- Born 26 December 1891 St Helen's, Lancashire
- Died 4 May 1972, Belfast
- Occupation Iron Moulder (1911 Census).
- Debut 13 July 1922 v Scotland at Hamilton Crescent, Glasgow
- Cap Number 311
- Style Right hand bat; wicket keeper.
- Teams North Down; Lancashire 2nd XI
John (Jack) Dearden's family came from St Helen's in Lancashire where his father had been an iron moulder to Belfast, while Jack was still a boy. John Dearden senior, resumed work as an iron moulder, Jack following him into the trade. However there was also time for cricket, Jack and his brother Harry, two years his junior, both developing their game quickly. Jack was to prove to be an outstandingly good wicket keeper, while his brother also played senior cricket "behind the stumps."
While Jack was recognised as the best gloveman in Ulster throughout the 1920s, he was, in the opinion of many, also the best keeper in the whole country during this period. The selectors, however tended to go for the superior batting ability of AP Kelly, who, though no makeweight behind the stumps, was not in the same class as the North Down man. As it was, Jack, by far from a poor batsman himself, had to be content with four Irish caps, and being a key part of the great North Down side which dominated NCU cricket for so long. Under the captaincy of Willie Andrews, the Comber side won the NCU Challenge Cup in 1913 and then brought it back to The Green on a further nine occasions between the wars besides being defeated finalists on four occasions. They also won four League titles during this period. While the batting of - for example - Albert Anderson, the Macdonald brothers and Andrews himself, had much to do with their triumphs, success would not have been achieved without their hostile out cricket of which Jack's keeping was very much an essential part.
He also played his part with the bat in these matches. The 1913 Final, the first in which he played is generally remembered for the hundreds made by Andrews and Anderson as North Down piled up 423 in the first innings against Waringstown. However the centurions were at 6 and 7 in the order. The upper order had also contributed well, none more so than Jack, who had softened the attack with a hard hitting 30, which included five 4s of which the last four were in succession. He made several other useful contributions, for example 25 and 32 in the 1926 Final against Holywood when he gave sound support to James Macdonald who hit 80 and 52 as well as taking seven wickets in the match. Harry was keeping wicket for Holywood, which he had done since just before the War. A low scoring tussle with Armagh at Ormeau in 1932 saw North Down emerge victorious by 5 wickets, despite a fine all round performance form Bobby Barnes for the losers. The Co Down side owed much to their slender first innings lead of 16, James Macdonald top scored with 28, Jack was next with a crucial, hard fought 18.
He was a regular member of the Ulster XI in interprovincial matches throughout the 1920s, though his debut in 1920 v Leinster cannot have been an altogether pleasant experience for him. Released from work, but unpaid, he attempted to receive a loss of earnings compensation from the NCU. This was refused on the grounds that to pay him would make him a professional. Almost 90 years later the reasoning seems faulty somewhere! In 1923 he played for Ulster in a two day match against the touring West Indians on their last non Test tour. The match was a closely fought two day affair in which Ulster challenged for victory but, in the end, just held out for a draw.
Jack did little with the bat, well down the order he was yorked by paceman George John in each innings. However he kept immaculately as usual, making three second innings dismissals. One of these was a stumping when he accounted for the leading all rounder CR "Snuffy" Browne off the bowling of Wallace Sproule for the innings highest score of 35. This was fine piece of wicket keeping, as Sproule, though not as fast as he had been in his pre war days, was still on the distinctly brisk side of medium, and Jack was taking him standing up.
The previous season he had not only won selection for Ireland, but had also represented his native Lancashire's Second XI in the Minor Counties Roses Match against Yorkshire Seconds at Old Trafford. Playing under the captaincy of the legendary batsman Johnny Tyldsley, he scored 13 in his only innings and made one stumping. This disposed of Arthur Booth, a slow left armer who spent most of his career in the shadow of Hedley Verity, but after the Test man's tragic death in 1944, was to emerge in 1946, aged 44, to bowl Yorkshire to another Championship.
Jack's Irish debut came against Scotland at Hamilton Crescent in 1922. The team, chosen by the Leinster selectors was in its original form, somewhat bizarre, as it included no less than three wicket keepers. Jack, presumably designated to do the job, was joined by Kelly and Sep Lambert, both picked for their batting alone. However they later withdrew, so Jack was left in unchallenged command behind the stumps. The match ended in a draw with Jack batting at 9 being lbw to medium pacer William Walker without scoring. His appears to have had a rather mixed match with the gloves. Scotland batted first and were bowled out for 297, to which Mr Extras contributed a handy 28 of which no fewer than 25 were byes. However in the hosts' second innings Jack only conceded two byes and stumped opening bat Alexander Angus, a Scottish rugby cap, for 29 off the medium pace of "Wenty" Allen, never an easy bowler to take, particularly standing up.
His next two matches were both played in 1924 as a substitute for Kelly. Against Wales at Ormeau, Ireland were soundly beaten by 9 wickets. Jack contributed 0 and 0* with the bat, going in "one above the roller", but did better with the gloves. Again standing up to a bowler of some pace, he stumped FE Philpot off John Harris of Lisburn, better known as a Northern Ireland footballer, but his more distinguished victim was Dai Davies caught from the off spin of "Jacko" Heaslip. Dai, one of Glamorgan's leading cricketers in their formative years, became a well known umpire. He always denied the story that when one of his lbw decisions in the 1948 season gave Glamorgan victory over Hampshire and won them the Championship, he said, "Out and we've won!" He showed his courage and skill as an umpire by giving Len Hutton out obstructing the field in the Oval Test of 1951, a controversial but correct decision.
Kelly also dropped out of the side for the MCC match at Ormeau later in the summer. This was probably a sensible decision as the game was ruined by rain with play impossible on the first day. Jack had little impact on a tame draw.
His last international came against Wales in 1926. Again the game was at Ormeau, though this time he was an original selection. This was a high scoring draw which Ireland were rather fortunate to survive. It is best remembered for the double century by the visiting captain NVM Riches, but James Macdonald and - surprisingly to most onlookers Jack - also played memorable innings. Ireland won the toss but began badly, losing six wickets cheaply before the two North Down men came together in a 7th wicket stand of 136. Macdonald on debut made a stylish 95, which was to remain his highest score for Ireland though he equalled it on his finale. Jack started uncertainly, though he gave no chances. His stroke play then blossomed with late cuts and hits to leg the main features of his innings. Ireland finished on 299. Their second innings was a matter of playing out time. This they did, being all out shortly before the close. Jack, however, was run out for 0, all his 84 runs for Ireland being made in that single innings.
John Dearden did not play for his adopted country again. During the 1930s, he lost his primacy among Ulster keepers to George Crothers of Lisburn. However he continued, immaculate as ever, behind the stumps at The Green throughout the decade. He deserves to be remembered as one of Ireland's best wicket keepers, a man unlucky not to have gained several more caps.
Edward Liddle, November 2009