Frank Browning came from an old Anglo-Irish family of Co Limerick, descendants of a Cromwellian officer. Several of them were distinguished sportsmen, though Frank's brother, a former regular army major, became Bridge Correspondent of "The Tatler." He was also related to the Hone family and a distant cousin of TB Reeves who made his Irish debut in the year Frank was born. Browning was a short and stockily built man with powerful forearms. According to Wisden he was "An excellent wicket keeper and an effective bat with a pretty style."
At Marlborough he was two years in the XI, but his performances were not always well received. In 1885 "The Malburian " commented, "often sacrifices his wicket in an attempt to hit to square leg." In 1886 he was "not a strong bat", while his wicket keeping in the annual match against Rugby was seen as such that, following two drops, "under such circumstances no one could help scoring." If these strictures were justified, they were taken to heart.
Entering Dublin University in 1886, he was a regular in the XI from 1888 to 1893, being an almost exact contemporary with Jack Meldon (1887-93) and also overlapping with Lucius and Arthur Gwynn. Small wonder that the side's batting was so strong. He scored 5 hundreds for the XI and a further two for the Long Vacation XI, though one of these was made when his student days were long over. His highest was 150* v Leinster at Rathmines, out of 336/8 declared in June 1891. His best season for the University was 1889 when he hit 869 runs including two "tons": 131 v Dublin Garrison and 136 v Cynics. "Burke's Irish Family Records"(1977), credits him with 2000 runs in all matches that season. This has proved unverifiable and as "Burke" wrongly gives him an Irish rugby cap, it may not be accurate. First class opposition often brought out his best: in June 1890 against WG Grace's United South of England XI, Browning (50) and Meldon (45) were the only batsmen to reach double figures in the first innings, they added 84 for the 5th wicket. He followed this with another half-century v Cambridge.
On the 1893 tour, under the captaincy of CL Johnson, oddly Frank was never official captain, he and Arthur Gwynn were the only two to be unworried by the pace of Charles Kortwright against Essex, Browning getting 32 and 73. He also made 84 against Warwickshire to help the XI to a fine victory. His finest hour for the University however, was for the Past and Present XI v The 1905 Australians. This was far from the best Australian side of history, but they were far too much for their hosts winning by 241 runs, despite not passing 300 in either innings. Browning (52 and 54) was the only batsman to face the attack with any confidence, his runs were made against the fearsome pace of "Tibby" Cotter whose action seems to have been a cross between Jeff Thomson and "Slinger" Malinga, and the artful leg spin of Monty Noble and Warwick Armstrong. Only Tom Harvey also reached double figures twice.
Continuing his penchant for doing well against quality opposition, he was consistent on the inaugural Irish first class tour of 1902, scoring 213 runs at 30.43 with a highest of 56 v Oxford only failing in the MCC match, when the famous Australian Albert Trott was too much for most of the visitors. Other good scores against strong opposition included 60 v London County in a draw at The Mardyke in 1903, the last match WG played in Ireland, and at the same venue, 40 and 31 helping Ireland to an epic victory over the 1904 South Africans. His final notable innings was 50 in the drawn match v Philadelphia in College Park in 1908. He put on a 6th wicket 149 with Bob Lambert (116*) to arrest a collapse. He seemed an obvious choice to captain Ireland on the 1909 tour of USA. This proved to be a "tour too far." The Irish side was weak, the Philadelphians, though in decline, too strong. Though Frank made 30 in the win v All New York, he managed only 7 runs in 4 innings in the Philadelphia matches. He was past his prime, being exposed by Bart King and "Ranji" Hordern, though his keeping remained good.
In all he captained Ireland on 13 occasions but was successful only once: these statistics and his career figures on this site do not include the 12 a side v I Zingari in 1906. In this match he scored 18 and 33, besides making 1 catch and 1 stumping, leading Ireland to a 253 run victory on a dangerous wicket in the last match played on the ground and the last v IZ. The visitors rather confusingly also included a wicket keeper batsman called FH Browning, whose appearance for MCC v Philadelphia in 1908 has misled some statisticians.
Browning had been President of the short lived ICU of the 1890s and in 1912, having been a distinguished performer for DUFC, became President of the IRFU in 1912. In this role he established a "Pals Batallion", in 1914. He was a Lieutenant Colonel of the Veteran Corps of the General Reserve and thus an officer in the Irish Auxiliary Volunteer Training Corps, "an organisation for gentlemen of above military age", known as the "Gorgeous Wrecks" because of the loyal Georgeus Rex on their, dummy, rifles. On that fatal Easter Monday 1916, they were returning to Dublin, from a route march, via Mount Street Bridge, over the Grand Canal, when they were fired on from positions overlooking the bridge and expecting soldiers. Firing ceased when the mistake was realised but seven of the GRs were wounded, four fatally, including Browning who died in Beggars Bush Barracks shortly afterwards. He thus became the only first class cricketer to die in the Easter Rising. He was also the third Irish cricketer to have an involvement with the events of 1916, the unwitting ones of GFH Berkeley and RM Gwynn are described elsewhere on this site.
Browning's obituary is in Wisden 1917 and he is, deservedly, profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats.
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