Larry Warke - one of the great enigmas
Larry Warke was one of the great enigmas of Irish Cricket. Strongly built, broad shouldered with powerful forearms, he dominated club bowlers in both Dublin and Belfast for almost 20 years. He was also a useful medium pacer, and delighted in keeping wicket. However in Ireland's matches, he was largely disappointing as a batsman, averaging only 14.29 from 57 innings. Apart from his two centuries, he never passed fifty. After a highly successful career on both the cricket and rugby fields of RBAI, during which he made his senior debut for Woodvale in 1943, he entered Dublin University to study medicine in 1944. Cementing a place in the XI in 1946, he was ever present until 1951. In competitive cricket he hit 6 fifties, highest score 97 in a total of 1156 runs, the ninth fastest to 1000 runs of the 21 University batsmen to reach the 1000 run target. Captain in 1950, he hit a typically belligerent 138 v the Leprechauns, including, 3 sixes, 1 five and 21 fours. He had also made 112 on the 1946 tour v West of Scotland with 2 sixes and 12 fours. He deployed a full range of shots, all round the wicket; teammates remember his sloshing cover drive. This writer recalls a half century in College Park for JC Boucher's XI in 1962, when huge, lofted straight drives were much in evidence.
He also played for Woodvale in his summer vacations, helping them to win the NCU Challenge Cup in 1949 with 46 in their only innings of a low scoring match, despite fine slow left arm bowling from Rev Bobby Barnes. Moving to Leinster while a Junior Doctor in Dublin, he helped them on their way to winning the Cup with 114 v YMCA in an early round match. He had helped his Belfast team win the trophy again in 1954, hitting 41 in the final. In 1957, he struck a brilliant 111 to enable Woodvale remove NWCU side Sion Mills from the Cup by 118 runs. From 1958, being permanently in Belfast as a GP, he captained Woodvale until his retirement in 1962, because of pressure of work, though he continued to play some friendly matches, making, for example, several appearances in 2-day fixtures against his old University.
As mentioned above, he did not fulfil his potential for Ireland. His two hundreds, 120 v Scotland at Whitehaugh in 1954 and 101 at Lord's in 1957 when captain, were in the words of Ulster cricket's premier historian Clarence Hiles, "mere highlights for such a talented batsman". The 120, included 3 sixes and twelve fours and was made as an opener, having the lion's share of a 104 run opening stand with Stan Bergin (26). In the Lord's innings, he was "back to his brutal best," according to profilers Siggins and Fitzgerald. However both knocks were accompanied by failure in the other innings. He did tend to score useful runs when they were needed, but all too rarely. In 1958, on a College Park track where Worcestershire's future and past Test spinners, Martin Horton and Bob Berry turned the ball square to gain an innings win, Larry (28) top scored in the first innings, then in the second made 30 and with Ray Hunter (35) put on 68 for the fourth wicket. They were the only two double figure scorers as Ireland crumbled to 93 all out. His 32* v MCC a week later saved Ireland from defeat. In the first innings of the Ormeau match v The Australians in 1961, he made 29, putting on 50 for the 3rd wicket with Mike Stevenson. Other than them, only Alec O'Riordan, of recognised batsmen reached double figures, though Scott Huey slogged his way to 12.
Larry's bowling was never more than a filler in: he was often used to open the Irish attack so that the selectors could pack the batting. Unfortunately, unlike Eddie Ingram, who filled this role before him, having converted from leg spin to do so, he was not a good enough bowler to be effective. His best bowling was 2-22 v MCC at Lord's in the same match as his 101. One wicket he could have done without was that of Scottish tail ender DR Lawrence in College Park in 1957. This was the last wicket to fall and deprived off spinner Frank Fee of all 10. Larry was also a safe fieldsman with a bucket-like pair of hands that didn't miss much. In 1957 at Rathmines he held four catches in the Free Foresters first innings, three from opening bowler Charles Kenny. Warke was also a high quality rugby player. A prop, he played for the University and Lansdowne, while in Dublin. gaining Interprovincial caps for Leinster, and playing, for the Possibles in the Final Trial of 1954/55. In today's game, he would have no doubt appeared for at least the statutory minute at the end of a match needed to gain a cap! Why did this hugely talented cricketer, father of one even more gifted, have such a mediocre record as a batsman? Part of the reason lies in the fact that it was a time of general under achievement for Irish Cricket. Wickets were poor and few matches were won. It is no criticism of his leadership that he was victorious in only 2 of the 18 games in which he was captain. Even batsmen such as Bergin and Stuart Pollock, who are generally thought of as having been successful did not manage career averages of 30. Yet, a deeper explanation is needed for his lack of success. Perhaps it is provided by the words of John Hill, a highly successful off spinner for NICC and Clontarf and, when picked, Ireland. The first occasion on which he bowled to Larry was for Clontarf in a League fixture in 1946. Warke stormed to 70 and Hill, who had a Bill O'Reilly like contempt for batsmen, was asked what he thought of him. "He has one fault," growled John, "over confidence."
Larry Wake's obituary is in Wisden 1990 and he is, deservedly, profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald Ireland 100 Cricket Greats.
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