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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
James Robertson Wills
  • Born 2 May 1899 Killala, Co Mayo
  • Died 16 April 1949 St Saviour, Jersey
  • Educated Masonic Boys' School, Dublin, Dublin University.
  • Occupation
  • Debut 2 June 1921 v Military of Ireland at College Park, Dublin
  • Cap Number 306
  • Style Right-hand batsman, right arm fast medium
  • Teams Dublin University, Phoenix

James Wills was a good fast medium bowler, whose talents appear to have been somewhat under used by his captains on occasions, and a useful tail end batsman, who progressed slowly up the order as his career developed. Learning the game at Dublin's Masonic Boys' School, always a fine cricket nursery, but now long closed, he entered Dublin University in 1915, not long after his 16th birthday. College Park was being used for military purposes, and, it was not until 1919, when serious cricket resumed, that he made his 1st XI debut. He was to play until 1923, though he was a regular only in his middle seasons, 1920 to 1922, being captain in the last year.

The University sides of which he was a member may not have matched those of the last two pre war decades, but they were by no means weak in batting. The attack, however, while containing some outstanding bowlers, such as Basil Ward and Wentworth Allen, was sometimes rather lacking in penetration, which makes it all the more strange that James, even when a regular member of the team, was frequently ignored by his captains. Nevertheless, he did turn in some worthwhile performances.

In the League, there being no Cup competition until 1935 he had "5 fors, one in 1920, and the remainder the following season. He was also an excellent slip fieldsman, holding 44 catches in these matches and well over 50 in his full career.

He was also seen to advantage in some of the University's matches against major opposition. In 1920, Derbyshire, then the weakest team in the County Championship, played a two day match in College Park. They were defeated by 6 wickets. James' bowling was not used in the first innings when Allen and Ward bowled the visitors out for 132, but, in the second, after a stylish innings by captain Richard Power had given the hosts a useful lead, he was given a bowl. He returned figures of 9-2-18-4, to help Ward (4-40) set up a memorable victory. Later that summer Cambridge, with nine of the side that had played at Lord's, came to College Park. They left victorious by 67 runs, largely thanks to Charles Marriott's leg spin, but the first innings of each side were closely fought affairs. The hosts gained a slender lead, the Light Blues being put out for 142; James had 4/33 in 14 overs, including EL Kidd, guesting for Cambridge, whom he had captained some eight years previously. James also accounted for Norman Partridge, an all rounder who was to appear 100 times for Warwickshire and who had been selected for Gentlemen v Players while still a Malvern College schoolboy. He was refused leave to play! James ' bowling appears to have been overlooked by Power in the second innings. He was allowed only five overs, during which he took the wicket of Gilbert Ashton, a fine batsman, whose stylish stroke play never seemed to have been affected by the loss of a thumb during the War. James' other performances in such matches were not so successful.

Captain in 1922, he led his side against Essex at Brentwood, in what has been recognised as a first class fixture. He took 2-78, as his team lost by an innings. He did, however, remove the County openers, besides bowling 36 overs, 16 more than the off spinner Jacko Heaslip, who was the next most used.

In 1925 and 1926, he returned to strengthen weakened University sides for their two first class matches, against Northamptonshire, away. On the first occasion, James had some success as a batsman, scoring 28 at number 7, and adding 49 for the 7th wicket with a sandy haired, bespectacled and aesthetic looking all rounder named Samuel Beckett. James also bowled well in the county's only innings of 396. His figures of 21-3-51-2, being the best return for the visitors. His wickets were those of long serving Northants batsman, JE Timms, who scored over 20,000 first class runs, and paceman Reggie Wooster. In the visitors second innings, however, Reggie - whom it is impossible to envisage as anything but a PG Wodehouse character - extracted revenge by bowling James for a duck! It is perhaps best to gloss over the following year's match, when the University were outplayed, James had 0-80 in 13 overs as the County passed 400. Beckett with 0-47 in 15 was more economical.

These defeats decided the Club to attempt no more such matches. James played only twice for Ireland. On both occasions it could be argued that he suffered from captains not valuing his bowling highly. In College Park in June 1921, he was selected to provide the speed to back up Allen's medium pace and the off spin of Bob Lambert and fellow debutant Sam Middleton. He did not get a bowl as the visitors, the Military of Ireland were bowled out for 108, Allen taking 5-61, Lambert had a long spell for two wickets, and, at this distance, it seems rather strange that the captain, Jack Crawford, did not turn to James rather than using Middleton and George Bonass, when the conditions obviously favoured seam. With Ireland having reached 266-4, this match came to a premature and tragic conclusion, described in several other biographies on this site, so James had no further chance to demonstrate his skill with bat or ball.

In July 1922, he came into the Irish side to play Scotland at Hamilton Crescent, Glasgow, as a late replacement. Astonishingly he was the eighth bowler tried as the hosts totalled 297. Lambert possibly did not rate his bowling, nor had some other motive for delaying introducing him to the attack. The scorecard suggests that he should certainly have done so sooner. James wrapped up the tail with analyses of 4-1-5-3. He was third change in the second innings, but failed to take a wicket. However Noel Kelly, a similar type of bowler, was the sixth to be used and promptly took 5 wickets. In the end the two were together at the crease, as Ireland, with 6 wickets down fell 3 runs short in a run chase. One wonders what their feelings were about Lambert's bowling choices.