- Born 25 June 1973 Banbridge, Co Down
- Educated Banbridge Academy; Queen's University, Belfast
- Occupation Schoolteacher
- Debut 5 June 1998 v Bangladesh at The Lawn, Waringstown
- Cap Number 616
- Style Left hand batsman, right arm medium
- Teams Donacloney, Waringstown, Instonians
Neil Carson was a stylish upper order batsman, fluent on the off side, who usually the innings and a more than useful medium pacer, who could often be relied on to pick up vital wickets at the crucial stage of a match. He established his reputation while still at Banbridge Academy, not only in schools' cricket but for the Donacloney club, with which he had a strong family connection. First appearing for one of the club's teams in 1984, he still ranks the Graham Cup (U15) Final of 1988 as his most memorable match for them. That summer also saw him score a century for the NCU XI in the U 15 Interprovincial Tournament - 106 in a fine match against a strong Leinster side - thus playing a major part in a 24 runs victory. Three years later, he was in both the Ireland U 19 side in the International Youth Tournament held in Winnipeg early in July and the Irish School team which played Wales at Sophia Gardens later in the month.
Ironically, his best performances in Canada came in the matches Ireland lost. Thus against Bermuda, he stroked his way to a highly praised 74*, adding 114 for the 3rd wicket with David Cooke, as Ireland reached 238-4 off their allocated overs. Unfortunately the Bermudans also found the wicket to their liking and won by 6 wickets. Neil, who was No 4 in the batting order, had also done well against a strong England U 18 team, which - as well as a number of players who were to make their names in county cricket - included Richard Kettleborough, then a promising slow left armer, now a top umpire. Neil made 34, second top score to Dara Armstrong's 35, but Ireland- who, besides Neil included five others destined to become full internationals - still went down by 4 wickets.
The match at the future SWALEC stadium ended in a draw in Ireland's favour. Batting first Ireland totalled 264-6 before declaring. Neil, again at 4, making a careful 49 off 135 balls with two 4s. He put on 69 for the 3rd wicket with RBAI batsman Graham Russell, before Neil was unfortunately run out. Graham went on to reach an undefeated century. Wales declared their first innings 29 runs behind and this time round, Neil did make his half century, 58 with four 4s. It was the highest of three 50s with Jason Molins and Stewart Taylor also passing the half century mark. Needing almost 300 to win after the game's third declaration, Wales finished on 196-5.
His successes at age group level continued for the U 21 side. Though a student at Queen's, he played for the national side against the Irish Universities in both 1993 and 94 in College Park, as well as representing the Universities in the British Universities tournament. In the former year, the batting of Johnny Byrne, Gordon Cooke and Neil Doak did not leave him much time to show his skills at No 5, but he turned in a possibly match turning second innings spell as the Universities chased 180 in an hour plus 20 overs. As the Irish Cricket Annual reported, "At 121 for four defeat seemed impossible but the introduction of Neil Carson changed things dramatically." In a 9 over spell he had 5-33 - including Jason Molins and Paddy Hopkirk, topscorer in both innings, in his haul - to leave the Universities' last pair just holding out on 145-9. The following season saw another draw with Neil shining with the bat. Winning the toss the U21s batted first and knocked up 206-5, Neil leading the way with 62 off 111 balls, including eight 4s in a 126 minutes stay. In a lively opening stand he and Gus Joyce put on 142 for the first wicket. The Universities having declared three runs behind, Neil was again in excellent form. Batting for 2 hours 20 minutes and hitting nine 4s, he faced 126 balls before being run out for 116. His runs came out of 187 made while he was at the wicket. After another declaration, the Universities finished just short in their run chase.
In the 1994 Universities tournament, he - in common with most of his team-mates - found the going tough. However he had a good innings of 30* against English Universities North, putting on an unbroken 76 for the second wicket with Joyce before rain washed out the rest of the match. In Ireland's penultimate game - against London University - he was introduced late into the attack as London attempted to chase down a target of 205. In a spell not unlike that in College Park the previous year, he took 3-29 in nine overs, but London just scraped home by 2 wickets. Perhaps he should have been introduced earlier.
In both summers he was a member of the U 21 sides which toured England. In the Midlands in 1993, he batted well in the first two matches both against the Midlands Club Cricket Conference who put two entirely different teams into the field. In the first match, at Studley CC, Neil topscored with 41 as Ireland went down by 63 runs facing a total of 210. Gus Joyce again helped him see the innings off to a good start, but thereafter things fell away. Ireland forced a draw the following day at Kenilworth, Neil making 20 as Shane O'Connor, the future New Zealand Test bowler took 7-33 with his fast left arm. Neil Doak and Peter Gillespie saw the side to safety. O'Connor was to take 53 wickets in 19 Tests between 1997 and 2000.
As we have already seen, Neil's club career began with Donacloney. Among several noteworthy performances we may cite one in the NCU Challenge Cup. In 1990, Cloney possibly surprised even themselves by reaching the Semi Finals. Here they were heavily defeated by Lurgan, or it might be more accurate to say by Subash Kshirsagar, the former India U 19 opener scoring a brilliant 117. Neil led the reply, topscoring with 39 but his side suffered a 159 runs defeat.
Two seasons later, however, he was with Waringstown, for whom he was to have a career record 2489 runs at 23.93. His highest score - and sole hundred for the Villagers in NCU senior cricket - came against Lurgan in at The Lawn 1997. Hitting eight 4s and two 6s, he reached 111. However his most productive season was 1994, when he aggregated 545 runs at 34.60 and took 31 wickets at 17.48. His highest score was in the First Round of the Cup against Dunmurry who had been bowled out for 153, thanks to 3-18 from Garfield Harrison. Neil then led the run chase being, as Clarence Hiles put it, "in terrific form." He finished, undefeated, on 88 as he saw his side cruise home by 7 wickets. His best bowling 7-27 was achieved against eventual league winners Downpatrick.
In 1999, the year after making his international debut, Neil joined Instonians, as he was on the staff of RBAI . That first season he took 20 wickets at 18.55 while his best season with the bat was to come in 2003 when he made 440 runs at 25.8 in NCU competitive matches. He was a model of consistency that year, for his highest score - and sole half century - was 50 made in an 18 runs win over Lurgan at Shaw's Bridge. He formed a good opening partnership with wicket keeper John Stevenson and they rarely failed to see the side off to a sound start. They were also in form in an a rain affected Irish Senior Cup match against Railway Union at Park Avenue. With the match reduced to 38 overs a side, Neil and John led the way with a partnership of 120, Neil making 71. Inst posted 205-2 but then ran into an inform Kenny Carroll whose 68* saw the hosts to a 4 wickets victory.
Many would claim, with some justification, that Neil's best innings for "The Old Boys" came in an Irish Senior Cup Third Round match against Fox Lodge in 1999. Batting first Instonians piled up a formidable 303-6. Neil, batting superbly through the innings, was utterly dominant with an undefeated 141. A passage to the Quarter finals seemed assured but a counter attack by Fox Lodge saw a notable win for the North Westerners. However there was no forgetting the excellence of Neil's stroke play.
Increasing responsibilities away from the cricket field meant that his appearances for Instonians became somewhat spasmodic after the middle of the first decade of the new century, having already in 2003 announced his retirement from representative cricket. He did not play for Instonians at senior level after 2007 but in 2010 made a return to the Factory Field. He was one of the outstanding players of the season. In good batting form throughout, he averaged nearly 40 after joining the side in early June,. Starting with two 50s he had a highest score of 75 against Cooke Collegians and in general, played a key part in the carrying off of the Section 2 title.
His chances to impress at interprovincial level had been somewhat limited. When he first appeared in the competition, he tended to be placed low in the Ulster Country batting order and be hardly used as a bowler either. By the time his true worth was realised the tournament had been truncated so his opportunities remained limited. However two matches stand out. In May 1998 at Greenisland, he topscored as the North posted 269-8. Neil, made 81 being well supported by Derek Heasley (60) and Stephen Smyth (56.) The South were then dismissed for 207 despite a good innings of 76 from Ted Williamson. The following season, in a changed format, an NCU XI travelled south to play Munster at the Mardyke. Neil had a fine all round match, playing a leading part in the victory. Opening with Andrew White, he saw 84 posted for the first wicket, himself making exactly a half century before being out. When Munster batted his 3-30, including the important wicket of Williamson, helped ensure victory.
Neil's Irish debut came against Bangladesh, appropriately at The Lawn, in 1998. The visitors, not at that stage a Test side, ran up a useful 229, but Neil, opening the Innings with Kyle McCallan, was in top form when Ireland batted. Ian Callender reported that "Carson showed some fine strokes through the off side and displayed good composure." The partnership realised 74 runs and set Ireland on the road to a 4 wickets victory. Neil and Kyle were also in form for Ireland Provinces against the tourists at Malahide, putting on 79 for the first wicket, Neil finishing with 65. However the rest of the batting - with the exception of Ed undefeated on 39 was unable to capitalise on the good start and the match was lost by 6 wickets.
Neil was also seen to good advantage in the European Championships in the Netherlands. Against Scotland he put on 61 for the first wicket with Jason Molins but the match was lost by 20 runs. The Scots were the opposition again in the third place play off and Neil was once more in good form. He opened with McCallan once more but soon lost his partner for 1. However he then joined Stephen Smyth in putting on 98 for the 2nd wicket in 24 overs, making 40and causing Callender to write, "Carson refused to be upstaged by Smyth (and) proved that his debut 50 was no fluke."
In September, Neil was part of the Northern Ireland side which took part in the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur. Against the full South African side he topscored with an undefeated 21 as NI struggled to 89-5 in 38 rain affected overs. South Africa won chasing a revised target. NI's triumph in the tournament was the heavy defeat of Bangladesh. Here Neil played his part. His 21 at the top of the order, ended by future Test slow left armer Mohammed Rafique, helped set his side on the road to a challenging total which proved far too much for the Tigers. T he following summer was to be Neil's last in the Irish side. He had one notable innings against Northumberland at Jesmond. This was a historic match as it produced Ireland's first win in the Gillette Cup/Nat West Trophy at the 20th attempt. The hosts batted first and made a useful 253. Ireland got off to a good start with Neil and McCallan both showing their range of strokes in putting on 103 for the first wicket. However Kyle then lost his wicket to a sweep and though Neil then added another 47 with Smyth, Ireland fell away when he was out for 58 at 150-2. Eventually though Ed Joyce and the captain Angus Dunlop made certain of a win by a 5 wickets margin. Unfortunately this match was almost the last occasion on which Neil was to show his true form with the bat for Ireland.
Having failed in the Nat West matches with Essex County Board and Leicestershire - he was not alone in this instance - he made 23 in the Triple Crown Match with Scotland and - at the end of the season - 24 in the first innings of the first class match against the same opposition, a game remembered for a brilliant, match winning 112 from Alex Dunlop. Neil finished the season with 129 runs at 12.50, giving him a career record for Ireland of 351 runs at 17.55.
Neil David Carson may not have realised his full potential when on international duty. However the innings he played against Bangladesh and Northumberland, for example, showed that he had the ability to succeed at this level, while innings such as that for Instonians in the Irish Senior Cup against Fox Lodge and his achievements for Donacloney after almost three years out of serious cricket, are further indications of his undoubted class. He will long be remembered by those who played with him or saw him play.
Edward Liddle, February 2012