Ormeau endures forlorn farewell to age of fascination

Australia 86-1 v Ireland Match abandoned
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The Independent Online

This was a sad day for Irish cricket. The Australians came to this lovely ground here for their one-day game against Ireland. After months of preparation, though, the game was rained off before lunch after Australia had been put in to bat in front of a packed crowd of 4,000.

This was only the half of it, because Ormeau, which was first played on in 1843, has been sold to the developers. A greener spot has been found in the country where the Northern Ireland Cricket Club will continue to amalgamate with the Northern Ireland Football Club (rugby union). The new venue may or may not be ready for next year and it will be some time before it takes over in the minds of the locals from Ormeau. There is no need to say more about the strong rugby connection than to tell the uninitiated that this was the home ground in the 1960s and 70s of Mike Gibson, arguably the British Isles' greatest centre.

Australian cricketers are no strangers to Ormeau either. In 1880 they met a side of 18 players from the Northern Ireland Cricket Club. The great Fred Spofforth, "the Demon", took 17 wickets and the Australians won by nine wickets. They came again in 1938, without Don Bradman, who had broken an ankle while England made 903 for 9 declared at The Oval. The Australians, with Bill O'Reilly and Stan McCabe contributing handsomely, won with ease.

The South Africans put in an appearance in 1947 when Athol Rowan, the off-spinning brother of the opening batsman, Eric, took 7 for 10 as Ireland were bowled out for 32. He finished with 12 for 24 when they made only 61 in the second innings. Rowan took 10 more wickets when South Africa came again in 1951.

The Indians visited in 1952 and, in 1957, the West Indians, captained in this game by Clyde Walcott, included three youngsters – Garfield Sobers, Rohan Kanhai and Wesley Hall – all of whom went on to teach cricket a thing or two. After John Reid's New Zealanders had appeared in 1958, Richie Benaud's Australians came to Ormeau three years later.

This was a game better remembered for the hurricane which blew away the press tent, a marquee and tiles from surrounding houses, rather than the weather-inspired draw. The West Indies, under Frank Worrell, arrived in 1963 but, alas, their visit coincided with another cloudburst. Ormeau has always had something in common with Old Trafford.

Thus Ormeau has played an important part in the history of Ireland's cricket in general and Northern Ireland in particular. As one of the principal grounds in a sport which has held its head above politics and always played as a united Ireland, Ormeau has been significant. One can only wish its successor luck and hope the tradition continues.

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