- Born 31 March 1912
- Died 1 December 1996
- Occupation Civil Servant
- Debut 20 June 1936 v Scotland at Raeburn Place, Edinburgh
- Cap Number 421
- Style Right-hand bat, right arm medium pace
- Teams Donacloney, Woodvale.
Harry Armstrong a very accurate bowler, whose pace has been described as having been "brisker rather than slow." A tall and strongly built man, he has been compared to Alec Bedser and Maurice Tate in style, though he did not deliver the ball at anything like their speed. He thus appeared from the ringside, to be "innocuous enough." However facing him in the middle was another matter. He had no special grip and made the ball move only slightly, his hall mark was his immaculate control of length and direction. Batsmen never knew whether to play back or forward to him, neither option seemed to result in the striker being quite "there."
Harry had already made himself a reputation as a very good bowler for Donacloney before he joined Woodvale in 1937. It was, however at Ballygomartin Road that his career really took off. For twenty seasons he was one of the most effective bowlers in NCU cricket. Not only did his own methods bring him hatfuls of wickets, batsmen sometimes getting themselves out by swinging wildly at yet another immaculately placed delivery through sheer frustration, but he also took many wickets for other bowlers. Just as Frank Tyson and Fred Trueman owed some of their Test wickets to the unrelenting accuracy of Brian Statham at the other end causing batsmen to take undue liberties with them, so bowlers such as Woodvale's speed merchant Charlie Billingsley, undoubtedly owed much of their success to bowling in tandem with Harry, who was wont to seal up one end in lengthy or unchanged spells every Saturday afternoon.
A look at Harry's record in the NCU Challenge Cup Final shows his worth as both a run saving and attacking force. The 1939 match v North Down was a low scoring affair resulting in a Woodvale innings and 4 runs victory. The Comber side had a formidable batting line up including the inevitable Willie Andrews and the Macdonald brothers. Harry bowled his opponents out for 68 and 81, his first innings figures being 16 - 9 - 17 - 7. In the second innings he was "more expensive." 18 - - 4 - 35 - 5. Ten years later he led the way in a 10 wicket victory over Waringstown with match figures of 50 - 22 - 66 - 9. Another remarkable performance came in the 1952 Final v Armagh captained by his cousin Lloyd Armstrong, one of Ireland's leading all rounders at the time. Harry had figures of 5-26 and 4-83 to bowl Armagh to defeat, though the Armstrong bowling gene was shown by Lloyd as well, with 7-76 and 4-53! We might also take note of Harry's season's performance in 1949, a long hot summer when, bowling on batsman's pitches was no easy matter particularly for a 37 year old who took few rests from his work. His overall figures for that year were 505 - 161 - 807 - 91 - 8.68.
He played only twice for Ireland. Having gained his place on the 1939 tour of England he was hampered by a pulled leg muscle - the only time such an injury bothered him - and, of course, had no chance to stake a claim for a place the following season. He was still, as we have seen, bowling as well as ever when the storm clouds rolled away, but by then, the Irish selectors had decided to base their attack on spin, it being not unusual for Ireland to go into a match with three from the spinning quartet of Jimmy Boucher, Sonny Hool, Jack Bowden and John Hill, to say nothing of Eddie Ingram, a none time leggie, now bowling medium pace. This form of attack unfortunately left no room for Harry. His debut had come in the first of two matches against Sir Julien Cahn's XI. Cahn a cricketing millionaire with, unlike some of equal wealth, a genuine affection for the game, ran his own side awash with players of Test or near Test class.
In this match he was well served by the expatriate Australian Jack Walsh, who had 10 wickets in the match, including Harry's twice. Ireland, after leading on the first innings, went down by four wickets, having little answer to Walsh's Chinaman and googly. Harry had 0-33 in the first innings and did not bowl in the second. He also played in the MCC match at Lord's which ended in a draw. He again failed with the bat making 1 to add to his 1 and 2 at Nottingham. He did however take his only two wickets for Ireland. In MCC's first innings he disposed of No 4 batsman Frank Wilkinson, Cambridge billiards Blue, whose one first class match was for Minor Counties that season. He had to leave the field injured after bowling eight overs and was unable to bat. In the second innings, Harry disposed of Middlesex and future Glamorgan all rounder Len Muncer to finish with match figures of 2-82.
As we have seen Henry Hugh Armstrong continued to ply his trade for Woodvale until the late 1950s. The Woodvale Club's History to which this study is much indebted suggests that, "If they play cricket in heaven", Harry would be in the Grim Reaper's XI. If that is the case, perhaps batsmen pondering an eternity of being frustrated by Harry's unerring length and accuracy, might wish to join in the prayer of the late Arthur Marshall, humourist, writer and broadcaster, "Oh God, if there is cricket in heaven, let there also be rain."
Edward Liddle, May 2009