Alfred Shaw: Emperor of Bowlers - Part 2

Shaw seated second from right in the middle row. Picture of the England team that contested the match that has gone down in history as the first ever Test match

Shaw seated second from right in the middle row. Picture of the England team that contested the match that has gone down in history as the first ever Test match

Some of Alfred Shaw’s achievements were bowling the first ever ball in Test cricket, taking the first five-wicket haul in Test cricket, being one of the earliest ever promoters to organise Anglo-Australian cricket matches and also being the organiser of the first ever rugby tour of the British Isles to Australasia. These were only some of his achievements. In this series Pradip Dhole examines the life and career of this extraordinary personality.

Click here for Part 1

In his 27 seasons of first-class cricket in England, Alfred Shaw captured 100 or more wicket 8 times, beginning with 1871. He topped the 200-wicket mark once with 201 wickets in 1878. He came close to the magic figure twice, in 1870 (93), and in 1872 (92). His almost unbelievable career economy rate of 1.44 proclaims the accuracy of his bowling.

Shaw Table.jpg


There was, very obviously, another string to the bow of his parsimony and to his bag of more than 2000 first-class wickets, his sharp cricketing brain. Shaw elaborates on this issue in conversation with “Old Ebor”. “I was thought to be very good at a ‘dropping ball’, which always appeared to be going farther than it really was. The batsman would have a smack at it, and very often he would miss it altogether or send it into a fielder's hands. I could bowl that ball without any apparent change in the delivery. I really used to bowl faster than people thought I did, and I could make the ball break both ways, but not much…. In my opinion, length and variation of pace constitute the secret of successful bowling. The principle is to keep a batsman playing back and forward. He should never be allowed to play back the whole of an over; he should be made to play forward before the over is done. To make a man play to the pitch of the ball is the art of good bowling. As to a bowler's endurance, in my case I had an easy round- arm action, and could keep on bowling for hours.”

Bill Frindall, otherwise known affectionately as the “Bearded Wonder” or “Bearders”, scorer and statistician to the BBC Test Match Special for many years, and a wonderful repository of the most amazing statistics about cricket, cites some exceptional bowling figures of Alfred Shaw in his compilation, Ask Bearders. Frindall says: “In an era of four-ball overs, he bowled a grand total of 101,967 balls – the equivalent of almost 17,000 six-ball overs (in first-class cricket). He sent down over 10,500 balls (1,750 six-ball overs) in 1876 and 1878.”

Frindall makes special mention of one particular match, Notts v Sussex, played at Trent Bridge, from 16 May, 1895. At this stage of his career, Shaw was playing for Sussex. Winning the toss, the home skipper, John Dixon, opted for first strike. The first day ended with Notts on 411/6. The innings ended next day for a mammoth 726 all out in 267.1 (five-ball) overs. Billy Gunn, founder of the bat-making business of Gunn & Moore, top scored in the innings with 219. Dick Howitt (119) and Bob Bagguley (110) also contributed handsomely to the total.

Opening the Sussex attack along with Fred Tate, Alfred Shaw bowled 100.1 (five-ball) overs in the innings over the first two days of the game, the first and only time till date that anyone had bowled 100 overs in an innings, the equivalent of 501 deliveries, the most ever bowled by anyone in an innings in the history of the County Cricket Championship till that date. The number of deliveries per over in England was finally standardised to 6 in 1946, and there has never been another instance of a bowler delivering 100 overs in a single first-class innings in the Championship. The record for the most deliveries bowled in a Championship innings was finally taken from Shaw 102 years later by the right-arm off-break bowling Scotsman Peter Such playing for Essex against Leicestershire at Colchester from 31 Jul/1997. Although Such bowled 86 (six-ball) overs in the Leicestershire 1st innings, the effort amounted to 516 deliveries, the only other instance till date of a bowler bowling in excess of 500 deliveries in a Championship innings.

 Tours and Travels

Alfred Shaw was a much-travelled cricketer, venturing beyond the bounds of the British Isles on several occasions. His first overseas tour was with Edgar Willsher’s XI to Canada and North America in 1868. It may be remembered that this Edward “Ned” Willsher had been the final catalyst for the transition from round-arm to over-arm bowling in cricket history. It is reported that Willsher, a left-hand batsman and a left-arm fast bowler who played for Kent, was very well known on the English cricket circuit for his exploits despite the fact that he had only one lung.

In his authoritative book on North American cricket entitled Cricket in America 1710-2000, author P. David Sentance says that Willsher’s XI played 6 games in all, none of them of first-class status on the tour. The tour was a personal triumph for Willsher, particularly with the ball. However, the 26-year old Shaw did not do too badly for himself either. In his first game of the tour, against XXII of St. George’s Club of New York, Shaw had figures of 9/21 in 25 (4-ball) overs as the hosts followed on. He was to capture only one more wicket on the tour, as Willsher himself and Yorkshireman George Freeman would frequently bowl unchanged through the innings on most occasions.

From a historical viewpoint, the lure of Mammon has traditionally been a strong impetus behind many of the great events that have enriched the continuing saga of mankind. An interesting example, rooted in the city of Glasgow, unfolded gradually with the birth of one Joseph Spiers in the great Scottish port city around the year 1700. A descendant of the fourth generation had the grand moniker of Felix Theodore Benjamin Augustus Spiers, and was born in Calais, France, but lived in London. Blessed with a spirit as flamboyant as his name, Felix Theodore married Mary Ann Roberts at Calais in 1830. Not satisfied with his seemingly mundane nuptials, he married the same lady again on the following day in London, and settled into his profession as a ship broker in London.

The fruit of the union was a son, named Felix William, born in London circa 1832. Not yet 20 years of age, Felix William made the long journey to Australia in 1851 to be part of the Australian Gold Rush, and hopefully, to earn fame and wealth. In the company of a stranger whom he met in Australia named Christopher Pond, a 25-year old Englishman from Essex, and son of a Customs Officer, he was to realize both his dreams. They rented an accommodation at the National Hotel of Melbourne and started a facility to cater to the gold miners. They named their facility The Shakespeare Grill Room; the Bard’s little candle, then, had thrown its beams far enough away. Business boomed for them with Spiers fulfilling the role of the hard-nosed Scottish accountant, and Pond playing out the role of the jolly landlord to perfection.

By 1861 their business enterprise was sufficiently robust for them to be in a position to invite the noted English novelist Charles Dickens for a lecture and reading tour of Australia, offering an extraordinarily handsome fee of £ 10,000 for his tour of the 1861/62 Australian summer, as reported by The Australian. When the great man had demurred, mainly due to health considerations, Spiers and Pond had instructed their London contact Mr. Mallam to see if a visit by an English cricket team could be arranged as an alternative attraction, following the successful tour of North America by George Parr’s team of 1859. That paved the way for the first ever cricket tour of Australia by an English team, under HH Stephenson, the Surrey batsman and occasional wicketkeeper, in the English winter of 1861/62, and also ushered in the first ever instance of sponsorship in cricket. The tour was to set off the greatest rivalry in cricket history.

When the three-masted P & O ship Poonah weighed anchor from the Southampton quayside on 21 Sep, 1876, there were twelve English professional cricketers on their way to Australia for the fourth overseas English cricket tour among the passenger manifest. The squad was led and managed by the 35-year old Sussex professional James Lillywhite, nephew of the legendary William Lillywhite, known among his peers as The Nonpareil. The Australian agent for the venture was the Victorian John Conway, who was to arrange the fixtures, and the venture was financed by a wealthy local farmer named Arthur Hogben, and by Charles Stride, a man of considerable means.

Having played the first 8 games of the tour, all second-class fixtures, Lillywhite’s team played their first first-class match, against New South Wales, at Sydney, the 2-day match getting underway on 15 Jan, 1877. In a drawn game, Shaw (23) opened the batting for the visitors in a team total of 270 all out. The home team was dismissed for 82 in the 1st innings, Shaw capturing 5/19. Following on, NSW were 140/6 when the match ended, Shaw having captured 4/35.

The Englishmen broke off their Australia tour at the conclusion of the above game to journey to New Zealand on 17 Jan, 1877 for a set of 8 games, all of second-class status. Having defeated Auckland, Wellington, and Taranaki, all of them with innings victories, Lillywhite’s team arrived at Nelson for their next match. The visitors were not impressed with the arrangements for their lodging at Nelson after they arrived late and very tired.

Commenting on the issue in his cricketing memoir His Career and Reminiscences, Alfred Shaw had this to say: “The hotel in which we had to stay possessed no beds beyond the family requirements. We had, therefore, to rest in a large dining-room on rugs and shakedowns. There was a piano in the room, and the musical geniuses of the company contrived to keep themselves and everyone else awake the greater part of the night."

The local press reported that the game got underway in “splendid cricketing weather” shortly after the noon hour had struck on 14 Feb, 1877, with the Englishmen batting first against XXII of Nelson. At the end of the first day, Lillywhite’s XI were 142/1. The game efforts of the home bowlers managed to restrict the visitors to a total of 258 all out, with John Selby top scoring with 82, the only fifty of the innings.

The home team could only manage 56 all out in 73 (4-ball) overs, with only Mr Extras (19) registering double figures. There were 13 individual ducks in the innings. Alfred Shaw (13/24 from 37 overs), and Allen Hill (6/13 from his 36 overs) bowled unchanged to complete the rout. Following on, the home side were dismissed for 39, the ever-reliable Mr Extras again top scoring, this time with 9. This time round, Shaw (13/19 from his 23.2 overs), and Tom Emmett (7/11 from his 24 overs) bowling unchanged through the innings. Lillywhite’s XI won the match by an innings and 163 runs. The game gave Shaw a bag of 26 wickets for a mere 43 runs, a phenomenal performance over the two days of the game.

The Nelson Evening Mail made the following comments in their The Week column of 17 Feb, 1877: “I think we have had just about enough cricket for one week. What do you say, all you noble army of martyrs to Hill’s, Shaw’s and Emmett’s bowling, who had to go back to the tent without cracking your duck’s eggs?”

One unfortunate fallout of the New Zealand leg of the tour turned out to be the loss of their first-choice wicketkeeper Ted Pooley, a habitual drinker and gambler, as he became embroiled in a fracas surrounding a bet, and had to be left behind in a Christchurch prison. When the team arrived back in Australia on the Alhambra on 9 Mar, 1877, they were only 11-strong.

In the meantime, the ever-industrious John Conway had been busy organising a match at Melbourne against a combined side comprising players from Victoria and NSW. Selecting the representative team proved to be a logistical problem for Conway, with half the side being selected at Sydney and the other half at Melbourne. An early spanner was thrown into the works when Fred Spofforth, the Demon Bowler from Sydney refused categorically to be part of the team unless his preferred wicketkeeper, Billy Murdoch of NSW, was also included in the team. Another Sydney quick bowler, Edwin Evans cried off, being unwilling to make the 600-mile journey to Melbourne. The final selection was as follows: Nat Thomson, Charles Bannerman, Dave and Ned Gregory, all from NSW, and Tom Kendall, Jack Hodges, Tom Horan, Tom Garrett, Bransby Cooper, born at Dacca, now in Bangladesh, Billy Midwinter, and wicketkeeper Jack Blackham, all from Victoria.

 The First ever Test Match

The Melbourne Cricket Ground presented a grand sight on the morning of Thursday, the Ides (15th) of March, 1877, the scheduled first day of the epic contest between what were deemed to be representative teams from the two cricket rivals. The newly constructed Grandstand at the MCG added that extra element of grandeur to the view. The invaluable updated Test database of Charles Davis informs us that, as per prior agreement, each over was to comprise 4 deliveries, and that the actual playing time was to be about 220 minutes per day. Amidst mounting excitement, the profusely bearded home skipper, Dave Gregory, won the honour of the toss from his rival skipper James Lillywhite and opted for first strike.


Even as a crowd of about 4500 eager cricket lovers thronged the stadium, play began a little late, and it was reportedly 1:05 PM when the first ball of the match was sent down by the 35-year old Alfred Shaw to Charles Bannerman. Neither the assembled group of spectators at the MCG, nor the cricket world in general, were to know it at the time, but the very first ball had been delivered in the history of Test cricket, no runs accruing from it. The first run in history came off the second ball delivered by Alfred Shaw that day. The reason that these historical nuances surrounding this historic match were unknown at the time stems from the fact that it was only much later that cricket historians and statisticians, in their collective wisdom, decided to attribute Test status to this match with retrospective effect, and to glorify this match as being the very first Test match of all.

From press reports quoted in the compilation 200 Years of Australian Cricket; 1804 – 2004, it is learnt that lunch had been taken at 2:00 PM on that day, and that 3 ½ hours of play had been possible on that first day of the match. As has been recounted many times over by cricket historians, Charles Bannerman, born originally in Kent, scored the first run, hit the first boundary, reached the first individual fifty, and to top it all, scored the first century in Test history. Bannerman is also on record as being the first to achieve 5 runs from a hit over the ropes in Test cricket. At the end of the day, Australia were on 166/6, with Bannerman batting on 126* and wicketkeeper Blackham on 3*.

The story of the day may have been very different, however, if Tom Armitage of England had held on to a relatively uncomplicated catch offered when Bannerman, the hero of the day, had steered a delivery from Shaw into his midriff. The dropped catch was to add another modicum of substance to the legend of the first ever Test match and to the exploits of Charles Bannerman. Speaking about Bannerman’s innings, Shaw’s dry comment, made in his later years was: “(he) should have been out to one of my slow ones, but he was missed by Armitage.”

Contemporary media reports state that consequent upon Bannerman’s sterling performance on the first day, the crowd had built up to about 3500 by the start of play on the second day. Continuing his sterling knock of the previous day, Bannerman went into lunch batting on 159, with the team score reading 232/7. Disaster struck shortly after lunch when a rising delivery from George Ulyett struck Bannerman on his right hand and split the index finger to the bone, and the gallant opening batsman had to retire hurt with his score at 165*.

The innings ended at 245 all out in the 170th over, with Shaw (3/51) and the 50-year old Test debutant James Southerton of Surrey (3/61) capturing 3 wickets each. Since Bannerman had been rendered hors-de-combat, W. Newing was called upon to field in his place. There was a mild flutter in the first over of the English 1st innings when Henry Jupp dislodged the bails with his foot while attempting a leg-glance. The incident, however, appeared to have escaped the notice of the umpires, Curtis Reid and Richard Terry, and the appeal from the Australians was negated by them, setting off a series of hoots from the home crowd, possibly the first instance of barracking against the match officials in Test match history. Indeed, this being considered to be the first Test match in history, every incident, however trivial it may seem from the detachment of Time, was destined to be woven into the fabric of the legend.

The second day ended with England on 109/4 in the 70th over, with Jupp unbeaten on 54. According to the press, there was a crowd of about 12,000 at the start of play on Saturday, the third day of the match. Tom Garrett dismissed Jupp for a valiant 63 and the innings folded up soon after for 196 all out. The outstanding bowling performance was from Billy Midwinter, who returned figures of 5/78 from his 54 overs.

The home team was in a state of disarray soon in the 2nd innings, the total reading 5/37, before Midwinter (17) forged partnerships of 23 with Ned Gregory (11) and a crucial 13 with Blackham (6). The last wicket pair of John Hodges (8) and slow left-arm orthodox bowler Tom Kendall (17*) put on 29 vital runs, the highest partnership of the innings. The Australian 2nd innings ended at 104 all out in 68 overs, leaving England a victory target of 154 runs in the fourth innings of the match. As usual, Shaw was the pick of the bowlers for England with figures of 5/38, with Ulyett (3/39) lending his valuable support.

Disaster struck England early in their 2nd innings when Allen Hill was dismissed off the second ball of the innings for a duck, the total reading 0/1. Four minutes later, the total stood at 7/2 with both openers back in the pavilion, both victims of the wily slow left-arm bowler Kendall. Selby (38) and Ulyett (24) put on 40 runs for the 5th wicket before Kendall disposed of Ulyett. Selby and Armitage (3) then added 24 valuable runs for the 7th wicket before Selby was dismissed by Hodges, the total then reading 92/7. The writing was clearly on the wall for England at this stage.

The last 3 wickets added 1, 7, and 8 runs respectively to the total before England were dismissed for 108 all out in the 67th over. The bowling hero for the home team was undoubtedly Tom Kendall with figures of 7/55, a performance at par with Bannerman’s 165* in the Australian 1st innings. Australia won the first Test match of all by 45 runs amid a pandemonium of joy around the MCG as Kendall was chaired off the ground and hats were thrown into the air in delight. It was to be a sobering experience for the team of professional cricketers from England.

The members of the Victorian Cricketers’ Association contributed generously towards gold medals for all the Australian players of the 1st Test, skipper Dave Gregory receiving one slightly larger than the others. Spectators and well-wishers collected a purse of £ 83 for batting hero Charles Bannerman, and purses of £ 23 each for Tom Kendall and wicketkeeper Jack Blackham, who, besides scoring 17 and 6, effected 2 dismissals in each innings, including the very first stumping in Test history.

The members of the Press were generous in their appreciation of the Australian victory. The Argus of 20 Mar, 1877 stated: “For the time being we all – New South Wales and Victorians – must forget our geographical distinctions and only remember that we are of one nation, Australia.”

The Second Test

The 2nd Test match began at the MCG on 31 Mar, 1877 and there were some changes in the home team. Fred Spoffforth was included, as was his preferred ‘keeper Billy Murdoch, although Blackham kept for most of the match. However, Murdoch had to take over the big gloves on the last day of the match when Blackham was afflicted with sunstroke. Thomas Kelly was another debutant for Australia. Winning the toss again, Australia batted first, putting up a total of 122 all out. All-rounder Midwinter top scored with 31 from the middle order. For England, Allen Hill (4/27), Lillywhite (2/36), and Ulyett (2/15) shared the wickets, and there were two run outs. Surprisingly, Shaw was not among the wickets despite sending down 42 overs from the top of the bowling sequence.

England’s 1st innings effort amounted to 261 all out, with Shaw opening the batting and scoring 1 after the other opener, Jupp, was dismissed for a duck. There were good hands from Andrew Greenwood (49), Ulyett (52), Emmett (48), and Hill (49). For Australia, Kendall (4/82) and Spofforth (3/67) were the main wicket-takers. Australia then scored 259 all out in the 2nd innings with a 1st wicket stand of 88 between Nat Thomson (41) and skipper Gregory (43). Lillywhite (4/70) and Southerton (4/46) captured 4 wickets each. Shaw was again wicketless despite bowling 32 overs.

Things did not look good for England in their 2nd innings when they lost their 3rd wicket at the total of 9 in pursuit of their bid for victory. A 4th wicket stand of 45 between Greenwood (22) and Ulyett (63) steadied the ship somewhat. England then put together successive partnerships of 22, 36, and an unfinished 10 runs for the 5th, 6th and 7th wickets respectively to calm the nerves. England finally won the 2nd Test by 4 wickets by scoring 122/6 with Ulyett top scoring with 63 to top off a very commendable all-round display in the match. The first ever Test series, between Australia and England, therefore ended with honours even, the score-line reading 1-1.

In the wake of the recently concluded tour of Australia in the 1876/77 season, the following letter was published in the Nottinghamshire Guardian of 25 May, 1877 in praise of Alfred Shaw: “Let me hope that when the men of Notts. give Alfred Shaw their welcome home they will strengthen their cheer by remembering how well he upheld Notts.' world-wide fame, by bowling 473 overs for 309 runs and 44 wickets in the five first-class matches played in Australia. Anyhow, Mr. Editor, such bowling will not be forgotten by yours truly. W. H. KNIGHT.”