Famous Irish cricketers: Michael Reith
Michael Stevens Reith
Mike Reith was a cricketer's cricketer: the sort of player every captain wants to have on his side. As an opening batsman, he was a technically correct and prolific run scorer, standing out in his early days at Waringstown - no easy or uncritical nursery - as a player of exceptional talent. He was also a medium pacer of great accuracy, who could swing the ball prodigiously. He fielded brilliantly anywhere, having one of the safest pair of hands among the slip fielders of his day.
As a captain, he was astute, knowledgeable and innovative, leading both Ulster Country and Ulster Town to the Guinness Cup and, when recruited by North Down to revive the famous club's fortunes, taking them to the NCU Challenge Cup also.
He came from a cricket background, the son of "Wine Gum Pete" aka Peter Reith, an Englishman who settled in Ulster and became one of Ireland's best umpires. Mike made his first senior appearance at The Lawn aged 14, and, established as Roy Harrison's opening partner, was an outstanding contributor to Waringstown's victory over Muckamore in the 1967 Cup Final. The Villagers were favourites but had to counter the formidable Muckamore spin attack of the "Two Archies", uncle Mc Quilken and nephew Campbell. Batting first, Waringstown lost Roy to the first ball but his brother Deryck then joined Mike in a stand of 166. The opener was eventually third out at 187 having made exactly 100 in just over two and a half hours.
"It was obvious," wrote the Club's first historian, and then scorer Michael Maulstaid, that he was, "one of the best batsmen that the Village had produced for a very long time." He also topscored (38)) in the second innings. A clear man of the match, though no such award was then made. The 1971 competition saw two match winning performances, one with the ball. This came against the RUC at Newforge. The hosts surprisingly bowled their powerful opponents out for 108. Mike then put a stranglehold on their batting, sending down 22 overs to take 3-35. Waringstown got home by 35 runs. In the final v Downpatrick, Mike played what Maulstaid described as, "One of the greatest centuries in the whole history of Senior Cup Cricket." He put on a then Final record 165 for the first wicket with Roy Harrison. A solid 40, in his second knock, ensured that Downpatrick had an impossible task.
Mike continued as a dominant force at Waringstown, apart from his two year "sabbatical" in Australia when he sampled the tough world of Sydney grade cricket, until the end of the 1979 season. He played a key role, with the ball, in the Final of that year v Woodvale, taking 5-58 in the first innings. Waringstown were to emerge victorious by a single run. During this period he also played a leading part in the Village's eight outright and two shared League titles.
However in the close season of 1979/80, he stunned the Ulster cricket world by signing for North Down as a professional. Both clubs had stood out against the move towards engaging overseas stars, and were seen as bastions of amateurism. The Andrews spirit still lived on at The Green, while at The Lawn the view was, "There are eleven professionals here already!"
However a group at North Down, with Clarence Hiles prominent among them, decided that a home grown professional should be engaged and that Mike was the obvious choice. Clandestine negotiations resulted in Mike joining the club and seeing them to an unsuccessful Final in 1980. The following season, he rectified this, taking over the captaincy, and leading them to victory over Ballymena at Downpatrick, in a low scoring match, by 38 runs. He was deservedly man of the match with bowling figures of 12-103.
He was clearly the club's leading all rounder, heading the bowling in 1980, and both sets of averages the following two years. He returned to Waringstown in 1983, making 41 in the Cup Final, having left a lasting impression behind him at Comber. Ian Shields, in the North Down History has noted, "He delivered both as a coach and as a player and history has shown that he was the catalyst that sparked North Down's return to the big time."
At interprovincial level he played 50 Guinness Cup matches, scoring 1138 runs at 25.86 with six half centuries. Perhaps his major contribution was as a captain, having the unusual distinction of leading both Ulster Country and Ulster Town to the Trophy. In 1979 Country won every match, despite never batting first. Mike won only one toss - in the first match - and promptly put the opposition, South Leinster on their home turf, in. The following season, having moved to Comber, he became captain of Town, and led them to success.
He retired from representative cricket after this season, so finished with an impressive interprovincial captaincy record of only two losses form 20 matches. It is somewhat surprising that he never scored a hundred in the competition. His best was 99* in 1977 v North Leinster at Downpatrick. The visitors had been bowled out for 172, Mike saw the home side to victory by 5 wickets, but had the personal disappointment of finishing one short of three figures. Another near miss had come against Munster in 1969, when, in a drawn match, he fell lbw to that fierce competitor Barclay Wilson for 89.
The previous season, at Cliftonville, in the "Local Derby" with Ulster Town, he and his club partner Roy Harrison had led off with a big first wicket stand of 120. Mile reached 65, his first half century in the cup, before being stumped off "Sonny" Hool. Perhaps he had a weakness against veteran slow left armers! Some have argued that his best innings was a 42 against North Leinster at Malahide in 1975. The hosts had made 210-6 with GP O'Brien, on his home ground, getting a century. Then Dougie Goodwin and Mike Halliday, pace and spin in combination, bowled their guests out for 106. Mike alone stood firm, getting 42, before Halliday dismissed him. There was only one other double figure score.
His performances for Ireland are discussed below, here it should be mentioned that they attracted the interest of Warwickshire in 1972. Unfortunately he met with little success. Opening the batting in two matches, in the Second XI Championship, his best score was 16 v Northamptonshire at Coventry. He was out to a return catch to Test man and future England bowling coach Bob Cottam. His Irish debut had come in that never to be forgotten epic at Sion Mills on 2 July 1969.
Not originally selected, he seems a rather bizarre replacement for Dermot Monteith who could not get the time off work: a batsman who bowled medium pace in exchange for a spinner who "batted a bit" down the order. Mike at No 3, made the winning hit, though only scoring 10 before he was lbw to the medium pace of all rounder John Shepherd. He could, however, console himself with the thought that his score was a great deal more than most West Indians managed that historic day. In the two day match at Ormeau which followed, Mike showed his class against a team determined to regain respectability. Beginning his successful opening partnership with David Pigot, he was speedily removed for 3 by the pace of Vanburn Holder in the first innings, but cemented his place in the side with 35 in the second, seeing off Holder and Grayson Shillingford, with a score also reached by Ivan Anderson and Alec O'Riordan, to ensure that "Ireland won the series" and held out for the draw .
That summer also saw the visit of a near Test strength Pakistan International Airways team to play four matches in Ireland. Mike's best effort against them was a second innings top score of 45 for the NCU in a two day match at Shane Park, the only home batsman not to be outclassed.
In all Mike was to play 44 times for Ireland, aggregating 1838 runs at 23.27, with one hundred and eleven fifties. The first half century came later in his debut summer, a second innings 85 - top score of the match - against Wilfred Isaac's XI at Rathmines. Leading the attack against him was Vincent Van der Bijl, probably the best bowler never to play in a Test Match. Vincent played a season for Middlesex in 1980, heading the first class averages. Ironically, considering the reason why he never played Test cricket for South Africa, he bowled Middlesex to the Championship in tandem with the West Indian quick Wayne Daniel. The match ended in a draw, time having been lost to demonstrations.
The 1970 season saw at him at his best in an Irish sweater. He scored 346 runs at 38.44, helping Ireland to what then passed as a successful season of two wins and one loss from five matches. Against Scotland at North Inch, Perth on a perfect wicket, with weather to match, he put on 133 for the first wicket with Pigot after Dougie Goodwin had won the toss. The memory remains clear of crisp left handed elegance as Mike delighted at least one watcher among a handful of spectators. Unfortunately both openers narrowly missed their "tons", Mike being first to go for 82, being leg before to former Oxford and Kent left armer Jimmy Allen. In the second innings, Mike "failed to trouble the scorers", being bowled by paceman ER Thompson for 0 as Ireland collapsed. A thunderstorm was needed to secure the draw.
Mike was to the fore again v The Netherlands on the mat at The Hague in rather bleak conditions. Derek Scott reported for Wisden that, "Reith gave Ireland a great start with 129 perfect runs." Good follow up batting by O'Riordan and Cork left hander Pat Dineen ensured a formidable total, before O'Riordan routed the hosts with 12-71, to gain a comfortable innings victory.
At the end of the season MCC came to Castle Avenue for a hard fought enjoyable match. Gerry Duffy with his two highest scores for Ireland of 79 and 92 took the batting honours in a match lost by 5 wickets with two overs remaining. Mike was not far behind the Leinster man, also getting a half century in each innings 58, run out, and 52 caught off the somewhat occasional off spin of MCC captain Bob Gale. On each occasion, he and Duffy saved the situation after collapses had seemed imminent.
MCC matches, in fact, often saw him at his best. At the Mardyke in 1976, he and Jack Short led off with a stand of 70. Mike, again narrowly missing three figures, finished on 79, being stumped by Scotsman Hamish More off the leg spin of Roger De Ville. Roger who played three matches for Derbyshire in 1963 was a good bowler and was a successful member of the Staffordshire side for some years. Ireland enforced the follow on but, on a good wicket, had little chance of forcing a result.
Two years later the Marylebone Club came to Eglinton for Ireland's first match on that ground. Again Mike fell just short hitting "a splendid 89" caught by former England spinner off fast medium David Wing, a Minor County bowler of some note. Mike's last match for Ireland v Scotland at Coatbridge in 1980 also produced a half century, a first innings 59, terminated by the leg spin of Dallas Moir, who was to have a successful four year spell with Derbyshire.
He was never able to show his considerable leadership talents for Ireland, his career overlapping with those of O'Riordan, Goodwin and Monteith all of whom had long spells in charge. Perhaps this was a missed opportunity. Certainly he showed leadership as unofficial "senior pro" when Monteith was captain, the latter, while describing him as a "shop steward" being full of praise for the way in which he "would insist upon discipline and make sure players toed the line."
His international career over, Mike, carried on at club level, with, as we have seen considerable success. In 1981 he played in the Holywood Centenary Match, scoring 72 for an Ireland XI against a powerful Holywood Select XI being out to West Indian batsman Everton Mattis.
Eventually he had to retire in 1985, with back trouble, but will always be sure of a place in the cricket history of his two clubs and his country.
Edward Liddle, December 2008
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