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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
William Cecil Pemberton
  • Born 15 November 1898 Dublin
  • Died 25 December 1978 Dublin
  • Educated Christ Church Cathedral Grammar School
  • Occupation
  • Debut 21 June 1923 v Scotland at Rathmines
  • Cap Number 317
  • Style Right-hand bat; left arm fast medium.
  • Teams Civil Service, Clontarf, Leinster

Cecil Pemberton was, for a period in the 1920s, one of the best opening bowlers in Leinster - if not all Irish - cricket. Delivering the ball left arm, at some pace, he was able not only to run the ball across a right hander's body, thus compelling catches to the wicket keeper or slips, but also to bowl the ball that swung back into the batsman, showing him to be a very good bowler indeed. Unfortunately, he was unable to repeat his club form on his four appearances for Ireland, though it could be argued, that a more consistent selection policy might have given him the opportunity to do so.

He was born in Dublin, the third son, and fifth of seven children, of Benjamin Pemberton, a manager of a musical instrument warehouse, and his wife Rosannah. Cecil was educated at Christ Church Grammar School, which suggests that, perhaps benefiting from Benjamin's occupation, he added musical ability to his other accomplishments, as to have a place at the school, it was necessary to be a chorister.

The coming of war may have impeded his development as a cricketer, but by 1921 he had made his debut for Civil Service and embarked on a long a career, which finally ended 29 years later, though he played little in the last 10, with a small matter of 575 wickets at 14.84. It has been suggested that he never bowled better than in his four seasons with Civil Service. Together with JM Sweeney, he did most of the bowling, capturing 166 wickets at just over 11 apiece, including seventeen "5 fors."

In 1923, they bowled Service to their best ever second place in the Leinster Senior League, taking almost 90% of the wickets, Cecil's share being 58 at 10.22. His best figures came against Clontarf early in the season when he had 7-33 to bowl the Northsiders out for 93. Unfortunately - and at the end of the season crucially - the Service batting failed and they lost by 15 runs. The following season Service slipped down the table but Cecil had career best 68 wickets at 10.14. No other bowler in Leinster cricket took more wickets. He was also the leading fieldsman in Leinster that summer, with 13 catches. Very quick on his feet, fittingly so for a table tennis international, he was an excellent slip, and - like many others - a reliable taker of caught and bowled chances.

At the end of the season, Civil Service were riven by an internal dispute the details of which have not come down to us. It resulted in Cecil, Sweeney and his brother, as well as gloveman Fred Buxton all leaving the club. Sweeney appears to have left his bowling boots in the Park, for he was never the same again and Buxton, whenever he returned to play against his former team-mates, always refused to enter the pavilion, even to change,

Cecil was not quite so successful either, though he took 266 wickets in 94 matches at 12.08. Only in one season, his first at Castle Avenue, did he pass the 40 wicket mark. His twenty one "5 fors" included a career best 8-48 in a convincing win over a strong Dublin University batting side in 1926. He removed both Jim Pigot and George McVeagh, who were the only double figure scorers, as well as John Lawrence, a stone walling opener and grandson of the publisher of the "Handbook of Cricket in Ireland" and a certain Samuel Beckett, then, or so his contemporaries thought, interested in little more than cricket and rugby. Sam was out first ball, which possibly helped persuade him to turn his attentions elsewhere.

Clontarf won the League that year, but did not do so again while Cecil was with them. He was captain in 1929 - Buxton having been in 1927 - but in 1935 left the club and joined Leinster for whom he was to play until 1940. This was one of the most successful periods in the Rathmines club's history. They won the League three times, the Cup once, and were defeated finalists in the latter competition on two further occasions. Cecil played a major part in these successes, taking 144 wickets in 70 matches with a further 14 five wicket hauls. He left Leinster, aged 42, in 1940, but ten years later made a final, though unspectacular appearance for Clontarf.

As already mentioned his performances for the national side did not match his heroics for his three clubs. He failed to take a wicket on debut v Scotland at Rathmines in 1923, with "Wee John " Kerr making a magnificent 172*. Ireland had to follow on in pursuit of the visitors' 372, but - in both of their innings - owed much to Cecil's undaunted batting prowess. In the first innings, he helped keep the deficit in bounds by contributing 17 towards a last wicket stand of 26 with Bob Lambert. Bob, in a more restrained mood than usual, finished on 36*. In Ireland's second knock, they were staring down the barrel of a heavy defeat when, Cecil, still one above the roller, joined his fellow debutant, elegant left hander Harold Jackson. They put on 61 for the last wicket in quick time, with Cecil finally out for 31, outscoring the Ulster player, who finished on 61*. Cecil did not get a bowl in the second innings as the Scots, needing 93, stumbled their way to 53-6.

He was not picked for Ireland again until the Wales match at Ormeau in 1926 where he made little impact. This resulted in his being left out for a further two years until he returned against the Scots at Raeburn Place in 1928. Another tense draw resulted with Cecil taking five wickets in the match, including his international career best of 3-40, sharing the new ball with Tom Dixon. His wickets however came in the middle order. Scotland began a fourth innings run chase needing 357. With Kerr making the inevitable hundred they were well on course until Cecil had he stumped by AP Kelly. Kelly has often been denigrated as wicket keeper but this must have been a fine piece of glovework, as standing up to Cecil cannot have been plain sailing. It was also the crucial wicket, though eventually, the Scots last pair survived 40 minutes to end, their wickets intact, 55 runs short of their target. Cecil's final match for Ireland came later in the season against MCC at College Park. He bowled only in the first innings and failed to take a wicket.