- Born 3 September 1842, Parkmount, Belfast
- Died 19 July 1929, Dunsinea, Castleknock, Co Dublin
- Educated Harrow School Cambridge University
- Debut 20 May 1867 v MCC at Lord's
- Cap Number 97
- Style Right hand bat, slow right arm underarm.
- Teams Na Shuler, NICC, I Zingari, Vice Regal XI, MCC
Alexander McNeile, tall - 6 foot 1 - and strongly built, was a useful tail end batsman, who, according to Scores and Biographies had, "a good style of batting." His bowling could be formidable at times, but his fielding did not match his other abilities. "He is not," said S&B, "as energetic in the field as might be wished." He normally fielded slip, but more because of lack of mobility than anticipation and safe hands. His main contribution to Irish Cricket lay elsewhere.
He was one of those responsible for the founding of Na Shuler, in imitation of I Zingari, at a dinner at Coolattin Park, Co Carlow in April 1863. NS was founded as a club for "the encouragement of cricket in Ireland." By the time it went into abeyance on the outbreak of War in 1914, it had certainly tried to live up to its aims. The fact that cricket was in somewhat of a decline in Ireland could not be laid at The Shulers door. For most, if not all of this half century, McNeale was the Secretary and prime organiser. He and his friends played cricket throughout the length and breadth of Ireland. They can be forgiven their miserably bad Irish, or linguistically weak humour, without them, and in particular without Alexander, Irish cricket might have been facing even more of an uphill struggle.
He was in the Harrow XI of 1860, along with future well known cricketers ID and RD Walker, WF Marshall and AT Daniel, but did not make the XI at Cambridge. He was, however, soon playing for NICC. In 1865 I Zingari played in Belfast for the first time and he, unusually, shone as a batsman. IZ won by 9 wickets, but John Lawrence's "Handbook of Cricket in Ireland" reported there was, "Some splendid hitting exhibited by Mr McNeile for the Belfast side in both his innings (74 and 40)."
When the new Ormeau ground was opened with a match v Na Shuler in 1866, Alexander turned out for the visitors. As a founder member, perhaps he had no option, but it seems that this was where his heart really lay. He had, however, been a member of the North XXII when they played the professionals of the All England XI in 1860. Batting half way down the order at 11, he was run out 0 in the first innings, and bowled for 1 by the scourge of many Irish batsmen, Edgar Willsher, in the second.
His main cricket interests were the IZ and Shuler Irish tours. This writer would not for one moment suggest that cricket was not the prime aim of these ventures, but there is no doubt that the social side was much enjoyed. Hotels were banned and lavish entertainment was provided in the great country houses of the rural Ireland. Nowhere was this better seen than in the annual tours in County Cork of which Alexander was a main part for over a decade. His bowling was his main suit. Cunningly lobbed deliveries lured many an unwary country batsman to his fate.
In 11 such matches between 1867 and 1876, Alexander took 55 wickets. Full analyses are not available, but team scores suggest that the cost was low. For example for NS v Lord Bandon's XVI in 1871, he had 16 wickets in the match, following 9 in the first innings with 7 in the second. It is, perhaps, better to draw a veil over his batting. In 18 completed innings, and one not out, he managed only 111 runs with a best of 23 for IZ v XVIII of Cork County in 1867. His side won but it was more due to the batting of the brilliant but notorious Captain Buller, than to McNeile.
His Irish career was limited to two matches, the first of which hardly counted. Thus was the MCC game at Lord's in 1867, when rain stopped play with Ireland on 10-0, and never allowed a resumption. He was one of 5 Irish debutants in that match, and also one of five who had played or would play for I Zingari against Ireland.
The following year the weather relented and Alexander was able to get his feet on the Lord's turf and play a part in an Irish victory, their third in four matches v MCC. Ireland owed an advantageous position, when both sides had completed an innings, to the batting of HH Montgomery, who carried his bat for 37, and the bowling of WS Hunt, who, making his only appearance for Ireland took 7-17. McNeile, who had made 9 in the first innings - by no means a negligible score in what, Montgomery apart, was a poor batting performance - now made 15, one of several small but useful scores, that enabled Ireland to leave MCC needing 130 to win. McNeale, who had taken 0-6 in the first innings, was on hand to clean up the tail with 3-15, thus helping his team to a 75 run victory.
He was also to make four appearances against Ireland, three for IZ and one for MCC. He played little significant part in the 1869 IZ match at Phoenix CC. Opening the visitors batting, he fell for 4 in the first innings, bowled by the captain George Barry, while Tom Casey accounted for him for 6 in the second. The match, which was 12-a-side, ended in a tense draw with I Zingari's last pair just holding out.
In 1871, Alexander turned out for MCC v Ireland in College Park. MCC sent a side that included two of the best professional bowlers of the day in Alfred Shaw and Frank Farrands. However the team was completed by several Irish based amateurs, including McNeile. Batting was a lottery and Shaw and Farrands were much too good for Ireland. However MCC struggled as well and, though they won by an innings and 88, had cause to be thankful to McNeile. Batting at 8, he was run out for 36, the top score of the match, with only Shaw (33), getting close.
In 1873 he was again in the IZ side, which, this time, lost to Ireland by 11 runs. This was largely due to the bowling of the Vice Regal Chaplain J Byrne. McNeile, batting at 10 in a 12 a side match made 12 in the first innings, and almost saw his side home in the second. After an early collapse, McNeile, who came in at 7, had reached 26* by the close of the second day's play: 37 were needed with 4 wickets left. Before a large crowd, he was out to the first ball of the third day, caught by John Ker Fox, who played twice for Gloucestershire, off Byrne. Two more wickets fell at the same score and, after some further resistance, Ireland won by 11 runs.
His final appearance in this series was in 1874, this time at the Vice Regal Ground. Again Ireland had a narrow victory - 15 runs - and again, IZ's defeat could not be laid at Alexander's door. In the first innings, he and the army officer William Middleton exposed Ireland's weakness against skilful slow bowling, with McNeile returning figures of 35-10-60-6, by far his best figures in major cricket. Midleton was a well-known figure in Irish Cricket during his time in the country, gaining a reputation as a somewhat rowdy practical joker. In 1892, he was killed in a point to point race when a fall from his horse broke his neck.
By a coincidence steeple chasing was also an interest of McNeile's, though how much riding he did has proved untraceable. He was, however, for some time a member of the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee.
Alexander John McNeile was six weeks short of his eighty seventh birthday at the time of his death. His biography is in Scores and Biographies Volume 6 and his obituary is in Wisden 1930.
Edward Liddle, October 2007