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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
Gustavus William Francis Blake Kelly
  • Born 2 April 1877, Dublin
  • Died 16 August 1951, Dundermott, Ballymoe, Co Roscommon
  • Educated Clongowes Wood College; Stonyhurst College, Lancashire; The Oratory School, Berkshire.
  • Occupation High Sherriff for Co Roscommon
  • Debut 9 August 1895 v Surrey at The Oval
  • Cap Number 229
  • Style Right-hand bat, right arm fast.
  • Teams Phoenix, Na Shuler, Co Galway, Oxford University, MCC.

Gus Kelly was a tall and strongly built fast bowler, who used his height to extract lift and bounce from most types of wicket. He was also an uncomplicated batsman, using his reach to drive powerfully. He could be a formidable hitter when set. His schooling could be best described as varied. He was briefly at Clongowes, then a centre of cricket strength. He was then a pupil at The Oratory School, near Reading in the Thames Valley. Here most of his schooldays were spent, though he afterwards preferred to describe his school as having been Stonyhurst, where he was briefly after his sojourn at The Oratory. This was described in 'Beaumont v Oratory 1867 - 1925' by 'Ignotus' as, "a somewhat Quixotic gesture."

Be that as it may, Gus was a key member of the Oratory XI in his latter years at the school, never more so than in the Beaumont match of July 1895. Strangely, this game was played at the Christ Church College Ground, Oxford. To reach this neutral venue both sides, whose schools were some dozen miles apart, needed to travel around four times that distance. On this occasion, Beaumont included three Meldon brothers, Philip, who was 21 years old, James, who never played for Ireland but was a good, solid upper order batsman, and William, or 'Budge' who was to play several games for Warwickshire. Against Philip's very slow, but often lethal leg spin, and William's pace, Oratory posted 230. 'Ignotus' reported that "GWF Kelly hit very hard for 45 not out." He was batting at 8 so his innings, the second top score, was crucial to raising a good total. He then took 4-41, though he came in for some rough treatment from Philip Meldon (47) and James (35). Gus could justly have claimed to have been,' Man of the Match.'

Gus made his debut for Ireland at the end of that summer, joining the side styled JM Meldon's Gentlemen of Ireland XI. It was quite a strong side and might well have beaten the Surrey side - basically a Second XI - put out against it, had Kelly been given a bowl in the second innings. As it was he bowled 3 overs in the first innings accounting for VFS Crawford, caught by Jack Hynes for 45, but was not put on in the second as Surrey well short of their target, finished on 130-8. Perhaps he should have been as a burst of pace might have been decisive. Crawford was probably the best Surrey batsman in the match.

Brother of the famous JN Crawford, he scored almost 12000 first class runs. He was also a useful pace bowler. He and Gus seem to have had a private single wicket contest in this match, for not only did Gus dismiss Crawford, but the Surrey man accounted for him twice. The next match v WH Laverton's XI at Westbury, might have been expected to produce a host of runs. However rain intervened with the home side on 82-0, with Lucius Gwynn and Bob Lambert having sent down all but one of the overs bowled. Finally the tourists took on a very weak side styled The Gentlemen of the MCC at Lord's. Ireland won by an innings with Gus not getting on as Lambert and Harrington did most of the bowling, Gwynn chipping in with two early wickets. Jack Meldon had not lacked encouragement from his captains when, only 7 years previously, he had been a teenage Irish cap.

It does seem, admittedly, at over a century's distance, that he might have been more helpful to his young paceman. Entering Lincoln College Oxford in 1898, Gus was awarded his blue playing against Cambridge in 1901 and the following year, the first player from a Catholic Public School, whichever he chose to identify with, to gain a Cricket Blue at either of the two Universities. He also found time to represent Oxford on the golf course and to take part in the Inter Varsity athletics sports in 1900 and 1901, winning the long jump in the former year.

For Oxford it appears that his bowling was somewhat under used. It was not unusual for him to bowl only a few overs in an innings, or to go unused altogether. Yet he had some good bowling performances as well as making useful runs with the bat. Thus on his first class debut v Surrey at The Parks in 1901, he contributed 22 and 52 at 9, falling to a slip catch by master batsman Bobby Abel off the great, but by then declining, paceman Tom Richardson. His 2-61, included Surrey keeper Fred Stedman with whom he was later to appear in the same Irish side. A good all round performance followed in the next match v Somerset, even though the county emerged victorious. Gus took 5-32 in 12.5 overs, his best bowling for the University, and his best figures in first class cricket, including the valued wicket of Lionel Palairet, seen by some as the most stylish bat of all time. He removed the stylist again in the second knock, besides making a vigorous 20 in his first innings and 14 in the second. In the University match of that year he did little, failing to take a wicket, though afforded somewhat limited opportunities to do so, and being unable to reproduce his free hitting form.

His 1902 captain CHB Marsham seems to have had even less confidence in Gus's bowling, than his predecessor FP Knox. Wisden commented on the lack of strength of the University's attack, though praising its variety. It does appear that Kelly was underused as, when given an extended bowl, he often produced good figures. Thus v MCC at Lord's, he took 4-56, removing numbers 3, 4, 5 and 6 in the order, including top batsmen in BJT Bosanquet, KJ Key and the Australian all rounder Albert Trott. Only the openers WG and Lord Hawke, who carried his bat for a well made hundred, eluded him among the top order. In the second innings, as the match petered out into a draw he had 2-15, this time claiming his Lordship. As a batsman he had several good innings that season, including 46* v Surrey who, included Richardson and his famous partner Lockwood, and 43 v Ireland, for whom the periodical 'Cricket' thought he should have been playing. Against the Australians he made 32 in the second innings, besides taking the wicket of Warwick Armstrong. He was also to the fore against Cambridge, though failing again with the bat. He took 3-19 and 2-51 which, though unable to prevent a Light Blue victory, were much better figures than those of the other fast bowler - often given preference - Adolph Von Ernsthausen, a skilful chess player, destined to change his name to Howeson in 1914.

Gus had resumed his Irish career in 1901, in the disputed match v South Africa, when Ireland took the field with 8 Phoenix men, including Kelly, two DUCC who were also Phoenix members, and Bill Harrington. The other Dublin clubs had withdrawn their players in protest against Phoenix assuming the right to organise the match The one Northerner asked, Oscar Andrews, also stood down. The visitors were also touring under something of a cloud. With the Second Boer War at its height, there were some who thought that the cricketers should have been at home fighting for Queen and Country. One or two good players were unavailable because they were reluctant guests of Her Majesty, having been fighting for what they saw as their country. The South African cricket authorities claimed that it was a private tour that he could not stop. Ireland lost the match, which was closely fought over the first innings with Gus, at 8 making a typically robust 30. Allowed only one over in the visitor first innings he took 2-8. Yet another captain, Frank Browning, seemingly lacked faith in him.

As we have seen there were those who thought that he should have been in Sir Timothy O'Brien's Irish side on its inaugural first class tour of England in 1902. Though Ireland did well enough and the bowling of Tom Ross and Bill Harrington was greatly admired, Gus would have certainly added variety to the attack and provided some pace bowling support for Bob Adair, whose role in the party never seemed clear. From 1903, however, Gus was never out of the side when available, being badly missed on the American tour of 1909, when the only pace was provided by the Army surgeon Joseph Lynch, who was somewhat short of practice at this level. His best match for Ireland was the I Zingari game of 1906. This was a 12 a side fixture, thus it will not be found in his statistics on this site.

It was in many ways a historic game. It was the last visit of IZ to Ireland, and, also the last match played at the Vice Regal Ground, which, having been out of use for some years was specially reopened for the occasion. Unsurprisingly, the wicket was rather unpredictable and helpful to a bowler of height and pace. IZ had a very weak side, the best player being an Indian Army officer, home on leave, JG Greig, who scored heavily in many different classes of cricket in the sub continent. After his retirement, he became a Catholic priest, a role he combined with being Secretary of Hampshire. Gus had an excellent match. In the first innings he came in at 12, raised the 200 with two 6s, then proceeded to take his score to 40, out of a last wicket stand of 48, with Robin Fox-Goodman, playing his only match for Ireland, who could make little of the bowling. Gus then took 4-56 to give Ireland a useful lead. He was promoted to 8 in the second innings, and made an aggressive 36 in a stand of 44. "The I Zingari second innings was a procession," as Derek Scott's match report states. Bowling unchanged with Bob Lambert, something he was to do against sterner opposition four years later, Gus had figures of 13.3-2-23-8. It was, indeed 'Kelly's match'

His other performances were somewhat less dramatic, but two are worthy of special mention. In 1908, Yorkshire brought a strong side to College Park, and duly won by ten wickets. However Ireland dismissed them for 202 in the first innings, largely due to Gus (4-62) causing a middle order collapse. Unfortunately Ireland collapsed badly in return, Gus being out first ball. Undaunted, in the second innings he forced the visitors to bat again, striking a brisk 28, including a huge 6 over long on off Wilfred Rhodes.

His best first class match, as a bowler, for Ireland. was v Scotland at College Park in 1910. This match is most remembered for remarkable spin bowling by Bob Lambert and the visiting leg spinner John Bruce - Lockhart. However Lambert's success would not have been possible without Gus. In the first innings he blew away the Scots' top order taking two wickets in the first over, including the captain Leslie Balfour-Melville, known as the 'WG of Scotland', first ball. He bowled 20 overs off the reel to take 5-42. In the second innings, after Tom Ross had hit Ireland out of trouble, Gus and Lambert bowled unchanged to take Ireland to a 208 run victory, Gus's figures being 11-6-18-3.

In 1900, he married Eily Mary Comyn, whose brother Dan was a splendid opening bat for Dublin University, Phoenix and Ireland, and whose biography may also be found on this site. They had two sons Noel and Acheson both of whom played with distinction for Dublin University and Ireland. Gus, who was a Justice of the Peace and High Sherriff for Co Roscommon, did resume cricket after the War, playing some matches for Phoenix in the newly formed Leinster Senior League. However as Noel explained in a letter to Bill Harrington who wanted all three to play in one of the many matches he raised teams for, he did not like to be away from home while there was unrest in the country. "I expect," the letter finished, "Daddy will play again when the country has settled down." However by the time it had, he was in his late 40s, and he was not seen again in serious cricket.

His obituary is in Wisden 1953. He is also profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald 'Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats.'