|Born||16 September 1963 Omagh, Co Tyrone|
|Educated||Strabane High School|
|Debut||15 June 1985 v Scotland at Castle Avenue|
|Style||Right hand bat; slow left arm|
|History||Alexander McBrine - always known as Junior to distinguish him from his father - remains one of the best all rounders to play in North West Cricket. A strongly built middle order batsman, capable of devastating hitting, he is - however - primarily a top class orthodox slow left armer famed for his control of line and length. He is also a very safe field, his slip catching having sometimes bordered on the miraculous. Though long neglected by the Irish selectors, his appetite for the game remains undiminished and his abilities in all these areas show little signs of decline. |
He came, of course, from a remarkable cricketing dynasty. His father Alexander was captain of Donemana many times and the Club's leading all rounder. However Alexander's prowess was rivalled by that of his brothers, WJ - known as Jimmy - and Robert. The three were outstanding in the Club's cause for around thirty years. This is not the place to recount their deeds, but a glance through the pages of Billy Platt's "History of Donemana Cricket Club" reveals the extent of their contributions. We may refer to one match a historic one as it saw Donemana lift the NW Senior Cup for the first time. Played at Beechgrove against Sion Mills at the end of July 1950, it began with Donemana being bowled out for 130 with only Robert (33) and John Cochrane (25) able to make much of John Flood's spin. However Jimmy with 6-37, supported by Alexander 3-25, proceeded to bowl Sion out and gain a 5 runs lead. Alexander also caught Andy McFarlane of Cochrane for 7, a miss would have been disastrous. Play the following week was frequently halted by rain but Donemana managed to post 123, before Jimmy struck again. With Alexander weighing in with 2-31 including the key wicket of McFarlane LBW for 9, he took 7-18 bowling out the favourites for 84. Alexander captained the side which he was also to do thirteen years later, when Donemana pulled off the treble winning the Senior Cup, Senior League and Faughan Valley Cup. September 1963, of course also saw Alexander and his wife Ethel pull off a double of their own with the birth of twins Alexander (Junior) and James. Together with their other brother Roy they were to carry on the family tradition.
Junior and his brothers all forced their way into the 1st XI by the time they were in their mid teens, though they also took time out to win age group trophies for the Club. For example the twins shone in 1978 winning the Londonderry Boys Midweek Competition - the Harry Wilson Cup - defeating Sion Mills in the Final. They were also essential parts of the North West side in the U15 and Esso U19 tournaments . Thus in the Esso in 1982 Ulster Town narrowly escaped with a draw. NW scored 189-9 with James making a half century, then UC replied with 152-9. Michael Rea with 48 holding out against Junior who had 3-26. Against Munster at The Mardyke later in the same season they were again thwarted by the last pair. NW piled up a massive 294-6 and had their hosts at 109-9 at stumps, Junior having taken 4-5.
His record for Donemana is the stuff of legend. Having, as we have seen, established a place in his mid teens, he has been ever present in the side and his all round skill shows little, if any, sign of diminishing. The Club's dominance of the NW owes much to him and James while yet another generation is rapidly becoming a major force in the side. A glance at the NW averages for the past twenty years shows that Junior has rarely missed out on a high place in one or both sets of figures. Thus, for example in 1995, he scored 972 runs at 37.87 with a highest score of 139, while the following season he averaged 51.59. He headed the bowling for four seasons from 2001, having a particularly good all round season in 2003, when besides taking 55 wickets at 12.64, he notched 821 runs at 37.32 with seven fifties and one hundred. Those performances foreshadowed those of 2007 and 2009 when he was again one of the leading all rounders in the NWCU. As late as last (2010) season he took 7-13 against Bready among his 44 wickets at 18. In 2008 he was the Cricket Writers of Ireland club Player of the Year and also Radio Foyle's North West Player of the Year.
If all of this suggests the as Junior gets older, he gets better his earlier feats should not be forgotten. A snapshot of performances would, for example, reveal a number of fine innings in the 1982 season when the Club retained the League title won the previous year and also carried of the Faughan Valley Cup. Thus in the latter competition in mid June, he powered Donemana to a 9 wicket win over Bready who were dismissed for 102. Donemana won by 9 wickets with Junior on 70*. The following weekend he hit an undefeated 67 to see his team defeat Strabane by 5 wickets. He was again in top form with the bat against Sion Mills, in a match which saw Donemana take the lead in the League race, a position they were not to lose. Indian professional R Jadeja made a brilliant hundred for Sion who finished on 208. Junior, however, was in exuberant mood. Making light of the vaunted Sion attack he drove and pulled his way to an undefeated 98 sharing in an unbroken 6th wicket stand of 121 with a schoolboy named Desmond Curry! The Cup Final of 1985 was another occasion when Junior excelled turning in an excellent all round performance . Put in by Brigade captain William Wilson, Donemana were soon in trouble, Wilson bowling Angus Scott for 1. He also saw Junior dropped at the wicket, but that was the last chance Junior gave in a useful innings of 46 which helped set up a first innings score of 221, James, captaining the side, topscored with 58. When Brigade batted, as Billy Platt has written, "The innings belonged to Junior whose nagging accuracy caused all sorts of problems for the Brigade batsmen.... In a marathon 21 over spell he took 7 wickets for only 35 runs." Following on Brigade experienced more problems with Junior (4-17) while James took six wickets to ensure that the Cup was headed for the mountains.
Junior's remarkable all round play was also seen to good effect in Interprovincials. In all such matches he scored 1371 runs and took 98 wickets, thus narrowly missing a double. His highest score - and only hundred at this level - was 106 made against North Leinster at Limavady in 1992. NW reached a strong position with a score of 261-5 owing much to 3rd wicket partnership between Junior and Stephen Smyth who made 86. They ensured that the visitors would have a tough task. NL were dismissed for 160, Junior taking 2-40 including Brian Gilmore from whom a big innings was probably needed. Another good innings came two summers later in an emphatic seven wicket win over Ulster Country who were out for 164. The game was in the balance at 76-3 when Junior joined Smyth, They put on 88* for the 4th wicket Junior finishing on 60, the topscore of the day.
With the ball, he had a number of five wicket hauls none more impressive than that against Ulster Town at Eglinton in 1993. NW batting first made 267 all out. UT replied with 195, being routed by Junior whose full figures deserve to be set out. 25.4 - 10 - 45 - 7. Amongst the seven were the cream of the visitors' batting, Stephen Warke, Charlie McCrum and Robin Haire.
Surprisingly, perhaps, Junior's performances for Ireland never consistently matched those for his club and province. His 652 runs at 22.55 and 44 wickets at 40.52, while distinctly useful, were not a true reflection of his ability. Despite his great control of length and flight and pace he never ran through a side while on Irish duty and had only two four wicket hauls. His best bowling 4-38 v Matabeland at Bulawayo in January 1986 came in support of Mike Halliday's off spin in a match Ireland won by 10 wickets. After Ireland had made 242 Matabeland were soon in trouble. John Elder reporting the match for The Ulster Cricketer recorded that the wicket was " a spinners paradise" with strong sun after heavy rain. 57-3 overnight the hosts collapsed on the second morning. "In a little over an hour Halliday and McBrine tore the rest of the batting apart and dismissed the home team for a paltry 99." Following on Matabeland reached 218 but Junior with 3-77, finished with 7 wickets in the match, his captain having 11. He had also taken four in the innings against MCC at Lord's in an exciting finish the previous summer. The scores finished level with MCC having two wickets standing. Junior's 4-72 included Roger Tolchard, Nick Pocock and Mike Griffith - a very reasonable bag - but neither he nor Halliday could quite bowl the opposition out.
His most talked of - and best - innings for Ireland was his outstanding hundred against Scotland at Coleraine in July 1987. He came in when Ireland were in deep first innings trouble at 102-7 to join Simon Corlett. Together they put on 150 an 8th wicket record for Ireland. The first No 9 to score a hundred for Ireland Junior batted 161 minutes faced 158 balls and hit 12 fours. Corlett finished with a defiant 53. The pair staged another, though less dramatic recovery in the second innings, which removed any prospect of defeat. HIs other highly regarded innings came two years later against Northamptonshire at Downpatrick. This was a 60 over match a warm up for both sides before the Nat West Trophy - then played over that number of overs - got underway. It was, in fact, Junior's best all round performance for Ireland. He bowled with his customary nagging accuracy to finish with 3-28 from his 12 overs. He then came in at 75-6 and proceeded to destroy the county attack. Facing 39 balls in 71 minutes at the crease, he hit 4 sixes and 8 fours before being caught off medium pacer Christie. When he was out 76 were needed in 15 overs. Had he been able to bat for another 10 all things might have been possible.
Junior's sons Andy and Richie show every sign of carrying on the family tradition for several decades to come. There is too their mother Norma. More to the forefront than her mother-in -law Ethel ever was, she is, as Secretary of Donemana Cricket club, a respected administrator.
Alexander "Junior" McBrine will, in the years ahead, be remembered as one of the Donemana's and the North West's greatest cricketers. Considering the wealth of talent his Club and provincial union have produced, that is no little achievement.
Junior McBrine is profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats." I am also indebted to Billy Platt's histories of Donemana CC and of the NWCU Senior Cup.
Edward Liddle, April 2011
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