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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
James Dermott Monteith
  • Born 2 June 1943 Lisburn, Co Antrim
  • Died 6 December 2009 Bangor, Co Down
  • Educated Royal Belfast Academical Institution; Queen's University, Belfast
  • Occupation Clothing Manufacturer later developed own business in tracksuit production
  • Debut 9 June 1965 v MCC at Lord's
  • Cap Number 502
  • Style Right hand batsman, slow left arm
  • Teams Lisburn, Queen's University, National Cricket Association, MCC, Donaghadee

Dermot Monteith was, by any standards and in any company, a remarkable cricketer. "The most naturally talented cricketer that ever played for Ireland," according to John Elder, who also comments that he had, "an outstanding cricket brain." He was, unquestionably the best bowler of his kind ever to pull on an Irish jersey, being described by Roy Torrens as, "simply the best spin bowler Ireland has ever produced."

The best Ireland spin bowler of all time?
Others might award that accolade to Jimmy Boucher, but the two bowled in different styles, in different circumstances and in different eras. As one who saw them both, though was only a small boy as Boucher finished for Ireland, this writer would not wish to judge between two such superb practitioners. "Monty", as he was often known, spun the ball more than most other slow men, and also had a mastery of flight, though spin was his main weapon. He was, as Roy Torrens points out, "A much better batsman than many give him credit for" and it was, indeed, in this role that he first played for his country, making a debut half century at Lord's.

He was also an adventurous and successful captain for as Roy says, "He had one great attribute, he was not afraid to lose and this attitude enabled him to win matches that other captains would not have done." He had boundless self confidence, which some saw as bordering on arrogance, and this tended to lead to his failing, on occasions, to appreciate that some lesser mortals in his team could not perform to his high standards. Off the field he lived life to the full, his autobiography "A Stone in the Glasshouse" being both revealing and entertaining on that subject.

An outstanding schoolboy cricketer - and indeed all round sportsman - he was converted at an early age from attempting to become a pace bowler, into a spinner. Irish cricket owes a debt of gratitude to the perceptive Raif Spearman, who ran the junior cricket at Inst, for persuading the young Dermott to make the change. Getting into the First XI at the end of the 1958 season, by which time he had already played senior cricket for Lisburn, he was an ever present in the side for the next three years, and also in the Ulster and Irish Schools XIs, though they then played a very restricted fixture list. Not so Inst, whom he captained in 1960 and 61, showing considerable batting talent besides mesmerising opposition batsmen with his spin.

Ireland v Australia in 1977

I recall, as a 15 year old scorer, watching him bowl out St Columba's in that hot summer of 1959. He returned figures of something like 6-7, reducing our fancied batting line up to seeming incompetence, though it must be admitted that the wicket was a dustbowl, which even Gubby Allen would have baulked at serving up to the Australians three years earlier. In his autobiography, Monty recalls having his nose broken on another occasion at St Columba's. I recall that also, and, if memory serves after almost 50, years, he returned to the wicket to be there when the winning hit was made!

He had made his debut for Lisburn at senior level in 1957, and, having been 12th man in the Cup Finals of that, and the following two years, came into his own in the Final v Woodvale in 1961. The Wallace Park side emerged victorious by 8 wickets, with Dermott having match figures of 10-91. Not even Larry Warke, terror of many slow men in Irish Cricket, could master him. His figures stood out above those of two more experienced spinners who played in the match, his mentor, team-mate and fellow left armer Jack Bowden, for whom Monty always had the highest admiration, and Woodvale off spinner Ken Kirkpatrick, both of whom had "5 fors."

From then on, apart from 1962 when he played for Queen's University and during his later sojourn with Middlesex, he was never to be out of the side. Another good Cup Final haul was to come nine years later, against Waringstown, this time in a losing cause as the Villagers won by 70 runs. Dermott, however, had match figures of 11-70. 1976 saw almost an action replay. Waringstown won by 89 runs at The Meadow, with Monty having match figures of 10-135! Only Ivan Anderson, with a first innings 47 looked comfortable against him. Unusually for a member of the losing side, Dermott was man of the match.

Bowled by Tim English when batting for Lisburn against Queen's University

He was already an interprovincial and international cricketer, when the Guinness Cup was inaugurated in 1966. Though perhaps not scoring as many runs as might have been expected, he was one of the dominant forces in the competition for the next 18 years. Appearing in 76 matches, he finished with 226 wickets at 13.23 including 21 "5 fors." He was one of the main reasons for Ulster Country taking the title six times during his career. Some of his most outstanding achievements may be referred to here.

Against South Leinster at Rathmines in 1973, a season a which saw him at the height of his powers, he had the remarkable figures of 20.5 - 5 - 41 - 6, dismissing the hosts for 111, his haul including "Ginger" O'Brien, Ian Lewis and Ken Hope, a fairly impressive trio at this level. Two years later, a repeat performance saw him take 6-63, Gerry Duffy this time joining Ken and "Ginger" in Monty's keep net. Northern batsmen also succumbed to his wiles. In 1974, at Upper Malone, Ulster Town were put out for 55, chasing the visitors' 197-9. Monty had 5-17, but, to show this was no spinners' paradise, John Elder bettered this with 5-11. Nor did the batsmen of North Leinster fare much better.

In 1978 at Phoenix CC's ground in "The Park", he took 6-62, his bag encompassing five internationals in batsmen Enda McDermott, Stan Mitchell, Gerry O'Brien and David Ensor as well as "Podge "Hughes a distinctly useful tail ender. The sixth was Noel Grier, an off spinning "batting all rounder", whose classy left hand stroke play, could, on his day, make him look as good as any. Monty's last five wicket haul came in 1984 in what was to prove to be his final match. He himself believed that his bowling was now less effective than of old, but he clearly neglected to tell the South Leinster batsmen. Having taken 5-66 against North West in the previous match, he now repeated the figures, his scalps including, "Ginger", once more, Mark Cohen and Alan Lewis.

As we have already seen, his Irish debut had come, as a batsman, against MCC at Lord's in June 1965. The match ended in a draw, having been closely fought. Dermott's 54, including a six off Saeed Ahmed, a handy off spinner, though better known as a Pakistan batsman, and eight 4s. He added 82 for the third wicket with Stan Bergin. He was also to finish with a half century, or to be more accurate, a near miss century. Against Scotland at Titwood, Glasgow in 1984, his 95, at No 8, came in 134 minutes, including all 33 scored for the last wicket with Peter O'Reilly. Typically, he had decided to declare on 99*, which he thought would be more memorable!

In between times he hit seven other half centuries for Ireland, including a spectacular 80 at The Mardyke in 1978. Coming in at 50-5 after he had won the toss, he stayed while 110 runs were added in 99 minutes, hitting fourteen 4s. He put on 60 for the 7th wicket with Simon Corlett, whose contribution was a solitary boundary. Perhaps his best innings for Ireland, however, was his 91 against Gloucestershire at Bristol in 1983. Chasing an improbable 276 to win Ireland were 209-8 when Mike Halliday joined his captain. They - or rather Monty - added a whirlwind 59 before Monty was caught for 91 made in 103 minutes. Alas Peter O'Reilly fell without scoring and Ireland lost by 7 runs. Halliday was stranded on 10. In total, Monty scored 1712 runs for Ireland at 20.63. It might, perhaps, be mentioned, that, to go with his nine fifties, he also made 13 ducks!

As a bowler, he took the Irish record 326 wickets at 17.37, including twenty seven "5 fors", and seven 10 wicket hauls in a match. His first five wicket bag came against the powerful Pakistan International Airways side at Sydney Parade in 1969, when he accounted for Hanif Mohammed and Zaheer Abbas among others. However his break through season was 1971, when he took 10 in the match on three occasions, against Wales, the Netherlands and the Combined Services, besides having 8 against MCC at Lord's. I watched every ball of the Netherlands match at Castle Avenue and can well recall, particularly in the second innings, the almost trance like state of the Dutch batsmen as Monty, "turning the ball square", sent them in procession to the pavilion. His bowling on that blustery August day, as rain blew in off Dublin Bay in squally showers, looked several classes above anything else I had seen that year, and I had spent my early summer weekends watching county cricket.

The following season saw a further three 10 wicket hauls, besides match figures of 9-27 against Denmark at Castle Avenue. His 13-93 v MCC at Lord's included a career best 8-44, but his outstanding match was against Scotland, when he became the only player to do the match double in first class cricket that season. His match figures were 12-95, Wisden reporting that the Scots batsmen "could not fathom his bowling."

The Almanack also commented that, in the second innings, "He batted with great enterprise in scoring 78 taking 15 and 22 off two successive overs from Goddard with the help of three 6s and four 4s."

Other notable bowling returns included the West Indies match of 1976 and the Australian one in the following year. The Windies, who destroyed Tony Grieg's England that year, rattled up 333-7 declared with Gordon Greenidge hitting a spectacular century. However he was one of Monty's victims in an analysis of 23.4 - 2 - 98 - 5. So was Larry Gomes for 45 and Viv Richards, 829 runs in the Tests that summer, caught at slip by Gerry O'Brien for 1!

The 1977 Australians, riven by the Packer dispute, were not so formidable but Dermott's 6-97, included batsmen of the calibre of Kim Hughes and David Hookes as well as other members of the Test line up such as opener Rick McCosker and all rounder Gary Cosier. These matches clearly show the level at which Monty was capable of succeeding. He rated himself "the third best slow left arm bowler in the World", after Bishen Bedi and Dilip Doshi, though he was not so sure of his place in this ranking after he saw Doshi! Who, when the humming ball spun through the air and broke like a rattle snake off a barely responsive wicket would have denied him this placement?

After some brief experience as a stand in, he became captain in his own right in 1978, an appointment which was met with some raised eyebrows. He proved to be one of our most successful skippers, a tactician who was always capable of doing the unexpected, as when at Lord's on Ireland's first Gillette Cup outing in 1980, he elected to bat against Wayne Daniel and Vincent van der Bijl in ideal fast bowling conditions, and almost achieved a major upset. His captaincy was well summed up by Sean Pender in a valedictory article about him in the 1986 ICU Year Book."He confounded critics with analytical appraisal of tricky situations and, in particular, by the manner in which he extracted the very best from all his team-mates."

Having played for the National Cricket Association XI v Canadian XI in 1978, Monty was a member of the MCC party which toured Bangladesh in 1980/81 under the captaincy of the former Warwickshire all rounder Mike Mence. Future TV commentator Mark Nicholas with the bat and Monty with the ball were the stars of the tour played in front of huge crowds. In the first "Test" MCC came near victory, thanks largely to Dermott's first innings 7-59. Time ran out but not before he had added yet another 10 wicket haul to his impressive record.

All this had caught the eye of cricket's philosopher king Mike Brearley, with the result that Dermott found himself with a Middlesex contract in 1981, as Test calls were expected for the county's spinners John Emburey and Phil Edmonds. He played in 8 matches taking 24 wickets at 24.83, thus proving to all and sundry, as if there had been any doubt - that he could perform at the level at which he had turned down a Sussex contract at 18. He had two "5 fors" against Essex, 5-60 his best figures for the county, and 5-66 against Northants. In the Essex match he bowled to the umpiring of Dickie Bird and Shakoor Rana! Mike Gatting was playing for England! Dermott also had four wicket hauls against Surrey and Yorkshire. It was certainly no fault of his that Middlesex, favourites for the Championship, fell well short.

Meeting the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace

They did win the following season, but he played only one match, at the end of the summer, with a damaged ankle v Hampshire at Uxbridge. With both Emburey and Edmonds in the side, he did not do much bowling, but at No 10, made 36, daringly three times blazing Malcolm Marshall through the covers off the front foot! Few batsmen in England would have tried that and lived! In the close season 1981/82, he had toured East Africa with MCC. He bowled successfully as usual but those readers who wish to know about his hazardous off field exploits are referred to "A Stone in the Glasshouse."

Dermott was, of course a fine all round sportsman. He played 1st XI Hockey as well as 1st XV Rugby at Inst until paternal wrath made him concentrate on the oval ball. Injury caused him to play a season's football at University before returning to Rugby in 1962/63 and gaining a place in the CIYMS 1st XV at out half replacing Ireland and Lions three quarter Cecil Pedlow who had retired. He held his place until in a match v Instonians - should he, perhaps, have been playing for them? - his attacking and defensive skills were rather cruelly exposed by the mercurial David Hewitt. He continued to play the winter game however being responsible for establishing a "Golden Oldies " XV at Bangor, known as the 6th XV, for whom he was still enjoying life in the 1984/85 season.

It was in February 1985, walking home from a convivial evening at Bangor Rugby Club, that he was knocked down by a car which failed to stop. A very difficult period of his life followed and he was never able to play cricket again when he finally emerged from hospital, though needless to say, he tried.

Taking over from Enda McDermott as Irish Cricket Union President in 1999

He turned instead to administration, was an Irish selector for five years, President of the Irish Cricket Union in 1999 and also played a leading role in establishing a cricket committee on the ICU. Sadly his accident still had a detrimental affect on his lifestyle and he was not so mobile as he and others would have wished. The memories of him that remain fresh in the mind, however, are those of a marvellous, attacking and challenging cricketer, who owned no man his better.

James Dermot Monteith has been the subject of numerous feature articles and was also one of the few Irish players featured in Christopher Martin-Jenkins' Dictionary of World Cricketers. He sits deservedly in exalted company. He attracted a longer entry than most in Siggins and Fitzgerald "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats."