John Elder & Chris Harte, June 1976
Early in September 1973 the cream of Irish cricketing talent (with the regrettable exception of Dermott Monteith) gathered to embark up on their adventure into the great unknown of North American cricket. Not since 1909 had such a tour been undertaken by Ireland, although in recent years matches had been played in Denmark and Holland. From a panel of 30 players, who had carried out fund-raising activities prior to the tour, the final lucky 15 had been selected under the captaincy of Alec O’Riordan and management of Jimmy Boucher.
The touring party prior to departure:
(Back row) Derek Scott (Assistant Manager), Alfie Linehan, Brendan O'Brien, Chris Harte, Gerry Duffy, John Elder, Mike Halliday, Roy Torrens, David Pigot, Ian Lewis, Jim Harrison.
(Front row) Jimmy Boucher (Manager), Ossie Colhoun, Alec O'Riordan, Tony Robertson (ICU President), Dougie Goodwin, Ivan Anderson, Billy Ritchie (ICU). Missing from the photo ws Pat Dineen.
The tour began in earnest when the Belfast and Dublin contingents met up with the “Cork Millionaire” (i.e., Pat Dineen) at Shannon. The journey which followed was an eye-opener to many people, not least the older occupants of the Boeing 747 who, perhaps, had never seen Gerry Duffy’s bowling action before. The long flight terminated in the New York dusk, and, after Immigration and Baggage Reclaim, the party disgorged itself into the warm evening air to travel by Maxi-Mini-Bus to the La Guardia Holiday Inn. This was a memorable trip - the traffic was very dense and slow-moving due to the road having buckled as a result of heat expansion. The party also noted that amongst the anonymous American automobiles several “oil-burners” (Beetle Volkswagons) made a distinguished contrast. By the time our weary travellers set themselves to rest it was 4.30am Irish time (midnight New York time) and only a short respite ahead before rising at 7am for the trip to Louisville.
The pleasant two-hour flight was preceded by the early stages of Pat Dineen’s gout: he got rather less sympathy from his colleagues than he managed from the air-hostesses, but certainly, as a wheel-chair occupant he provided much amusement. Once the pleasantries of the flag-waving welcome party were over the players and officials dispersed to their hosts. After lunch the Irish met up again at the Carrie Gaulbert Cox Park down by the banks of the Ohio for our first cricket on the North American continent. This took the form of a net practice, and it may well have been the first ever such event in Louisville! The novelties did not end there: several of the players soon found it was not possible to pack as much action into an afternoon’s practice session in the humid 95 degree heat of Kentucky as they would have done at home.
The unending memories of Louisville, however, surround the fixture played there. Even Irishmen have sometimes wondered as to the necessity of that law of cricket which awards 5 runs if the ball be lost in the field of play. Now one can understand; the shale pitch was situated near the top of a low ridge so that the ball was often played down into the surrounding hollows, which were carpeted with thick Kentucky blue grass. This surface could cover the ball - speed around the outfield was not important, but a sharp eye to locate the ball a must. Furthermore, not content with fielding various combinations of 13 players from 12 different countries, the Americans lined out a TV camera crew at short fine-leg for brief periods.
All this having been said, this Louisville game was a most enjoyable missionary activity in pleasant rustical surroundings. The enthusiasm of the locals was boundless but knowledge of the game rudimentary. To quote the Louisville Courier-Journal, “Roger Dass … bowled the cricket ball so it would bounce on the mat in front of the first Irish batter. The batter batted the ball into the field and he and the second Irish batter ran to each other’s wickets (bases) and touched the wickets with their bats. No cheer went up, but the Irish Cricket Union had scored.”
A comprehensive victory was recorded, but for most players there was more satisfaction in the sunshine and open-air picnics than in the clinical statistics. This mellow warmth was soon to be shattered - a one hour flight took us to the world’s busiest airport (O’Hare) and a city of 10 million inhabitants - Chicago.
Our stay here was a rather uneasy one: perhaps not for Pat Dineen who was largely confined to his bedroom with the television, and the hotel’s supply of films, constantly threatening to fly home but never actually doing so.
Chicago’s reputation kept most people subdued so that the only travelling done was to and from Washington Park. This was the area of open ground in which the mat was put down to act as a cricket pitch. The park was large enough to contain several pitches, but only one of these was for cricket - there were, at the same time, American football, baseball and soccer going on. All this, plus the odd (sic) drug addict, automobile accident, or wailing “cop” cars, and the dull weather, made the scene a rather depressing one.
However, our opponents did much to enliven the scene. Their hospitality was most enthusiastic - the view over Lake Michigan during one reception in a high-rise block was breathtaking. Their love for the game was openended; they gained much enjoyment from the bowling of Dougie Goodwin, the lusty striking of Lewis, Linehan and Torrens, and the superb wicketkeeping of Ossie Colhoun.
We, in turn, had much to learn from them; some of the younger tourists soon came to appreciate the (empty) “Beer-Can Bash”. Then there was “Rap-thePad Ram N’Appeal” (Ramnesh Ramnaran) and his trusty umpiring stalwart who soon, in tandem, made rapid inroads into the Irish batting. With the ball swinging about in the dank atmosphere, and the bounce occasionally variable on the mat the cricket was always full of action and interest.
For the record a win and a draw were achieved in the games, against Chicago and the Central USA. On the day of our departure from Chicago the sun finally broke through to presage a dry and sunny week in Toronto. This, in fact, was surely the most enjoyable section of the tour - the playing conditions were excellent as was also the welcome: the weather was warm through the day and pleasantly cool in the evenings; and there was much of interest to occupy any spare moments.
As in Louisville the players were “boarded-out” in various private houses close to the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club which was not only the scene of the three cricket matches, but also a centre for social operations. The club’s name probably requires some explanation - the combination of sports was certainly most unusual.
It appears that the Skating and Curling Club were required to move from their City Centre premises for which they had received a very suitable price. The Cricket Club, holding much ground at Armour Heights, had little money. Accordingly a “marriage of convenience” was arranged - the Cricket Club’s land and the Skating and Curling Club’s money both being put to good use. A flourishing family of sporting activities was the result - the list of facilities almost endless. In addition to the cricket pitch (coconut mat on an all-grass square) there are all-weather nets, swimming pool, floodlit bowling green and tennis courts, squash courts, sports shop, skating rink (in use day and night) and a curling rink. This last-named was undergoing repair, much to the disappointment of our occasional bowlers who saw in this their only option to the drudgery of nets.
When one adds an excellent dining room to the hospitality which ensured some sort of social “action” on almost each of the seven nights spent there, it is easy to understand the belief that the Toronto leg of the tour was the most enjoyable.
Can there be any regrets about the Toronto interlude, then? Yes, for the cricket was decidedly stodgy. The two one-day games were characterised by their lack of character - aimless wandering matches. The first came close to a decision - Ireland 9 runs short with only 1 wicket left - having managed just 120 runs in 3 hours batting. The second, against the Toronto club itself, was a rather more decisive (!) draw. The Irish side had 11 overs available to capture the last 2 wickets with no danger of the runs being obtained, but could not press home their advantage.
In this game Ivan Anderson scored a fine 68 which prefaced his historic record-breaking innings in the three-day international. What a pity that such a wonderful innings should not ultimately lead to a victory for his side. Batting in all 280 minutes, Anderson scored 198 not out, the highest score ever for Ireland. His last 187 runs took just four hours, and perhaps the most memorable of several partnerships was the 79 added in 70 minutes for the 8th wicket with Ossie Colnoun.
However on several accounts the rest of the Irish team could not match the bearded Waringstown man’s high level of performance. Much has been said about the tactics employed in this game - should the follow-on have been enforced? Should we have appealed against the light? Should we have thrashed for even quicker runs on the second evening and third morning?-but no advantages are to be gained from such post-mortems.
It should be pointed out that difficult but crucial catches were spilled, and the injury to John Elder robbed the side of a main-line bowler. However it is true to say that as the players enjoyed the post-match bonhomie and looked forward to the trip West, they could not escape the feeling that an opportunity for a prestigious international success had been let-slip.
After a week of progressively cooler weather in Toronto the touring party departed for the sunny and warm Californian climes. Three hours circling Chicago (in company with about 50 other planes) waiting to land hardly alleviated the more nervous players’ anxieties concerning air travel, and resulted in the missing of the onward flight to San Francisco.
Shortage of space on the alternative flight organized by United Airlines meant that the luckier ones amongst us were promoted to the first-class cabin and its attendant luxury. So the splendid sights of the Great Salt Lake and the Rockies were enjoyed in the company of roast duck, best French wines and a fine selection of liquers - much to the envy of the team officials cramped together at the back of the tourist class cabin. To follow all this a champagne reception awaited us upon arrival at the hotel.
The matches against the San Francisco and North California elevens, were both played at the Stanford University ground at Palo Alto, south of San Francisco. Close by the cricket arena stood the magnificent Stanford football and athletics stadium, undoubtedly superior to any stadium in Ireland. The grass was thicker and greener than in Chicago, but the mats were, unfortunately, just as loose. The opposition was mainly Asians - Indians, Pakistanis, and Sri Lankans - together with a couple of Irishmen, and even an Australian. Captain of the side was ex-Clontarf player Alf Cooper, who won some Irish caps before emigrating.
The first game hardly lived up to its programme billing of “Great Cricket Match” and ended as yet another stodgy draw, the fifth consecutive non-result. For the second game Dougie Goodwin took over the captaincy from the resting Alec O’Riordan, and this turned out to be a rather more exciting contest than its predecessors. Ireland’s 146 for 8, of which Jim Harrison made an entertaining 59, was just 22 runs too many for the Californians. Good bowling performances came from Roy Torrens (returning to action after a groin injury) and Doug Goodwin (as always). The umpiring, as in Chicago, was again inconsistent: one San Franciscan was given out lbw only to be called back a minute later by the umpire apologising “for his finger”.
Off the field San Francisco offered plenty of scope for those in search of entertainment. Among the many and varied night-time entertainments one of the more unexpected was Lords Tavern in Union Street. This establishment doubled as a pub in the Olde English style and a cricket museum containing many test cricketing items of interest - the walls were adorned with photos, scorecards, bats and balls. The rest day, most welcome after several days of travel and playing, was used to visit the famous tourist spots of the city - the Waterfront, Ghiardelli Square, Telegraph Hill, to ride the cable cars. A trip across the Golden Gate to the fishing village of Sausalito provided an opportunity for a sea-food lunch - a tasty alternative to that staple constituent of cricket lunches in the States - Colonel Sander’s Kentucky Fried Chicken. The visitor to San Francisco could hardly fail to succumb to the charm and beauty of this most wonderful of cities.
A short flight down-state brought us to the final centre of the tour, Los Angeles. In San Francisco the weather had been magnificent - warm and sunny. In Los Angeles it was thoroughly unpleasant to begin with, hot, humid and cloudy. Indeed, the world-famous smog was so bad that it was two days before we discovered that the ground lay close to a range of high mountains. The team’s hotel was situated in once-fashionable Beverley Hills between Sunset Strip and the Hollywood Bowl, where Procol Harum were the current attraction. The hotel’s bathing pool was much in demand as relief from the oppressi' weather.
The cricket was played at C Aubrey Smith Field, close by Warner Bros Burbank studios. This park had two well-grassed cricket grounds, back-to-back, with slow, equally weii- grassed wickets. After all the matting wickets the bowlers were glad to see grass again, even if it was desperately slow. The one day game ended, once again, as an unenterprising draw with neither side ever looking like winning.
For Southern California (most of whose players were West Indians) Oscar Durity made 53. The previous season he had scored a century for Trinidad against the Australians. Team injuries were beginning to mount and we were glad to receive an offer of medical assistance from the leprechaun-like Doc Severn who busied himself manipulating bad backs and legs and prescribing exotic herbal remedies. Between treatments he was occasionally to be seen hanging upside down from various trees around the ground in order to “promote the blood flow”. Considering how young he looked in spite of his well-advanced years, few dared scoff at either his cures or his strange habits.
For the 3-day international the USA based their team on the California sides strengthened by the lbw specialist from Chicago (thankfully without his umpiring accomplice). Cricket thrives in the Los Angeles area and, although most of the Californians would have been chosen for a full-strength XI, distance and travel problems precluded the inclusion of players from the East Coast. Ireland got off to a great start as Torrens, Goodwin and O’Riordan shot the Americans out for just 95. Despite a sound opening by Pigot and O’Brien the leg-cutters of the Indian Ramlall reduced Ireland to 51 for 5 at the close.
The next morning saw Ireland rally to 122 and a narrow, but valuable, lead. When the States began badly again it looked as though the game would be over in two days but the match was completely transformed by three magnificent innings from Pablo McNeil (who sprinted for Jamaica in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics), Oscar Durity and Don Weekes (5 sixes in a lightning 60).
As a result Ireland were faced with a target of exactly 200 to win. A sound start made an Irish victory seem certain but mass suicide against the spin bowling of Denis Stuart resulted in the last Irish wicket falling 2 minutes from the end of the third day with the score at just 156. The captain’s comment summed it all up: “We made a shambles of the game at the end”. How true.
A magnificent dinner given that evening by the Southern Californian Cricket Association helped wipe out the memory of a tragic day. The warm hospitality was a fitting finale to the social side of the tour, even if the cricket had ended on a disappointing note. A 5.30 start the next morning for the Jumbo flight to New York brought us back to where we had arrived 3 weeks earlier.
Thus ended 21 days of excitement and discovery: there was much to be learned from the tour on both an individual and collective basis. From a cricketing standpoint, while satisfaction could be gained from the interest created at the centres in which we played, the standard of grounds and opposition did not assist in bringing out the best in our players. True, we were defeated by the USA, but by this stage our early enthusiasm had been blunted by the haphazard conditions encountered. A series of difficult matches against class opposition on better grounds would have enabled more players to have returned home as better cricketers. But none present could have failed to enjoy the tour for its broadening of horizons and general good spirit.