Michael Peter Rea
Michel Rea was a very sound upper order batsman, who often opened the innings, While he possessed a wide array of strokes, and could take control of most attacks, he was, first and foremost, a player of immense concentration who regarded himself as a battler rather than a stroke maker. In 71 innings for Ireland he was bowled only five times.
He probably underestimated his own abilities as he was a heavy scorer in domestic cricket in Ireland and played a number of key innings for the national side, it must now be seen as a disappointment that he was hardly ever sure of his place in the XI, appearing in just under half the matches played by Ireland during his career. His eventual disappearance from the team, when he was, perhaps, at the height of his powers as a batsman, may well have been unavoidable, but it seemed at the time, and remains more than a decade later, a matter of considerable regret.
At school he had shown signs of becoming an all rounder, being a distinct useful leg spinner. This talent remained largely undeveloped at senior and international level. Michael was an outstanding schoolboy cricketer. Having played his first competitive match at the age of 10, captaining Connor House, the preparatory department of Bangor Grammar School, he was soon into the 1st XI when he entered secondary education. His skills advanced quickly and he was indeed fortunate in his mentors.
At school, there was the Irish batsman Chris Harte, running the cricket, with the professional assistance of former Lancashire wicket keeper John Lyons, while at home, and perhaps most importantly, Michael had the constant attention of his father, also Michael, a stalwart of Bangor CC for many years, besides being a Guinness Cup batsman, who was later to be President of the Irish Cricket Union.
Michael's deeds for his school side were phenomenal. His career aggregate was 2654 runs, besides taking 103 wickets. In his last season he scored 977 runs at 48.85 and also took 32 wickets at 12.93. As we shall see these figures - and his form for Bangor 1st XI - brought him Guinness Cup selection as well as his third season in the Ulster and Irish Schools XIs. It also saw him playing for The Rest v Southern Schools, the public schools trial match, at Eastbourne College. Though no longer played at Lord's, this was still a key match for the development of some young cricketers, having been the jumping off place for such as Peter May, Colin Cowdrey and Ted Dexter, to name but a few of its former participants. Batting fourth wicket down he made 6 in the first innings, and 20 when promoted to open in the second.
These innings were not enough to gain him selection in the further representative matches which followed. He had, however, escaped the fate of another very promising young batsman who had scored 1013 runs for his school that summer. He was - and I fancy he has never been allowed to forget it - twice dismissed by a highly rated young leg spinner, who was later to become better known for his batting which, though he, too, had a record breaking school season, was then strangely under valued. The entries in the scorebook read: MA Atherton c Mays b Hussain 33 . c and b Hussain 24.
At least Athers returned the favour in the Southern Schools' first knock, having Nasser caught behind by wicket keeper Lister, son of a former Worcestershire and Yorkshire Secretary, for 6. Michael - Rea not Atherton - progressed in representative schools' cricket at home. He captained both the Ulster and Irish Schools' XIs in his final season, but perhaps his most remarkable feat had come in his first season in the national side aged 16. Wales were the opponents at Sydney Parade for an Irish side which included five other future Irish players. Batting at 6 in the first innings he made 66, second top score to Alan Lewis' 75. They put on 119 for the fifth wicket. Promoted to 3 in the second innings, his 29 was top score, enabling Ireland to declare and emerge victorious by 90 runs.
1984 saw the first match against England Schools, the match ending in a draw with England on 113-8 needing 146. Michael had shown good tactical sense against the captaincy of future Middlesex batsman and Durham captain Mike Roseberry and, in making a first innings 37 had batted well against Atherton's then fancied leg breaks. Behind the stumps for England that day was Richard Blakey, another future Test player.
Mike was a member of the Ulster Town side for three years in the U19 Interprovincial Tournament. He had two 40s in his first season, when, he was, of course, playing two years above his age group. He made one century in the competition against Ulster Country at Lurgan the following summer - exactly 100. He also represented Ireland in the Youth Group Tournaments of 1983 and 1985, being, by the time of the second year's matches, a full International Cap.
In the former year, in the Netherlands, Ireland - captained by Alan Lewis - finished third, as was to be the case two years later. Michael proved one of the most dependable batsmen in the team, scoring 161 runs at 32.20 an average exceeded only by Ross McCollum and the vice captain, that great loss to Irish cricket, Robbie Dennison. Three times out trying to move the score along, Michael's highest score was 61 against England. Two years later, he was vice captain to Paul O'Riordan and scored 109* in a six wicket victory over Canada.
He had made his senior debut for Bangor aged 15 and so was already an established senior player, when he joined the Dublin University 1st XI in 1985. His first two seasons, during which he continued to play for Ulster Town and also, in the holidays, for Bangor were no more than useful, scoring 355 runs at 22.18, but in his final two things were very different. He scored a further 12I9 runs to finish his University career with 1574 runs to his credit, including four 100s in competitive matches. This is the second highest ever total by a University batsman in Leinster Senior Cricket, topped only by Jacko Heaslip's 2293, compiled 60 years earlier.
Michael had read law but opted for a career in accountancy, also deciding to stay in Dublin, where he threw his lot in with Clontarf. Deryck Vincent recalls "Only Michael could have described himself as a promising leggie! Michael was a great competitor and team mate and, in his time in Clontarf; the game he most enjoyed was an Irish Senior Cup game when Clontarf beat Waringstown by 10 wickets. Immediately after the game, he grabbed poor Alan Waite and never left him out of his sight all night as he exacted revenge for all the trashings Waringstown had given the Bangor teams of his youth, season after season. Ever the gentleman, Alan just sat there and took it in good humour, but he must have been tempted......" At Clontarf he stands second in their all time averages, his 47.02, shaded only by the redoubtable Andre Botha with 50.10. Rather surprisingly, perhaps, he made only one century but he hit thirty two 50s. His best season for the club was 1992, a prolific year for him in all forms of cricket, He scored 737 runs at 73.70.
His full record in Leinster Cricket, when he left for London at the end of the 1994 season was: 126 matches, 123 innings, 12 not outs, highest score 114, runs 4913, average 44.26, five 100s, forty one 50s.
In London, besides playing in a number of MCC matches, he played for Wimbledon CC, helping them to four Surrey Club Championships His Senior Representative debut for Ulster Town had come in the Guinness Cup in 1984. Though only 18, he headed the tournament averages, having played a fine innings on debut v North Leinster. The visitors batted first and were bowled out by the old firm of Corlett and Elder. Batting was by no means easy and Ulster Town's 8 wicket victory was, in no small way due to Michael's 65* which saw his side home.
He was to play in the Interprovincial Tournament for 12 years, scoring 1396 runs at 41.05, a better average it may be noted than the three "2000 men", Ginger O'Brien, Ray Moan and Ivan Anderson. His highest score in the competition was 120 made at Stormont against visiting South Leinster in 1987. Winning the toss the hosts racked up an impressive 290-5 declared, Michael being top scorer. He was stumped by Keith Bailey, as he was down the track to Rodney Molins. He was well supported by his old teacher Chris Harte who was on 97* when the declaration came.
Some of his best innings were for North Leinster for whom he played and sometimes captained after joining Clontarf. Thus in 1991 against the North West, batting first drop, he made 112, adding 109 for the second wicket with David Pigot (The Third). However, despite the big score against them, North West were able to play out time. Later that summer he (83) and Clontarf team-mate Deryck Vincent put on 203 for the second wicket to beat Ulster Country by 5 wickets despite a Garfield Harrison initiated mid order collapse.
One other run feast in North Leinster's colours might be mentioned. Against North West in 1994 at Phoenix Park, his last season for North Leinster, Michael made 71 adding 123 for the third wicket with Alf Masood (120*) to set the visitors 289 to win. Anything Alf could do however, so could Bobby Rao. North West stormed to victory by 4 wickets with Rao on 104. North Leinster team mate David Streek felt he was the most difficult batsmen to dismiss, but regarded him as quite easily the worst slip fielder he had ever played with and felt his observation of opposition players was not the greatest. In an AIB match against Ulster Town at Fox Lodge, Strabane on 24 May 1992 as Alan Higgins strode to the wicket, Michael told Matt Dwyer, that he only had 1 shot... A quick 30 runs later, (as we tried to find the ball again in a vegetable patch over a wall) he had hit 5 straight sixes. Matt's reply to Reazer is unprintable! Apart from that he was a great captain to play under... His most successful year was 1992 when he aggregated 260 runs at an average of 62. In all Interprovincial matches his final run total was 1396 at 41.05.
Michael was also a prominent member of the Irish Universities and Ireland U 23 sides in his earlier days. In 1984, he was a member of the U 23 side which toured the English Midlands under Garfield Harrison's captaincy. The opposition was probably too strong but the tour was an important learning curve for several of the side. MIchael distinguished himself against Leicestershire 2nd XI with 100* as Ireland reached 165-7 chasing the County's 274-1 off 45 overs. It was the only century of a tough tour and was highly praised.
He also took part in the British Universities Championship in 1986, which was won by Ireland. Michael chose the only match lost to make his best score 58 v English Universities Rose. He was the only Irish player to be chosen for the composite Universities XI game v Essex 2nd XI. In the 1987 tournament he made 111 v Welsh Universities at Beckenham, Ireland won by 38 runs, the next highest score was 38.
For Ireland he scored 2044 runs at 30.05 in his 52 matches, making two centuries and eleven fifties. His highest score was 115 v Scotland in 1993. He made his debut against the Scots at Castle Avenue in 1985. Rain, a constant attender at most cricket that summer, ensured a draw, but not before Michael had made a promising second innings 39, adding 109 for the second wicket with Stephen Warke (144*), the first of several major partnerships between them, However, he was not called on again for two seasons, when he came into the side for the two day match v Sussex at Malahide. He made 44 and 60* in a drawn match putting on 130 for the second wicket in 80 minutes in the second innings with "Alf" Masood.
However he continued to be a far from automatic choice until the seasons of 1992 and 93, by far his best in Irish colours. He passed the 400 run mark in each year, the first Irish batsman to achieve this feat. In the former year, he made 408 runs at 48.80, which, added to his club and interprovincial totals gave him a season's aggregate of 1375. Now opening the batting, he began with a first innings 89 v Scotland at Broughty Ferry. Batting 249 minutes and facing 204 balls, he hit twelve 4s.
He also made 74 in a rain affected match v MCC at Downpatrick. However his best match was v Wales as Ireland returned to College Park for the first time since the West Indies match of 1963. Stephen Warke won the toss and then he and Michael put on 224 for the first wicket. Not only was this a first wicket record , eclipsing Nataniel Hone and David Trotter's 161 at Lord's in 1879, it was also - at the time - a record stand for any wicket for Ireland. Michael made 106, but the rest of the batting failed and, eventually, Ireland were lucky to escape defeat.
The following season saw 491 runs flow from his bat. In a draw with Scotland at Eglinton he hit "a superb 115." After a shaky start in which he was twice dropped, he dominated the bowling, adding 127 for the second wicket with Warke, who was now at 3 with Mark Cohen opening with Michael, having the lion's share of the run getting. He also made the Scots suffer in a man of the match display in a Triple Crown game at Stratford-upon-Avon. Chasing 156, Ireland won by 5 wickets with 10 balls to spare. It might have been very different as Michael (71*), was dropped on 11. He passed the 400 mark at Lord's in a 2 day draw v MCC, during "a brilliant 86."
The following summer Michael and Warke were at it again, with Wales again on the receiving end. In the Triple Crown match at Titwood, Glasgow, they again surpassed Hone and Trotter, putting on 174 for the first wicket in 35 overs, as Ireland reached 311-5, Michael's share being a commanding 87 from 96 balls, with one 6 and nine 4s. He averaged over 40 that season, and was possibly deprived of another big score when he was run out for 49 v Scotland in the three-day match at Hamilton Crescent, after he had posted another three figure partnership with Warke. He was, incidentally, dismissed in this fashion in no fewer than 10 of his 71 innings for Ireland.
His last two innings of note came in limited overs matches against county opposition in 1995. The arrival of Mike Hendrick as coach had made Michael's place in the Irish side dubious as Hendrick insisted on the "Team Ireland" concept, players must be available for all practice sessions etc. For Michael this was no longer possible as work had taken him to London. He was left out of the side for the Benson and Hedges match v Surrey at The Oval, but after the debacle, which took place there was restored v Sussex at Hove where he was the main reason for a much improved Ireland performance. He won the Gold Award with a fine 73, and, later in the season, made 48 in the Nat West Trophy v Yorkshire. Facing a total of 299-6, Ireland responded with 228-7. Michael and Warke put on 92 for the first wicket, the partnership ended by a direct hit throw from Craig White running Michael out. White, incidentally, also scored a century and took 3-38.
Michel reached his 2000th run for Ireland in that innings, thereby equalling Jack Short in being the fastest to the target. Hendrick's policy meant that Mike was to play only once more for Ireland, making a duck in an early season Benson & Hedges match v Hampshire in April 1996. He had scored four half centuries in his last six Irish innings but was to be seen no more in Irish sides.
Perhaps Hendrick had no options but to enforce this policy, but it deprived his team of one of its best batsmen, at the height of his powers. Michael became a consistent scorer for Wimbledon and also appeared in a number of MCC matches. He was in their side v Ireland at Lurgan in 1998, but no major innings resulted.
Away from cricket, Michael was a top class rugby player at school, but, though he continued the game at University, was not seen in senior ranks. He is profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats."
Edward Liddle, January 2009