This is Leicestershire - part 1

In the first of a new series titled ‘This is Leicestershire’, we explore the career of one of our greatest ever bowlers, Jack Walsh.

It is not every day that you take 170 wickets during a County Championship season - but that is exactly what Jack Walsh managed to achieve during his Leicestershire CCC career.

His brilliant cricketing tale was retold to his family, and Communications and Cricket Logisitics Manager Dan Nice, during the 2018 season.

Michelle and Alana Walsh, relatives of the former Leicestershire CCC great left arm spin bowler, visited the Fischer County Ground as part of a trip from Australia that covered many parts of the UK.

Michelle and Alana (pictured), the wife and daughter of Jack’s nephew, John Walsh, popped in for a tour of the ground given by Club Archivist Richard Holdridge.

On a look around the ground, Michelle and Alana were given a look inside the Boardroom, and saw memorabilia in the Charles Palmer Suite and a number of team photographs featuring Jack, including three on the wall by the players’ entrance at the Fischer County Ground.

The Walshes are at least a three generation cricket family. Bennett Walsh, the son of John and Michelle, and brother of Alana, currently plays grade cricket for North Sydney Cricket Club, and there is some evidence of Jack's grandfather being a very good Australian district player in the 1800s.

The Walsh family has a close affinity with the Leicestershire club. John’s brother Peter spent a season in England in the late 1970s and had four games for Leicestershire Second XI, also doing a bit of work with the groundstaff.

Peter’s best haul of 4 for 55 came against Derbyshire Second XI in a game he played with current Chairman Paul Haywood, former England seamer Jonathan Agnew, Jack Birkenshaw, who won the County Championship here as both a player and coach, and County Championship winner Gordon Parsons.

The person that brings all of these connections is Jack Walsh, one of the many cricketers recruited by Sir Julian Cahn.

Though Jack was a hard-hitting left-handed batsman, good enough to score 1,000 runs in his best season in 1952 which included many sixes, it was as a left arm bowler of chinamen that he is best remembered.

Jack was able to play for the county as an amateur before the Second World War. In 1946, Jack and his fellow Australian, Vic Jackson were vital members of a county team that included only 12 full time professionals.

The duo made the headlines as recently as last year when Glamorgan seamer Michael Hogan became just the fifth Australian to take 500 first-class wickets without ever representing his country. Jack and Vic were the first two, followed by Bill Alley, Steve Magoffin and Hogan.

Jack certainly didn’t stop at 500 though; he claimed 1,190 wickets in total including 1,127 for Leicestershire. Only George Geary, Ewart Astill and Terry Spencer are above Jack in that particular list – he is one of six bowlers to reach four figures in terms of first-class wickets for Leicestershire CCC.

His best individual haul was eight for 40 against Glamorgan and Jack also claimed 15 for 100 in a match at Hove, including a second innings analysis of seven for 27.

Jack bowled many deceptive deliveries, including two googlies. One that batsman could read, and one they could not. Paddy Corrall, the Leicestershire wicketkeeper had great fun trying deciding which way the ball would turn; the opposing batsman had no chance!

It is most unlikely that the record 170 wickets he took in first class matches for Leicestershire in 1948 will ever be beaten. During the 1930s, Australia selected ‘Chuck’ Fleetwood Smith, but many critics considered Jack to be the better bowler.

His great friend in the Leicestershire team of the 1940s and 1950s was Maurice Tompkin. In part, this because their wives, Vida Walsh and Sheila Tompkin were friends who had lived on opposite sides of Station Road in Countesthorpe.

Tony Lewis, the former MCC President and captain of England, was dismissed for 0 by Jack on his debut for Glamorgan.

Very nervous on his arrival at the crease on a pair in the second innings, Jack checked out the situation. He advised Lewis to ‘get well forward’.  First ball, Lewis played as requested, and hit the ball through Tompkin’s legs to secure a single and avoid a pair on debut.

Jack and Vida are survived by their daughter Clare Smyth and her family, who live in Newcastle, Australia, where Jack passed away in 1980 aged only 67. Clare and her family also visited the Leicestershire Grounds and were met by Richard a few years ago.

* 'This is Leicestershire' is a new winter feature, exploring the history of our great club. In the second part, we caught up with David Millns to talk about the glory years of the 1990s.