the lower middle order.
His obituary in Irish Cricket Annual 2008, gave an appropriate summary of his batting, "He was no slouch with the bat, and although he rarely showed signs of permanence when at the wicket, entertainment was guaranteed when he was there as he was fond of hitting the ball long distances."
As a bowler he had a slingy action, being described by Derek Scott as, "a square arm medium pacer." (Wisden 1963). He was, however, very accurate, able to move the ball through the air and off the wicket.
He came into the Downpatrick side, as a 17 year old in 1945, having made his name in the evening Leagues in South Down, a heritage he never forgot. In that first season, he played a leading part in the Cup Final victory over Waringstown at Ormeau. The match was still played under the war time single innings rule, and saw Downpatrick total a decidedly useful 244, despite having bowlers of the calibre of Lloyd Armstrong and Reverend Bobby Barnes to contend with.
Noel then made victory certain, taking 6-36, not allowing the big hitting clergyman to get into his stride. His pace bowling partner in this match was another future international Wesley Ferris. In the 1953 Final, Noel shone with the bat, again against the Villagers. His 77 helped Downpatrick to a 71 run lead, despite facing a useful score of 197, and was thus one of the main reasons for his side's eventual 7 wicket victory.
Ten years later, he was again to the fore in an Ormeau Final, this time finishing on the losing side, as heroics from Archie McQuilken brought the Cup to Muckamore. Muckamore began with 243, with the "Wee Man" notching a commanding 82, Downpatrick however kept in touch with fifties from Noel and Harry Linehan. Noel then made a mighty effort with the ball taking 8-77 to dispatch his opponents. However McQuilken then spun the Co Down side out for 103 and the Cup travelled Northwards.
Noel's most remarkable Final, however, was probably that of 1977, when he was nearing his 50th birthday. The match, against Lisburn, was at The Meadow, resulting in a convincing 142 run victory for the home side. Despite fine spin bowling by the formidable Lisburn spin attack, Downpatrick took commend of the game thanks to Harry Linehan's first innings 77 and to a magnificent 98 from Noel in the second, gaining him a well deserved Man of the Match award.
He continued to play for the 1st XI until 1982, by now appearing with his son, Geoffrey, also an all rounder of high ability, signing off with 64* v Lurgan in his last match. This was not the end of his Downpatrick career.
The following summer, he turned out for the Seconds, scoring a commanding 165 v Donaghadee. His representative career was somewhat less glamorous and rather more unfortunate. Though he played with distinction for Ulster in the old style Interprovincials, he was past his best by the time the Guinness Cup began. He played a handful of matches, for Ulster Country, in the first three years of the competition, but, batting well down the order, had few chances, to launch a trademark display of hitting.
His bowling had also lost something of its zip; only on one occasion did he really show his true form. This was against Ulster Town at The Meadow in 1967. He took 3-38, an important contribution to a tense one wicket win. His victims were all key ones as well: Mike Crooks, Jimmy McKelvey and "Sonny" Hool, a bag of which any bowler, let alone a 40 year old paceman would have been proud.
This writer would not wish to lay at the door of Irish Selection Panels of the 1950s , the criticism which the great Wisden Editor, Sidney Pardon made of their English counterparts in 1909, namely that their decisions, "touched the confines of lunacy." Nevertheless it does, in hindsight seem strange indeed, that Noel, after a useful debut in 1951, should be discarded for 11 years, and then, brought back, when, though again he was not unsuccessful, he was as a pace bowler, possibly no longer so effective.
His debut v Scotland in College Park in 1951, came in a match which the visitors won by 3 wickets despite a highly praised hundred by Stuart Pollock. Noel had two first innings wickets, removing Scots opener Henry Sheppard courtesy of a fine catch by Frank Miller, standing up as usual to the pace bowlers. In fact Noel was the only new ball bowler in the team, the three spinners John Hill, Jimmy Boucher and fellow debutant Scott Huey doing most of the bowling.
It was this selection policy which was probably the main reason for his non selection over the next eleven years. Ireland often went in to the fray with one quick, plus Larry Warke to share the new ball. However this policy was, partially revoked in the early 1960s. Thus when Noel did return to the colours against the Combined Services in rather bleak weather at Ormeau in June 1962, he had Rodney Bernstein to share the new ball, though they were accompanied by the spin of McQuilken, Ken Kirkpatrick and Gerry Duffy, Alec O'Riordan being unfit.
Running in hard from the "Grandstand" End, Noel, surprising the Services batsman by the lift he extracted from the wicket. bowled well enough to take 3/62 including top order batsman MJ Osborne leg before, all rounder RG Stevens caught by Aubrey Finlay and clean bowling No 11, Douglas Meakin, a bowler of distinct pace, but a rather negligible batsman. In the end too much time was lost through rain for this match, the only first class encounter between the teams, to be anything but a draw.
Noel's best bowling performance for Ireland was the next one v Scotland at Glenpark, Greenock, though he finished on the losing side. After Ireland had been bowled out for 119, Noel came on first change, Alec O'Riordan, who had missed the Services match, being back to share the new ball with Bernstein. However Noel proceeded to return figures of 12.1 - 2 - 37 - 6, which restricted the hosts to a one run lead. However Ireland, after reaching 201/1 collapsed again, and Scotland went on to win by 5 wickets. Noel had 2-69, depriving opener Robert Young of a century, by holding a return catch, with Young on 96.
With useful batting performances against MCC at Lord's to his credit, he held his place for the following season, sharing in the fate of his team-mates in suffering at the hands of the Windies batsmen in Belfast and their bowlers in Dublin. However in the College Park match, he did have the satisfaction of taking the first of his four Test batsmen wickets, having Windies opener, and future Chairman of Selectors "Joey" Carew, caught by Herbie Martin for 5.
His Irish best match as an all rounder came against Scotland at Beechgrove in July. Ireland began by being bowled out for 125, after Martin and Stan Bergin had taken them to 75-1. Batting at 9, Noel made the only other double figure score of the innings, a quick 19, without which, Ireland's score would have looked even worse . He then bowled unchanged, with O'Riordan, taking 4-43, as Ireland gained a useful lead of 56.
All seemed in vain, however, when Noel joined Donald Pratt, a left hander of similar instincts to Noel but a rather more reliable bat, at 50-7. They added 83, with the Phoenix man reaching 50. Noel was denied this accolade, but his 37, helped make the Scots' task very difficult. After Noel and O'Riordan had taken an early wicket apiece, Scott Huey finished the match off in some style with 6-13.
The following month Noel produced a match saving spell against MCC at Lord's. Some rather indifferent batting by the visitors, left MCC needing 120 against the clock. Noel, opening the attack stopped them in their tracks with 7 - 1 - 30 - 4, including former England opener Alan Oakman, and future master captain Mike Brearley, the latter caught behind for a duck.
Rain and fixture making problems meant that Ireland played only one match the following summer, the MCC game at Castle Avenue at the season's end. It was to prove Noel's last match for Ireland and was a rain affected draw. He took a wicket in each innings, the second being that of former South African batsman, Russell Endean, who once scored 197* before lunch in a first class match, and, besides three first class double hundreds, had three Test centuries to his credit.
Noel had thus, deservedly, ended his international career on a high note. His "broad infectious smile," wrote Clarence Hiles, "made him the darling of cricket crowds all over Ireland." So did his whole hearted medium pace bowling, and his always exciting, if ever unpredictable, batting.
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