Alec John O'Riordan
Alec O'Riordan is one of the select band of Irish Cricketers to whom the term "great" can be applied without any reservation or qualification. A magnificent all rounder, he was, according to that knowledgeable and long term observer of our cricket, Derek Scott, "The best Irish Cricketer I ever saw."
With the ball he had no peers among his contemporaries as an opening bowler. He approached the wicket with a smooth, gradually accelerating run, his action was classical, the left arm coming over with rapier like speed, so close to the stumps that he was sometimes a danger to an unwary umpire, this one included!
Not only did he deliver the left armer's stock ball, running the ball across the batsman, often inducing an edge to the keeper or slip cordon, but he would, with deadly effect cut or swing the ball back into the batsman. All this at a lively pace in a manner which induced the Australian paceman, Alan Davidson - who knew a thing or two about fast left armers - to see him as a potential Test player, when he took five wickets as Richie Benaud's Australians came to College Park in 1961.
Batting he was tall and upstanding. A natural left hander, he batted right to enable his dominant left hand to have control. While this might not please the purists, he was a wonderfully orthodox player, using his long reach to drive powerfully, but also hooking savagely, and having a most delicate late cut.
I first saw him bat in June 1958, when he came with a Leprechauns side to play at my school, St Columba's College. He made a brilliant 81. I can still see his cover and straight driving our fast bowler, Paddy Willis who a year later was playing with distinction for Merrion and Dublin University. That innings remains the best I ever saw on the College ground and, after a lifetime involved in schools' cricket, has never been surpassed among many fine knocks at this level that I have witnessed.
Like all truly great players, some of Alec's team-mates thought him intolerant of those of lesser ability, and some in his slip cordon dreaded fielding there, for fear of repercussions should they drop a catch. Those who knew him best however dismissed these fears. He was "a gentle giant" and "great fun to play with."
What he did not tolerate were people who refused to practise to make the most of their abilities. His cricket began at the age of eight at Belvedere College, a successful nursery for many, including such as Jimmy Boucher, Eddie Ingram and the Quinn brothers in its alumni.
Alec followed his brother Kevin to school. Kevin, who tragically died while a still comparatively young man was even more strongly built and a fine off spinner, who might well have played for Ireland but for work commitments. He later became a valued administrator.
Alec benefited greatly in his cricket upbringing from two coaches employed by the Jesuit run College. In his early days was the old Lancashire batsman Charlie Hallowes, scorer of over 20000 first class runs and an England opener in two Tests. Then, and of key importance to Alec, was Frank Worrell, the great West Indian batsman and captain, who was also a very useful left armer, either at a brisk medium or with the old ball.
Alec's senior debut came for Clontarf, Old Belvedere then being a recently founded junior side, in 1954. As a 14 year old he made 13 against a Merrion attack including Irish medium pacer Joe Burke and veteran left armer Cecil Little. By 1956 however Alec, though still at school, was playing his home matches at Cabra, helping Old Belvedere to "the big time" by winning Senior 2.
Also in the side was a tall 21 year old with flaming red hair. A promising batsman, he, too played for Ireland, but in a different sport. His name was Tony O'Reilly. In a senior career which was to last until 1988, though his appearances dwindled in his last years, Alec had staggering all round figures.
As a batsman he scored 10705 runs at 34.98 with 9 hundreds and 74 fifties. Injury prevented him bowling as much as he wished which gives rise to the sobering thought that his bowling figures might have been even better. Nevertheless he took 849 wickets at a mere 8.88 each, easily heading Leinster's all time bowling averages.
He also dominated the individual trophies. The Marchant Cup, awarded to the best bat in Leinster cricket, finished on the O'Riordan mantelpiece on four occasions, the O'Grady Cup for bowling was his eleven times, while, before the Samuels' Cup for all rounders was awarded in 1964, he was twice the province's leader in this department. When the Cup became available, he won it eight times!
He was often seen at his best in the Leinster Senior Cup, being a key figure in his side's hat trick of successes between 1964 and 1966. In the first season, he played a leading part on the way to the Final, taking 7-12 vs Clontarf in an early round. The big match v Malahide saw Dougie Goodwin and "Podge" Hughes give their side a chance, in those old days of unrestricted overs, bowling their hosts out for a gettable 158, Alec top scoring with 41. He then took 5-36 to see his side home by 35 runs.
The same teams were on opposition the following summer at Malahide. Goodwin again gave his side a boost bowling their visitors out for 183, then Alec had 7-23 to retain the Trophy by 68 runs. The hat trick of wins came in Phoenix Park the following year, with the luckless seasiders again the opposition. This time, he left nothing to chance with a magnificent all round display. He made a domineering 80 to enable Old Belvedere to reach the near certain safety of 263, then blew away the Malahide batting with 6-22. In the very next match, v Merrion in the League, he made 51 and took 7-26.
A preliminary Cup round in 1969, when the Cabra side did not reach the Final, had seen an astonishing innings against Leinster at Rathmines. Taking complete charge he made a magnificent 178, threatening Jim Pigot's Cup record 194, and then following this with 4-32!
In the League his outstanding performances were legion. Twice in 1963, he took 8 wickets in the innings, at a cost of 22 v Phoenix on their own ground, and, at home, for a mere 18 against YMCA. No less than eleven years later, he was to take 6/20 v Malahide including the hat trick. The following year, he passed 100 on three occasions One in the Cup, by then 60 overs a side, against Merrion at Cabra, was followed by figures of 5-10.
His impact on the Guinness Cup was immediate, though was more often seen with bat rather than ball. With the latter he took 58 wickets at 15.35, without recording a five wicket haul. Injury often prevented him from bowling and North Leinster was well served by other pacemen at this time. He sometimes came on late in an innings, after spinners such as his brother Kevin or Mike Halliday.
As a batsman, however, he was often dominant as his 1137 runs at 40.64 suggest. He hit two 100s and six 50s. The first of those centuries was a glorious 142* v Ulster Country at Cabra in the Cup's inaugural year. Coming in after an early wicket had fallen, he utterly dominated a score of 208-5 declared. For once a certain left armer from Lisburn failed to weave his web around opposition batsmen, and so formidable an opening bowler as Lawrence Hunter was also put to flight. The visitors were then ousted for a paltry 62.
Six 50s followed over the next ten seasons. These included a wonderful 94 against Munster at The Mardyke in 1972, when he and David Pigot (105*) put on almost 200 for the second wicket. The declaration came on Alec's dismissal, whereupon, Munster collapsed.
There was an almost repeat performance four years later at Cabra, the hosts reaching 212-5, with Alec making 79. He then held three catches off Mike Halliday as Munster went down by 61 runs. The following season was to prove his last in representative cricket and saw a vintage innings v Ulster Town in Phoenix Park. Driving powerfully, but also exhibiting his full array of back foot shots, Alec made 148 in 166 minutes with two 6s and sixteen fours. The hosts finished on 237-4, before Halliday bowled "Town" out for 83.
Alec played 72 matches for Ireland, becoming the first to score 2000 runs and take 200 wickets, in reaching 2018 runs at 19.40 and 206 wickets at 21.66. His figures have since been surpassed by Kyle McCallan, though Kyle has played almost three times as many matches. However a number of these have, of course been one day games.
Alec made an immediate impression in his first two matches, as an 18 year old, in 1958. On a turning College Park wicket in late August 1958, he made 25 against the Worcestershire spinners, left armer Bob Berry who had already played for England and Martin Horton an off spinner, who was to do so the following summer. Alec was second top scorer to Larry Warke. He was undefeated on 5 in the second innings as Ireland again collapsed to spin.
Against MCC the following weekend at the same venue, batting at 5 he again showed remarkable skill and technique. "It was, "wrote Derek Scott in Wisden, "a splendid technical performance and only once was he beaten." It was all the more remarkable as Alec really struggled for Old Belvedere that season, scoring only 55 runs at 9.16. He also batted well against MCC at Lord's the following season, but his performance against the 1961 Australians in College Park was to be his first major impact as a bowler.
Now in his first spell as captain, our youngest ever, he had done well in the hurricane affected match at Ormeau, removing Bobby Simpson, Neil Harvey and Alan Davidson for 78 in the first innings, besides making the first innings top score of 38, staging a rescue as Ireland lost four wickets on 64, but at College Park, in more clement weather, he did even better. In Australia's first innings of 291, his analysis was 26 - 6 - 85 -5. The five being Simpson, Bill Lawry, Peter Burge and Brian Booth, a notable bag, as well as tail ender Frank Misson. He was also the only Irishman to make double figures in both innings, making 38* in the second when he and Ray Hunter put on 81 for the sixth wicket.
His three centuries for Ireland all involves rearguard actions of a kind. At Lord's in 1969, now under Dougie Goodwin's captaincy, he took 4-27 in 26 overs, with only MCC captain the former Middlesex opener Bob Gale (111) facing him and Goodwin with confidence. Then Ireland collapsed to 32-4 before Alec came in to make a memorable 102*, adding an unbroken 133 for the 6th wicket with Gerry Duffy. The Leinster man, for once taking a back seat, finished on 39*, Alec reached the 1000 run and 100 wicket double for Ireland in this match.
Four years later, he was back in charge against Denmark at Castle Avenue, and winning the toss, saw his side slump to 37-4, before he joined Jim Harrison. They put on a 185 before the Waringstown man was out, Alec going on to 119 and being able to declare at 285-9. The bowling of John Elder and Dermott Monteith then ensuring an innings victory.
His third hundred came in a high scoring draw in his penultimate season, the long hot summer of 1976 v Scotland at Hamilton Crescent, Glasgow. Again, he had to help Ireland recover from a poor start. They were 32-3 when he joined Ivan Anderson to add a then record 222 for the 4th wicket. Ivan, who scored another hundred in the second innings, finished on 147 and Alec on 117. His bowling achievements are numerous so only a few will be commented on here.
He did, of course, play a major role in the destruction of the Windies at Sion Mills in 1969. His figures of 13 - 8 - 18 - 4, including the scalps of opener "Joey" Carew, outstanding batsman Basil Butcher, and Caribbean legend Clyde Walcott, by then the manager but one of the finest batsmen ever to play for the West Indies.
The following season Alec took 30 wickets in five matches, including 10-71 v the Netherlands at The Hague, returning his best ever analysis for Ireland in the first innings: 37.2 - 11 - 60 - 8. He had a good all round match, having made a first innings 57*, adding 112 for the 4th wicket with Mike Reith (129).
Injury ended his career following the famous victory over Sussex at Pagham in 1977, even in that match however his first innings 40, helped Ireland keep on level terms from which to mount a memorable run chase. He was captain 28 times, including the American tour of 1973, and would have been so on many more occasions had it not been for injuries, one of which, ironically, was acquired while touring the Channel Islands with MCC.
He attracted offers from six English counties but never felt the inclination to take the bait. However in an interview in 1995, he confessed that in modern circumstances, "I would have loved to have tried it for a few years." Many have asserted that he would also have played for England. That may very well be the case, though the English fast bowling cupboard was not as bare at the time as has sometimes been suggested.
It is, however certain, that he would have been a considerable force in county cricket. In retirement he not only delighted in the progress of his three sons, one of whom, Paul must have come close to consideration for the Irish side, but was also a selector and, in 1995, President of the Irish Cricket Union.
A fine rugby player he had taken Belvedere to the final of The Leinster Schools' Cup in 1957/58, only to go down to Blackrock. He later played for Old Belvedere 1st XV for a number of years both at No 8 and scrum half.
Away from the games field, he was a civil engineer and showing the same application and dedication that characterised his cricket, became Managing Director of the Dublin consulting engineers Delap and Waller.
He is married to Geraldine Hannigan, well known as a TV presenter in the early days of RTE. Alec John O'Riordan has been the subject of many feature articles, not just in Ireland. He is profiled in Christopher Martin-Jenkins "Dictionary Of World Cricketers" and has one of the longest entries in Siggins and Fitzgerald, "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats."
Edward Liddle, January 2009
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