Viewpoints: when Anglo-Irish eyes are smiling

1st match of ODI series between Ireland vs Scotland 8 September 2014

‘Viewpoints’ is the TFT strand in which we hand the keyboard to a new writer. Simon Begley grew up in Ulster before moving to Kent in his teens. As England appoint an Irish captain, he reflects on the overlapping emotions of his countrymen.

“The Irish play cricket?”

I get that a lot. Yeah, when people hear I’m Irish and that I love cricket, I get that a lot.

A lot of us play cricket. And a lot of us love the game.

When I was growing up in Bangor – no, not the Welsh one – I loved cricket more than anything.

My earliest memories are cricket: watching my dad bat for his club when I can’t have been more than 5 or 6; copying out the scorecards (Hilditch/Woods/Yallop – those names still bring me joy); the ’81 Ashes. Botham’s Ashes. My God!

We played at primary school, thanks entirely to a wonderful teacher who taught us how to bat, bowl, field. I was our team’s best batsman. I was out for a golden duck in our first two games. I was devastated. I scored 30* the next. It felt like a century.

We were runners up in an indoor six-a-side competition. The local newspaper report called me “accomplished”. I still remember that day. It was thirty years ago and I still remember that team: Begley, Taylor, Morrow, McCoubrey, McGoran, McIlroy. (No, not that one.)

My dad took me to see the 1985 Australians v Ireland at Downpatrick. I was eleven. Alan Border scored 90odd before lunch. He was amazing. When he was out (caught at long on, coming down the track – I can see the shot now) a hundred kids invaded the pitch to collect his autograph. I was one of them. He stopped, took off his gloves and signed for us all. The happiest day of my life. Fifteen minutes later the rain came and the match was abandoned.

Ah, the rain. In Northern Ireland, always the rain. I’m certain that’s why our games were only 20 overs. It was all we could fit in during those chaotic sodden summers.

I was school captain. I picked up tips from the greats. From Border, Gower, Viv. The need to assess the pitch, the overhead conditions, that sort of thing. One toss I asked the opposition skipper and teacher/umpire whether it had rained that morning and if the cloud was expected to clear. The two of them looked at me like I was mad. I lived ten miles down the road. It was an artificial wicket.

Me and my best friend played in our back gardens. Alternate days so as not to destroy the wicket cos our mums didn’t want us wrecking their gardens. He was Viv. I was ITB. Then we swapped. Because, we were Irish and, y’know, England.

But despite all the political shit, local and national – the punishment beatings, the killings, the bombs – on the news every single f***ing night – despite that, we played cricket and we loved England. (The cricket team mind. Not the football team. We weren’t stupid.)

We cheered them against the Aussies. Cheered the outrageous, 500/1, immortal follow-on victory at Headingley. (“What’s a follow on?” “No idea”) Cheered Ian Terence Botham – basically Irish, let’s face it – flicking the ‘v’s to the establishment.

Unless they were playing the West Indies of course. Then we roared on the Windies.

Roared as Malcolm hurled thunderbolts at the frightened little Englishmen. Roared as Viv swatted away the pathetic English bowling. Roared when Jeffrey did that thing when he caught the ball and did a massive leap where his heels hit his bum and his cap fell off. God, which ten year old wouldn’t roar?

But my love for the game grew stronger when I moved to England.

It was how I made friends. I was a spotty, ginger adolescent with a ludicrous Ulster accent. No-one understood a word I said. I didn’t want to be understood. I hated England. I hated everyone. I wanted to go home.

Then the cricket season came round. I was a batsman who bowled a bit. First ball I bowled the school’s best batsman. He’d made an unbeaten hundred the previous season. No-one I’d ever known had scored a hundred. No-one bowled this guy first ball. I did. I did him LBW second up. Everyone cheered. I smiled. I was still smiling when I got home. My mum remembers it as the first day I smiled in England. Eight months without a smile. Until cricket.

And living in Kent. Garden of England. A county team an hour away. A proper bloody county cricket team only an hour away! Players that had once just been Ceefax names were now real. Canterbury in the summer. Days of glory. Sharing a 2l bottle of cider in the back seat of a Citroen on our way to watch God (aka David Fulton). (I’ve no idea what happened that day but I’m pretty sure it was brilliant.)

Test matches. Sitting for a whole day under tarpaulin at the Oval v Sri Lanka. Waiting, praying for play when Moses himself would have poked his head out, shaken it sadly and said “Not today fellas”.

Test matches when it didn’t rain. Sitting in the Edrich. The Compton. The SW-facing one that’s just bloody amazing as the sun goes down at the Oval. Old Trafford 1993. Manchester Uni and the last day, Old Trafford 1993. We can save this. We can save this. Graham. Oh Graham…

March 2006. The only Test match I’ve been to for all five days. An Irish friend emails from Nairobi: “Anyone fancy Eng v Ind in Mumbai next week?” I say yes. I land on St Patrick’s Day.

Rob and I wore our Irish rugby shirts in the sweltering day-five heat as Shaun Udal made eejits of the locals who thought chasing 300 on a wearing pitch was easy. Hoggy was a doggy (according to the brilliantly nutty local chant), Geraint caught everything, Monty dropped a skier. Next ball, Monty pouched an even higher skier and wore an expression of disbelief that I will never again see from a professional sportsman.

We cheered as the England team did a lap of honour. We cheered harder when Freddie and KP pointed and waved at the two sunburnt ginger Irishmen wearing Irish rugby shirts in the sweltering heat. We drank with the England cricket team in the Taj Mahal Palace hotel. We got a train to Delhi and saw them fold in an ODI.

Six months earlier, the greatest day of my sporting life. The day Warney dropped the Ashes. The day KP won the Ashes. No, the day Gilo won the Ashes. The day Warney ran 70 yards from below us at third man towards the pavilion to shake KP’s hand. The day 23,000 of us rose to salute not just the single greatest innings but possibly the greatest act of friendship in sport I’ve ever seen.

And then… the Irish.

I know Maxie and James, who edit this blog. I got to know them many years ago through mutual friends, but got to know them better through a love of cricket. They know my passion for the game. They know I’m a bit of an Irish eejit sometimes. Well, a lot of the time. They know how I’ve celebrated Ireland’s victories through the years. Pakistan 2007, England 2011. Every other associate team ever.

A few years ago Maxie organised some nets at the Oval for our village side. A young Surrey 2nd XI fella gave us a few tips. I heard his accent. We got talking. He was from near me. I asked his name. Gary. Holywood. (No, not that one.) Five miles from where I grew up. Same town where I went to school. Good player. Good lad. Gave me some tips about my stance, my backlift that I still use today. Told me about his under 19s captain. Told me to look out for him. Said he was the best batsman he’d ever seen. Said he was the Irish Gower. Said he’d play for England.

Said his name was Eoin Morgan.

Gary Wilson keeps wicket for Surrey.

Oh yes. The Irish play cricket.


    • Most of my previous comment is missing. Went on to say how much I had enjoyed the article and hoped that we could all join smiling eyes in Oz. You can’t get the staff!

      • Thanks Jenny.

        It’s a bugger this commenting thing, isn’t it? I’ll have words with the boss!


  • Lovely piece – thanks very much. Any thoughts on Test status (backed by Jason Gillespie recently)?

    Eoin Morgan didn’t get much of a chance in the Big Bash coming in with only 3.1 overs left (thanks to a big opening stand by Hussey and Kallis). Still 12*(5) was good stuff and he played an incredible off-glide that went for four through third slip – that passed on the LEG side of leg-stump.

    “My dad took me to see the 1985 Australians v Ireland at Downpatrick. I was eleven. Alan Border scored 90odd before lunch. He was amazing”.

    Border’s batting was incredible on that tour. It infuriates me that Border has gone down in reputation as a stodgy batsman with only three shots. Border played that way because he was often in a weak team and his role was to salvage the innings. He was capable of so much more. He averaged 47 at No.3 and 50+ everywhere else he batted. His 7-hour 123* at OT in 1981 in a hopeless cause with a broken finger is one of the forgotten great innings. I don’t like the overuse of the word “great” and only using it sparingly and he was a great.

    • Thanks Simon.

      Lots of thoughts on Test status (which I’d love to write about if Maxie & James will have it.) In summary- yes. Yes yes oh God yes.

      Completely agree re Border. A wonderful batsman who changed the way he played to suit the team he captained. His entire career is, in my opinion, one of total selflessness. That innings at Downpatrick was 90 minutes of beauty. I loved him then. I love him still.

  • Watched cricket in Phoenix Park Dublin with my mother and father when I was a child. Cricket has been played in Ireland since the 1820’s. Ireland played its first international match in 1855 against the Gentlemen of England. During the 1880’s the Gaelic Athletic Association banned ” … the playing of foreign games” such as cricket and anyone doing so was banned from playing Hurling or Gaelic football. The ban was lifted in 1970. The Irish National Cricket Team is an all-Ireland team representing the entire country of Ireland, North and South of the border. Cricket in Ireland has grown in popularity since the World Cup of 2007 which enjoyed a great deal of media coverage in Ireland.

    • Hi Peter.

      Yes, cricket in Phoenix Park! I’m pretty sure my dad would have played there. Would have loved to play there myself. I’ve had to make do with Regent’s Park instead. Not a bad alternative.

      I know there’s a whole heap of history and politics around everything Irish – and have bored too many friends senseless about it – but I’ve always found it bizarre that some sports (rugby, cricket, tennis I think) are an all Ireland team and others NI/Republic.

      But that’s for another day…


  • Really enjoyable. Reminds me of the days when we could read proper cricket correspondents in the papers and books. Cricket is so much about nostalgia, atmosphere, great moments. I once attended a charity match in South London featuring Colin Cowdrey, Tony Hancock and Sid James. A unique event (especially Hancock’s bowling action!). I wonder what memories today’s youngsters will have.

    • Thanks Benny.

      Charity cricket matches are brilliant, aren’t they? My personal favourite: getting hammered with Perry Groves after a charity match in North London. Me to Perry: “You know Perry, even though you’re Arsenal scum, I always really liked you as a player.” Pez: “That’s because you’re a fellow ginger.” A really really nice bloke (and pretty handy wicketkeeper).


  • Great article Simon. My name may be a giveaway, but I had a very similar cricketing upbringing but in Scotland rather than Ireland…my first recollection of cricket was the 1976 touring West Indians, the straw coloured Oval, Holding’s pace and Viv’s genius.

    Also had a massive soft spot for the Windies, but never went as far as supporting them over England. My cricketing claim to fame is getting the wicket of Gordon Greenidge in 1990 when he spent a season playing in Scotland.

    They play cricket in Scotland too, although Eoin Morgan trumps Dougie Brown and Gavin Hamilton……

    • Thanks Hamish.

      You got Gordon flippin Greenidge!!! That is just wonderful.

      Maxie – quite rightly and very skilfully – edited parts of this piece which included, as an aside, my 5 favourite ever batsmen. GG is number 2. I love that man.

      If we ever meet, I’ll buy you a beer for that.


      • The reality is that he had melted 3 6s off the first 3 balls of the over and was caught on the boundary going for 6 in the over – I maintain that I set him up and did him with my slower ball. Never have I got so much grief for taking a wicket, because my team mates were enjoying watching him bat more than watching me bowl.

        He’s in my all-time test XI, and not just because he signed the score-book.

        • Oh go on then, Hamish.

          My all time XI (and please note that I’m 40 so never saw the Don, Lillee, Thommo, Barry R and others at their peak…):

          Virender, GG, Gower, Viv (c), KP, Gilly (wkt), ITB, Warne, Wasim, Marshall, McGrath.

          • I have 3 changes from that.

            Gavaskar for Viru because Sunny’s average of 65 against the West Indies in the 70s and 80s as an opener is phenomenal.

            Lara for KP (Lara at 4 Viv down to 5). Lara’s 153* at Barbados in 98 possibly the best 4th innings I ever saw.

            Curtley for McGrath – I sway between Curtley, McGrath and Lillee for this spot, and Steyn is making a massive case for inclusion.

            Gower a complete guilty pleasure because we all wanted to bat like him when we were kids – may have to be replaced by Amla in the near future.

  • Thanks for your article Simon. And thanks for ignoring the fact that the last time we played cricket together I ran you out! See you soon mate.

  • What a lovely piece. So wonderful. Thank you so much Simon. Have to confess I do have a bit of thing about Eoin Morgan. Makes this old gal cheer up no end. Nothing wrong with ginger hair either or someone from the Emerald Isle. My hope and wish is that he plays his game in his way and captains well. Loads of runs would be a distinct advantage. He has the ability and now is his time to show how good he really is and can be in ODIs. No reason why not. Irish Eyes are most definitely smiling up here in Lincs. My forebear is Fred Weatherly who wrote the lyrics to “Danny Boy” and that is my claim to fame, sort of. Cheers Simon. Great article to end the day on. Fab. Happy Christmas and New Year!!!

    • Thanks Annie. Very kind words.

      I confess that my Eoin love is threefold: 1) Gary Wilson telling me about him pre-fame; 2) he’s a leftie. I’m not, but I’ve always had a thing for lefties; 3) well, basically, he’s a younger, prettier, more talented me.

      But Annie, your great (maybe another great) uncle/granddad wrote ‘Danny Boy’!!!! Sweet Lord! That’s just amazing. I love it.

      James, Maxie. We’ve got a descendant of the chap who wrote the unofficial Irish national anthem and someone who got Gordon Greenidge on the same comments page! The only thing that could make this better is a KP retweet.

      My work here is done…

      Happy xmas everyone.


      • I’ve always found that somewhat curious (Danny Boy being an Irish anthem). It was written by an Englishman and doesn’t mention Ireland or anything uniquely Irish.

        I suppose it comes from being sung to the tune of The Londonderry Air.

      • Fred Weatherly wrote a huge cannon of lyrics including Danny Boy and Roses are bloom in Picardy, The Holy City and loads more. With reference to the point that nothing about Irish people is said. Well the tune went all around the world looking for the right lyric. Nothing seemed to gel until Fred put his lyric to the tune and off it went. Momentum gone mad. I don’t know why Fred wrote the words he did to the tune I wasn’t around at the time. Fred is related to my great grandfather. Not sure how we are linked as Fred’s clan mostly come from Bristol. But the Weatherly name came over with the Normans and settle in Yorkshire and then over the years moved to London and Bristol/Somerset.

        Going back to Morgan. I’ve liked him from the first time he put on an England shirt. I just thought: “This guy’s really got talent!” I do sincerely think he has been harmed by this past year and the ECB shenanigans. He seems to be really making his mark down under. I hope he shocks everyone and does brilliantly. He certainly has the talent. Just depends upon whether the damage done to all the players has adversely affected him as it has a lot of the England players.

        As said, Eoin certainly brings a smile to this old gal’s face and no mistake.

        Cheers Simon.

  • Nice one, Scratch. Liked it a lot.

    I remember when we played in Belfast about ten years ago. I got the distinct impression that if you were going to play an ‘English sport’ in Northern Ireland you weren’t going to do it casually, you were going to take it very seriously indeed (reflected in the absolute battering they gave us).

    I was actually at the game last night, and insisted on continuously referring to Morgan by his full name – ‘England-Captain-Eoin-Morgan’ – much to my wife’s annoyance.

  • Thanks Tris.

    Yes, NI cricket can be a bit moody sometimes. Oppo umpire and an LBW shout? You’d be on your way to the pavilion before you could say Shakoor Rana.

    Hope you’re well. All my love to you & Mrs THA.


    • And to you, old boy. Sorry I missed you for the Lions. Went to the Sydney game in the end. Black market tickets. Ouch.

      A bed for you and free access to the cellar if you fancy the World Cup come March..

  • “I asked the opposition skipper and teacher/umpire whether it had rained that morning and if the cloud was expected to clear. The two of them looked at me like I was mad. I lived ten miles down the road. It was an artificial wicket”

    Spoken like a true cricket tragic. Lovely piece of work.

    Might not be the correct article for saying this – then again, maybe it is – I’m actually way more optimistic about the World Cup now. Whatever Morgan’s form, I reckon we’ve got the right captain now. If the team get the fundamentals straight we might just get to the semis. Gotta hope some of the big boys knock each other out earlier on though.

    • Thanks Bernie. Glad you enjoyed it.

      Agree re Morgan being the right ODI captain. Want to agree re WC fortunes but not so sure it’ll do anything to change exit in the quarters. In its purest terms, all Eng has done is replaced an out of form defensive opener with a very talented, aggressive but (internationally) inexperienced opener.

      As long as the Eng management doesn’t bin Morgan immediately after WC defeat – he’s going through a bad run of form himself of course – and blame him for their own failings I think he’ll do well as long-term ODI captain. But then, this is the England management we’re talking about…

  • Great writing. David Gower is my favourite cricketer ever so to mention him in the same sentence as Eoin Morgan is praise indeed

    • Thanks Colin. Glad you liked it.

      Yes, David Gower is one of my favourite ever players. Beautiful to watch and, to this young Irishman, just about as English an English cricketer could be.


  • hahaha – i was working the bar that day in Downpatrick and missed the innings ……


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