James Harry de Courcy
April 18, 1927, Newcastle, New South Wales
June 20, 2000, Belmont, Newcastle, New South Wales, (aged 73y 64d)
Also Known As
Oxford Jim, Words,
Right hand bat
James Harry de Courcy, a coronation year tourist to England in 1953, died of heart failure in Newcastle on June 20, aged 73. He had been ill for some time.
He was the first Novocastrian to be picked for an Australian team directly out of Newcastle club cricket. Full of charm and vivacity, Jimmy De Courcy was an oldfashioned dasher, who played in the last three Ashes Tests in 1953. His 41 at Old Trafford on debut was the rain-ruined game in which the Aussies slumped spectacularly to 35 for 8 in their second innings against Johnny Wardle and Jim Laker. He made more than 1,000 runs on the Ashes tour of 1953. In a carefree atmosphere against a Combined Services XI which included a young Freddie Trueman at Kingston, scored a career-best 204, sharing a 377-run fourth-wicket stand with Keith Miller in three and a half hours. Neil Harvey recalls the 5ft 7ins De Courcy: 'He liked to hit the ball and didn't believe too much in defence. He was a good team man in 1953 and fitted in well with everybody. At Northampton, when we played against Frank Tyson for the first time, Arthur Morris was captain. We were sent in and I was still in my civvies as I watched the opening over. Tyson had Colin McDonald lbw second ball so I asked Graeme Hole if he would mind going in at three. Two balls later he was out and I still wasn't ready so Jimmy went in. He lasted the over only to fall at the other end. When I got out there we were 10 for 3 and Artie said to me: "Where the bloody hell have you been?" Making his New South Wales debut in 1947-48 as a 20-year-old from Hunter Valley club Lambton-New Lambton, De Courcy averaged almost 40 in 45 Sheffield Shield appearances in a 10-year period in which New South Wales won the Shield on eight occasions. His highest Shield score was 114 in three and a half hours against South Australia in 1951-52 in Sydney, and included a century stand with 16 year-old debutant Ian Craig, a future captain of Australia.
De Courcy was prolific at Newcastle club level, making 23 hundreds and more than 7,500 runs for Lambton. His 1,028 runs at 85.57 in 1954-55 remains a competition record. He also played four seasons with Western Suburbs in Sydney grade ranks. A boilermaker by trade, he enjoyed old-time dances and attending the first-class games in Sydney and Newcastle. He collapsed while having a cigarette. He had been discharged from hospital for only four days after a longstanding lung infection.
Ken Piesse, The Cricketer
One of those batsmen often out a little too soon, disappointing both spectators and selectors, Jimmy de Courcy died on June 20 in Belmont, a suburb of his birthplace in Newcastle, New South Wales. He was 73.
De Courcy made the 1st XI of his hometown club, Lambton-New Lambton, at 15, and was still playing for them five years later when called up by NSW in Dec 1947. He needed time to establish himself, waiting until his 29th match to post a hundred: 114 against South Australia in Feb 1952. But after a poised century against Victoria the following season, he was added to Lindsay Hassett's 1953 Ashes touring team on promise rather than performance.
Cricket writer Ray Robinson discerned a touch of [Charlie] Macartney, and there was an unmistakable stamp of quality about de Courcy's cricket. A trim 5ft 7ins, with an open stance, he quickly adjusted to English conditions, relieving Oxford University of 142 in 225 minutes in his fifth innings and causing Peter West to commend a clean vigour about his driving, a sure crispness about his footwork - it was this innings which earned him the nickname Oxford Jim. A composed 41 in difficult conditions on Test debut at Old Trafford struck Jack Fingleton as a great innings, yes, a great one. And when he pouched Bill Edrich in the gully at Headingley, John Arlott celebrated an incredible catch of a hard-hit ball at a few yards' range.
At his best, he matched any of his generation for speed of scoring. Against Essex, he pilfered 28 from an over of Bill Greensmith's legbreaks, in the course of 164 at better than a run a minute. In the tour's penultimate game, against Combined Services at Kingston-upon- Thames, De Courcy and Keith Miller (262*) looted 377 in 205 minutes; De Courcy's share was 204, with 27 fours and five sixes, three of them off Fred Trueman.
"De Courcy was a little late in winning his Test place," commented Arlott in Test Match Diary, his tour account. "He should, I imagine, hold it for some time. He is an aggressive batsman, with good footwork and a perfect, natural sense of timing."
In fact De Courcy played only 16 further first-class matches over four years before fading from view. By Jan 1955 he had lost both his Test and state places; instead he enjoyed a prolific season with Lambton-New Lambton, reaching 1028 runs at 85, His final state appearance was in Oct 1957, and he left a first-class record of 3778 runs at 37 including six centuries, after which he also played Sydney grade cricket for Western Suburbs.
His name suggested a creation of Baroness Orczy - the cricket-loving lyricist Tim Rice even conferred it on a character in his musical Chess- but his roots were solidly plebeian: he was the son of a boilermaker and became one himself. James Harry de Courcy was also one of the quietest cricketers to don a baggy green: his nickname Words was intended ironically. He once undertook a 100-kilometre car journey from Coffs Harbour to Grafton with team-mate Ray Flockton without breaking silence. Keith Miller thought him even quieter than Englishman Cyril Washbrook, which was saying a lot. Only a cricket bat liberated his inner expressiveness and creativity.
Sir Tim Rice confirms: Yes, he was the inspiration for a character in Chess, Walter de Courcey, the adviser to Trumper [the American grandmaster], who was clearly inspired by the great Victor. I can't think of any others - it was a bit difficult to fit an Aussie Test player into Evita.
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