CricketEurope Irish Cricket History logo
Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
Michael Anthony Eagar
  • Born 20 March 1934, Kensington London
  • Educated Rugby School, Warwickshire, Oxford University
  • Occupation Schoolmaster then Headmaster
  • Debut 10 July 1957 v West Indians at Ormeau
  • Cap Number 479
  • Style Right-hand bat
  • Teams Royal Navy Oxford University, Oxford Harlequins, Gloucestershire, Shrewsbury Saracens

Mike Eagar, who came from an old Anglo-Irish landed family, was an attractive upper order batsman, always at his best when playing his strokes. He was three years in the Rugby XI, being by far the best bat in the side in the last two. Having forced his way into the team in 1950, when he averaged 15.62, he was the leading batsman the following season with 629 runs at 39.31, including two successive centuries, the higher being 134. He gained a place in the Public Schools' trial match at Lord's, after which the team to play the then annual match against Combined Services was chosen. He was most unlucky that rain intervened when he was 22*, probably denying him a spot in what was a very strong batting line up, including MJK Smith, Hampshire's future Championship winning captain Colin Ingleby MacKenzie, Bob Gale, who later opened the Middlesex batting for many seasons and CCP Williams, who captained Oxford, played for Essex, and became a well-known biographer and politician. Williams' subjects included Don Bradman and General De Gaulle while as a politician he is a Labour Life peer.

Incidentally, Gale who scored over 12000 first class runs with 15 hundreds, batted at 8 in the chosen XI. However Mike impressed: even that stern, irascible and acerbic critic EM Wellings, noting in his annual review of public School' cricket in Wisden that "MA Eagar...was a decidedly useful schoolboy bat." Mike did not appear in the Trial in 1951 when, according to Wisden he "again overshadowed his colleagues" at Rugby with 669 runs at 39.35, topscoring in the second innings of a tight match against Marlborough at Lord's to help Rugby to victory by 26 runs.

It was to be three years before Mike entered Worcester College, Oxford as a Classics Scholar. He was later to tell cricket historian Stephen Chalke that he would never have won either his cricket or hockey Blue without his two years National Service in the Royal Navy. His ability to speak and read Russian, as well as the Navy's wish for him to play top class hockey, saw him posted to the Ministry of Defence where he had to make notes on Soviet admirals. He told Chalke that his successor in the post had to do it all over again as he could not read Mike's handwriting. He was again unfortunate with the weather as far as cricket was concerned during this time as rain wrecked several inter Services matches at Lord's, preventing him from getting into the Combined Services team which, as well as taking on the Public School, played a number of first class matches against the Counties and usually played the tourists also. The Services side was normally a strong one, for example in 1953 it included National Servicemen Fred Trueman, Doug Padgett, John Mortimore and Roy Swetman, one current and three future Test players.

Up at Oxford, Mike had little difficulty in gaining a hockey blue, finding the standard much the same as that he had played for in the Services. He also played county hockey for Surrey and was, of course, capped by Ireland on the right wing.

He captained Oxford in 1958, he and his Cambridge counterpart incurring the displeasure of some traditional supporters by deciding to move the University match away from Beckenham in Kent, where it had been played for some years to Edgbaston, the outfield of the cricket ground providing a much more satisfactory surface.

He won his cricket blue every season from 1956 to 1959 being Secretary/Vice captain in his penultimate year. Unlike the hockey, he found the cricket a considerable step up. Cricket at both the Universities was far stronger then with the entrance requirements less stringent which greatly advantaged the likes of Colin Cowdrey who would have been most unlikely to have gained a place at either institution in more recent times. However in Mike's time they were able to take on the Counties on more or less level terms, a further difference with today being that the players were mostly older, being, like Mike, former National Servicemen.

His first season was his best. At 41.94 he headed the Oxford averages and in a rain soaked summer, came fifth in the first class list, ahead of Cowdrey, Peter May, David Sheppard and Peter Richardson, the last three all scoring Ashes hundreds that year. In his second match, against Hampshire, Mike sealed his place in the side with scores of 34 and 80, owing much, as he was to tell Chalke many years later, to the friendly advice of the county wicket keeper Leo Harrison. The value of Leo's advice was seen in the next match against the Free Foresters when Mike made 125 in the second innings - "A chanceless maiden century" said Wisden- taking a heavy toll of the leg spin of former England captain Freddie Brown.

Mike enjoyed playing leg spin, reading the ball in the air as he came down the wicket. Half centuries against Nottinghamshire, for whom the former Australian Bruce Dooland the best leg spinner in the country at the time took 139 Championship wickets that season and scores of 35 and 58 against the Australians, including the young Richie Benaud, gave further evidence of this skill. His batting against the Australians was described as "enterprising" and "aggressive" by Wisden and also attracted purple prose from Peter West in his tour book "The Fight For The Ashes 1956." Mike played " a splendidly virile innings" and "ran like a stag between the wickets." He also batted well in the University match, an undefeated first innings 55 saving the follow on in a match memorable for a century by Cambridge and Ireland opener Robin O'Brien.

He was never quite so consistent or successful for the University again, though he had a number of useful performances, twice having near misses of reaching three figures. Thus against Essex at Westcliff in 1957 he, according to Wisden, "by stylish all round strokes in a stay of two hours twenty minutes hit nineteen fours and saved Oxford from collapse on a very green wicket.." He made 99, the only Oxonian really to counter the pace of Ken Preston the County opening bowler. That year he also hit an undefeated second innings 90 against Hampshire, though he was twice missed at slip. His innings "did most to enable Oxford to declare" but Hampshire refused the run chase.

Mike's two matches for Ireland came in 1957, straight after the University Match, the only one of his four, incidentally, in which he failed to make a valuable contribution with the bat, being dismissed for 0 and 2. He was, however, in good company as Oxford lost by an innings and 186 runs. The day after the match ended he was at Ormeau, batting at No 3 against the West Indies in a two day match. Ireland were bowled out for 119 with slow left armer Alf Valentine taking 6-38. Wisden condemned Ireland's batting as "irresolute" but exempted, "Their top scorers Eagar and Finlay, both making their first appearances (who) hit hard but the rest were easy prey for Valentine and Atkinson." Derek Atkinson was a medium paced off spinner later to captain the West indies briefly. Mike made 41 before a raw gangling 19 year old pace bowler called Wesley Hall caught him off Valentine. Thanks to Charles Kenny and Scott Huey Ireland kept the visitors' lead within bounds but rain came after lunch on the second day, ruining the afternoon of this writer and some school friends, but possibly saving Ireland from defeat. The teams then moved to College Park for a one day match which the visitors won with some ease, Mike being LBW to opening bat Nyron Asgarali for 2.

Unfortunately he did not play for Ireland again but he did make three appearances against them for MCC. His best match was at Lord's in 1959 when a two day game in blazing sunshine attracted a large crowd as the hosts included Len Hutton and Keith Miller. If people left St John's Wood recalling an 80 from Len and memorable all round cricket from Keith, Mike also made full use of the conditions making a typically stylish and forcing 58. He also played at Lord's in 1965 and at Castle Avenue in 1966. The latter match saw Ireland collapse against the fast medium bowling of Jack Bailey, Mike's old Oxford team-mate, and was also Mike's last first class match. Alas he did not go out on a blaze of glory. Denis Leng had him caught in the first innings for 8 and he was leg before to Alec O'Riordan for a duck in the second.

1957 also saw Mike play four matches for Gloucestershire, who were looking for a captain to succeed veteran professional George Emmett and wanted to appoint an amateur. Mike found the cricket difficult, "I realised," he told Chalke," that there was a hell of a lot for me to learn." He began with a duck against Yorkshire at Scarborough, bowled by a promising off spinner called Illingworth. In four matches he totalled 109 runs with a highest score of 35 against Nottinghamshire - and Dooland - at Trent Bridge. Advised by Emmett not to accept the captaincy, he returned to University life. However Gloucestershire were not finished with him. When Emmett retired he was replaced by professional Tom Graveney who was abruptly sacked in 1960 to be succeeded by Old Etonian Tom Pugh, a very mediocre player at this level. In the summer of 1961, Pugh struggling to find any form and the team unsuccessful, the county again sent for Mike who was now teaching at Eton and had hardly played all summer. He had three unsuccessful matches, a slow 29 against Glamorgan at Pontypridd being his best effort, and did not play again. He played several matches for the Harlequins -a team mostly composed of former Oxford blues - late in the summer making 50 against The Mote on a tour of Kent. The County, incidentally, kept Pugh on until 1963 when he was replaced by, of all people, Graveney's elder brother Ken, who had not played for 14 years because of injury. Mike had, as we have seen, become a member of the Eton staff on leaving Oxford. He remained there until 1964, running the cricket in his final three years. He then began a long period on the staff of Shrewsbury School also soon taking over the cricket. His own cricket was mostly played for Rugby Meteors in The Cricketer Cup, a 55-over knock out competition for Public School Old Boys' Sides. One of his best innings came against Shrewsbury Saracens at Shrewsbury in 1969. Playing no doubt in front of an audience of his own pupils, he opened the batting and made 67 out of a score of 252-8, leading to a 134 runs victory.

Away from cricket he had married Frances Reid in 1963. They had two daughters and Frances, writing as Frances Eagar, became a well-known author of children's books during the 1970s. In 1978 tragedy struck when she died from cancer. This together with a desire for a new challenge decided Mike to leave Shrewsbury and he became the first Headmaster of Abbey Gate College, an independent day school near Chester. He had much to do with building it up into the highly successful institution it now is. However he eventually moved on returning to the Shrewsbury area to become head of a small boarding school for girls.

Michael Antony Eagar was a fine all round sportsman. It is much to be regretted that he was unable to play for Ireland more often. His form for Oxford suggests that he would have been able to make his way in the county game had his circumstances allowed.

NB: I am much indebted to Stephen Chalke's "The Way It Was" a book of memories of English cricket in the years gone by.