- Born 17 May 1948 Londonderry
- Educated Londonderry Technical College
- Occupation Hotelier
- Debut 20 July 1966 v Middlesex at Ormeau
- Cap Number 507
- Style Right-hand bat, right arm fast medium.
- Teams Brigade
Roy Torrens, tall and powerfully built, bowled distinctly on the sharp side of fast medium. Probably the best pace bowler from the North West, at least until the arrival of Boyd Rankin, he used his height and strength to make his stock ball, slightly short of a length, just outside off stump, lift awkwardly. "Speed and movement through the air and off the pitch are his most obvious strengths," pronounced the NWCU West Indies 1975 Tour Brochure. Always a difficult bowler to face, he was, on a wicket which gave him the slightest help, a very difficult proposition. Many batsmen departed caught in the gulley, the ball having gloved them.
In Interprovincial and Irish matches, he was sometimes further supported by Ossie Colhoun standing up to him. This would spur the big paceman to greater efforts, once causing Dermot Monteith to "walk" to a leg side stumping.
He began for Brigade in 1964, a sixteen year old, joining his batsman brother Ross in the side. Two more siblings were to play for the Club. Roy's bowling was one of the main reasons for Brigade reaching seven NWCU Cup finals during his time, as well as taking three league titles. He was often a prominent player in the Finals. Thus in 1972, at Beechgrove, he bowled his team to an innings victory over Ardmore with 4-28 in the first innings, then causing an utter rout in the second, as with 6-13, he sent the foe pavilionwards for a meagre 35. He shone also in defeat. For example, he was man of the match in the 1984 Final, which saw Sion Mills narrowly victorious. Batting first, the Villagers were put out for 97. Roy clean bowled the dangerous West Indian pro Mark Harper for 4 and his great rival Tommy Harper, whom he was known to send from the field with a roar of," On your bike Harper", for 14 to finish with 6-36 ! A very fine effort," as Billy Platt wrote in his Sion Mills History. However Brigade also collapsed and, despite Roy taking 5-64 in the second innings, faced a victory target of 158. They failed by 25 runs though Roy easily top scored with 40.
At club level he was also a dangerous and effective batsman, his height and strength serving him well. "He is" wrote the North West CU West Indies Tour Brochure, "a batsman who likes to hit the ball hard, though perhaps a little more restraint would bring him more runs in the end." His most famous knock was his legendary 177 in an hour in a midweek match at Myroe in 1973. When he was dismissed, the scoreboard showed 190 - 5 - 177! He was no mere 20 over slogger however, as three tons in the League showed, though all employed robust methods. Thus in 1977 he made a 90 minute 154 against Limavady, while the Eglinton (109 in 1980) and St Johnston (100 in 1983) bowlers also felt the weight of the big man's bat. The Co Donegal side were, in fact amongst his favourite opponents. He once had figures of 9-40 against them. The students of the University of Ulster, in a Faughan Valley Cup Match, provided him with a remarkable hat trick to the first three balls of the match.
He was also to the fore in the Guinness Cup from its outset in 1966. He played 48 matches over an 18 year period taking 94 wickets at 18.50 taking a leading role in their winning the tournament in its opening season. He toured the West Indies in 1975 with an NWCU side. They had an enjoyable but tough tour, winning three of their matches. The first of these was over the Guyanan League side Paragon, who shot their visitors out for 95, However Roy found his best form to take 4-20 and give the visitors a 28 run victory.
Roy played 30 times for Ireland over an 18 year period taking 77 wickets at 25.66. As he was most certainly the fastest bowler available, when in his heyday, and always remained a formidable figure with the ball, he should have appeared many more times. There are, however, several reasons why he did not. Firstly, he had rivals. Apart from Alec O'Riordan, who as a left armer was probably never really in competition, there was Malahide medium pacer Dougie Goodwin, John Elder, Simon Corlett, and, potentially the fastest of all Peter O'Reilly of Old Belvedere, never to fulfil his promise. Roy also disliked playing Sunday cricket out of deference to his parents' wishes and was somewhat injury prone. For example a back injury prevented him from bowling at top pace for most of the 1978 season. He also was said to put club loyalty at a premium. In 1983. in the squad for two matches with Worcestershire at Rathmines in June, he asked to be allowed to play for Brigade, whom he captained that season in a cup match, the day before the first game. He was refused so left the squad. He was, as he recalled in an Irish Cricket Annual interview over 20 years later, suspended for the rest of the season. Corlett, O'Reilly and Garfield Harrison shared the new ball for the remaining matches. Finally, as Roy himself pointed out, Ireland only played four or five matches a season for much of his career. He turned out 11 times on the American tour of 1973, but only once in a cap match.
He began for Ireland against Middlesex, captained by Fred Titmus, in 1966. He was one of four debutants in this match at Ormeau. Like him the other three were all to play a large part in Irish Cricket, Ivan Anderson, "Ginger" O'Brien and the evergreen David Pigot, thirty seven years young at the time! According to Dermot Monteith, Roy turned up with his boots in a brown paper parcel! The County won comfortably, by an innings, but Roy was far from disgraced. With 4-77, he was Ireland's best bowler removing Test players Eric Russell and Titmus as well as Russell's opening partner MJ Smith, who, in 1972 got as far as the England XII before being left out on the morning of an Ashes Test.
Roy found the going hard at first, but was counselled by Ossie Colhoun, "Concentrate. You're not playing Ardmore now". His two best matches were against Scotland. In 1974, at Ayr, he played a leading part in Ireland winning away in this fixture for the first time since 1948. It was a low scoring match, but Roy after Ireland had been dismissed for 107, bowled unchanged to return figures of 20.2-4-40-7, putting the hosts out for 91. Wisden reported that "Torrens... never allowed the Scots to settle as he hustled them through their first innings." In the second innings the spinners took over with Monteith and Anderson taking five apiece to bring about a 52 run victory.
In 1981, Roy, having returned to the side after a three year absence aged 33, ran through the Scots again. Rain ruined this Castle Avenue fixture preventing any play on the first afternoon. Roy however routed the Scots, "bowling superbly for his six for 42," according to Wisden. In early July Ireland had played Middlesex at Rathmines in preparation for their Nat West match with Gloucestershire. Roy, opening the bowling had 1-27 in his 12 overs, removing former England left hander Graham Barlow courtesy of a "Ginger" O'Brien slip catch, besides greatly impressing Barlow's opening partner Mike Brearley, who, according to Monteith, came close to offering Roy a Middlesex contract. In all Roy took 14 wickets for Ireland that summer at 29.64.
He always regarded playing at Lord's as the highlight of his career, "I was lucky enough to play there twice .It's something that stays with you forever... I thought to myself - Bradman, Sobers, Hutton, Compton, Richards, and now Roy Torrens." (Irish Cricket Annual 2006). However his last match for Ireland, though against MCC, was at Ormeau, thus finishing where it had all begun. He took four wickets on his swansong. His final victim, his only second innings success in a rather tame draw best remembered for Monteith passing Jimmy Boucher's tally of 307 wickets, was that of opener Craig Sergeant, who had gained 12 Australian caps during the Packer dispute. It was no bad way for Roy to end his career.
Off the field Roy was renowned for his sense of humour and for being good company. This reputation remains intact despite his present august status! Stories about him abound, many featuring Colhoun with whom he performed a much enjoyed double act. Two, not involving Ossie, may be related here, though they refer to on field incidents. In the Surrey match at the Oval in 1981, the Irish team were much annoyed by the New Zealander Geoff Howarth, whose special form of sledging was, from a very close short leg, to decry the batsmen at the wicket, complaining loudly at having to play in what he saw as a pointless match. Mike Halliday, captaining Ireland, decided that quick runs were needed and instructed his batsmen thus. When Roy went in, he swung wildly at his first ball, and his bat flew out of his hand, in the direction of the square leg umpire, almost decapitating the abrasive Kiwi en route. "Skipper told me to throw the bat," explained Roy. It silenced Howarth, causing him to retreat.
To this day none of Roy's team-mates know whether or not it was deliberate. When Surrey batted Roy found his bowling savaged by Alan Butcher, a fine left handed opener, though he only played one Test for England. Roy stopped at the end of his run and shouted to Halliday to, "put Jacko on the deep extra cover boundary." "Jacko" was wicket keeper Peter Jackson. "He's not doing any good where he is," the paceman explained.
Before considering his second career as a selector and administrator, it is time to look briefly at Roy Torrens the footballer. He was, in old fashioned parlance, a centre half; a big, bustling central defender, terror of centre and inside forwards who were unwise enough to challenge him. He played for Derry City and Ballymena United before becoming, briefly, player manager of the junior side Institute FC. He won seven Northern Caps at Youth International Level and three full amateur caps, one leading a team which included future managerial legend Martin O'Neill. However the pull of cricket and the problems of Derry football in "The Troubles" caused him to drop out of the game.
He also dropped out of cricket in the mid eighties as he worked hard to build up his guest house business in Portrush. His sporadic comebacks revealed "Big Roy" as only a shadow of his former self. Then he was offered the far from easy post of Chairman of the NWCU selection panel. He accepted and soon proved himself not only a fine judge of a player, but also, to the surprise of some, an excellent committee man. When a vacancy occurred for the NW selector the Irish panel he seemed a natural choice. In 2000 he became President of the ICU succeeding his old skipper and great friend Dermot Monteith. Roy, of course proved hugely popular in the role, having, "a very successful year," in the words of ICU Hon Secretary John Wright's Annual Report. In 2004 he became Manager of Team Ireland.
In the Irish Cricket Annual 2006 he was happy to describe himself as "Poacher turned Gamekeeper." I know all the tricks of the trade... I suppose that makes me ideally qualified to look after them." Leaving the guest house in the care of his daughter and son-in-law, he has travelled the cricket world, being particularly impressive at the World Cup. Here he also added a new string to his bow by making several appearances on Test Match Special, sometimes, forming a double act with Colin Croft, another giant fast bowler. CMJ, Aggers and the gang seemed to take some time to get used to Roy but audience reaction showed that he was much appreciated. With a new producer TMS is set to offer opportunities to a new set of commentators and summarisers and to have a less "Old Boy" sound to it. Perhaps a fresh challenge awaits.
Roy was awarded the OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List in 2009 for his services to cricket. Torrens said of his award, "It's a great thrill and honour for not only me personally, but also Irish cricket. I'd like to thank them for putting up with me all these years! I can honestly say I've enjoyed every minute of it. It's been a quite remarkable journey."
Robert Torrens is deservedly profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats". He is also accorded a special section in Clarence Hiles A History of Senior Cricket in Ulster.
Edward Liddle, Originally March 2008 - updated June 2009