- Born 1825 Kiltinan Castle, Fethard, Co Tipperary
- Died 16 March 1908 Kiltinan Castle, Fethard, Co Tipperary
- Occupation Army Officer then Landowner and Justice of the Peace
- Debut 10 September 1855 v Gentlemen of England at Phoenix CC
- Cap Number 2
- Style Right hand batsman.
- Teams Co Galway, Phoenix, Kilkenny.
Robert Cooke, one of Ireland's first opening batsmen, must have been a sound player. He was in constant demand for teams across the country, and, in Ireland's early matches was an automatic selection. However in matches of which scores have been seen, he did not meet with much success. His batting average for Ireland, including a match for XXII of Ireland v The United England XI in 1860, was only 2.00 while in club games his highest recorded innings was 20. It should be born in mind, however, that he often played against high quality bowling and that the wickets were not always of a good standard.
I Zingari paid their first visit to Ireland in 1851, the main match being against Phoenix. Though the hosts bowled well to put a strong batting side out for 141, they were able to do little with the bat, going down by an innings. Chief among their tormentors was the renowned fastman HW "Lightning" Fellows, then at the height of his power as a bowler of blistering pace, on his first of several visits to Ireland. Robert, at 3, was soon in, and soon out also, Fellows bowling him for 2. In the second innings he was caught for 0, off occasional bowler Henry Vernon. Henry, a Cambridge Blue, was a good batsman, but took only four wickets in a 34 match first class career.
Only one innings a side was possible in the following year's match before rain intervened. Now playing their professional Charles Lawrence, Phoenix did rather better. So, to an extent, did Robert. He was joint second top scorer in the Club's innings, bowled by the lobs of I Zingari co founder Fred Ponsonby for 9. He did do rather better in an away match against the Liverpool Club later that season. Phoenix totalled 200 and won by an innings, largely due to a splendid all round performance by Lawrence. Robert, however, made a contribution in the first innings. Batting at No 5, he reached 18 before he was caught and bowled by William Perry, a well known club cricketer, who played twice for Lancashire the following season.
Robert's best match for Phoenix was against the United England XI in 1854, which XXII of Phoenix won by 135 runs. It has sometimes been said that the great men of the "Travelling XIs" were not always too bothered about the results of matches, provided they got their money and adequate refreshment. Be that as it may, on this occasion, their bowling remained as formidable as ever, it was their batting which failed, against Charles Lawrence, who destroyed their first innings. Phoenix began the match by being bowled out for 92. Robert at 7 was dismissed by the diminutive fast bowler, John Wisden - his great legacy to cricket and literature probably not even a gleam in his eye - for 0. Then Lawrence bowled the visitors out, allowing his club a surprising lead. Wisden and Jemmy Dean, a fast round armer, then sent the hosts' top order pavilionwards, before double figures were on the board. However Robert was then joined by Peter Doyle, the home grown Phoenix professional, and they pulled the innings out of the fire, more than trebling the score, Eventually, Robert was caught off James Grundy, a famed bowler who was to play for Ireland v MCC at Lord's in 1862, for 20. Doyle, who finished on 31*, found another useful partner in JN Coddington, who the following year would become Ireland's first ever captain, and a score of 116 was posted. A further collapse by the professionals saw Phoenix home. Robert had played a significant part in a major victory. His final recorded appearance in a major club match was for a Kilkenny XXII against I Zingari in 1866. Rain allowed him only one innings. By now batting low in the order, he was out for 8 to Henry Awkwright, a fast roundarmer of considerable ability, who a mere 33 days later, was to die in an avalanche on Mont Blanc.
He opened the batting in Ireland's first ever match - v Gentlemen of England at Phoenix - in 1855, his partner being the all rounder Arthur Samuels. His scores were 8 and 2, so he contributed little to Ireland's victory. His second innings dismissal was at the hands of WSTW Fiennes, a Cambridge Blue and one of the leading amateur bowlers of the day. He was to do no better in any of his remaining matches, failing to score in Ireland's historic first visit and win at Lord's in 1858, and, that same, having a double failure v Birkenhead Park in Lawrence's benefit match at Phoenix. He then fell to Fiennes for 0 and 2 as I Zingari swept to an innings victory the following summer.
His final match was for XXII of Ireland against the All England XI at Leinster CC's old Upper Rathmines ground in 1860. This Professional XI made no mistake about the result, winning by 7 wickets. Now at No 22 in the order he was stumped by HH Stephenson off Edgar Willsher for 1 in the first innings. Willsher was one of the best bowlers of the day, while Stephenson, who could bat, bowl and keep wicket, was a very good all rounder. He was to captain the first ever England side to Australia in 1861- 62 and later was one of the umpires in the first ever test Match in England at The Oval in 1880. In the second innings Stephenson he was caught by Tom Lockyer, perhaps the first truly great wicket keeper, but also a good pace bowlers. He caught Robert off underarm expert RC Tinley for 0, thus ending a rather inglorious international career.
Robert spent much of his life in Kiltinan Castle, an impressive building towering over the River Suir some three miles from Fethard. It still stands, a much modernised Norman structure, probably on the site of an older fortress. The site also contained a ruined 12th century church and the remains of a medieval town. Having been visited by King John, and passed through the hands of several families well known in Irish History, including the Butlers of Ormond, it is now a race horse stud, owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Robert Cooke achieved little on the cricket field in major matches, but as a member of the first ever side to represent Ireland, and the first to play at Lord's, he cannot be denied his place in our cricket history.
Edward Liddle, February 2009