Ray Hunter excelled at cricket, rugby, football and hockey
William Raymond Hunter
Ray Hunter was an outstanding all round sportsman. Besides winning Cricket and Rugby caps for Ireland, he won schoolboy international honours at football and hockey. He was, in the words of the Lisburn CC History, "An immensely strong man... a naturally attacking batsman, who was particularly adept at punishing the loose delivery." Well over six feet, he used his reach to employ straight and lofted drives to good effect, but also hit powerfully off the back foot. Particularly at club level, he was also a most effective new ball bowler, forming, for Lisburn a most effective opening attack with Jack Simpson. As befitted Rugby three quarter, he was a swift mover in the field, being regarded as one of the best cover points Lisburn ever had.
His deeds in club cricket are numerous. He first played for Lisburn in 1955 aged 17, having moved from junior club, Dunmurry. He established himself in the 1st XI by the end of the season, and was in the side which won the Senior Cup Final against Waringstown. Two years later, he was one of the key players in Lisburn's victory over Woodvale. Winning the toss Lisburn posted 336, an impressive score made possible by Ray's 133, which is still regarded as one of the best innings seen in an NCU Final. It was all the more remarkable for having been made by a 19 year old. Well supported by a half century from future leading NCU administrator Cecil Walker, it gained him an Irish cap at the end of the season. The other key man in the victory? He was, of course, Jack Bowden, with match figures of 13-76.
Ray was a key factor in Lisburn's continuing success over the years, but his other outstanding Cup Final success came in 1972, after he had, surprisingly, transferred his allegiance to Lurgan. In the Cup Final of that summer against Muckamore, Ray made 87* and 65* as Lurgan, well led by Bobby Matier, beat the Co Antrim side by 180 run, despite Archie McQuilken fine bowling.
Ray's debut for Ireland also saw his highest score. In gloomy weather at Leinster CC's Rathmines ground, which never looks its best under grey skies, he came in at 6 against a Free Foresters attack which had only one class bowler in Lancashire fast medium man JHG Deighton, and was already under the cosh from the Irish top five. Together with Stuart Pollock, in his last innings for Ireland, Ray put on 79 for the 5th wicket, then went on to share in stands of over 40 with Jim Kiernan and "Sonny" Hool, before Larry Warke called a halt at 371-6, leaving him 74*. The declaration probably robbed Ray of a debut ton, but enabled Ireland, in uncertain weather, to gain an innings victory.
The following summer saw him rise to a more difficult challenge. Worcestershire brought their full XI to College Park at the end of the season and, with some ease, won by an innings. On a turning wicket their past and future Test spinners Bob Berry and Martin Horton were too much for Ireland. Only Larry Warke (30) and Ray (35), in second innings 4th wicket stand of 68, showed any ability to cope. Ray used his height and reach to good effect to both bowlers, showing that they were not impossible to play. Another good innings against the spinners came in College Park three years later when Richie Benaud's Australians visited Ireland for two matches in September. Ray had already helped Alec O'Riordan save the match at Ormeau, making a second innings 27, sharing in a stand of 52 with the Old Belvedere man, but in Dublin he reached 50, sharing in a 6th wicket 87 with Alec, after Benaud, with a large crowd's interests at heart, had not enforced the follow on. Ray was particularly severe on Victoria's slow left armer Lindsay Kline, though he fell to him in the end. Benaud, incidentally, earned the gratitude of Irish spectators for playing in a hurricane at Ormeau as well as batting twice in College Park.
Ray also played significant innings v MCC at Lord's in 1963 and India at Castle Avenue in 1967. On the former occasion, he hit a first innings top score of 23 , batting as low as 8 as Ireland collapsed to MCC's pace attack of Surrey amateur JK Hall, ground staff man Jeremy Cook and Ian Lomax, who had played a few matches for Somerset and opened the bowling for Wiltshire for 20 years. He disposed of Ray to complete the rout of Ireland. Ray was promoted to 6 in the second innings in which Ireland did better. His 40* was crucial in avoiding the possibility of defeat.
He was again at 8 against India, when he added 96 for the 7th wicket with Gerry Duffy, having come in at 90-6. The legendary spinners Bedi and Chandrasekhar troubled both batsmen, but they were severe on the occasional medium pace of the Indian captain, the Nawab of Pataudi, before he had Ray caught. Duffy finished on 52*. This stand enabled Ireland to declare as did Ray's brisk undefeated second innings 22. India won by 6 wickets with 8 minutes to spare. That season also saw Ray captain Ireland through what Derek Scott described as an, "unusual but justified move." (Wisden 1968). He was not selected for the first match v Worcestershire, but O'Riordan, who had been restored to the captaincy after the reigns of Donald Pratt and Scott Huey, was injured and Ray replaced him as both all rounder and captain. O'Riordan then led the side v India, but Ray took over again with the selectors feeling that being both premier bowler and captain was too much for Alec. Ray, in fact, never played for Ireland again, after 1967 being injured for most of the next season.
His bowling was never as effective at international level, but included some useful performances. His best match was against MCC in College Park in 1961. Ireland, winning the toss appeared to have squandered the advantage by being put out for 207, with only Mike Stevenson, who made a classic half century, being at home against Jeremy Cook, and allowing MCC to reach 190-3. Then Ray took a hand, and, aided by Rodney Bernstein brought about "a startling collapse."(Derek Scott Wisden 1962). MCC were all out for 212. His wickets included former Derbyshire captain Guy Willat, JR Bernard, a Cambridge Blue , and great nephew of WG Grace, and former Oxford and Derbyshire all rounder Ian Gibson, like Bernard a doctor.
Gibson was to take his own life less than two years later. Ray also had a "5 for" against the West Indies in College Park in 1963. This match was played on a dangerous wicket, Ireland having been shot out by Charlie Griffith and Lester King. The visitors found the lift and bounce that Ray obtained difficult to handle, his victims including Test opener Easton McMorris and wicket keeper batsman Deryck Murray.
Ray achieved a, possibly, wider fame as a Rugby player. He was strong running three quarter at home in the centre or on the wing. He played his club matches for CIYMS and gained 10 Irish caps between 1962 and 1966. His debut was in a disastrous match at Twickenham in which Ireland fielded 9 new caps. Ray, who played this match in the centre, survived the partial restoration of the old order which followed, spending the remainder of the season on the right wing. He scored all Ireland's points, a try and a penalty, when they went down 20 - 6 to Scotland a fortnight after the Twickenham game. He was selected for the Lions tour of South Africa playing in 12 of the matches. He was to play a further 6 times for Ireland, three each in the 1962/3 and 1965/6 seasons, but missed the two victories, both over Wales. He thus had the undesired record of never playing on a winning Irish side. Ray's brother Lawrence, a centre three quarter, gained two Irish caps and was considered by many unlucky not to have been capped as an opening bowler. His heyday as a cricketer, however, coincided with the era of O'Riordan, Goodwin and Torrens.
After his retirement from cricket, Ray was for some time a valuable NCU committee man. According to Clarence Hiles, he was, "visionary but outspoken" and "ruffled a few feathers." He resigned because of ill health. He was also Ireland's last full rugby union international. Despite Neil Doak's near miss, it appears very unlikely that there will be another.
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