Obituary: Irvin Bancroff Iffla, cricketer
The islands of the West Indies produced a yield of fast bowlers to rival their sugar-cane output in the second half of the 20th century, and three or four generations of cricketers attained a fame that transcended sport.
Born: 20 January, 1924, in Kingston, Jamaica. Died: 16 March, 2012, in Stirling, aged 88
The manner in which Irvin Iffla tore through batting line-ups in Scotland, after emigrating from Jamaica in 1951, would suggest to any statistician glancing at the figures that he was up there with Hall, Roberts, Marshall and Holding for firebrand pace and menace, with that natural-born ability to spread terror and shatter stumps.
But Iffla was a spin bowler, a very good one whose beguiling wizardry would have bequeathed him a Test career, many believe, had he not been born in such close proximity to Sonny Ramadine and Alf Valentine. So how on earth did he come to spend two-thirds of his life in Scotland?
Hailing from the Railway club in Kingston, he had such promise as a teenager that he was drafted into the Jamaica side to take on a touring MCC XI in 1949. Aged 17, he was the youngest man to have represented the island at senior level and he took the wicket of none other than Sir Leonard Hutton.
When the idea surfaced of moving to the UK to earn a living from the game, it was a recommendation from compatriot Aston Powe that alerted Stirling County Cricket Club. Iffla received a letter inviting him to play in the Scottish Counties for one season on a basic wage of £3 a week, which required him to play, coach and fill the role of groundsman. He agreed, moving wife Lucille and the first two of their five children to Scotland for what was only meant to be a summer.
He turned out for his first game, according to his son Robin, to be greeted by a typically dreich early summer’s day, and wondered what he had done. But things went well – he ended his debut against Carlton with the extraordinary figures of 13-8-14-7 – and Iffla soon realised he was on to a good thing.
Raymond Bond, the First XI wicketkeeper in those days, said: “At one point during the Fifties, Irvin was offered a job with Warwickshire and he was going to get £25 a week, which was good money. But I spoke to him and he just said ‘Listen, I play one afternoon a week here, and if I score 50 I get a collection, and if I score 100 I get another collection. If I take five wickets, I get another collection’.
“Now it wasn’t every week, but most of the time he was taking home £10 or £15, and he said: ‘I am better off here, because playing only one day gives me time to coach.”
Iffla spent all of his prime years in Scotland, moving to Ayrshire for two years in 1960, then on to Stenhousemuir before returning to Stirling. He was so superior to any other player in the country at the time that each of the three clubs he served as professional won their regional league championship for the first time with IB Iffla in their number.
Wading through the returns of eight and nine wickets he routinely collected, it is a wonder that Iffla never completed the perfect ten. The truth is that he did once take all of the available wickets in an innings, when West Lothian visited Williamfield in 1956. Iffla’s figures were nine for 17 that day, and the visiting No 11, Peter Reid, was marked absent.
An urgent appointment back in Linlithgow was the given reason for Reid’s disappearance, but the Stirling members established before long that he had simply taken one look at the carnage Iffla was creating and decided to have no association with it.
Iffla put Stirling County on the cricket map, and he put cricket on the map in the county. The size of the crowds varies according to the telling, but whether it was 2,000 or 3,000 or not quite so many who lined the boundaries at Williamfield to watch him on Saturdays, it was a dramatic improvement. “Before Irvin came, it really was two men and a dog,” says Bond. “He changed everything.’
The softly-spoken all-rounder was also a natural coach. Mike Denness went on from humble beginnings at Ayrshire to captain England, and he is eternally grateful for the pointers he received as a 14-year-old from Iffla.
At Williamfield, they had a grand old pavilion bought from the Crystal Palace Exhibition, and he would instruct his students to hang a ball by string from the rafters, and play it as it swung back and forth like a pendulum.
Iffla, who supported his family by working in factories across Stirlingshire once the collection bounties dried up, kept himself so fit that he was 69 when he played his last game, for Gargunnock.
Three years ago, Iffla was granted the Freedom of Stirling by the city council. He died at home after a long illness, and is survived by Lucille and their five children, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
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