- Born 11 July 1959, Belfast
- Educated Belfast Royal Academy
- Occupation Insurance Broker / Financial Consultant
- Debut 7 June 1981 v Canada at Ormeau, Belfast
- Cap Number 539
- Style Right hand batsman, right arm off break bowler
- Teams Woodvale, MCC
Stephen Warke was a model of orthodoxy at the wicket. Tall and strongly built, he was an elegantly stylish opening batsman - though he was sometimes seen elsewhere in the upper order -whose technique was based upon a solid, cast iron defence. Some thought that his method made him more suited to the longer form of the game, but well as he batted in two or three day matches, some of his best innings for Ireland were in limited overs cricket against strong, first class attacks. In truth, Stephen, the first Irish cricketer to reach the 100 cap mark and the first to 4000 runs, was a fine player in any type of match and - like his Irish team-mate and "fellow centurion" Alan Lewis - was to far surpass the achievements of a father in whose shadow his career began.
An outstanding cricketer at BRA, his breakthrough year came in 1978, which saw him open the batting not only - as if this were not achievement enough - for the Irish Schools XI and Ulster Town U19 in the Ulster Bank Cup, but also for the senior interprovincial side. For the Schools against Wales at Railway Union's Park Avenue ground in south Dublin, he made two double figure scores at No 1 in the order. The higher came in the second innings, 21, before falling leg before to Steve Barwick an opening bowler who later took almost 500 wickets for Glamorgan, besides proving a very economical bowler, at a slower pace, in limited overs matches. Stephen's opening partner in this game was Mark Cohen who passed 50 in both his knocks . In the Ulster Bank matches he made a good 75 v Munster at Wallace Park, having already played for the senior side in the Guinness Cup against North West. Opening the innings he made 36 before giving off spinner Ray Moan a return catch. Town totalled 190-7, enough runs for John Elder and Simon Corlett to bowl them to victory.
Stephen followed his father, Larry, into the Woodvale side for whom he was to appear in senior cricket in four decades. He played in six NCU Cup Finals, including one in 1978, but was only once on the winning side. Ironically, this was in 1998, when many thought that, having retired from the international scene because of work commitments, he was no longer quite the player he had been. Such Jeremiahs were proved wrong on a summer day against Instonians at The Meadow. Trailing by three runs on the first innings, Woodvale ran up a total of 218-6 in their second innings 60 over allocation, Stephen making 102, before being run out. Together with Allan Rutherford he added 183 for the third wicket. The 'keeper finished on 68 which, added to a useful first innings and four stumpings made him man of the match, though it must have been a close call for the adjudicator.
Stephen also had some notable performances in the Irish Senior Cup, starting with 119* at Coleraine in 1983, the second year of the competition. Ten years later he top scored with 55 v Ardmore as Woodvale chased down 214 to win by 6 wickets. In 1995 they had a good cup run reaching the semis, Stephen having made two important contributions. They began with a 50 run victory over Cliftonville, a seemingly insufficient total of 188-7 being enough to win the match. It might well have proved insufficient had it not been for his top score 64, which gave the Ballygomartin Road side some respectability. In the third round he topscored again v Donemana, who scored 201 and then bowled tightly and well. Woodvale scraped home by 2 wicket, Stephen (51) leading the way.
He represented Ulster Town in the Interprovincial Championship, which underwent several changes of sponsor and regulations, from 1978 to 1999, finishing with 1737 runs at 33.40. Only four have a higher aggregate. His highest score was 106* against North Leinster in 1983. It was a remarkable innings made out of a score of 141-0 in 47 overs, dominating a partnership with Chris Harte, as Town chased the hosts' 135 all out to win by 10 wickets. South Leinster had also felt the Warke bat that season, going down by 29 runs at Ormeau attempting to overhaul a total of 211-9. Stephen's share had been 75, though top scorer was Woodvale team-mate and fellow Academy former pupil, Ian Johnston who made 89. Another opening stand that Stephen dominated was with Michael Rea against Munster at Stormont in 1985. Rain intervened when Town had reached 68-0, Stephen being on 51 was probably well on his way to three figures.
He also found a useful opening partner in Adrian Semple. In 1988 they put on 138 for the first wicket against South Leinster at Park Avenue, Stephen making 48. However a collapse followed and a match which had begun so well ended in defeat. In the next match v North West at Ormeau they put on 69 for the first wicket before Semple was out. Adding a further 54 for the second with Harte, Stephen stroked his way to 71 before paceman Alan Jeffrey had him caught. It was enough to build a winning total. Another good knock, this time in a losing cause, came at The Green on 23 July 1989. Town were " the team of the eighties" winning the title four times, but on this occasion, chasing a North West score of 285-7 went down by 5 runs with Paul Stafford caught on the boundary in the last over. Stephen has done much to set this up with a solid 71 at the top of the order. One other of his performances may be mentioned here. In 1992 South Leinster, thanks to good batting by Alan Lewis and Alex Dunlop set Town 211 to win. The wicket and outfield were rather on the slow side, so this was no easy task, the Dubliners having used 70 overs to post their total. Stephen responded with an elegant 98 as Town got home in 57 overs for the loss of three wickets.
For country, as for club and province, he was consistency personified, once he had, with scores of 63 and 45 v Scotland at The Meadow in 1983, shown his class, following his debut in 1981. He was to score 4275 runs at 30.32, including four hundreds and twenty eight 50s, two of which were ended in the 90s. If any critics still doubted his worth after the Downpatrick match, they were put to shame the following season. Against MCC at Ormeau in early June, he made 99, emulating team-mates Jack Short and Ivan Anderson in getting out on this score at Ormeau. He put on 127 for the second wicket with Robert Wills (65). They and John Prior ensured a useful first innings lead setting up a 9 wicket win, with some slight help from "the third best slow left arm bowler in the World", who had match figures of 10-64. Stephen was 20* at the finish.
A month later came the first real test of his skill and courage at a high level, for Ireland were drawn away against Surrey in the Nat West Trophy, which meant facing the fearsome Sylvester Clarke on his home wicket. Clarke who generated extreme pace from a dubious action was notorious as a hospitaliser of batsmen. Ireland were sent in and Stephen proceeded to play a superb innings, well supported by Prior. The Woodvale man finished on 77, being declared man of the match by old England all rounder Trevor Bailey, who having faced Lindwall and Miller in their prime, knew just what Stephen had achieved. Ireland lost by 7 wickets but emerged with great credit.
In fact some of Stephen's best innings were to be in not dissimilar circumstances. When Ireland took on Yorkshire at Headingly in 1993, the County began with a formidable 272-4, the top four in the order all passing 50 and Ireland's reply faltered but Stephen, batting at 3, ensured there was no debacle. Helped by Decker Curry and Charlie McCrum, he batted until the last over, making a well received 64, having hit ten 4s in his 50, his first was the best, a glorious cover drive off medium pacer Peter Hartley, now a leading umpire. Against New Zealand at Comber in 1994, his magnificent 82 almost took Ireland to a historic victory. Batting first the Black Caps left Ireland needing 234 to win. They fell short by six runs having seemingly squandered a winning position. Little blame could be laid at Stephen's door. During a 122 ball innings which saw him pass Anderson's 3777 run aggregate for Ireland, he hit one 6 and nine 4s in reaching 82. He put on 103 in 67 minutes with Lewis. Earlier in the season he had again shown his worth against first class bowling with a half century v Leicestershire in Ireland's first ever Benson and Hedges match, which was lost by 9 wickets. Only he and Lewis, who put on 58 for the third wicket, were able to come to terms with Alan Mullally and David Millns on a Grace Road green top. Stephen made 53 in 140 balls, lasting until the 48th over. The Gold Award for man of the match went to the Leicestershire opener, making an early acquaintance with Irish cricket, His name was Phil Simmons.
Stephen was on form again on another visit to Headingly in 1995 for a Nat West Match. This time the hosts amassed 299-6 in their 60 overs, with Craig White making 113 and Simon Kellett 107*. Ireland never really looked like passing this but batted consistently, with Stephen and Michael Rea putting on 92 for the first wicket. He was eventually brilliantly caught in the 51st over, having faced 157 balls and hit eleven 4s. Ireland finished on 228-7.
His four hundreds were not made in such exalted company but were very good innings none the less, though only one could be described as match winning. Against Scotland at Castle Avenue in 1985,, he had a first innings top score of 65, and when Ireland led by 75, a four hour 144* in the second. Hitting fifteen 4s to make what was the highest home score against the Scots, he dominated the Irish innings, Rea's 39 being the next highest score in a total of 222-2. Rain prevented a definite result.
Against Wales at Coleraine the following season, he took the leading role in a run chase. Ireland were set 245 in 75 minutes plus 20 overs and wanted 152 when the last 20 were called. Then Stephen moved on to the attack to see his side to victory at the end of the 19th. He fell shortly before the end having completed three figures in 130 minutes. He and "Alf" Masood both passed 1000 runs for Ireland in this match. His third hundred came on a flat wicket at Watsonians' Myreside ground in Edinburgh. The match will mainly be remembered for a monumental spell by Garfield Harrison who took 9-113, but, in Ireland's second innings, Stephen took advantage of conditions to score 100* out of 138-1. He faced 145 balls, the runs coming in 145 minutes.
His fourth century came against Wales in College Park in June 1992, Again rain enforced a draw, but the match was memorable for Ireland establishing a new first wicket record. Stephen with 113 and Rea with 106 put on 224 at the start of the match thereby eclipsing the 161 which had been set by Nat Hone and David Trotter at Lord's no fewer than 113 years previously. The remainder of the batting in the match was rather disappointing as had been the case in 1879, when, however Ireland had won overcoming a weak MCC side. He almost achieved a fifth hundred against Wales in the Triple Crown match at Titwood Glasgow in 1994, the only victory of the tournament. It was his best ever one day score and helped Ireland to 311-5 off their 55 overs. He began with Rea with a partnership of 174 in 35 overs that threatened their own record besides again eclipsing Trotter and Hone once more. Hone, incidentally, was a bookmaker. What odds would he have given on his and Trotters' record remaining unsurpassed for 113 years, then being twice beaten by the same batsmen in two years? Stephen batted for 140 balls with eight 4s and was dismissed fending off a rising ball to gully. He must have been disappointed to miss his hundred but he had much to celebrate, having passed 4000 runs and won his 100th cap!
He was captain of Ireland on 39 occasions between 1989 and 1993, winning six and losing fourteen, though a number of these were against first class opposition. Having taken over from Paul Jackson, injury just before the ICC Trophy in Kenya in 1994 meant that he had to pass the leadership on to Alan Lewis.
When work commitments forced him to drop out of the Irish side, he continued, as we have seen to play with success for Woodvale. He also appeared in a number of MCC matches, one, indeed, against Ireland. He toured Denmark with MCC in 2002, scoring 45 in the "international." As recently as last season, 2008, he took part in the annual MCC Irish tour, playing again v Ireland, though this time the hosts were at U19 level! Since international retirement he has also served as a selector both at provincial and national level.
Away from the cricket field, Stephen was a very good rugby player. Here at least father Larry achieved more having had an Irish trial as a prop in 1954/55, whereas Stephen's limit was to play No 8 for NIFC. However he was arguably on the threshold of something bigger when he gave up senior rugby because of work commitments and cricket. When not on the sports fields of Ireland or elsewhere he has pursued a highly successful career in the financial services industry.
Stephen John Samuel Warke was one of the best Irish batsmen of his generation. He is deservedly featured in Siggins and Fitzgerald "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats."