Waterford's Greatest Fielder? The Tom Kelly Story by Edward Liddle

by Administrator

THOMAS JOSEPH DART KELLY, the second Irishman to play Test Cricket, and the first, of any nationality to wear a blazer in Australian Cricket, was born in Co Waterford on 3 May 1844, but, when only a few weeks old was taken to Bristol by his parents.

On Durdham Downs above the city, he learned his cricket, reputedly in the company of the Grace brothers, though too much should not be made of this, as he was, for example three years younger than EM Grace, the third of the sons of local doctor Henry Grace to distinguish himself on the cricket field, four years older than WG, and six years older than GF (Fred) Grace, the tragic figure in that formidable brotherhood.

Tom was, in fact more of an age with the two Grace sisters, whose childhoods were mostly spent fetching balls struck by their brothers in the orchard of the family home.

However the one match in England in which Tom played of which a score has been seen did involve two members of that remarkable family.

This game took place in 1860, between a prominent local side Clifton, and the visiting South Wales Club. Clifton was not the Graces' home club, they often turned out against it, but Dr Henry Grace and his brother-in-law Alfred Pocock both played for them in this match. Henry was a very useful all rounder as was Alfred, who is the "Uncle Pocock" of WG's ghosted autobiographies and was the man probably most responsible for the early development of "The Champion."

Tom turned out for the visitors, which suggests that, a keen 16 year old he may have been a local replacement in a team turning up one short. However geography was never a qualification for the South Wales Club, the Graces themselves often played for it, in some number.

In this match Pocock's cunning underarmers, he operated at medium pace breaking both ways, were too much for most of the visitors and Tom deserved, and no doubt received, praise for a doughty 10* at No 9 in the only innings time allowed him.

Had he remained in England he might well have carved out a noteable cricket career, for Gloucestershire, the county side being founded largely on the initiative of Henry Grace, and the United South of England XI, for much of the 1870s, a vehicle for the deeds of WG and GF, besides being a considerable source of revenue for them.


Instead Tom moved again, settling in Melbourne in 1863, aged 19. He was soon established in cricket there becoming a regular in the batting line up of the Melbourne Club, the premier side in the then colony of Victoria.

Tom became a freescoring, hard hitting batsman, well reputed among his peers. His figures may not seem to justify this esteem, but this was an era of poor wickets, fast bowling and low scores, when a 50 had at least the value that a century does today.

He was also a brilliant fieldsman in any position, but particularly at point. In 1873/4, The Australian Sketcher profiling the Victorian XXII before their match against WG's English tourists noted "TJD KELLY (Melbourne) Plays in capital style, and a most brilliant hitter. A very fast run getter. At point he cannot be equalled in the Colonies." Those who saw him field, and who had knowledge of English cricket, thought that he had few peers there either.

The first match of any importance he played in was for Melbourne against the visiting Albert Club from Sydney in December 1863.This was a three day game and as deserving of - non awarded - first class status as many other early games in Australia which have come to be so regarded.~

Both sides were strong with the visitors having a devastating opening attack comprising Birmingham born paceman and future Australian Test player, Nat Thomson, and the remarkable Charles Lawrence, who having played a major part in the game's development in Ireland when the Phoenix professional, was now, having remained in Australia after the first ever English tour of 1861/62, professional with the Albert and laying the foundation stones of Australian greatness.

They were rather too much for the hosts' batsmen, though Tom with 11 in each innings did better than most, being one of only two reaching double figures in both innings The Albert included one player who may have been known to him already. This was the opener George Gilbert, a first cousin of the Graces, who had been a school master in Surrey, but a frequent visitor to the Grace family home for cricket purposes.

Later in the season Tom made his first class debut. The second English team was in Australia, captained by "The Lion of the North", the formidable Nottinghamshire George Parr.

Much stronger than their predecessors, they included one amateur, EM Grace, who was then the most formidable batsman in England, his younger brother still an  unproved teenager.

At the MCG, they divided their resources, and calling on the best ten local players staged amatch between Parr's XI and G Anderson's XI. Anderson, a Yorkshireman was probably the best professional batsman of his time.

Tom played for Parr's XI and, batting low in the order was bowled by one of EM's fast round armers for 0. In the second innings he went in first and made 13 before being dismissed by leading Australian all rounder TW Wills.

English educated, Wills is perhaps best remembered for the founding of Australian Rules Football to keep fit between cricket seasons. He had made a few appearances in Irish Cricket for Lawrence's United Ireland XI. Unfortunately he was an alcoholic depressive, who eventually took his own life.

First class cricket was only in its infancy during Tom's playing days. He had only 28 innings, passing fifty on five occasions.
Oddly he did less well in "other matches", though some of his performances stand out.

In 1865, the Albert Club, with Lawrence and Thomson still to the fore, returned to the MCG. They were bowled out for 46, and, though they dismissed their hosts for 142, were defeated by an innings. The key Melbourne innings was Tom's. Coming in at 3, he drove the famous pair out of the attack and raced to 46, thereby putting the match out of the visitors' reach, considering the state of the wicket.

As already mentioned, WG, at the height of his powers, brought a side to Australia in 1873-74. This was an unhappy tour with Grace's rudeness, pursuit of financial gain, and disregard for the welfare of his professionals, combining to make him, bar one, the most unpopular England captain to tour Australia until the advent of Douglas Jardine in 1932/33.The one exception? Grace himself in 1891/92 when he showed that he had learned nothing from his previous visit.

At Melbourne his side lost by an innings to XXII of Victoria. The hosts with their top-scorer an Englishman and former team-mate of WG's, BB Cooper who made 84.

Tom was second top scorer with 26 before giving a return catch to James Southerton, a frequent visitor to Ireland with the travelling professional XIs, who was to play in the first of all Test Matches three years later and thus at 49 years and 139 days establish himself as England's oldest Test debutant. He also holds one unassailable record. On 16 June 1880, he became the first Test cricketer to die! He remains the only Test cricketer to have fathered an Editor of Wisden.


The highest of Tom's five first class half centuries came in a losing cause against New South Wales (NSW) at the MCG in 1874/75.

Batting first the hosts were dismissed for 149, Tom - first wicket down - contributing 14. NSW made 216 in reply then bowled Victoria out for 185 and went on to win by 6 wickets. The margin would have been more impressive had it not been for a brilliant 86 from Tom, who came in at 10/1 and dominated the visitor’s powerful attack. Unfortunately no one was able to stay with him.


The following season, again at the MCG, Tom and Victoria found the visitors in devastating form with the ball. Fred "The Demon" Spofforth, who was to destroy England in the Ashes creating Test at The Oval in 1882, and Edwin Evans, a formidable medium pacer, bowled their hosts out for 121.

The score was at one 1/3 with Co Cork born Tom Horan among those "back in the hutch." Tom Kelly who had come in  0/1 was undaunted.

Supported by Cooper (36), he smashed his way to 71 out of 97 added while he was at the wicket, sending "The Demon" to lick his wounds on the boundary. NSW gained a lead of 50, but, with Tom and Cooper both failing, Victoria were bowled out for 34, without Spofforth turning his arm over.

One other incident from such matches should be mentioned. In 1867/68, when Victoria won by an innings, Tom was dismissed for 0, but held a superb catch to dismiss English all rounder "Terrible Billy" Caffyn who had "done a Lawrence", remaining in Australia after Parr's tour. The bowler was Frank Allan, somewhat misleadingly called "The Bowler of the Century," However all who saw Tom's catch were in no doubt that it was "The Catch of the Century." It was talked about long after he had died.

It was during this period that the blazer made its appearance. It was a red, white and blue striped affair, with a similar sash slung across it. It attracted much comment and was soon to have its imitators. Tom was also one of the Melbourne Club's leading administrators at his stage. He was a committee man for a decade, also serving on the Match Committee of the Victorian Cricket Association.

Tom missed selection for the first Test of all in March 1877, but came into the second, replacing Cooper, when after the success of the first match; another was hastily arranged for the benefit of the all professional England XI.

He made 19 in the first innings 122, second top score, before falling to Yorkshire fastman George "Happy Jack" Ulyett, whose character belied, or perhaps explained, his nickname.

England built a lead of 139 before bowling "The Colonials" out a second time for 259. Captain Dave Gregory top-scored with 43, then came Tom with a remarkable 35. His innings ended with eight successive 4s, before being terminated by his old nemesis, Southerton. England won by 4 wickets.

He was not a member of the "First Australians", side which toured England in 1878, so called though Lawrence had taken an Aboriginal side there ten years previously.

However Tom was in the team when the only Test of the 1878/79 England tour was played. The tourists, captained by the authoritarian Lord Harris, were a weak and predominantly amateur side, whose wicket keeper Leland Hone did not always wear the gloves when turning out for Dublin University, Phoenix and Ireland!

Australia won by 10 wickets, Tom making 10 in his final Test innings, despite Gregory's eccentric batting order which had himself at 11 and Tom at 10!

Tom was not in the 1880 touring party, which played the first ever Test in England, losing narowly thanks to 152 by WG, who was accompanied in the side by EM and GF (‘Fred’). Fred had an unfortunate Test career; he was dismissed for a "pair" and died a fortnight later, though from pnuemonia rather than disappointment.

Tom did join the tourists on their return home, as he had done in 1878/79, playing in matches in the outback and bush. However his best innings in such matches was for XXII of Victoria against the 1880 tourists. His second innings 46 did much to set up a 71 runs victory.

His final first class match was against his old foes from NSW att he end of the 1882/83 season.There were to be no more dazzling fifties. Batting low in the order he made 3 and 4, Edwin Evans being the last man to dismiss him.

Thomas Joseph Dart Kelly died in Melbourne on 20 July 1893, just under ten months short of another fifty. While not the most famous of Australian cricketers, he deserves to be remembered as an exciting batsman and brilliant fielder, who, with his "coat of many colours" made a unique contribution to the Cricket History of his adopted country.

Test cricketers from Waterford are rather thin the ground and should not be allowed to sink into obscurity.
 

In compiling this article I am indebted to the following sources:

www.cricketarchive.com
The Oxford Companion to Australian Cricket
Jack Pollard  Australian Cricket The Game and The Players~
Chris Harte A History of Austrlian Cricket
Simon Rae WG Grace


Copyright: Cover Point 

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