Famous Irish cricketers: Tom Ross
Thomas Cloudon Ross
Tom Ross was a remarkable bowler. Tall, and with a high action, he has often been described as an off spinner. In fact he was far more than that. Opening the bowling at medium pace, he bowled inswingers and off cutters, mixed with a finger spun off break, all delivered without discernible change of action.
He was probably the nearest Ireland had to Sidney Barnes, though he lacked the great man's variety, bloody mindedness and, probably, killer instinct. A master of the art of bowling on a soft wicket, Ross varied his pace more skilfully than most.
His contemporaries rated him highly. "The most interesting bowler I ever saw, " wrote Jack Gwynn, who, opening the batting for Dublin University for five seasons, faced the best bowlers in Ireland, as well as several English county attacks, Oxford and Cambridge and the raw pace of 'Tibby' Cotter of the 1905 Australians.
Pat Hone thought Tom was Ireland's best ever bowler, with the possible exception of Jimmy Boucher. Writing now, just over 50 years after Hone, and, almost 100 years after Ross bowled his last ball for Ireland, it is clear that he still ranks among the best half dozen to have peeled off an Irish sweater to begin a spell for his country.
He was also a more than useful batsman. He used his height and reach to drive powerfully, playing four highly important innings for Ireland. He was a good enough player to be classed as an all rounder and his place in the Irish batting order some times recognised this. However it seems that he did not always take his batting seriously, certainly he did not score the runs of which he was capable.
Born in Belfast, the youngest of six brothers and three sisters and brought up in the seaside town of Bangor, Co Down, Tom suffered the early loss of his father before following three of his brothers to Clongowes, where he was part of a powerful cricket team which included Dan Comyn, even then a dominating batsman, Bill Harrington, who became his lifelong friend, and PM Rath, a quality left arm spinner, who was later to be a prominent player in Argentina, taking 39 wickets in 5 matches v Chile in the 1890s.
Once in an internal 'Line' match, Tom and Bill dismissed their opponents for 7. On another occasion, on a perfect Clongowes wicket, they bowled out the full Phoenix XI for 12. He should have made his debut for Ireland in the IZ match of 1894, but had to withdraw at the last minute. In fact he was to be unavailable for a number of matches played during his career, for example he never played in Scotland, thereby missing the chance of being the first Irish bowler to 100 wickets.
His debut did come later that season against South Africa, but it was not until he faced the same opposition, on his home ground at Phoenix in 1901, that he really showed the form that was to mark him as such an outstanding bowler. The Irish team was weakened for this match due to the long running dispute between the Dublin clubs, described elsewhere on this site. South Africa won in the end by 5 wickets, but, on a rain affected wicket, were in trouble against Ross in their first innings.
Rather surprisingly he was not given the new ball, and TA Harvey, who was, proved very expensive. Then Ross came on, unlike Barnes who refused to bowl if denied the opening overs, and , in two spells, removed the visitors top order taking 5-47 in 20 overs. He was also in excellent form on the English tour of 1902. This was arranged to mark the end of the dispute referred to above and saw the first four first class matches played by Ireland.
Ross, who did have some help from the wickets, was the success of the tour and was highly praised by Wisden. He was also highly praised by WG Grace, who played twice against the tourists, and found Tom very difficult to handle. The 'Old Man' was, of course, approaching his 54 birthday, but he was still one of the most formidable batsmen in England. Ross dismissed him in all three innings he bowled to him in. He had two "5 fors" on the tour 5-26 v London County, and 6-91 v the University at Oxford.
Ironically the only batsman, however briefly, to collar him, was the Oxford tail ender, fast bowler Gus Kelly, who might well have been playing for Ireland. Tom took 25 wickets on the trip, Harrington with 21 was next. Tom's performances earned him selection for the Lord's Gentlemen v Players match, apart from the Tests v Australia that summer, this was the most important match of the season. He took 2-76 in 28.5 overs, as The Players, who won by an innings, totalled 444. His victims were James Iremonger, a good batsman from Nottinghamshire, and the great all rounder Wilfred Rhodes.
The visit of the 1904 South Africans to The Mardyke marked not only Ireland's first win over a touring team and a Test playing country, but an outstanding bowling performance by Ross. After Ireland had been bowled out for 160, the visitors were caught on a drying wicket in hot sunshine.
The conditions might have been made for Tom and he responded by taking 9-28. Opening the bowling he deceived the batsmen by his change of pace, as well as using the helpful conditions, "It was," in the words of Derek Scott, "one of the most meritorious performances in Irish cricket." In the second innings it was Harrington's turn, though he and Tom hardly had a Laker and Lock rivalry, and Ireland won by 93 runs.
Tom was also nearly unplayable in helpful conditions v HDG Leveson-Gower's XI at Rathmines, taking 12-109 in the match. Bowling splendidly, he swept away the top order in both innings, though the visitors line up was rather undistinguished. Unfortunately, the hosts' batting was poor, and Ireland lost rather badly. He had good figures against the sterner opposition of South Africa and Yorkshire in 1907, these being some of the few bright spots in disappointing Irish performances, but his best bowling against major opponents, apart from that already described, was v Philadelphia at College Park in 1908.
Though not the force they had been, the visitors were still a powerful side, well capable of holding their own on the first class scene in England. They won by an innings in the match in question, with the great swing bowler, JB King, taking 14 wickets. However Tom, with 6-62, showed, that Ireland also possessed a high class bowler. One of his victims was CC 'Christy ' Morris, who was far from happy about an lbw decision. Morris was later to assemble one of the largest cricket libraries in the World: the 'Christy' Morris collection, being the envy even of Librarians at Lord's and Melbourne.
Tom's batting has already been mentioned as an undeveloped strength. He was seen to real advantage in four innings. In a drawn match v Surrey at The Oval in 1895, he made 85, batting at 3. Surprisingly, unless he was suffering from an injury which has not come down to us, he did not bowl a ball in this game, even though Surrey only just hung on to save the match.
He also had two good innings against Cambridge at Fenner's in 1902. This match was won by Ireland by 58 runs, so the fact that Tom, at 8 in the first innings and promoted to 7 in the second, passed 30 in each, was crucial to victory. His first knock, a vigorous affair, helped his team past 300, a wet wicket then allowing Harrington and Lambert secure an 80 run lead. However Ireland collapsed in the second innings against the slow left arm of Edward Dowson. Ross batted 80 minute for the top score 34. He then took 4 wickets to see the visitors home.
By far his best innings for Ireland however, was his 89 v Scotland in College Park in 1910. Strangely, in a match in which two spinners, John Bruce-Lockhart of Scotland and Bob Lambert, were dominant, Ross did not take a wicket, paceman Gus Kelly being the other Irish bowler to be successful. This was Tom's last match for Ireland and his role was crucial, even if in a different mode than usual.
Opening the batting after Ireland won the toss, he made 25, second top score, Bruce - Lockhart's leg breaks proving too much for most batsmen. However Kelly and Lambert ensured that Ireland had a useful lead. Then Tom made his highest score for Ireland, helped by Louis Meldon, and put the match out of the visitors reach. He batted for just over two hours, hit Lockhart for two huge 6s, as well as striking five 4s. He was unable to pick the leg spinner's variations, so played him off the pitch; a considerable achievement on a wicket, which was still difficult. When Scotland batted again, Lambert took 7-10 to sweep Ireland to victory.
Unlike his friend Bill Harrington, Ross was not much of a social cricketer, rarely being seen in the colours of Na Shuler or similar sides. He did, however make several appearances for Stanley Cochrane's Woodbrook Club. Perhaps he preferred the sterner competition, if he was to take time away from the demands of the solicitor's office. His first appearance, in a major match at Woodbrook, was for Cochrane's XII v South Africa in 1907. The only Irishman to get a bowl, Bob Lambert opened the batting but was not asked to turn his arm over, Ross took 2-32, including the great 'Dave' Nourse, father of Dudley. The bulk of the bowling was done by the Lancashire paceman Walter Brearley, and the Yorkshire spinner JT Newstead.
The best of his several other matches was against Cambridge in July 1910. He took 7-63 in the first innings, which gave Woodbrook a chance in the match, after they had been bowled out by Bruce -Lockhart and the sheer pace of Alexander Cowie, who had begun the University match in dramatic style with two wickets, two wides and an unsuccessful appeal for caught behind, all in the first over!
He was later killed in what was then Mesopotamia in 1916. Lockhart took 5 in the second innings and the visitors won by 7 wickets. Tom's last major match was against Warwickshire later that summer. He took 4-115, by far the best figures, in the first innings, including England wicket keeper ' Dick' Lilley who had made an aggressive century. The County won by an innings with some ease. Ironically in the second innings, WW Meldon, who might well have been playing with his cousin George for the hosts, took 3-51, supporting the high class left arm pace of Frank Foster who took 9 in the match.
Tom had married in 1898, eliciting dire predictions from 'Freeman's Journal', that, as 'Bud' Hamilton had also recently married, Ireland's bowling strength would wither on the vine. Happily Tom's best days were still to come, but as the years went on family life and work did take a toll of his availability. He did, however, become a low handicap golfer and was a highly regarded billiards player.
Some thirty years ago, this biography is being written at the end of 2007, this writer was able, with the help of Bill Harrington's daughters, to contact Tom's son, Lieutenant -Colonel JP Ross who was then resident in London. The Colonel was most helpful in providing the small collection of cuttings that his father had preserved. They mostly concerned the 1902 tour and Tom's appearance for The Gentlemen that season.
However, in a letter, the Colonel, made one rather startling statement. "My father was asked to play for England against Australia by Sir Stanley Jackson, but had to refuse." The Colonel went on to say that when he, the Colonel, was ADC to Jackson, when the latter was Governor of Bengal, to which post he was appointed in 1927, Jackson had " many anecdotes and reminiscences of my father." There are several problems with this. The Colonel was unable to recall the year in which his father was asked to play and research has failed to unearth a mention of it. Further the only year when Tom was likely to have been asked, though even this seems to be unlikely, was 1902.
Jackson played in all five Tests, making a brilliant hundred at Old Trafford, but Archie MacLaren, "the worst captain England ever had", was in charge and England's potential bowling attack, sometimes weakened by selection, was strong. If he was asked to play, Jackson would hardly have been involved. In 1905, Jackson was captain but England retained The Ashes with some ease. There were several changes of bowling personnel, but no panic selections that might suggest Ross was considered.
Ross did bowl well against Leveson-Gower's XI that season, but was not seen on the other side of the Irish Sea. However there were two Gentlemen of England v The Australians matches that year. Jackson did not play in either, but he might have been involved in raising the sides, The Gentlemen's' bowling was very weak on both occasions and Tom, even short of big match practice, would certainly have helped to strengthen it. It is also difficult to know what the "many anecdotes and reminiscences" were about. Research has found that the only time Ross and Jackson played in the same match was the Gentlemen v Players game in 1902. The problem is still more compounded by the fact that the Colonel appeared to have scant interest in or recollection of Irish cricket.
Names such as Meldon, Browning and Gwynn, all team-mates of his father for club and country, meant nothing to him. Any further information which throws light on this episode would be most welcome.
Tom Ross was just short of his 75th birthday when he died. His death was largely unremarked at the time, the exact dates not being known by the Irish Cricket Union for more than thirty years.
He is profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats.
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