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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
James William Kirkwood
  • Born 12 February 1962 Lisburn, Co Antrim
  • Educated Friends' School, Lisburn
  • Occupation Banker
  • Debut 17 August 1983 v Gloucestershire at Bristol
  • Cap Number 549
  • Style Right hand bat, wicket keeper
  • Teams Lisburn

Jimmy Kirkwood was a superb all round sportsman. Tall and fair haired he is, of course, mainly remembered as a hockey player: a multi capped right midfielder and Olympic Gold Medalist, versatile enough to also win caps at the indoor game as well. He was, however, also a very fine cricketer. A free scoring opening batsman with a strong defence and outstanding wicket keeper, his progression through school, club and age group ranks to a full Irish cap in 1983 seemed - and was - inevitable. Once in the national side however, he showed only glimpses of the real ability that had got him there, but there can be little doubt that, had hockey not put increasing claims on his time, he would have gained many more than his three caps, and shown to all exactly why he won them.

Though well coached at school, he was the first to admit that he owed a great deal to his club and in particular to the professional John Solanky, formerly of East Africa and Glamorgan, and to Dermot Monteith. Dermot in his autobiography regarded Jimmy as "probably Lisburn's best ever player," besides pointing out that his multi - talented sporting skills had also included playing at out half for Friends' in the Ulster School Cup!

Jimmy's school achievements gained him his Irish Schools caps, three of which were against Wales. On debut at Park Avenue in 1978, he faced a Welsh attack which included future England fast bowler Greg Thomas and later Glamorgan stalwart Steve Barwick, who had him caught for 11 in the first innings. As Ireland chased runs for a declaration in the second, Jimmy made a quick 25 before being run out, thus escaping the clutches of Barwick (4-53). Jimmy and Ivan McMichael put on a fifth wicket 75 in quick time, but Ireland just failed to bowl Wales out.

Another draw followed in 1979, with Jimmy praised for his keeping, but doing little with the bat, while the 1980 match was destroyed by the elements. Having been reduced for a two day game to a 40 over one, it was abandoned with Ireland on 48-1, Jimmy having opened was 24*. He also played against England at Bristol, where slow batting by the hosts condemned this inaugural fixture to a draw. Jimmy, opening, made 29 in his only innings. He had also, in less tense circumstances, shone with the bat in the annual match between the Schools and the Leprechauns at Wallace Park, topscoring with 67 in the first innings, despite Mike Halliday's "5 for."

Keeping wicket at Waringstown

He was prominent also at U19 interprovincial level. Three years in the Ulster Country XI, his batting became increasingly dominant, culminating in a magnificent innings in the 1981 tournament. Winning the toss against Ulster Town at Portadown he set up a comprehensive victory by hitting a blistering 161 out of 226-4. Paul McCrum then toppled the visitors for 126. He was also highly praised for his contributions to the U 19 international tournaments in 1979 and 1981. In the former year, playing in Canada under the captaincy of Brian Gilmore, Jimmy was one of the successes of the competition, his wicket keeping being outstanding.

This was never more apparent than in the final v Bermuda which Ireland narrowly lost. Opening the batting, he was struck on the inside knee early on and had to retire, nevertheless he returned to keep wicket, doing so excellently, despite being in considerable pain. In 1981, he captained the side in the Netherlands. Ireland won four of their six matches, his leadership attracting high praise.

He had played for Lisburn since his schooldays, making a number of large and important scores, including a century in the Irish Senior Cup - then the Schweppes - a scintillating 101 v Pembroke - in 1984. However his best performance for his club was probably his Man of the Match display in the NCU Challenge Cup Final of 1985. By this time hockey was beginning to make increasing demands on him, with mandatory Irish squad sessions and summer internationals. However he was in superb form in this match played on an uncertain Downpatrick wicket against NICC who batted first but were bowled out for 159. With Simon Corlett taking 3-17 in his 10 overs. Lisburn could manage only 156-9 in reply owing almost all to "Jimmy Kirkwood's majestic 81", as Murray Power described it. Aggressive batting by Corlett enabled North to set Lisburn 161. Jimmy's 32 saw them on their way, but eventually they had only one wicket left when they scrambled home, thanks to the experience of their Warwickshire and Worcestershire pro Steve Perryman. Jimmy as Power noted, "was the only batsman to rise above the damp conditions." He also made three dismissals in the match, including a first innings stumping of Mike Crooks, just as that underrated batsman was getting into his stride.

In Senior Interprovincials, Jimmy scored 632 runs at 27.47 for Ulster Country before hockey cut short his representative career. He hit three 50s, the best of which was a typically forceful 83 against North West at Eglinton in 1982. It enabled the visitors to reach 222-6. The importance of Jimmy's innings can be seen from the fact that the next highest score was Davy Dennison's 36. Monteith then bowled the hosts out to secure a 53 run victory He hit two further half centuries the following season, 64 in a losing cause against Ulster Town at Ballygomartin Road and a crucial 60 in a low scoring match against North Leinster at Pottadown, when his team-mates found the medium fast deliveries of Alan Hughes somewhat taxing.

His wicket keeping was, as usual, highly praised, producing a particularly fine performance against Ulster Town at Ormeau in 1984, when he held four catches in the hosts' 153, three being off Jim Patterson. As the visitors won by only one wicket, Jimmy's glovework was, not for the first time, crucial.

His three Irish appearances all came on the English tour of 1983. Unfortunately he only made an impact in his debut game against Gloucestershire at Bristol. This was a fine match, in which spirited hitting by Monteith almost brought a famous Irish victory. Opening the batting, but not keeping wicket as Peter Jackson was in the side, Jimmy lost his partner Jack Short with only 3 on the board as Ireland faced the County's first innings total of 260. He added 57 for the second with Rob Wills, before medium pacer Phil Bainbridge bowled him. He made only 7 in the second knock, and must have rued the fact that just two of those flowing drives, so often seen at Wallace Park, would have seen Ireland triumph.

Keeping wicket alongside Ian Botham and Roger Monteith in the Lisburn sesquicentennial game 1986

By the mid 1980s he had had to make his choice between his two passions. His successes in hockey were such that there was never really a case to be argued though, as an interview with him in the first ever edition of The Ulster Cricketer revealed, he regretted having to give less and less attention to cricket. As it was he played with great success for Belfast YMCA and Lisnagarvey at club level, besides winning 48 Irish caps, his first at the age of 18. He was also capped 31 times for Great Britain, being one of the Gold Medal winning squad at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. He made no "starts" in the Games but came on against both South Korea and India.

James William Kirkwood, who has also pursued a highly successful career in banking, deserves to be remembered as one of Ireland's most talented all round sportsmen. Had it not been for his excellence on the hockey field, the cricket world would undoubtedly have heard a great deal more of him.