- Born 22 November 1965 Banbridge, Co Down
- Educated Banbridge Academy
- Occupation Despatch Clerk, Polypipe
- Debut 11 June 1968 v MCC at The Meadow, Downpatrick
- Cap Number 565
- Style Right hand bat, right arm medium pace
- Teams Millpark, Waringstown
Alan Nelson was a medium pacer of remarkable accuracy. Tall and strongly built, a fall away in his action at the point of delivery deprived him of genuine pace and meant that he tended to tie top batsman down by his phenomenal line and length rather than dismiss them. However in so doing he often provided wickets for less accurate team-mates at the other end, who removed opponents who unwisely relaxed against them, relieved to have escaped from Alan's clutches. Alan was, it must be said, a very good bowler indeed as his record at club, interprovincial and national level shows.
It was most unfortunate that, when he was still in his prime, injury forced his retirement from the international scene. He was also, it should be remembered, a rather better tail end batsman than many gave him credit for being. An uncomplicated style at the wicket often brought vital runs, particularly at club level.
Alan developed his game at Banbridge Academy, always a good cricket school, having first been educated at Gilford Primary School. He and his younger brother Noel were to prove rather better and more successful cricketers than the village's unlikely Test player, Emile McMaster whose sole first class match was a Test in South Africa in 1888/89. He was out first ball on his only visit to the crease.
Alan first came to the notice of a wider cricket public in the U19 Interprovincial Tournament of 1984, when he was instrumental in bringing about Ulster Country's only win of the season, by taking 4-36 against a strong North Leinster batting line up. His club career, meanwhile had begun with junior side Millpark, but it was not long before he moved to The Lawn to be part of yet another run of success for Waringstown. During his time in 1st XI he helped them to six NCU Challenge Cups, lifting the trophy as captain on the final occasion in 1995. He also saw them carry off the Senior League title five times as outright winners and once as a shared triumph. They also won the Irish Senior Cup in 1992, a memorable season in which Waringstown achieved the treble.
Cup Finals did not produce devastating spells of bowling from Alan, but his accuracy was often the rock on which the opposition foundered. Thus while his best bowling statistically was a parsimonious 12-5-9-2 in the NICC first innings of the 1992 NCU Final, there were several similar performances at this level. We may note the Irish Senior Cup Final of 1992 against Sion Mills at Rathmines, hardly a home match for either side. Waringstown batted first but could manage only 171-5 in face of tight bowling from the North West side. However Sion also struggled, eventually being dismissed for 122, Alan with 7.2-1-13-2 being accuracy personified and preventing any late charge by the lower order.
That season, in fact, he headed the NCU averages, carrying off the Hool Cup with 45 wickets at 9.16 with a best bowling return of 5-17. He was second in the averages the following year with 42 at 11.95, including a best performance of 7-11.
He was a regular in the Ulster Country XI for most of his senior career. Again scorecards reveal useful wickets and outstanding accuracy. For example his analysis is against Ulster Town in 1991 are well worth recording, even though he went wicketless on this occasion. Town piled up 279 with an undefeated century from Adrian Semple showing the way. Supported by Stephen Warke, he would have taken the total well past 300 had it not been for Alan, who, naggingly on target as usual, had figures of 10-5-15-0. His best return at this level came in his penultimate match, once more against Ulster Town, at The Green in 1993. Town's fancied batting line up foundered as Alan produced the remarkable analysis of 21-13-14-6.
The first of Alan's 44 matches for Ireland came against MCC at Downpatrick in 1988. That first season he was the most successful bowler, prompting Derek Scot to note in Wisden that, "Nelson was a find. He is tall and bowls straight. His fourteen wickets in six games (average 24.64) topped the bowlers' list." His four wickets v MCC included the second innings dismissal of Gehan Mendis of Sussex and Lancashire, a fine opening batsman who was to finish his first class career four years later with over 21000 runs and 41 hundreds to his credit.
Alan was the best bowler in an innings defeat at the hands of Scotland at the new venue of Dumfries in late August. The Scots reached an impressive 396, but though Alan reached the type of century all bowlers wish to avoid his 4 wickets in 32 overs of immaculate length and direction prevented the hosts piling up an even larger total. He also shone with the bat, his 22, out of a last wicket partnership of 32 with Mike Halliday, helping Ireland to post 168 in their first innings. Hardly a challenging total, but added to a 9th wicket stand of 61 gave the visitors' reply an aura of respectability. It was to remain his highest score for Ireland.
He had two further fine spells of bowling the following season. In a Nat West Trophy first round match at Derby, he and Alan Jeffrey reduced the county to 85-7 with accurate attacking bowling. Unfortunately a dropped catch allowed the hosts to escape to 145 all out which provided a platform for former Danish paceman Ole Mortensen to destroy the Irish batting. Alan's figures of 12-2-19-2 by no means flattered him.
In the next match, the then annual three dayer with Scotland, he produced what were to remain his best bowling figures for Ireland with a first innings return of 21-2-27-5 to dismiss the Scots for 261. Wisden considered that he had been underused. In the end as Ireland, chasing 205, lost eight wickets while still short of their target, his batting was needed as he helped Mike Halliday play out the last few overs.
He was on target again against the "auld enemy" the following season when his second innings 4-30 including Nos 1, 2 and 3 in the order was a major contribution to what proved to be an unexpected Irish victory. Always effective against Wales, he also had two good matches against Worcestershire when the county came to Castle Avenue in June 1990. In the first match, reduced to 34 overs a side by rain, he threatened to upset the New Road script by, having come on second change, taking the wickets of solid opener Martin Weston for 25 and wicket keeper/batsman Steve Rhodes for 5, then disposing of Damien d'Oliviera, son of the great Basil, for 0.
However this brought a certain GA Hick to the wicket, who proceeded neither for the first nor last time to destroy the Irish bowling in, an even for him, innings of remarkable power and authority. Alan finished on 3-67, but - more economical than several of his team-mates, had shown he had the ability to compete at this level. The following day, with Hick absent, the county reached 304 in their only innings but Alan with 4-87 was again the leading wicket taker.
It was typical of Alan that, when injury finally forced him out of first international and then senior cricket, he should return to his roots and play again for Millpark. He was joined by Noel and also by Davy Dennison, as they raised the club's status, seeing promotion within the NCU Leagues - regrettably only temporary - and a remarkable Junior Cup Final with Bangor Seconds in 1999 which finished in a tie.
With maiden century of 118* in 2003, Alan also notched the right kind of hundred for the Club, not the type he had achieved against Scotland. He has also had the pleasure of watching the development of his son Lee. A regular member of the Waringstown side, Lee has played for various Irish age group sides and it will, surely, not be too long before he becomes the third member of his family to gain a full international cap.
Some critics believe that lack of real pace prevented Alan Norris Nelson from being ranked among Ireland's truly great bowlers. However his team-mates, as well as journalists and spectators, never had any doubts as to his value to any side he played for.
Alan Nelson is profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats."
Edward Liddle, September 2011