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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
Mark Sugden
  • Born 11 February 1902 Leek, Staffordshire
  • Died 21 January 1990 Near Dartmouth, Devon
  • Educated Denstone College, Staffordshire; Dublin University.
  • Occupation Teacher/ Lecturer
  • Debut 11 August 1923 v Wales at Cardiff Arms Park
  • Cap Number 322
  • Style Right-hand batsman, right arm fast medium
  • Teams Dublin University, Phoenix

Mark Sugden was an outstanding games player. Principally a Rugby player who gained 28 Irish caps, he was also a good batsman, whose position in the order varied more than most and a fast medium bowler, on his day, good enough to be classed as a genuine all rounder. Regrettably, his full abilities in the summer game were all too rarely seen on the cricket fields of Ireland.

Mark learned the game at his Staffordshire Public School, Denstone College. The College is, perhaps, now best known for its proximity to theme park, Alton Towers, but has a considerable cricket history, numbering not only Mark, but also such names as Lancashire and Army paceman John Deighton, who had a good record against Ireland in the 50s and England full back and Gloucestershire batsman, turned rugby commentator, Alastair Hignell, amongst its alumni. Additionally, Oxford Blue and Ireland opener Mike Ridley was Headmaster there, before being "promoted" to the Headship of RBAI. Mark was second in the batting averages in 1919, with 411 runs at 31.69, besides scoring the season's only century. He did not do so well the following summer, a wet one.

Tall and debonair, Mark was a fixture in the Dublin University XI from 1922. His form in League matches might be regarded as slightly disappointing. Too many times he was out when seemingly set, or took merely 2 or 3 wickets against weakish batting sides. True, his batting cannot have been helped by the fact that he, for no very apparent reason, vacillated up and down the order, occupying most places between 1 and 10, but rather more than two fifties might have been expected of him. One of his best all round matches was against University College Dublin in College Park in 1924. Opening the batting, he savaged a mediocre attack, before getting himself out for 40. Three of his team mates passed this score, thus the hosts were able to declare on 220-5. He then led the attack, taking his solitary "5 for" in this type of cricket, as UCD collapsed to 89 all out. In the very next match, he hit 59 v Pembroke at Sydney Parade, rain then intervening to prevent him achieving further all round feats.

Mark was also seen to some advantage in the University's matches with first class opposition. Thus against Essex at Brentwood in 1922, in what is regarded as having been a first class match, he opened the batting, making the respectable scores of 22 and 31. He was possibly unlucky that his first innings was terminated by a catch by Percy Perrin. Percy, a future Chairman of Selectors, was one of the best batsmen in England, with a highest score of 343 to his credit, but was kept out of the Test side because of his rather ponderous fielding. Perhaps, however, he was safe enough if the ball was hit straight to him, he held 293 first class catches.

Despite this success with the bat, Mark found himself down the order at 10, for the West Indies visit to College Park the following summer. He failed twice with the bat, but did creditably with the ball. His first innings 4-40, included George Challenor, the first great West Indian batsman, who scored 1566 runs on the tour at 51.86, with a highest score of 155* v Surrey, and Learie Constantine, dashing batsman, quick bowler and superb fieldsman. In the second innings, as the tourists chased 51 and won by 8 wickets, Mark had Percy Tarilton stumped by AP Kelly, who always stood up to pacemen. Tarilton was another notable scalp. Three years previously, he had become the first man to score a first class triple hundred in the Caribbean.

Mark also appeared in two first class matches v Northamptonshire at the County Ground in 1925 and 1926. Over the second it is kinder to draw a veil, but in the first match he made first innings 36 at 3, in the first innings, adding 75 for the second wicket with George McVeagh. He then took 3-98 in the County's only innings. His final representative match, apart from those played for Ireland was, strangely, for Scottish Counties v The New Zealanders in 1927. The match, a two day affair, was left drawn, but Mark was able to show his talents. In the first innings, he went in fourth wicket down, and made 29, which was second highest score to opener J Haigh's 115. After not bowling in the first innings, he took 1/14 in the tourists' brief second knock. Like the Windies, the Kiwis had not, at this stage achieved Test status, but Mark had shown his ability to compete at a high level.

Unfortunately this ability was all too rarely shown in his appearances for Ireland, though it could, with some justification be claimed, that his captains made less than full use of his talents.

He began well enough as Ireland defeated Wales, fielding a number of Glamorgan players, by an innings. Introduced somewhat late into the attack, Mark had 4-27 in 9.3 overs, sharing most of the wickets with William Pollock, who took 4-38. Mark, at 9, failed with the bat, one of the few to miss out in an Irish score of 418. He was not used much in the hosts second innings but took a further wicket, to finish with respectable debut figures of 4-44.

He was never really to be given the chance to do so again. The following season, against Scotland at Broughty Ferry, he was promoted up the order to 7, by captain Bob Lambert, but failed in both innings, falling for 0 and 2 to the medium pace of Gilbert Hole. Strangely, however he was only allowed 2 overs as the Scots, in the only innings rain allowed them, drew near the Irish total. Introduced, he was hit for 4 by tailender Charles Paterson, but then bowled him for 40, to end both the innings and a last wicket stand of 48. Perhaps he should have been tried earlier, though in fairness to Lambert, conditions do appear to have favoured spin. His bowling was also underused, again by Lambert, at Llandudno in 1925, as Ireland lost by an innings and 36 runs. Eight bowlers were used in a moderate Welsh score of 297, but Mark was given a mere 3 overs. Oddly also in this match, he batted at 10 in the first innings (6*), but was promoted to open in the second, when he was whipped out by the fast medium of Ken Raikes, on his way to a career best 7-28.

Mark's best match for Ireland, as a batsman, came the following year against Scotland, when he was one of no fewer than eight late replacements brought into the side, captained by Jim Ganly. Jim showed a Lambert like disregard for Mark's bowling, allowing him only 4 overs, as Scotland totalled 464, thanks to a marvellous innings from diminutive maestro, John Ker. This was enough to gain an innings win, but the match had started differently. Mark opening with left hander James MacDonald, made a dashing 54, putting on 85 for the first wicket with the future Newtownards Headmaster. Thereafter Ireland collapsed to 210 all out and never recovered. Most of the side, including Mark failed in the second innings. His final match, against the Scots at Aberdeen saw his bowling ignored again, this time by his old University team mate, AP Kelly. Six bowlers were used as the hosts ran up 316. True Ireland had four top class spinners in MacDonald, Jimmy Boucher, Eddie Ingram and Bobby Barnes, but between them, they sent down two fewer overs, than the opening bowlers, Tom Dixon and Arthur Douglas. Mark found himself moved again in the batting order, this time to 9. His double failure may possibly have been linked to the events described.

As mentioned above Mark was better known as a rugby player, gaining 28 Irish caps at scrum half. He had begun his University career in the centre, where he had gained two Leinster caps. He was playing at stand off for the Unversity when Harry Thrift, the all powerful manager of the University's Rugby for very many years, said to him, "You're no good at out half, Sugden. Move further in." so began a great career. He was best known for his almost outrageous version of the dummy pass which confused many opponents at all levels of the game. He has been credited with its invention. He was certainly a prime early user. Most of his Irish caps were gained with Eugene Davy as his half back partner, but he began playing inside Frank Hewitt, father of fast bowler Stanley, also of course a useful Rugby man, and Irish utility back John, himself a good batsman for Instonians in the 1950s. The opening match of Mark's career saw him score one of his three international tries, as Ireland beat France 9 - 3 at Stades Colombes.

Mark spent most of his working life as a teacher/lecturer bat RNC Dartmouth, renamed Britannia RNC during his time there. He co- authored a Rugby coaching manual in 1946, though to read it now is to imagine a different game!

When this writer was compiling the Association of Cricket Statisticians' (as it was then called) booklet on Irish Cricketers in 1980, Mark was gave valuable help in indentifying the styles of play of some of his contemporaries, which might otherwise have been lost for posterity. He was still living in the Dartmouth area at the time of his death. His obituary is in Wisden 1991, though, despite the attitude of some of his captains, he was rather more than the occasional bowler, the Almanack describes.