Sir Timothy O   Brien, 3rd Baronet in 1896. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Sir Timothy O Brien, 3rd Baronet in 1896. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

It was London, 1948, and Her Majesty Queen Victoria was in the process of elevating one of her loyal subjects, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, publican, and Liberal MP for Cashel, one Timothy O Brien, to a Baronetcy. The Lord Mayor of Dublin was thenceforth known to all and sundry as Sir Timothy O Brien, 1st Baronet. The family proved to be extremely unimaginative with regard to naming their progeny.

The 1st Baronet was succeeded by his second son Sir Patrick as the 2nd Baronet, the elder son Timothy having died at 40. Timothy had been married to Mary O Dwyer. The couple had four children; the second child was born at Dublin on November 5, 1861 and was christened Timothy Carew.

Young Tim was educated at Downside School of Bath, Somerset, and St Charles College, Notting Hill, London. It was said that he had wanted to go up to Oxford, not with the intention of obtaining a good education, but for the sole purpose of gaining a cricket Blue. He first graced the corridors of New Inn Hall, Oxford in 1884. As planned, Tim O Brien won his cricket Blues from Oxford in 1884 and 1885.

The cricket bug seems to have bitten Tim rather early. The archives list him as a right-hand batsman, a left-arm bowler, and an occasional wicketkeeper . Between 1879 and 1881, we find him playing 3 Second-Class matches for Kensington Park and Middlesex Colts, before making his First-Class debut with Middlesex against WG Grace s Gloucestershire at Lord s in 1881, about five months short of his 20th birthday. The scorecard of the game indicates that he had kept wickets for his team on his debut. Gloucestershire won the match by 6 wickets. O Brien began his First-Class career with a pair and a catch.

In a First-Class career spanning 1881 to 1914, Tim O Brien played 266 matches, aggregating 11,397 runs at an average of 27. He scored 15 centuries and 59 fifties, and held 173 catches and made 2 stumpings (one of them to dismiss The Doctor).

The above figures include his 5 Tests in which he scored 59 runs with a highest of 20 and an average of 7.37. Throughout his career, he remained an amateur cricket in the purest sense, scorning the use of a protective box and revelling in thrashing the bowling around.

O Brien began his quest for his Blue well enough in his debut match for Oxford, against the visiting Australians under Billy Murdoch in 1884. Despite having a star-studded line-up, the Australians crumbled to 148. In reply, Oxford lost their first 4 wickets for a total of 25. The slow process of recovery began with a 5th-wicket stand of 92 between O Brien and Herbert Page. O Brien, using his height and long reach, and employing his powerful forearms to good effect, blasted his way to 92 in a total of 209.

The visitors managed 168 in the second innings. For Oxford, the curiously named Edward Bastard took 5 for 44. Oxford won by 7 wickets. O Brien, opening batting, contributed 13. An auspicious start had been made in the campaign for the Blue.

The Australians lost their match against the MCC by an innings and 115 runs. The MCC innings of 481 included a vigorous 72 from O Brien. His maiden First-Class century (119) was scored for MCC against Gloucestershire that season. In his next match, against Lancashire, his 91* and 57 allowed Oxford to win by 5 wickets.

He scored another century (110) against Gloucestershire, for MCC that same season. He passed the landmark of 1,000 runs for the season in this innings. In his long career, he topped the 1,000-run mark thrice, his 1,150 runs in 1884 being his highest tally. The others came in 1895 (1,065) and 1896 (1,087).

O Brien also made his Test debut for in the drawn first Test at Old Trafford that season. He scored 0 and 20.

In the winter of 1887, Tim O Brien was one of the seven amateur players in the 13-member touring party to Australia under George Vernon. He was not selected for the only Test of the tour, but turned out for the visitors in 7 First-Class games. His performances on the tour were rather disappointing. He managed two scores in the 40s and generally failed to get going.

Yorkshire matches used to be tough assignments those days. In 1889, a year before the formal launch of the County Championship, Yorkshire were bowled out for 259 at Lord s. In response, O Brien (92) and Vernon (86) helped to take the total to 368. Even under the weight of a deficit of 109, Yorkshire ran up a total of 388.

The winning target for the home team worked out to 280 runs in only 3 hours as they began the fourth innings. The fall of the fourth wicket brought O Brien to the crease, with 151 runs to get and 90 minutes of play left. The match was over in the next 80 minutes as O Brien launched a spectacular assault on the Yorkshire bowling, remaining undefeated on 100, the last 83 runs coming in only 35 minutes. Lord Hawke had had to resort to two long-ons and two long-offs in an effort to stem the flow of runs. Middlesex had won a deserving victory over Yorkshire by 4 wickets.

O Brien was to have another run-in with Yorkshire in the same season, for MCC this time. MCC won the hard-fought game by 35 runs, with O Brien contributing 96. Almost exactly a year later, O Brien took 105 off the bowling of the 1890 Australians at Lord s as skipper of MCC, the home team winning by 4 wickets. Fred Spofforth turned out for MCC in this game, scoring 13 runs and taking 4 wickets in the second innings.

Timothy O Brien succeeded to the title of 3rd Baron on the demise of his uncle Sir Patrick, who had passed away without any issues. Becoming a Baronet had little effect on his cricket. In a pamphlet entitled Irish Cricket History, published in 2009, Edward Liddle says: The 3rd Baronet was one of the best amateur batsmen In England. WG ranked him second only to the great professional opener Arthur Shrewsbury, as a bat whom he would want in his side. Red haired, tall and strong, O Brien, who fathered 10 children, but scorned a box, loved taking on the fastest bowlers in the land with lofted straight or on drives. He also developed a chop shot , which the great Ranji much admired, and, in company with EM Grace horrified the purists by pioneering the pull shot.

Temperamentally short of temper and not afraid to speak his mind, or to stand his own ground in any confrontation, O Brien had some celebrated verbal jousts with the venerable WG.

O Brien was a wonderful innovator and improviser in his cricketing shots. This incident was reported from a Gloucestershire versus Middlesex game at Lord s in 1885, when the left-arm spin of William Woof was restricting O Brien s strokeplay (O Brien s confrontations with Woof had begun when the latter had dismissed him in both innings for his debut pair in First-Class cricket):

Tied down in a Middlesex v Gloucestershire match at Lord s, he suddenly played a reverse sweep then an unknown entity in a batsman s armoury. He almost decapitated EM Grace at point.

Eh Tim, shrieked WG, probably furious he had not thought of the shot, you nearly killed my brother.

Bloody good job too, was the baronet s response.

I ll get a policeman to you, retorted the Champion.

A fight nearly broke out in the pavilion afterwards. Indeed Tim s language and quick temper got him into much trouble on the cricket field and elsewhere. Surrey once refused to play Middlesex if he was in the side and banned him from the Oval. Having paid his butler s membership subscription, O Brien got that worthy to introduce him there as a guest!

Needless to say, these four strokes executed in 1885 were the first documented instances of reverse sweeps in the history of First-Class cricket. At the time, the strokes had been described a back-handed shots through the slips without changing the batting stance.

Another unorthodox approach to his cricket was reported from the match against Surrey in 1893, also at Lord s. Surrey were dismissed for 287. Middlesex were bowled out for 108 on Day Two, being 179 runs in arrears. As per the laws of the times, the home team followed on and launched their second innings in emphatic fashion with a first-wicket stand of 228 between Drewey Stoddart (125) and skipper O Brien (113). The innings later progressed to 377. Middlesex finally dismissed Surrey for 119 to win by 79 runs.

It is said that while the defining first-wicket stand was in progress in the Middlesex 2nd innings, Surrey skipper John Shuter had called upon the lob bowler Walter Read. Packing the leg-side with fielders, Shuter advised Read to bowl a temptingly leg-stump line from the Nursery end. Somehow, the ball refused to spin as much as anticipated and Sir Tim, always quick to take advantage of any opportunity provided, had quickly turned around and had driven the ball with enormous power up against the railings of the new Pavilion. Such was the power of the shot that keeper Harry Wood was reported to have taken refuge in the slips. The crowd had been in splits of laughter. Just to show that the shot had not been a flash in the pan, Sir Tim had hit a total of four such blows, each time to the boundary rails.

There was melodrama when the 3rd Baronet had attempted a fifth strike. The bat, having missed the ball completely, had hit the ground with a resounding sound, raising a cloud of dust while the ball had hit his pads. When the excitement had died down and the dust had settled, the off-bail was observed to be lying on the ground. From his safe position somewhere behind first slip, Wood had claimed that the batsman had trodden on his wicket. O Brien, never shy about voicing his opinion, had questioned that stating that Wood had hardly been in a good position to see anything, having been busy running away from the action. O Brien had then made the counterclaim that Wood had knocked off the bail himself in his flight from the scene. Read had made the claim that the batsman had been bowled. It was then the turn of the umpires, Frederick Coward and Alfred Smith, to add to the confusion by stating that their view of the entire incident had been obstructed (one by the bowler and the other by the batsman), and that they were consequently not in a positon to give a ruling on the incident.

Well, the incident was reported to have been put to rest with Sir Tim, the Middlesex skipper, refusing to leave the crease, whereupon the game had resumed in a somewhat strained atmosphere. This was reputedly The Golden Age of Cricket, replete with incidents of this nature and much of this has been woven into the folklore and fabric of the game.

The Sussex versus Middlesex game at Hove in 1895 was the setting for another humongous effort from Sir Tim. Batting first, Middlesex had lost their fourth wicket at 146 when Slade Lucas was joined by the 3rd Baronet. The next wicket fell at 484, the pair of Lucas (185) and O Brien (202, an extraordinary innings, according to Wisden) putting on 338 runs in 4 hours in a thunderous exhibition of power hitting. The match had ended in a draw.

In 1896, O Brien played 2 Tests against the touring South Africans, but, sadly, his performances were well below par. His tenure at Middlesex ended with the 1898 season.

There were 10 amateurs in the 14-member squad that toured South Africa in 1895-96 under Lord Hawke, Sir Tim being one of them. This was England s 13th Test-playing tour overall, and the third to South Africa. Only 4 First-Class games were played on the tour, including the 3 Tests.

The first Test was played at Port Elizabeth. Sir Tim led England despite the presence of Lord Hawke in the playing XI. England fielded eight debutants (including Hawke, Tom Hayward, and CB Fry) and South Africa seven. Skipper-wicketkeeper Barberton Halliwell put the visitors in. Rather surprisingly, George Lohmann was slotted into the opening position along with O Brien, and contributed a duck. Hayward (30) and Fry (43) made significant contributions to a total of 185.

Lohmann took 7 for 38 (all bowled) in the South Africa first-innings total of 93. England then got 226 with Sammy Woods scoring 53. That left the home team with a winning target of 319.

It only took 94 deliveries to dispose of the home team in the second innings, the score reading 30. This was the lowest all out total in Test cricket at the time (supplanted later by the 26 by New Zealand in 1954-55). Lohmann picked up 8 for 7 (6 of them bowled) to end the match on the second day; this included a hat-trick with the wickets of Frederick Cook, Bonnor Middleton, and Joseph Willoughby. England won by 288 runs in Sir Tim s only Test as captain. His contribution was 17 runs and 2 catches.

At Johannesburg for the second Test, South Africa were overwhelmed by the England total of 482, powered by 122 by Hayward (122). O Brien was dismissed for a duck. South Africa were bowled out for 151 (Lohmann took 9 for 28) and 134.

England won third the Test at Cape Town by an innings and 33 runs. South Africa could only score 115 in the first innings, Lohmann taking 7 for 42. England replied with 265, Ledger Hill scoring 124. This being his last appearance in Test cricket, O Brien bowed out with a contribution of only 2 runs. South Africa then folded for 117, Hill taking 4 for 8.

Sir Tim s next coming in First-Class cricket was with his native Ireland from 1901. In all, he played 5 matches for Ireland scoring 306 runs at 43.71. Accepted as the skipper of the team by a process of natural progression, Sir Tim flayed the Oxford bowling to take 167 off them in 1902, though his old alma mater won by 62 runs.

There was a seven-year gap between his last 2 First-Class games. He played for Ireland versus Yorkshire in 1907, scoring 10 and 60*. That brought him to his last First-Class game, for Lionel Robinson s XI against Oxford in 1914. This Robinson was a millionaire Australian obsessed with cricket. After the undergrads had put up a total of 339, Robinson s XI lost both their openers for ducks apiece. This was followed by individual scores of 15, 9, and 1 before Sir Tim arrived at No. 6. Although he was almost 53, he batted with his old verve and power to score 90 in a total of 147. Following on, he opened the innings one last time and hit a powerful 111 in an ultimate total of 311 for 7 before time ran out. Timothy O Brien thus had 2 First-Class matches where he had scored in the 90s in one innings and a century in the other.

With his red hair and fiery temperament, not to speak of his Irish heritage, Sir Tim was never far from a wrangle. According to Edward Liddle, He could not avoid controversy and in 1908 was sued for slander by The Hon. Alexis Burke Roche, a younger brother of the Earl of Fermoy and opening bat for Cork County. He had sold Tim a horse which proved unsatisfactory. O Brien called him A liar, a thief and a swindler and said that he had lived by swindling for 20 years. There was certainly some truth in this and Roche was awarded just 5 damages. However O Brien was heavily fined and had to pay large costs for attempting to nobble witnesses.

He settled down in Lohort Castle in North Cork in 1898 and played for Cork County, sometimes with his brother John who played for Ireland, being the joint captain for a while. During World War I he held the rank of Major and commanded a company of Remounts, and was involved with a group that provided horses and mules for the Army.

His son Timothy John Aloysius O Brien, who had played for I Zingari and the Free Foresters, was killed at Flanders in 1916. Misfortune followed him home; his beloved Lohort Castle was burned down in 1921 by the IRA.

He spent a brief part of his later life in Dublin before moving on to the Isle of Man, where he passed away on December 9, 1948. At the time of his death he had been the oldest-living English Test cricketer.