Famous Irish Cricketers: John Hill
John William Hill
John Hill, tall and dark haired but prematurely balding, was a dedicated cricketer, whom all but one contemporary judge of the game rate second only to JC Boucher as a bowler of his type in Ireland.
That one was, of course, John himself, who, in his more generous moments - which contrary to popular belief were fairly frequent - was prepared to admit that the great Jimmy ran him a close second!
He was a useful lower order batsman, though a Dublin newspaper once described him as, "That well known slow bowler and slow bat," but a somewhat negligible fieldsman. His only catch in 14 matches for Ireland was off his own bowling.
He was however, even in the twilight of his career a stern critic of those who let him down by poor fielding, as this writer has cause to remember.
He made his senior debut for Clontarf in 1935, and, when available, was rarely out of the side in the next 25 years.
He was, in fact, still trying to persuade the club's selectors to pick him when he was over 70!
For the Castle Avenue side he played 203 competitive matches taking 609 wickets at 14.16. By comparison Boucher took 1290 wickets for Phoenix in 396 matches.
John's figures included 48 "5 fors". He played a major role in brining the Leinster Senior Cup to Clontarf in 1950. In those play to a finish days his team's 180 v Railway Union did not look enough, but John with 5-45 ensured a 76 run victory.
Though not always available that season, he took 32 wickets at 11.55 to win the O'Grady Cup for the leading bowler in LCU compretitive cricket.
He also scored a career 2451 runs for Clontarf at 15.90 with a best of 119 v Pembroke in 1944 as well as three other scores of over 50.
He played one brief season for Dublin University, while on a short course there. He made light of the near perfect batting conditions prevailing, to take 54 wickets at 14.51 including five "5 fors." His greatest pleasure must have been to take 5 in 5 balls v Clontarf at Castle Avenue.
Post war employment saw him Assistant City Engineer in Belfast, where it is claimed that his legacy was to place street lights 22 yards apart on new housing estates.
He also found time to play for NICC on a fairly regular basis, though he was also turning out for Clontarf, and, sometimes, in minor cricket in Dublin, for Civil Service. He formed a deadly spin combination with fellow Clontarf man "Sonny" Hool for the Ormeau side, never to better effect that in the NCU Cup Final of 1951 v Lisburn.
North began with 180 all out but then gained a lead of 99, as Hool took 5-21 with his well flighted left armers. Batting again North totalled 304 and seemed to have made the game safe. However a stylish 83 from Tom McCloy and an astonishing 146* from Jack Bowden saw The Wallace Park side reach 342. Had it not been for John standing firm against the onslaught to take 4-89, Lisburn would probably have won.
Between 1946 and 1951, John appeared 14 times out of a possible 19 for Ireland. His 32 wickets at 22.15 are a respectable return, but could well have been better.
Strange selections, or a total dearth of pace bowling, saw Ireland go into matches at this time with three, sometimes four, and on one occasion five spinners. John was often pressed into service as an opening bowler, his pace was slow medium, and then had to take a back seat, grumbling no doubt, while Boucher, accompanied by left armers such as Bowden, Hool, or Bobby Barnes, had the prime spin bowling conditions.
For example v MCC at Rathmines in 1948, he was allowed only 9 overs in which he took a wicket. Then Boucher (7-91) and Hool bowled 59 overs between them in the MCC first innings.
The previous season John had a career best 5-67 v MCC at Lord's, when he was given a long bowl, (32-5-67-5) but was allowed only 8 overs v Yorkshire in which he took 3-16, four other spinners having been used before him, if Eddie Ingram be so classified.
John was very much a player of moods; it is, surely, no coincidence that his highest score for Ireland, 27*, was made in that MCC match in which he was treated in what he would have regarded as the correct manner, as a bowler.
In his retirement, from work for he never retired from cricket, John continued to play in Ireland, England, Malta and anywhere else he could find a game. He remained a stickler foe the highest standards and a stern critic of social cricketers.
This was to be seen on the annual Leprechauns' tour of the South East, though his participation dated back to 1949. He once stopped a match claiming, correctly that the wicket was inches short, and "I know I am an engineer."
He had little time for local umpires who disagreed with his interpretation of the LBW law where local dignitaries were involved, and would sometimes leave the field vowing never to return. He always did.
His friend, and captain on his last tours, leg spinning poet Morgan Dockrell, has summed him up better than most:
"For even games on humblest swards
Became for him like Tests at Lords. . . .
And this year in, year out went on- Impossible but glorious John,
That caring friend who loved a jest,
Who played each match as if a Test."
John Hill's obituary is in Wisden 1986.
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