|Born||14 June 1960 Dublin|
|Educated||Belvedere College, Dublin University, National Institute of Higher Education|
|Occupation||Accountant then Business Consultant IBM, Sydney|
|Debut||25 June 1981 V Scotland at Castle Avenue|
|Style||Right-hand bat, right arm medium pace|
|Teams||Old Belvedere Dublin University Second Grade Cricket in Sydney|
|History||John Prior, one of three cricket playing brothers, was - on his day - a wonderfully good attacking batsman. At his best on a hard, fast wicket he backed his reflexes and eyesight to get into line against bowlers of any pace, and despatch every ball on its merits. "If it is just short of a half volley, " he told Colm Magee of Irish Cricket Magazine in 1985, "it should go." Such an attitude led some critics to suggest he was "a good tonker" rather than a good batsman. Such a criticism was also made by that acerbic writer EM Wellings about Ted Dexter. It was just as baseless about John Prior. He refuted it, explaining that his technique was sound and that he practised constantly. However he admitted that he always wanted to be on the attack, batting 50 overs for a hundred was not how he played . "I am, " he told Magee, "unwilling to sacrifice ( his style of play) for a more mundane and boring game."This partly explains what some have seen as his relatively disappointing record for Ireland, and why he did not make as many runs in Leinster cricket as might have been expected. He also preferred to face speed," I prefer facing quick bowling to somebody floating them down on a pudding." |
He set out his stall early in his career. In the Leinster School's Cup Final of 1977 he struck a glorious and breakneck 89, bringing him to the notice of a wider public than Cabra Oval. Later that summer he gave another foretaste of things to come. Playing for a Leinster U 25 XI against the Irish Universities he made 30 off 47 balls in 52 minutes hitting three 4s and making the runs out of 45 added while he was at the wicket. Two summers later he was in the Universities XI for the British and Irish Universities Tournament in England but did not achieve very much, though he showed his talents as an accurate, hard to get away, medium pace. Back in Ireland, at College Park, he came in at 4 against a Leprechauns attack including long years of experience in Rodney Bernstein and Gerry Duffy. John set about the bowling from the start. He made a brilliant 111 off 124 balls, batting 121 minutes and striking nineteen 4s. His best performance for the Universities in the annual BUSF tournament came in 1984, by which time he was qualified to play not as a Dublin University student, he had graduated with a law degree, but because he was taking Accountancy examinations at the NIHE. Against the English Unicorns, joined in the XI by his brother Nicholas, he hit 54 at No 4, making the runs out of 71 added for the third wicket with James Ireland the former Ballymena Academy Irish Schools international. John then took 4-26 in his 10 overs to bowl his side, which he had captained the two previous summers, to a 52 run victory. Perhaps, however, his biggest achievement had come in 1983, when he had led the Irish team to win the tournament.
He never made the runs which some people expected of him in senior cricket in Dublin, though his was the wicket opposing bowlers valued most. There were, of course memorable innings. He scored two centuries for Dublin University both in 1981, the season in which he captained the XI. A blistering 100* in a friendly with the Leprechauns in College Park, was followed by a superb hundred in the first round of the Cup against Carlisle. This was a remarkable innings in a remarkable match. Batting first Carlisle made 250-1 in their 60 overs with Rodney Molins hitting a dominating 140. The University replied with 245, John's share being 135. Memorable knocks for Old Belvedere, whom he led in 1984 and 1985, included 106 against Phoenix in the former season and 108 against the same opposition two years later. He also bowled to great effect, thus in 1985, when he had a disappointing time with the bat, he took 26 wickets at 14.46 with a best of 7-62 one of his three " 5 fors." He described his bowling as being that of a "friendly fiend." In Interprovincials for South Leinster he was seen at his best on several occasions. Thus against South Leinster on his home ground in 1982, he came in at 72-3 with 145 needed. Soon losing Alf Masood (44) he proceeded to 54* seeing the hosts to victory. After Alf was out there were no other double figure scores. He was utterly dominant again against the local rivals at Kimmage in 1986. Facing a useful total of 190 (Alan Lewis 68) North Leinster were on 106-4 when John came in. They won by 5 wickets with John undefeated on 56.
For Ireland, he scored 1134 runs at 25.77 with one 100 and seven 50s. The hundred remains, of course, one of the most famous innings in Irish cricket history. In a rain interrupted late August match against Warwickshire at Rathmines, with the county fielding something approaching their strongest side, Ireland found their bowling up against it with the visitors making 345-4 declared, based on an undefeated 161 - 172 minutes 10 sixes - by opener Keith Smith whose 12 season career with Warwickshire brought over 8000 first class runs. John sent down 8 overs having former England ODI wicket keeper/ batsman Geoff Humpage caught for 48. Then Ireland batted. England opening bowler Gladstone Small and overseas all rounder "Smokey" Ferreria sent back Masood, Cohen and Anderson for 42, before John came to the wicket. He proceeded to launch a devastating attack on the bowling despatching the professional attack to all corners of the ground and beyond, striking five successive fours in an Small besides launching the ball into the surrounding gardens on four occasions, and all told hitting 21 fours. " He reached three figures off 54 balls in 51 minutes, easily - at the time the fastest hundred for Ireland, eclipsing Donald Shearer's 80 minute effort against Sir Julien Cahn's XI in 1937. John's record was later to be surpassed by Peter Gillespie's 47 ball massacre of MCC at Bangor in 2005, but witnesses to both have no doubt which was the better innings. John was later to write of the knock, " There was very little thought in the whole process. It was just one of those things that comes naturally.... my feet moved without being asked, it was all instinctive. "He was eventually bowled by Small for what Derek Scott described in Wisden as having been, " the most remarkable innings ever played by an Irish batsman for his country." It did gain him an invitation to play for the County's 2nd Xi the following season, he made 37 on his only appearance.
That hundred was far from his only fine innings for Ireland. He had already peppered the Observatory Lane boundaries that season with a brilliant 70 against Wales, when he was recalled to the side having been dropped after the defeat by India two months earlier. Now the visitors reduced Ireland to 33-3 before Prior and Masood came together. Alf made 109 in 173 minutes 109, but it was John who stole the show in their 110 run partnership which came in 68 minutes before John was out for 70, having hit 4 sixes and 8 fours. With Jack Short and Enda McDermott taking the second innings batting honours and Monteith the bowling, Ireland eventually won by 49 runs. John's innings had thus been the turning point.
His best season for Ireland, however, was in 1984, when in five innings, one not out, he scored 291 runs at 72.75. Only against the all conquering West Indies did he fail to pass 50. He batted only 405 minutes with 164 of his runs coming in boundaries. He reckoned that his best innings was against Surrey in the first round of the Nat West Trophy when he made exactly 50 against a strong attack led by Sylvester Clarke, who - though not in the Test side - was probably the most difficult of that remarkable battery of Caribbean pacemen to face. HIs bouncer, delivered with an action some thought illegal, was particularly hard to counter. Yet John and Stephen Warke did so, putting on 100 for the 4th wicket. John was eventually bowled by England hopeful David Thomas. His highest score came against Scotland in a match now more remembered as the last Dermot Monteith played for Ireland. He made a belligerent 95, but John, making 87 before being caught at the wicket, was not far behind. His runs came in 85 minutes and included only 8 singles.
Strangely after that season, he made only one more half century - on the Zimbabwe tour in the early part of 1986 - otherwise experiencing a miserable time, which in the 1985 and 86 campaigns brought him only 87 runs at 9.80. The innings in Zimbabwe, however, was a memorable one against Matabeleland. His 75, described by those who saw it as, brilliant, rescued Ireland from a mixed start, and an unbroken 7th wicket stand of 90 with Garfield Harrison was to prove decisive to the outcome of the match. In the following match against Matabeleland Country Districts, John, in making 36, passed his 1000 runs for Ireland, becoming the 20th batsman - and third fastest - to do so. The Zimbabwe tour cannot be passed over without a mention of John's fielding. It was one of the outstanding features of the three weeks. In a non cap match against Zimbabwe School he held what eye witness John Elder described as "a quite breath taking catch at short leg." (The Ulster Cricketer Spring 1986.) However while praising John's fielding throughout the tour Elder refers to "one memorable miss." This came in the last match of the tour against the ZCU President's XI, virtually the full strength of the country. Up to a point Ireland did well. Put in - Mike Halliday lost every toss on the tour - they made 211 and reduced their hosts to 42/3. However at 0/1 a 19 year old batsman, who had scored 155 in the previous match, came in. He began, as he tended to do throughout a long career, rather uncertainly. At 17 he gave John what has been describes as "an easy" or "a none too difficult" chance. Either way it went down. Later he gave another chance which John held on to. The scorecard entry read
Hick went on to score another hundred in a club match on his next visit t the wicket but Ireland lost this game by an innings and 67 runs. John finished 4th in the averages for the tour but it was to be the last time he was to bat with freedom and confidence for Ireland. In 1988 he left Ireland to take up a post as business consultant for IBM in Sydney. He was still involved in cricket, coaching a school team and playing at second grade level - a very high standard of cricket. It might be said that John Andrew Prior did not achieve all that he was capable of, but he gave immense pleasure to those fortunate enough to have seen him bat. As John Elder, summing up both the man and his cricket once said, "Wonderful talent, wonderful shot player.... There aren't enough John Priors in life." (quoted in Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats."
John Prior is profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats." He also gave a long interview to the 1985 Annual of Irish Cricket Magazine. This biography is indebted to both.
Edward Liddle, October 2010
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