- Born 26 December 1901, Dublin
- Died 15 March 1981 Castlebar Co Mayo
- Educated Stonyhurst College, Clongowes Wood College, Dublin University
- Occupation Stockbroker
- Debut 13 July 1922 v Scotland at Hamilton Crescent, Glasgow
- Cap Number 312
- Style Right-hand batsman; right arm fast medium
- Teams Dublin University, Phoenix.
Noel Kelly was born into a strong cricket tradition. His father was Gus Kelly, Oxford and Ireland fast bowler in the early years of the twentieth century, while his uncle was Dan Comyn, ebullient opening bat for Dublin University, Phoenix and Ireland. Indeed Dan's two brothers were also more than useful at the wicket, thus increasing Noel's heritage. He was to live up to expectations, as was his younger brother Acheson, who gained two Irish caps.
Noel, in many ways, resembled his father on the cricket field. Both were tall, strongly built men, who used their physique to hit the ball hard and often. In the lower order, both were capable of changing the course of a match in a few overs. Both also delivered the ball at some speed, with a high action, though Noel lacked Gus's sheer pace. Noel began his secondary schooling at Stonyhurst on the Lancashire moors, one of the several Jesuit run schools that Gus had attended. It was then a gaunt and foreboding building and said to have been used by Conan Doyle, another of its cricketing old boys, as the model for Baskerville Hall. The outbreak of war in 1914 appears to have saved the young Noel from further possible exposure to spectral hounds and bogus naturalists; he was removed to Clongowes with its own resident, but not unfriendly, phantom.
Having, like other Irish Internationals before and after him, honed his skills on Clongowes, splendid wicket, Noel entered Dublin University in 1921 and was five years in the XI from the following summer. In all matches over those seasons, in two of which he played very little, he took 160 wickets at 12.04 and scored 1013 runs at 18.08
He was also active off the field, serving three years on the committee, besides being the Club's Treasurer and delegate to the Leinster Cricket Union in 1927.
His performances in the League were often outstanding. In 1923, he achieved what, in the short University season, might be regarded as the "double"; 264 runs at 37.71 and 23 wickets at 14.34. He had eight five wicket hauls, including a career best 9-20 v Clontarf at Castle Avenue in 1920. This was to remain the best figures for DUCC in competitive matches until future Church of Ireland clergyman, Stephen Redpath, a "clever medium pace bowler," took 10-42 v the same opponents at the same venue in 1938. Noel's highest score in League matches was 77 v Leinster at Rathmines in 1924, easily top score in a match in which the hosts followed on, but saved the match. In a two day "friendly" v Manchester University in College Park in the same season, he took 5-63 in the first innings to restrict the visitors to a 58 run lead. Then after early wickets fell, his second innings 43, helped Jacko Heaslip and Charles McCausland, a century apiece, easily to make the match safe.
However his best performance with the bat for the University was, without question, his 76* in a first class match v Essex at Brentwood in 1922. The University had followed on, and, despite an elegant 98 from AP Kelly, no relation, were seemingly doomed to go down by an innings, when Noel began to throw his bat. Together with the left arm spinner Bill King, he put on 79 for the 6th wicket, Bill making 9. Noel finished on an undefeated 76, one English paper going as far as to say that he had batted in "Jessopian" style. It still needed rain to save the match but Noel's part in the rescue was vital. He did not do as well in other matches at this level, though his 3-103 v Northamptonshire at Rushden in 1924, was easily the side's best bowling figures. His wickets included future Test umpire and England footballer FI Walden. He also joint topscored in the second innings of the Northants match in College Park in 1926, he and Tom Dixon, both making 26, Noel having reached 25 in the first innings.
Like his father and brother Noel also appeared for Phoenix at this level but not over a long period, he does feature in the lists of those who scored 500 runs and/or took 50 wickets for the Club.
For Ireland, his form might be seen as having been rather disappointing. He played six times, three as a late replacement, and scored 176 runs at 22, besides taking 14 wickets at 17.29. In his debut match, v Scotland at Hamilton Crescent in 1922, when he was one of four substitutes, he did well in the Scottish second innings returning figure of 19-5-34-5. "Kelly bowled well;" wrote Derek Scott in his match account based on contemporary reports, "and deserved his 5-34." The match finished in a draw in Ireland's favour.
However in his next match, again a draw against the same opponents at Broughty Ferry two years later, he did not get a bowl, though he, again a substitute, did passably well with the bat. His first innings 20 was second top score to Finlay Jackson's 71. Holding his place for the MCC match in College Park he was again second top score, making a first innings 37*, though the match, again, was drawn.
His best match for Ireland was his penultimate one, in which he did much to save his side from defeat. This was the game against Wales at Ormeau in 1926, best known for the Glamorgan amateur Norman Riches carrying his bat for 239* in his teams 455-8 declared in reply to Ireland's 299. This was to remain the highest individual score made against Ireland until a certain teenager named Hick made 309 for Zimbabwe at Harare in 1986. Ireland had begun badly and were 80-5 when Noel, again a late replacement, joined James Macdonald, who was on debut. Noel hit an extraordinary 22, one 6 and three 4s, which inspired the future Newtownards headmaster (95) and his club colleague wicket keeper Jack Dearden (84) to see Ireland to respectability.
Then came Riches, but there were no other big scores, largely due to Noel, who was at last given the chance to lead the attack. His figures of 38-12-22-6 shine out from otherwise rather damaged looking analyses. He then made 36, rumbustously, in the second innings, helping to save the match.
Gustavus Noel Blake Kelly became a successful stockbroker. In his last years, he retained his cricket interest and his memories were of great help to researchers, not least this writer, into his cricketing times. His Wisden obituary, which unfortunately gets the year of his death wrong, may be found in the 1983 edition.
Edward Liddle, September 2008