- Born 24 July 1911 Belfast
- Died 24 March 1964 Belfast
- Educated Ormeau Park School, Royal Belfast Aacademical Institution, Belfast
- Occupation Professional Cricketer and Professional Footballer
- Debut 15 September 1938 v Australia at Ormeau
- Cap Number 417
- Style Right-hand bat, occasional right arm leg break Bowler and reserve wicket keeper
- Teams NICC, Surrey
Tom McMurray, was an all round sportsman, of the type which today's busy programmes do not allow. Besides his cricket - which was always his first love - he was a very good footballer, having made his name, as - in the terminology of the game - an inside forward with Linfield. Several seasons in the Football League followed, with Tranmere Rovers, Millwall and Rochdale. As a cricketer standing 5 feet 2 inches, he was like others of his size, primarily a back foot player, scoring many of his runs by cuts, pulls and hooks. He was a brilliant outfielder, besides being a capable wicket keeper. He could also turn his arm over, but was usually ignored by his captains.
Joining the Surrey staff in 1932, the summer after his first season in the Football League, he made his first class debut the following year against Northamptonshire at The Oval. There were no amateurs in the side so Jack Hobbs, at 51 retired from Test Cricket, but still, sometimes turning out for Surrey, was in charge. He must have been impressed by Tom's debut 42* at No 7, followed by a second innings 23. Even against a team as bereft of class bowlers as Northants at that time, it was a worthwhile performance. Unfortunately it was never quite maintained. The County's batting was strong, the Oval wickets as benign in the 1930s as they were to be diabolical in the 1950s, and a young man to break through, had to seize every chance. That Tom did not succeed in doing. He played 33 first class matches for Surrey over six years, totalling 892 runs, with an average of 18.58. He hit four fifties, twice reaching 62. The first occasion was in his debut season, also against Northants, this time at Northampton in a drawn match. Opening the batting, he made the top score, sharing in a 3rd wicket stand of 58 with the fierce driving amateur Spencer Block, like Tom an all round games player, being a Hockey Blue and well known Rugby three quarter.
Tom made two 50s in the 1936 season including a second innings 62 in a heavy scoring draw v Hampshire at Dean Park, Bournemouth. Top scoring again, after a first knock failure, he put on 80 for the third wicket with all rounder Stan Squires, to enable Surrey to declare at 227-5, but there was no time to force a result. Watching the match, from the pavilion where he bombarded the players with every imaginable question about techniques and state of the wicket, was a young policeman, they all knew as Les. He never missed a Hampshire home match, volunteering for night duties and other unpleasant tasks in order to do so. Whether Tom was one of Les' victims in this occasion, is unrecorded, but it's highly likely as few escaped. Les later left the police and, joining the BBC as a poetry producer used his third given name instead. It was John and his surname was Arlott.
Tom was more often seen in the Second XI where his performances were much better, but lacked the consistency to suggest that he was really a first team player. Between 1932, when he played only two matches and 1948, when he made his solitary post war appearance, he played in 62 Minor County Championship games, scoring 2935 runs at 34.94. He hit nine hundreds and an equal number of 50s. Generally opening the batting, but sometimes at 3, he had a highest score of 133* v Devon at The Oval in 1937. His batting helped Surrey to the runners up spot in the Minor Counties Championship in both 1934 and 1937, before they won the title in 1939, but also contained a number of runs of low scores. Thus in 1934, he began the season in some style, opening with Gerald Moby, who usually kept wicket and was later a first class umpire, and had hundreds in his second and third matches. Then he lost form, dropped down the order to 7, and managed only 349 runs in the season. He also played for the Seconds in some "friendlies" with Middlesex Seconds. In one such match, in May 1934, before he ran out of runs he made 104, after a first innings duck. He played with a number of cricketers who would later be of great importance to Surrey. Thus, towards the end of the 1930s, he dropped down to 3 in the order to accommodate a young opener called Eric Bedser, meanwhile Alec was picking up wickets at first change. Stuart Sturbridge, captain of the great Surrey sides of the 1950s also played, while future England keeper Arthur McIntyre was in as a batsman and leg spinner. There were also future stars to play against, bowlers who took Tom's wicket included soon to be Test spinners Doug Wright and Jack Young.
In August of that year, however, Tom had become, as far as this writer has been able to ascertain, the first Ulster born player to take the field in a test match. It happened thus. Then Final Test of that series was a timeless one with England and Australia standing at one each, England having won at Lord's, for - at the time of writing - the last time and Australia at Trent Bridge. At The Oval, the visitors ran up 701, (Bradman 244, Ponsford 266), then bowled England out for 321, but then did not enforce the follow on. England had suffered two crucial mishaps, both due to back problems. Leslie Ames the wicket keeper could not continue, being forced to retire hurt on 33 because of the trouble which was to force him to give up the gloves altogether in 1939. Bill Bowes, the Yorkshire fast bowler who, with 4-166 had been England's best bowler, had strained his back, and left the field, during his 36 overs. Surrey provided the two substitutes, regular first team opener Bob Gregory and Tom.
Gregory was also a League footballer, playing for Norwich City and Fulham so both England's substitutes were known for their footballing skills. In the actual XI Hammond (Bristol Rovers) and Ames(Gillingham and Clapton Orient) had also been players of some skill. In Colm Murphy's "Long Shadows By De Banks", it is stated that Tom, who was to coach Cork County after the War, kept wicket. This is not the case. Such an action was, and still is forbidden by the Laws of Cricket. It has sometimes been waived but the Australians, still, bent on revenge for the Bodyline fracas, would never have allowed it. Wisden and the various tour books, to say nothing of Bill Frindall's "Wisden Book of Test Cricket," all make it clear that Frank Woolley, who had been recalled to the side aged 47, kept wicket. He allowed 37 byes and 8 leg byes in Australia's carefree second innings of 327, Bradman making a mere 77. Bowes did return to bowl 11 overs, but England lost by 562 runs.
Tom did, however, excel in the field. Jack Hobbs - now in the Press box with his "ghost" praised a smart catch off a no ball and his near runout of Bradman when The Don was only on 9, but Percy Fender, former Surrey captain and England all rounder went much further. In his book Kissing The Rod he wrote of Tom that "there can be few better fielders in the whole of England than he showed himself to be that afternoon. Fender also wrote that Tom "won round after round of applause for his work." Incidentally the last survivor of the match, Australian opener Bill Brown, who with scores of 10 and 1 was the only Aussie to miss out during the game, died a month to the day before this piece was written.
Tom made one appearance for Ireland, no doubt he would have made many more had he been available. Opening the batting against the 1938 Australians in a one day match at Ormeau where they came at the end of their tour, he failed being caught for 6 by short leg specialist and opening bat Jack Fingleton, who was later to become one of the best of all Australian cricket writers, off the medium pace of batsman Stan McCabe who was leading the side as Bradman had been injured in the Final Test, having come on to bowl as England moved towards 903-7 declared (Hutton 364). Ireland had bowled their visitors out for 145, thanks to the spinners James McDonald and Eddie Ingram, but only two batsmen got into double figures in their reply! Thus Tom, who did not play in the two day game at College Park which followed, was not alone in his failure. However he just missed playing with his brother Fred who was capped the following year."
After the War, Tom coached at Cork County between 1948 and 1951, though in 1949, he also began his long stint on the list of Minor County umpires. In 1951, he took up an appointment at Campbell College, Belfast, where he took PT and was also the major cricket coach. He remained in this post until his final illness. He was much appreciated and gained a high reputation. This writer remembers scoring a match in which his (the writer's) school were visiting Campbell in 1960. At tea Tom was talking excitedly about his wicket keeper/batsman who was not playing in the match that day as he was on Ulster Schools' duty. "He's the best young batsman of his age I've ever seen," was Tom's judgement. Unfortunately for Irish Cricket, this tyro, though he played with some success for NICC, preferred Rugby. His name was Mchael Gibson!
While working at Campbell, Tom remained a Minor County umpire, spending all his summer holidays officiating. He was clearly well rated as he was chosen to umpire the Minor Counties XI matches v South Africa in 1955 and Australia in 1961. Had he not devoted half his summers to his school work, he would surely have made the first class list.
Edward Liddle, March 2019