Mike Halliday was, with the possible exception of Frank Fee whose mercurial career in Irish colours was all too short, the best off spinner to represent Ireland since the halcyon days of Jimmy Boucher.
A prodigious spinner of the ball, turning it on even the blandest of surfaces but always retaining accuracy, he was like Boucher in troubling the leading batsmen of his day far beyond the confines of Irish cricket.
There were those who claimed that he squandered his talents, by becoming a negative bowler with an over concentration on a leg stump attack. He may occasionally have had recourse to such tactics, particularly as Ireland played an increasing number of limited overs matches during his career, but they were far from the norm. Only an attacking bowler of the highest quality could have achieved his figures in all types of cricket.
He was also, after a somewhat shaky start, a very useful lower batsman, with a number of important innings to his credit. An historian by training and profession, he was a talented writer on the game who co-authored the essential "Dublin University Cricket Club: A Pictorial History 1835 - 1985" and contributed the chapter on cricket to ISG Foster's history of Irish sport.
After a successful beginning at Wesley College, high class schoolboy spin bowlers at this level being a rarity are usually very successful, he was five years in the Dublin University XI from 1968, being captain in 1970 and 1971. In competitive matches in these short university seasons, he took 102 wickets at 15.21, thereby becoming the first to take over 100 League and Cup wickets for the club since Okikiolu "Niki" Coker, a Nigerian swing bowler who took 142 at 11.90 between 1951 and 1956.
Mike had six five wicket hauls in his University career including three in 1972. One of his best performances was his 6-17 v Old Belvedere at Cabra in a cup match in 1972, but probably his proudest achievement was to lead his side to the League title in 1970. They owed much to his leadership which did not falter in two tight corners with Malahide and Clontarf both being defeated by one run.
Mike was also seen to advantage in other matches for the University. On the annual English tour of 1968 he had the best figures of the innings against a strong Combined Services side at Portsmouth, taking 3-14 and, later in the tour had 5-14 v Indian Gymkhana, always a good batting side. He also shone against strong opposition in College Park. In 1969, on a rain affected wicket, he spun the ball sharply to take 5-21 against a powerful side raised by Con McCall, his wickets including not only the doughty opener himself, but also Archie McQuilken.
Six years later, now a visitor to his old stamping ground, Mike was to take a second innings. 6-70 for Trevor West's XI against the University, bowling them out for 154 to secure victory. Mike had already appeared for Phoenix while at University, he now became a full time member of the side, playing his last match in 1995.
He was to prove extremely successful, taking 885 League/Cup wickets, thus raising his grand total to 987 at 14.84 with 55 "five fors." During his time with them, Phoenix were one of the most successful club sides in the country. They won 16 Leinster League or Cup titles, besides taking the Irish Senior Cup in 1986, when Mike spin and nagging accuracy had much to do with their victory over Donemana, bringing him figures of 3-12. The Co Tyrone side were bowled out for 109, though the "Irish Cricket Union Yearbook" considered that several wickets were lost to "poor or casual shots."Mike also had a leading role in Phoenix's Leinster Cup wins in 1973 and 1978.
In the former year, at Rathmines, he had 4-20 to restrict Pembroke to 164-9, despite 37 from Alan Parker. Phoenix passed the score with only three wickets lost. Five years later, they batted first on their own ground against Merrion. Thanks to a David Pigot century, they totalled a formidable 233 before Mike (4-44) took the lead in dismissing the visitors for 122.
In the Interprovincial Championship, which changed sponsors during his 1967 - 1990 career, he took 191 wickets for South Leinster at 17.87, having five in an innings on sixteen occasions. These figures might well have been even more impressive were it not for the fact that, in his early years in the side, the attack was based on the formidable pace trio of Alec O'Riordan, Dougie Goodwin and "Podge" Hughes with the result that spinners did not always get much of a look in.
His first five wicket haul came against Munster at The Mardyke in 1969. The visitors reached 201-5 before declaring. Then Mike had 6-68 including Birmingham League all rounder Wally Booton (54) and leading Munster batsman Leo Durity(66), who between them scored two thirds of their side's runs. Mike had two other notable appearances against the same opponents. At Cabra in 1978, the visitors were bowled out for 94, with Mike, accuracy and sharp turn combined, returning figures of 14 - 2 - 38 - 6, thus setting up the 9 wicket victory. Ten years later good batting by Deryck Vincent and "Alf" Masood gave North Leinster a commanding 266-3, before Mike took 6-83, dismissing Munster for 185.
However it would be misleading to suggest that all his success were against the least fancied team in the competition. In 1975 he bowled North Leinster to a fine win over North West at Castle Avenue with figures of 15.2 - 1 - 37 - 5, to dismiss the visitors for 110. That same season, at Malahide, he shared the Ulster Country wickets, in tandem with Goodwin (5-40) to achieve a 104 run victory, after his side had made a handy, but not conclusive 210. Mike's analysis finished on 13 - 5 - 33 - 5, with only left hander Mike Reith facing the seam and spin combination with confidence. His "5 fors" did not always result in victory.
In 1980, a rain ruined summer in Irish cricket, he had 5-55 v North Leinster at Phoenix Park, with Gerry Kirwan taking four wickets, as the visitors collapsed for 132. Only Mark Cohen (69) stood out against Mike until he bowled him. The prolific "Railway" man Ginger O'Brien fell for a rare duck as the spinners appeared to have ensured victory. However the visitors batting proved even less reliable and went down by 50 runs. During his 14 seasons in the side South Leinster won the tournament four times and shared the title once.
For Ireland between 1970 and 1989 taking 192 wickets at 30.31, besides leading the side on 25 occasions. He had five 5 wicket hauls and twice took 10 in a match. He had no easy baptism, having to wait for his first wicket until his third match. The selectors backed his talent and potential and persevered.
On debut v Scotland, in blazing heat more suited to the other Perth as this spectator recalls, he failed to take a wicket whereas fellow off spinner Ray Moan, also on debut, took that of Terry Racionzer a batsman good enough to play 26 matches for Sussex. Ray went back to Sion Mills and great things in interprovincial matches but never played for Ireland again.
Mike's first "5 for" came against MCC at Eglinton in 1978, the first Irish match on that ground. Bowling in tandem with Dermott Monteith for most of the match, he just failed to force a win, having match figures of 10-126, with his first innings return being 31.2 - 7 - 58 - 7. His wickets included the former West Indian opener CC (later Sir Conrad) Hunte for 69. Hunte whose undefeated 41 in the second innings saved MCC was still a very good player, though he had long since abandoned major cricket to work for Moral Rearmament.
Mike also got MCC Head Coach and former England spinner Don Wilson and (twice) former Oxford Blue and Somerset batsman Michael Groves, who achieved the unusual feat in the 1965 first class season of passing 1000 runs without a century. Second innings figures of 5-39 (Monteith 4-52) v Scotland at Rathmines in 1979 and 5-61 away to Wales in 1981 helped Ireland to two victories but his other 10 wicket haul came on the Zimbabwe tour of 1985/86, of which he was captain.
Against Matabeleland at Bulawayo he had match figures of 11-106, being virtually unplayable in the first innings, bowling with left armer "Junior" McBrine in the first innings. The hosts had lost two wickets overnight and were swept aside the following morning. Several of those travelling with the Irish side arrived too late on the ground to witness any but the last wicket go down such was the speed of the collapse!
However John Elder was still able to report for "The Ulster Cricketer", "Halliday and McBrine tore apart the batting order and dismissed the home side for a paltry 99. Both maintained an excellent line and length - so I'm told - and neither allowed any of their opponents to settle." Mike's first innings figures were 21.4 - 10 - 34 - 6.
However Mike's biggest day In Irish cricket must be v Middlesex at Lord's on 2 July 1980, Ireland's first appearance in what was then the Gillette Cup. The story is well known. Never a one to be predictable, "Monty" elected to bat on winning the toss and saw his side out for 102 despite some sound batting from Jack Short and Ivan Anderson. Then came Mike's remarkable spell. Turning the ball, he had figures of 12 - 3 - 22 - 4, reducing the county to 67-5 and threatening a major upset.
John Woodcock, Cricket Correspondent of "The Times" likened the web Mike wove around the batsmen to how Sonny Ramadhin had mystified England thirty years earlier. Jim Laker, surely the greatest of all off spinners, was full of praise, but, perhaps, the prosaic words of Wisden may be used to show the extent of Mike's achievement. "Off spinner Halliday took them to a position from which they might have reached victory against a side with less batting depth than their opponents. Bowling an attacking line and length, he seriously embarrassed the county when he removed Brearley- who had taken twenty overs to score his 11 - Gatting and Butcher within eleven deliveries."
In fact Graham Barlow, whose 39* saw the hosts to victory, gave a stumping chance at 69-5 or the impossible might have happened!
Ireland batsman Ian Johnston recalled the match "The first Gillette Cup match was played at Lords on the Varsity Match pitch - which had only had 1 day's play in the previous few days. Mike Brearley rejected the 'new' pitch which was further up the square on the Grandstand side on the grounds that it was less well prepared due to the rain that washed out the Varsity match. However contrary to many accounts - the pitch we played on was not "still damp" when Mike bowled, it was bone dry and shit quick throughout! What surprised Brearley was that it turned. John Emburey bowled with short legs and silly point and was dangerous but Ivan Anderson ran down the pitch and heaved one over mid wicket - the result was the close field dispersed never to return and allowed Deryk Harrison and I to work singles off him to put on 20 to take it to 99. On instructions from Dermott we 'hit out' and got out as did all who came after us!! With 5 Middlesex wickets down for 67 Graham Barlow walked past one which Gerry Murphy also missed! Middlesex committee men agreed that if that wicket had been taken Ireland would have won. In the Tavern after the match Brearley said to Dermott - "Well Dermott we should have played on the other pitch after all." to which Dermott replied, "It would have turned more!"
In June 1984 the all conquering West Indians came to Rathmines and rattled up 584-6 with sixteen 6s and sixty nine 4s. For once the spin twins had been routed Mike had 0-123 and Monty 0-132. Then before stumps Mike found himself at the wicket as night watchman with the board showing 6-2. He batted on into the next day, defying Courtney Walsh and Eldine Baptiste to hold out for 42 in 120 minutes besides adding 81 for the third wicket with Jack Short (54).
Ireland managed to draw the match as they did v MCC at Castle Avenue two years later when Mike at 10 made 62* in the first innings putting on 96 for the 9th wicket with Davy Dennison, thus equalling the record set by Jack Hynes and Drummond Hamilton - two genuine batsmen - against Canada at Rathmines in 1887.
Mike promoted himself to 6 in the second innings and made 45 thus helping to ensure the draw. This match is best remembered for a double and single century for MCC by a young Australian whom few had heard of. That was not to be the case for Mark Waugh for long! As mentioned above Mike captained the side on 25 occasions.
He won only four matches which has led some to describe his captaincy as being somewhat uninspiring. This is surely a harsh judgement. He was faced by some very strong opposition and suffered from losing the toss no fewer than 19 times! Many with a deep knowledge of the game did not share the views of his critics. Whatever the views of his captaincy may be, he remains in the mind of those who saw him bowl - and in statistical evidence - one of Ireland's leading cricketers of all time.
Michael Halliday has been the subject of several feature articles and is, it should go without saying, one of those profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats."
Edward Liddle, January 2009