Just a handful of cricketers produced in this country could have played the game at Test level; Jimmy Boucher, who died aged 85 on Christmas Day 1995, was one of them.

In an international career that stretched from 2929 to 1954, he played 60 times for Ireland, taking 307 wickets, a record only recently bested by Dermott Monteith. His bowling was unique. His stock ball was a big off-break, delivered from a 15 yard jinking run-up at a pace not much short of medium. He was gifted with a hand 'like a bunch of bananas', according to his successor as Irish Cricket Union honorary secretary, Derek Scott, and bowled with an exaggerated tweak of those extraordinary fingers.

Jimmy Boucher
His real magic, however, was in his mastery of accuracy and flight - the late dipping ball deceived hundreds of batsmen, and he picked up most of his wickets from catches at short leg. He often bowled with three men posted there! No matter the conditions or circumstances, he would never open the bowling, preferring to wait until the shine was off the ball. He was always an attacking bowler, believing negative play was not part of the game.

He made his senior debut at the age of 14 for Civil Service, before joining the neighbouring club, Phoenix, in 1927. He was still at school in Belvedere College when he was first capped two years later. His Leinster senior league records are unlikely ever to be beaten: in 405 matches he took 1,303 wickets at 11.48 (only two others - barely - passed a thousand), he took five wickets in an innings 124 times, including nine-for twice against Merrion, and five hat-tricks. The statistics are legion; a handful will have to suffice to illustrate his achievements.

  • In the first four matches of the 1943 season he took 27 for 72 (5-15, 6-7, 7-17, 9-33 including the hat trick). Strangely, he didn't top the bowling averages that year, but he did do so on 10 other occasions.
  • As a batsman ('the best number eight in the world', he used to say) he was no slouch, scoring 7,545 runs at 20.55 (four centuries, 31 fifties) in club cricket (topping the provincial averages in 1939), and 1,500 runs for Ireland.
  • He won eight cup medals, five league medals and five trophies as leading all-rounder.
  • Back in the days when Ireland played more first-class games than they currently do, Boucher topped the English first-class averages in Wisden on three occasions: 1931, 1937 and cricket's epochal summer of 1948, when he took 5-34 and 6-34 v Scotland, and 7-91 v MCC to average less than nine.

Many touring sides fell foul of Boucher, and lived to spread his fame. He won the respect of some of the giants of the age, men like Herbert Sutcliffe, Wally Hammond, the Nawab of Pataudi and Stan McCabe. For Ireland, one of his finest hours was at College Park in 1937, when he ran through the New Zealanders, taking 7-13 as the touring side collapsed to 64 all out. Sadly, Ireland fared even worse, and totals of 79 and 30 saw the game finish in one day. He clean bowled four Indian batsmen in taking 6-30 in 1936.

In 1947, a strong South African batting side were humbled in a 'fill-in' match arranged when the original fixture ended with an Irish defeat in two days. In his historical work Cricket in Ireland, Pat Hone described how the tourists 'had almost as much difficulty in dealing with Boucher's off breaks as the Irishmen had had with those of (Athol) Rowan the day before. In a truly fine spell of 18 overs, Boucher had seven of them out for 39 runs.'

Opportunities for Irish lads to try-out for counties were non-existent in those days, but all knowledgeable observers who saw him bowl say there is no question that he would have had a long and successful county career in England, and would certainly have played test cricket. At his peak he was acknowledged as one of the three best spinners in the world, alongside Johnny Clay and Tom Goddard.

His influence on cricket in this country for almost half a century was immense. He assumed the position of honorary secretary of the ICU in 1954, a post he held for 20 years, and acted as a selector of the national team from 1963 to 1976. The respect in which he was held was invaluable in helping Ireland forge links abroad. He was an annual guest of former England batsman Bob Wyatt at the Edgbaston test match.

He held 'firm views' on the game and how it was played and he was dismayed at the spread of overs cricket. But he was a gracious man, an excellent speechmaker and dedicated administrator. He was a great friend of Dr Billy Ritchie of Downpatrick, and the pair ruled the Irish selection committee for many years.

He learned the game at Belvedere alongside his great friend and fellow international Eddie 'Chicken' Ingram, under the tutelage of Fr O'Connor and Albert Knight of Leicestershire. On leaving school in 1929, he joined the ESB as a clerk, where he worked until retirement in 1973. He lived with his mother (his father was killed in the Dardanelles in 1915) and one of his two sisters, Kathleen and Josie (who predeceased him), on the North Circular Road, close to the Phoenix Park. Every evening after work he strolled up to the Phoenix ground, where he took a full part in all club activities, with an especial interest in wicket preparation.

The Phoenix side of which he was part was a particularly strong one, with the link he had helped establish between the club and Belvedere producing players like the Quinn brothers. He put a lot back into the club, and the game as a whole, after he stopped playing in 1964 when a back complaint became too much to bear.

After his retirement, he spent winters in Spain, but always returned to Dublin for the cricket season. He liked to travel, especially to France, but his main interests were sporting, being a member of Royal Dublin and a keen supporter of Old Belvedere rugby club.

The journalist and broadcaster Henry Kelly was among those who benefited from Boucher's coaching while at Belvedere College. He wrote about those days in an article in The Sunday Tribune in 1990:

"One fine evening at our school ground just outside Dublin, Boucher had assembled a squad of aspirant youths, myself included. He had undertaken to coach us until we dropped or got it right. Some were in their late teens; others in their early 20s. At one stage he looked around and enquired where one of our number was.

'Oh, sir', came a reply, 'it's his stag night this evening. He's getting married on Saturday.' Jimmy's eyes widened. He stopped short, silent, amazed. Eventually, he spluttered: 'What? In the middle of the cricket season?'"

The game of cricket, to which he gave so much in a long and active life, was everything to Jimmy Boucher.