Mark Cohen was an upper order - usually opening - batsman of immense ability and great powers of concentration. His feats as a schoolboy and youth cricketer aroused the interest of Middlesex and Glamorgan before he had made his Irish debut, at a time when most county players and officials would have echoed the words of Surrey captain Roger Knight in 1978, "I know nothing about Irish Cricket except O'Riordan."
Mark's near perfect technique and rock like defence brought him hundreds of runs at schoolboy level but did not please everybody on the senior circuit. As that fine and much lamented journalist Sean Pender noted in the" Irish Cricket Union Year Book 1981", "Critics would argue... that Cohen was more preoccupied with keeping his wicket intact than in applying himself to the primary job of moving the digits on the scoreboard." Pender related how, "There was even an occasion - I would be prepared to swear - when he was deliberately run out by an incoming batsman on instructions from a demented captain."
However as Pender went on to point out, this criticism increased Mark's determination to succeed in all aspects of the game. The influence of the professional at Carlisle, the Australian batsman Julian Wiener, was a key in helping him to reveal his true talent, and in 1979 runs flowed from his bat - at the desired rate!
He hit six centuries in four different levels of cricket in four weeks in 1979. The rest is history! As a Schoolboy International he had two outstanding matches against Wales. In 1978, at Railway Union's Park Avenue Ground, he made 78 and 83 opening the batting with another talented teenager by the name of Stephen Warke. Mark was by far and away the top scorer of the match. The following year, at Pembroke (South Wales not Sydney Parade) he hit a second innings 102* with one 6 and ten 4s.
On this occasion his batting was eclipsed by another member of the side, captain Ivan McMichael who hit a blistering first innings 107 out of 148 with two 6s and seventeen 4s. Both matches ended in draws. There had not been a definite result since 1973.
Mark also dominated the Esso Cup as the U 19 Interprovincial Tournament was then known. Two fifties in the 1978 competition were followed, in 1979, by an average of 92.75 and almost 400 runs. Against Munster at The Mardyke his 104* ensured a 10 wicket victory over Munster as South Leinster successfully chased 147, while at Malahide, against North Leinster, he made his top score in these matches, 148 as his side reached 236-5. However the hosts' batting also had depth and the match ended in a draw with North Leinster on 211-6. South Leinster finished second in the table to Ulster Country.
He was also an important member of the Ireland U19 team that year, which reached the final of the International Youth Tournament at Toronto, under the captaincy of Brian Gilmore. Mark took time to accustom himself to the matting wickets, but before the end of the tournament had played several quality innings besides forming a successful opening partnership with Davy Dennison. Against Canada, their unbroken stand of 110 achieved victory by 10 wickets, Mark finishing on 54 and Davy on 55.
According to the tour managers' report to the ICU they, "Gave a first class display of well placed shots and good running." Mark also made a vital 45 in the semi final win over the Netherlands, so his failure, and that of Dennison, in the final may well have been the cause of Ireland's narrow defeat at the hands of Bermuda.
Mark had made his senior debut for Carlisle aged 14 in 1975. He was to play for them for 23 years, finishing in 1998 with 9701 runs at 41.10 in Leinster League and Cup cricket. He hit 15 hundreds and 64 fifties, with a highest score of 120.
The Club, which was composed of members of Dublin's small Jewish community, now no longer exists, but his name is written imperishably in its record books. Of those who played their cricket exclusively for the Kimmage side, only Stephen Molins' 9574 runs came close to Mark's aggregate and he batted on 145 more occasions.
Mark won the Marchant Cup, for Leinster cricket's leading batsman, in 1988 and 1989, averaging 62.50 in the former year. His batting was one of the main reasons for Carlisle taking the Senior League title, their first trophy in Leinster senior cricket. That season he hit a brilliant 137 in the Schweppes (All Ireland) Cup to enable Carlisle to defeat Limerick by a crushing 205 runs. This was to remain the highest score made by a Carlisle batsman in the competition.
Mark's foray into County Cricket, though it never got beyond Second XI Championship level, was far from unsuccessful. Playing for both Glamorgan and Middlesex in 1980, for Middlesex the following season, before returning to Cardiff for his final two years, he scored, in all, 1509 runs at the respectable average of 30.56, making two 100s , one for each county.
He started with Glamorgan and began with a duck v Warwickshire, lbw to a promising paceman named Gladstone Small. However in his second match at No 3, he dominated a welcome victory over Yorkshire, with a brilliant 135 in the first innings, sharing in century stands for the first and second wickets. He made a further 56 in the second innings.
He did well enough at Middlesex later in the summer to earn a recall for the following season. Against Hampshire, he helped future test man Wilf Slack - later to die an unexplained death while batting - put on 163 for the first wicket. Mark made 54, Wilf going on to 202* before Middlesex declared at 411-5. The match was drawn but not before Mark had again impressed with 54 in the second knock. He had just time to return to Glamorgan for the final match of the season and help them to the title with a first innings 98* v Gloucestershire, the innings being closed after 100 overs, a side he was to do well against in the future. This innings put him at the top of the Glamorgan averages.
He found the going difficult for Middlesex the following season but did, however, have one fine match v Essex Seconds, though he was unable to avert a four wicket defeat. He top scored in both innings, with 61 in the first and 140 in the second. The latter remains his highest score in all cricket of which this writer has seen a scorecard. It was, however not enough to gain him a further contract.
He returned for two final seasons with Glamorgan, but was unable to make the final breakthrough, his highest score being 79 in the first innings v Lancashire at Llanderrry in 1983 when he put on 115 for the first wicket with John Derrick. They formed a useful opening partnership, though Derrick was to become better known as an opening bowler for the county side. Mark's last match for Glamorgan was v Warwickshire at Stratford upon Avon where he top scored with 58 in the first innings, but saw his side defeated.
He also had some useful innings for Glamorgan in the Warwick Pool competition. This was a 40 over U25 tournament. His best match was v Gloucestershire in 1983, when his side successfully chased 189/8 to win by 8 wickets. He was out near the end, run out for 64, having put on 86 for the first wicket with future ECB magnate left hander Hugh Morris and 87 for the second with his captain Geoff Holmes.
At this distance, it seems that Mark did enough to have been given an outing in the 1st XI of one of his counties, even if only a trial against one of the Universities or the tourists against whom weak sides were usually fielded. He might well have seized the chance.
However, County Cricket's possible loss was very much Irish Cricket's positive gain. His Senior Interprovincial Career had begun in 1979 with 30 v Ulster Town in a match at Cherryvale much interfered with by rain. In all he was to play for South Leinster until 1993, scoring 1519 runs at 37.04 with 3 hundreds and 8 fifties. He first showed his true class at this level v North Leinster on a slow turner at Phoenix in early June 1980. Mike Halliday and Gerry Kirwan troubled all the batsmen, but Mark stood firm grafting his way to 69 to help post a total of 132, which proved enough as his club colleague Stephen Molins bowled the hosts out for 82.
The first of his three hundreds came at The Mardyke in 1984. South Leinster won the toss and knocked up a formidable 266-6, Mark's share being a dominant 126. He put on 93 for the first wicket with Jack Short and 113 for the third with Jonathan Garth. Munster were out for 144, but might have taken some comfort in the part played by two Cork men in their defeat.
Two years later, Mark again showed no mercy to his native Province. He batted brilliantly to amass 134, his highest score in the competition, as the visitors reached 238-4 before despatching their hosts for 131. Also that season he had a well crafted 83 against the sterner opposition of Ulster Country in a drawn match. This was one of a clutch of good innings against the "Countrymen." Two years earlier, at Muckamore, Mark had made 72 before being caught off his old Middlesex Seconds team-mate Dermot Monteith (5-66). After Mark and Short had posted a first wicket 104, Monty spun his web around their teammates so that the visitors finished on 214-9. However the hosts fell for 168 with Alan Lewis cleaning up the tail.
Mark's third hundred came in 1991 with Ulster Country again on the receiving end of a Cohen innings, this time at Anglesea Road, South Leinster reached 229-3 with Mark making 126. The visitors were dismissed for 63. One other innings may be noted showing as it does his powers of defence and obduracy. At Stormont in 1987, Ulster Town posted a massive 290-5 with Michael Rea getting 120 and Chris Harte 97*. Mark, possibly deciding a run chase was not on, set himself to bat through until stumps, which he did finishing on 70*. He put on 151 for the third wicket with Jonathan Garth, whose share was 104!
For Ireland Mark scored 2519 runs at an average of 37.04 with 2 hundreds and 17 fifties. He began well with 43 against Wales in the first innings of a drawn game at Rathmines, where his first five caps were gained. In this game he batted at 4 and put on 105 for the 4th wicket with Ivan Anderson. He scored consistently during the Zimbabwe tour in early 1986.
This tour may now best be remembered for the match against the ZCU President's XI, in which one GA Hick scored a triple hundred for the hosts, but Mark also did well averaging 28.33 and making 3 fifties. The first, 53 v Matabeland at Bulawayo, helped Ireland to a score of 242-8 declared, and an eventual 10 wicket win. Mark batted first wicket down, putting on 76 for the third with Deryck Vincent.
He had two fifties in the match against Mashonaland Country Districts, 51 and 50*. In the second knock he put on 86 for the second wicket with Warke, though both came in for some criticism for slow scoring, after a challenging declaration by the home side.
1987 was a memorable season for him. He scored 455 runs for Ireland at 37.91 and reached his 1000 runs, fittingly at Lord's. Mark began with two good scores against Pakistan in two one day matches at Rathmines. In the first game, Ireland went down by 114 runs chasing the visitor's total of 276-5. Ireland replied with 162 of which Mark contributed a stalwart 53. The next highest score was Garfield Harrison's 25.
The second match was rain affected, Pakistan winning on scoring rate. Facing a formidable 376, Ireland had reached 144-2 in 31.1 overs when the rains came. Mark was on 39*, having put for the second wicket with Alf Masood. His first century came against Sussex, late replacements for Cup Finalists Northamptonshire, at Malahide. He batted 199 minutes for his 118, putting on 154 for the first wicket with Stephen Warke (57). This was just seven runs short of the then record opening partnership established in 1879. Warke, in partnership with Michael Rea, was twice to pass it in the next decade. Mark made 45 in the second innings and the match ended in great tension with the County falling just short of their target with 4 wickets left.
Mark also had a fine knock v MCC at Lord's in August after falling for 0 in the first innings. Set 256 for victory, Ireland got them with 4 wickets and one over to spare. They owed much to Mark and Masood, who put on 149 for the second wicket, each making 91.
1988 and 89 were also prolific seasons, his combined aggregate being 769. His best innings in the former year was that against Gloucestershire in the first round of the National Westminster Trophy. Mark made 66, helping Ireland to 186 and allowing them to bat out all but one ball of their 60 overs. It was his third successive 50 and was made against a formidable pace attack of fast bowler David Lawrence, Ashes winning Australian medium pacer Terry Alderman, and Zimbabwe all rounder Kevin Curran with spin from future England Chairman of Selectors left armer David Graveney. Mark fell lbw to Lawrence as Ireland lost by 9 wickets.
After making 42 v Worcestershire at Beechgrove, twice as many as Hick, fresh from his 405* v Somerset, did for the County, Mark was back to top form v Wales at Castle Avenue. The match was drawn with the visitors just holding out, but Mark made an elegant 75 in the first innings, posting 136 for the first wicket with Warke.
1989 saw two memorable knocks. In August Ireland undertook their bi annual English tour, including a two day match with his old whipping boys, Gloucestershire at Bristol. Facing a total of 277-8 declared, Ireland made a spirited reply before declaring on 221-3. Mark was 100*, having batted 180 minutes and hit twelve 4s. He put on 130 for the second wicket with Mark Nulty (78). Alas, the Irish batting folded in the second innings but it had been a creditworthy performance.
The Lord's match v MCC saw Ireland faced by a side including Martin Crowe and Mushtaq Mohammed. Let it be said that, though Crowe, missed at 1, made an elegant 65, Mark lost nothing in comparison with him. Facing an MCC score of 238-6, Ireland reached 188-5 before declaring, Mark dominated the innings but again just missed a Lord's ton, being lbw for 88. Unfortunately he badly damaged his stomach muscles, which handicapped Ireland in their 251 run victory quest. Wickets fell and he had to come in at 9, to show all his defensive technique in making 10* to save the match.
Mark's last summer in the Irish side was 1993, when he was by no means a regular but contributed a useful 42 in the win over the England Amateur XI in the Triple Crown. He was included in the Irish party for the ICC Trophy in Kenya, but hardly played until the last match. Having failed to qualify for the World Cup, Ireland packed the batting for the final match v Canada in the hopes of a win that would give them 5th place. It was not to be but Mark, with a typically resolute innings, bowed out of International Cricket with 74 runs and the man of the match award.
As stated above he continued to play for Carlisle until 1998. Away from cricket, he briefly lived a celebrity life style in 1997 when his then current girlfriend, Diana Hayden wore the Miss World crown.
He subsequently spent some years in India, before settling in the south of England. Mark Francis Cohen deserves to be remembered as one of the leading Irish batsmen of his - and anyone else's day - and is justly profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats."
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