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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
Thomas John Macdonald
  • Born 27 December 1908 Comber, Co Down
  • Died 23 March 1998, Middlesbrough, Yorkshire
  • Educated Royal Belfast Academical Institution; Queen's University, Belfast; Cambridge University
  • Occupation Schoolmaster
  • Debut 8 August 1927 v MCC at Lord's
  • Cap Number 357
  • Style Right-hand batsman; leg break and googly bowler.
  • Teams North Down, Queen's University, Cambridge University, Lincolnshire

Tom Macdonald, often known as TJ, was a sound opening batsman and a more than useful leg spinner, who was, perhaps, underused at representative level. Coming from a well known Comber family, which had a long connection with the North Down Club, he has tended to be somewhat overshadowed by the remarkable feats of his elder brother, James, but as his three centuries for Ireland, and, highly creditworthy performances in Minor County Cricket show, he was a fine player in his own right.

He first came to notice at The Green in 1926, when, in a remarkable year for the Macdonald clan, he headed the Second XI bowling averages while James headed both sets of averages for the Firsts. To complete the picture, their other brother, George, topped the Seconds batting. To quell doubters who declared that such a family triumph was unlikely to be repeated, they did so again the following season! Those two summers also saw Tom appear in his first two NCU Cup Finals.

Both matches were v Holywood with the Comber side emerging victorious. Tom had seven wickets over the two matches, taking 3-31, when he and James (4-27) bowled their opponents out for 99 in the first innings of the 1927 match. He was, however, soon to shine with the bat in these games. Thus in 1928, at Ballynafeigh, the now lost ground of the old Ulster Club, he made 60, the only half century of the match to give North Down a vital first innings lead, then was 22* when they got home by three wickets.

In the 1931 final Ulster were the opponents at Ormeau, in a match where Willie Andrews got to hold the Cup again largely due to the Macdonald brothers. Despite excellent batting from stylish left hander Harold Jackson, James with match figures of 13-79 dominated both Ulster innings. Tom's second innings however was equally important. Reaching 108, in face of some hostile pace bowling from Billy McCleery, he put the game out of Ulster's reach, setting them over 300 to win. Three more Cup successes remained, with Tom's part being notable in each. Against Bobby Barnes' Armagh side in 1932, he had 4-12 in the first innings to hold the score to 121. Then, when his side required 107 to win, in the fourth innings of a match in which spin had dominated, he made 39* to bring yet another trophy to The Green, by 5 wickets.

Two years later, he made 66, the only fifty of the match, as North Down beat Woodvale by131, his innings standing out against some fine pace bowling by McCleery and Charlie Billingsley. In 1936, against the same opponents at Cliftonville, his 39 was the highest innings of a low scoring match, which the Co Down side won by 4 wickets. Tom was also prominent for Queen's during his four years there. One of his best matches was against a powerful Dublin University line up in 1928. He made 189, while James took 13 wickets.

First selected for Ireland as a teenager, he played 17 times between 1927 and 1939, scoring 738 runs at 28.38 with three centuries and two fifties, all of which were made away from home. His best score in Ireland was 28.

His highest score for Ireland came in his third match, in 1928, 132 v Scotland at Edinburgh's Raeburn Place. A wicket slow after heavy rain, saw him put on 75 for the first wicket with Dublin University man Arthur Robinson. Tom reached his 50 first ball after lunch and was eventually stumped off leg spinner George Alexander for 132, having added 144 for the 5th wicket with George McVeagh. He also batted well in difficult conditions in the second knock, before being dismissed by left armer Willie Drinnan, in his only match for Scotland, for 35. In the end the Scots last pair held out for 40 minutes to save the match.

Two matches in England the following year saw more batting successes. A three hour 67 in a drawn match with MCC at Lord's was followed by another century, and another draw, v Civil Service Crusaders at Chiswick. This was a two day game and Ireland began their innings after tea on the first day. Tom was 46 not out overnight having batted with "ease and grace." The following morning his fluency seemed to have deserted him. He was missed several times in the 50s while McVeagh tore into the bowling.

Eventually Tom's momentum returned, and he reached 101 before falling LBW to the leg spin of AP Sharlow. He had hit seven fours with late cuts and leg glances his most productive strokes. His third hundred, following another 50 v MCC at Lord's in 1933, when he fell to the leg spin of Rockley Wilson, came in Ireland's last match before war broke out in 1939. This was against Sir Julien Cahn's XI at Loughborough, the sides having already met at the millionaire's other ground at Nottingham.

The weather was tropical, the wicket full of runs and both sides took maximum advantage of it. Ireland proved able to negate the top class spinners in Cahn's side. As Hitler's troops massed on the Polish border, Tom, after starting slowly, reached a chanceless 106, rolling out those cuts, glances and cover drives, so beloved by watchers at The Green. He was eventually stumped off the New Zealand "leggie", HG Vivian, for 106. He and James (95) had put on 59 for the 4th wicket.

It is, however arguable, that Tom's finest innings was not a century at all or even a fifty. Against the 1938 Australians at Ormeau, James and Eddie Ingram bowled the Bradmanless visitors out for 145. Then as talk of a sensational victory ringed the famous ground, the great "Tiger" O'Reilly and fellow leg spinner Frank Ward, who had missed out on the Tests but taken 92 first class wickets on tour, bustled their hosts out for 84. Only Tom and Ingram reached double figures. Tom batted 75 minutes for 28, before the "Tiger", whom Bradman rated the greatest bowler of all time bowled him. It appears, from the number of times he was dismissed by such bowling, that Tom, for all the fact that he was a purveyor of the art himself, had a distinct weakness against leg spin.

Tom also played to a high level in England, making one first class appearance, for Cambridge University v Somerset in 1930, and then, in the middle of the decade, turning out on several occasions for Lincolnshire in the Minor Counties Championship. He opened the batting for the University v Somerset at Fenner's in 1930, scoring a useful 29, before being caught off the - yet again - leg spin of Jack Lee, like Tom, one of three cricketing brothers, the best known of whom was Frank who umpired 29 Tests after the War. Jack, who took almost 500 first class wickets, was killed in Normandy in 1944.

In the second innings Tom was bowled for 7 by pace bowling six hitter Arthur Wellard. Tom also played with considerable success for Lincolnshire, making two 50s and several other useful scores. On debut he hit a first innings 52 v Norfolk, before succumbing to the pace of the teenage Bill Edrich, who bowled him for 0 in the second knock. However Tom generally passed 30, with 66 v Hertfordshire at Lincoln in 1935, his highest innings of which a score has been seen.

Like James, Tom did not resume for North Down after the War, a pity as he had years of cricket left in him, and, considering the fragile nature of the Irish batting in the immediate post war years, was sorely missed at a national level.

He is profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats."