- Born 1844
- Died 25 March 1902 Pigeontown, King's County (Offaly)
- Educated Holyville Park School
- Occupation Unknown
- Debut 4 September 1863 v I Zingari at Vice Regal Ground, Phoenix Park
- Cap Number 67
- Style Right hand batsman; slow right hand round arm.
- Teams Holyville Park; Phoenix
William Ashton, besides being a more than useful bowler, was regarded as one of the outstanding batsmen of his day. Writing in "The Weekly Irish Times" in 1905, "An Old Cricketer", describes him as, "One of the best batsmen Ireland ever produced." Even if the writer was somewhat living in his past, he must have seen Ashton's successors in the Irish side such as David Trotter, Lucius Gwynn and Frank Browning, so the praise is high indeed. If William was a stylist after the fashion of his times, he must have been a predominantly off side player, his near contemporary EM Grace was frowned upon when he introduced the pull shot, and, even at the turn of the century, Ranji's sublime leg glances were regarded as unfair practice by some. Possibly William was different, he could, and sometimes did, hit powerfully to leg, though not always to good effect.
He learned the game at Holyville Park School, a small institution, near the Dublin suburb of Monkstown. Presided over by a Mr WR Jones, it was, for a short while, the foremost cricket academy in Ireland. Besides Ashton, its alumni included the Young brothers and the Head's son R Jones, whose first name has not come down to us. All four were Irish internationals, Jones being joined in the School side by his three brothers. Holyville also ran a club side in which the best members of the school were joined by masters and old boys to produce a formidable XI.
It was, however, the School side alone who surprised a visiting Dublin University XI on one occasion in 1858. William bowled the visitors out for 13. Then, this being before the declaration law was introduced, he and Jones both made hundreds in the school's total of 341. William was no more than 14 at the time. The first major match he took part in of a score has been seen was the North v South fixture in 1863, in which he played for the North, most of the players on both sides being from Leinster. He began by taking three key wickets in the South's first innings sending back GF Barry, William Hone Snr and Tom Casey, He failed with the bat in the North's first knock but then added two further prominent scalps to his collection when the opposition batted again sending back Henry Despard and Robert Traill. North needed 63 to win and would have been in rather a pickle without William. Going in first, he steered them to a six wicket victory with an undefeated 33. No one else reached double figures. He was always prominent for Phoenix with bat, ball or both in their annual match with I Zingari, but in 1866 was involved in an incident which was to have unforeseen and beneficial consequences. He was adjudged lbw by the Phoenix professional Jesse Richards, a roundarm medium pacer from Nottinghamshire, whose job, apart from umpiring was mostly pitch preparation and net bowling. William took exception to the decision, declaring loudly that Richards had only given him out because he - Richards - was favouring his fellow Englishmen. William had to go but, the following day, so did Richards. At this distance it is impossible to decide whether he jumped or was pushed. However, shortly afterwards he returned to Dublin to become the University's professional. A negligible batsman himself Jesse Richards was a magnificent talent spotter and batting coach. Most of Ireland's leading batsmen of the next thirty years - for example David Trotter, Frank Browning and Lucius Gwynn, owed much of development to him. William, by his WG - like boorishness, unwittingly helped produce some of Ireland's greatest players!
He played nine matches for Ireland between 1863 and 1869. Only three of these are shown on his stats page as the others were either 12 a side matches with I Zingari or games against one of the English professional XIs when Ireland played an XVIII or XXII. In all matches William scored 169 runs at 13 and took 12 wickets. His batting figures may seem a poor return for one of his talent, but it should be remembered that the English professional bowlers such as Edgar Willsher and RC Tinley were among the best in the game at the time and very few Irish batsmen did well against them. His best score came in an eleven a side match with IZ in 1868 at the Vice Regal Ground. Ireland batted first and occupied all the first day in scoring 254. Only two batsmen showed any ability to cope with the visitors' varied attack, the two Williams, Ashton and Hone, Snr. Hone batted all of five hours for 91 and was later criticised for slow play. It was said that his defensive tactics prolonged the innings unnecessarily and made a draw inevitable. However Ireland had lost 6 wickets for 92 when he was joined by Ashton. They put on 150 which remained a record for this wicket until March 2008, when it was surpassed by Trent Johnston and Niall O'Brien(163) against UAE at Abu Dhabi, a match which might well have been beyond the comprehension of the two Williams. Back in 1868 Ashton made 71 and the two both received great ovations. Unfortunately there was not enough time for Ireland to force a win.
William had also shone with the bat two years before in a 12 a side match when IZ were overcome by 154 runs largely because of remarkable bowling performances by Dublin University academic JP Mahaffy and army officer CC Oldfield. They ran through IZ twice on a very poor wicket in terrible weather. William made only 3 in the first innings but his second innings 36 was by far the highest score of the match and enabled Ireland to pout the game out of the Zingaros' reach. William also took 12 wickets for Ireland, though full details are not available. Eleven of these came in two matches and were highly praiseworthy efforts against the professionals. In 1865 against the United South of England XI at Rathmines he had the remarkable figures of 21 - 28 - 5, four ball overs being in vogue.. His wickets included some of the best batsmen in England, among them the well known Surrey batsmen, the splendidly named Julius Caesar and his opening partner, Harry Jupp. William bowled unchanged and the USE were out before lunch. The match, however, was eventually left drawn.
Harry Jupp shared William's dislike for leaving the crease. Once playing at his own club ground of Dorking, he was bowled first ball. He replaced the bails and prepared to receive the next delivery,
"Ain't you going, Juppie?" asked the umpire.
"No, not in Dorking I ain't, " was the reply.
William was to better these figures against the All England XI three years later when his first innings analysis on a helpful wicket, were 66 - 37 - 51 - 6. Overall his "bag" was not so distinguished this time but did include Robert Carpenter of Cambridgeshire, then very much a first class side. A few years earlier Carpenter had certainly been the best batsman in England. William also had George "Tear Em " Tarrent and John Oscroft. Both were better known as fast bowlers, but could hit devastatingly given the opportunity. Alas William's batting against the giants of the day did not match his bowling. His highest score against the professionals was 9.
William Sidney Ashton did not play for Ireland after 1869. He later moved to England, evidently living in some style in Chester. He was apparently on a visit to Ireland when he died.