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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
John Fleming
  • Born circa 1880 Downpatrick, Co Down
  • Educated Royal Belfast Academical Institution
  • Occupation Businessman
  • Debut 9 August 1926 v MCC at Ormeau
  • Cap Number 348
  • Style Right-hand bat; left arm fast medium
  • Teams Downpatrick, Strabane

Jack Fleming, a no nonsense batsman in the lower middle order, was a very good left arm fast medium bowler and a key member of the Downpatrick attack for well into four decades. Bowling round the wicket - as was the fashion for most of his type at the time - he could swing the ball into and away from the batsman, as well as making it move off the wicket. Having developed his craft at "Inst", he returned to his native Downpatrick and from 1896 was to prove an outstanding acquisition for the Strangford Road Club.

Two of his greatest performances came when, taking scant notice of advancing years, he was well past his 40th year. On both occasions the recipients of his special treatment were Holywood, still a good batting side, even though they had been weakened, more than most, by changes brought about by war. In the Senior League in 1922, Jack bowled them to defeat single handed with figures of 10-19 while the following year in Downpatrick's first ever Cup Final, he was unquestionably man of the match, even though such an award was not then in vogue. He captained his inexperienced side against opponents who had won the trophy in 1905 after a tense struggle with North Down. They now batted first and were bowled out for 76 with Jack taking 7-39, sweeping his way through the order. However the drama was far from over as Jack now was involved as the middle man in a hat trick by R Barklie of Holywood. Downpatrick still totalled 201 which proved enough for an innings victory as Jack (5-55) and that peripatetic medium pacer Wallace Sproule (5-54) ensured that the South Down team had a simple task to gain a ten wicket victory.

Jack's business had often taken him to Counties Derry and Tyrone. He became a great admirer of North West cricket and its players, particularly of Sion Mills master batsman Andy McFarlane and of the young Donald Shearer, whose cause he constantly advanced. Almost 70 years later Shearer was to tell the BBC of his great debt to Jack. So much was Jack involved in the two counties that in 1930, he played a full season for Strabane. He had no spectacular achievements but was a key member of a successful side, which finished third in the League and reached the Cup semi final.

From 1902, Jack was often to be seen in the province of Ulster side. Probably the strongest opposition he ever faced came when Ulster took on the Philadelphian tourists at Ormeau in 1908. The visitors were no longer quite the cricketing power they had been but were still a formidable side. They had one great player in the superb swing bowler JB King, who was also a very good batsman, another top class bowler in the Australian leg spinner HV Hordern, and several batsmen of first class standard. They came to Ormeau, having overcome Ireland in College Park, and bowled their hosts out for 95, with King and fast left armer Frank Greene sharing the wickets. Only two batsmen reached double figures, Oscar Andrews with 32 and Jack with a robust 20, an innings which showed his class. Unfortunately the Philadelphian batsman CC "Christy " Morris who wrote an account of the tour for JA Lester's A Century of Philadelphian Cricket(1951) spells Jack's name "Flemming." However Jack extracted a subtle revenge even if it was almost 30 years in advance of publication. He had Morris, who finished third in the tour batting averages, leg before for 1, besides taking the wicket of William Newhall, a member of one of Philadelphia's leading cricket families, caught for 0. The tourists won by an innings with Hordern, who had bowled in the first innings taking six second innings wickets. Three Ulster batsmen, including Jack, were stumped for 0. While Jack, no doubt returned to Downpatrick, the Americans went of on a four day sight seeing tour taking in the Giant's Causeway and the Lakes of Killarney. Morris recorded that, "At the latter place we got into an argument with our Cook's guide and some Irish peasants which nearly broke out into open hostilities." Morris was a compulsive book collector, his cricket library, which remains intact, rivals those of Lord's and Melbourne.

Jack should probably have been chosen for Ireland some years before he finally "donned the green jersey" against MCC at Ormeau in 1926. The Ireland side was chosen to attract a local gate and had also suffered seven late withdrawals. There were six debutants, only one of whom Leinster wicket keeper Cornelius Nash, was not from the NCU area. However Jack was the only one to be chosen for a second time.

MCC batted first and were bowled out for 188. Jack had two wickets though he was the fourth bowler to be used, the new ball being entrusted to Jim Hampton of Waringstown and the Lisburn paceman, Northern Ireland football international John Harris. Ireland gained a useful first innings lead. Jack, perhaps rather low in the order at 11, making a typically belligerent 12. When MCC batted again, they declared on 166-8 their progress having been severely interrupted by Jack who bowled beautifully to take 6-53 in 22 overs. He removed numbers 2 to 6 in the batting order and also No 8, including in his haul Hubert de Burgh, who had played for Ireland earlier in the season, the captain, England amateur football international Colin McIver, whose cricket career outlasted even Jack's and multi talented sportsman George Newman who gained a triple blue at Oxford. Rain probably prevented an Irish victory.

Jack's one other match for Ireland came in 1930 against Sir Julien Cahn's XI. Again Ireland fielded a much changed side from that which had played in Dublin. They were outclassed, and Jack, playing for his country aged 50, went wicketless. Jack Fleming was a remarkable cricketer whose bowling feats are now largely forgotten. He deserves better at the hands of history.

NB: We would very much like to hear from anyone who can fill any of the biographical details missing above.