Alfred Shaw: Emperor of Bowlers - Part 3

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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

Click here for Part 2

The first Australian team
It was May, 1878 and the first representative Australian team was in England under the leadership of Dave Gregory and under the management of John Conway. This team, however, did not play any Test matches, although their roster included 15 first-class matches. The tour kicked off with a match against Nottinghamshire, under Richard Daft, at Trent Bridge from 20 May, 1878. The home team won the game rather easily by an innings and 14 runs, owing their victory to the deadly bowling combination of Alfred Shaw and Fred Morley, both of whom bowled unchanged through both the Australian innings. Shaw captured 5/20 from his 36.3 (4-ball) overs while Morley had figures of 4/42 from his 36 overs in an Australian 1st innings total of 63 all out. It was not much better for the Australians in the 2nd innings, as they were dismissed for 76, Shaw returning figures of 6/35 from his 58 overs, and Morley having figures of 4/30 from his 57 overs.

 The season turned out to be very profitable for Shaw as far as his bowling was concerned. He captured a total of 201 wickets from his 30 matches, conceding 2203 runs, with best figures of 7/41 against Derbyshire in the Derby 2nd innings at Trent Bridge. Shaw averaged 10.96 with the ball, had 24 five-wicket hauls, and 8 ten-wicket match hauls. This was to be the best bowling season in his 33-year long first-class career. The “Emperor of Bowlers” was living up to his formidable reputation in no uncertain terms, and gaining the respect and admiration of his peers through the length and breadth of the country. 

The second North American visit

Interestingly, Alfred Shaw was not part of the 2nd Test-playing tour of Australia by an England team in the English winter of 1878-79. Led by Lord Harris of Kent, the 13-member touring party had comprised 11 amateur cricketers and 2 professionals, mainly to bolster the bowling attack, the 2 Yorkshire stalwarts, Tom Emmett, and George Ulyett being selected for the assignment. The Test at Melbourne, was won by Australia quite comfortably by a margin of 10 wickets.  

There was trouble during a match between the tourists and New South Wales at Sydney. It was triggered off by the run-out decision against local hero Billy Murdoch in the NSW 2nd innings. It had been reported at the time that the irate home crowd had invaded the ground following the dismissal, and that many of the English players had been jostled, and that His Lordship himself had been subject to some blows by a stick. Seething with anger at this disgraceful behaviour on the part of the spectators, England skipper Lord Harris had cancelled the return Test match scheduled to be held at the Association Ground, popularly known as Moore Park, at Sydney.

 Shaw’s second visit to North America came about at the behest of JP Ford, a member of the Nottingham Town Council with substantial financial interests in North America. In 1879, Ford persuaded the then skipper of the Nottinghamshire team, Richard Daft, to select a team of professional cricketers to tour Canada and North America. Daft’s final group of 12 players comprised Daft himself and six other Notts players in Alfred Shaw, John Selby, Arthur Shrewsbury, William Oscroft, William Barnes, and Fred Morley. There were 5 representatives from Yorkshire in Tom Emmett, George Ulyett, Ephraim Lockwood, William Bates, and George Pinder. Played through the autumn of 1879, the tour featured both cricket and baseball games in Ontario, Detroit, New York, Germantown and Philadelphia.

 In the words of P David Sentance, Richard Daft’s team of 12 members “left Liverpool on August 28 and after a rough seven days crossing reached Canada. The programme began with three matches in Toronto…. After two victories at Hamilton and London, the team moved to Detroit, where two Kentish cricketers, Littlejohn and Dale, tended the local ground. Rain caused the match here to be drawn, but as in Canada, the home batsmen made a poor showing. From Detroit, the team moved via Niagara Falls to New York for two matches, where the batsmen mainly went in for cross-batted swipes of baseball players and Alfred Shaw had another field day.”

Arthur Haygarth’s Cricket Scores and Biographies, Volume 16 informs us that in the 2-day game between Daft’s XI and XXII of Central New York at Syracuse on 30 Sep and 1 Oct/1879, Alfred Shaw returned figures of 11/15 and 13/28 in a game that the home team could muster only 43 all out and 51 all out after the visitors had posted 163 all out. Keeping Shaw company had been Fred Morley with figures of 9/23 and 8/16, as the pair bowled unchanged through both innings.

In the second of the New York games, against XXII of All New York, played at Staten Island from the Saturday of the same week, Shaw netted 10/29 in a 1st innings total of 67, and 10/28 in a 2nd innings total of 94 all out. Daft’s XI won the game by an innings and 27 runs on the strength of their 1st innings total of 188 all out. According to Nottinghamshire cricket archivist Peter Wynne-Thomas, “the (1879) tour was successful from all viewpoints and unlike most of its predecessors it was free from any minor disputes and disagreements.”

The sports goods business

A pamphlet of Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History says that it was during the North American tour of 1879 that Alfred Shaw and his Nottinghamshire team-mate Arthur Shrewsbury conceived the idea of beginning a business together dealing with sporting goods. Upon their return, The Midland Cricket, Lawn Tennis, Football and General Athletic Sports Depot opened for business in Carrington Street, Nottingham. Following the financial success of the 1881/82 Australian tour by England, when the England team under the management of James Lillywhite, Shaw and Shrewsbury had reportedly returned an overall profit of £ 700, the partnership of Shaw and Shrewsbury thought it fit to open a sporting goods factory on Waterway Street, naming it the Gresham Works.

The name of the firm was changed from The Midland Cricket, Lawn Tennis, Football and General Athletic Sports Depot to Shaw and Shrewsbury in the spring of 1884. The year 1886 saw the introduction of their well-known logo of a kangaroo and an emu with a cricket bat between them. The Nottingham Evening Post of 22 Sep, 1914 was to carry the following advertisement of the establishment:

Sadly, the financial losses of the 1887-88 Australia tour prompted Shaw and Shrewsbury to scale down their establishment, reducing it to a single building on Queen’s Bridge Road. Following the demise of Arthur Shrewsbury in May, 1903, his share of the firm was split between his brother William and his four nephews. That the establishment was doing quite well for itself is evident from the fact that bats manufactured by the firm were exhibited in stand No. B. 33 at the British Industries Fair of 1929 under the banner Manufacturers of “Britain’s Best” Crickets Bats. The firm was finally closed down in 1939, and their assets were bought by HJ Gray’s of Cambridge. The concern was later taken over by the well-known bat-manufacturing establishment Gray-Nicolls.

More Anglo-Australian action

History was made on 6 Sep, 1880 when the first ever Test match got underway on English soil, the venue being the Kennington Oval, otherwise referred to simply as The Oval. The opponents were the touring Australian team under Billy Murdoch, otherwise a lawyer, and a great personal friend of Dr WG Grace. There was a touch of nobility about the game in the person of the English skipper, the autocratic Lord Harris. The match was supervised by former English cricketer, and reportedly the first recipient of a hat for a feat of capturing 3 wickets with 3 consecutive balls, Heathfield Stephenson, who had led the 1861/62 England tour of Australia. His partner was Robert Thoms, acclaimed by The Times in 1903 as being “the most famous umpire the game has known”.

It is reported that the first day attendance at the inaugural Test match played in England had been in excess of 20,000 (Charles Davis quotes a figure of 20,814, with 19,863 populating the stands on the second day of the match). The archives show that England had won the Test by 5 wickets after Lord Harris had won the toss and the English Colossus, WG Grace had become the first Englishman to score a Test century with an innings of 152 in the home 1st innings. Australian skipper Murdoch had trumped that with 153 runs of his own in the Australian 2nd innings when the tourists had been invited to follow on. There is a beautiful story, apocryphal perhaps, of Murdoch winning a golden sovereign off The Champion for his feat of surpassing The Champion’s score on the basis of a personal wager, and of wearing his prize on his watch-chain for the rest of his life.

Amid the joy and celebrations of England’s victory over the traditional rivals at home, there would have been one despondent face in the English camp. The great Alfred Shaw, who had raised expectations by his prodigious bowling feats, had returned relatively meagre figures of 1/21 and 1/42. This was the only Test match played by the Australians on the tour, and Shaw was thus deprived of the opportunity of restoring his very deserving reputation as a bowler of acknowledged excellence. The great bowling champion had celebrated his 38th birthday by this time, and though he was to adorn first-class cricket for 17 years more, there was a feeling that he was gradually approaching a stage when the old skill was beginning to fade from the varied armoury of his bowling.

The Schism

Knowledgeable members of an online forum dedicated to Alfred Shaw, called Alfred Shaw – Emperor of Bowlers, bring to light another interesting aspect of the playing career of Shaw. It seems that trouble had been brewing within the Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club over the differential treatment meted out to the so-called “amateurs” of the team in contrast to that reserved for the hard-working professional cricketers, both in terms of monetary as well as social discrimination.  The Notts team that took the field against Lancashire at Old Trafford on 2 June/1881, were missing several of their regular members, including Alfred Shaw, their champion bowler, and Arthur Shrewsbury, their leading batsman. A total of 7 Notts players had gone on strike in what was being projected in the local press as the great Nottinghamshire Schism.  

The Nottingham Journal of 6/June/1881 carried the story under the title “Trade Unionism in Cricket.” In an effort to supplement their paltry income form the County coffers, the professional players were often in the habit of arranging cricket matches out of the official roster for the season. One such game had been arranged between a ‘North of England XI” against the visiting Australians in Sep/1880 at Bradford. Keen to cash in on this scheme, the then Notts County Secretary, Captain Henry Holden, popularly known as “Hellfire Jack”, and otherwise a member of the local Constabulary, decided to implement the same system in the match between Notts and the Australians at Trent Bridge. 

The bone of contention proved to be the scale of emoluments for the participants of the game. Each Notts professional was to receive £ 6 for his services, whilst the ‘amateur” Australian players were to receive £ 19 each. This was not acceptable to Shaw, and he made his feelings abundantly clear to the Secretary. Having no other choice, Holden was forced to agree to a fee of £ 20 for the Notts professionals playing in the game. The wily Holden had the last laugh, however, and made his point by paying £ 21 to each of the Notts professionals not involved with Shaw’s group. He even made it a point to send a letter to the local press appraising them of the situation. This gesture on the part of Holden set the cat among the pigeons, as the saying goes.

Things got from bad to worse in the following season, as Holden and the rebellious group of Notts professionals faced off. Nearly everyone who was anyone in contemporary cricket had his say on the issue, and the trend was largely against the rebel group. Christopher Brookes, writing in his book English Cricket. The Game and its Players Through the Ages, quoted James Lillywhite as remarking that the dispute was: “a deliberate combination against recognised administration… it was not merely a question of the welfare of one county, but it involved a distinct and material alteration in the relations between paid cricketers and their employers which vitally affected the interests of every club of importance".

In an effort to resolve the impasse, Holden decided to follow the time-tested “divide and rule” policy that has always been so integral to the British psyche. The Notts Committee offered five of the seven dissenters, Shaw included, assured employment for the whole season. The overture, however, cut no ice with the rebel group, who made it clear that it was going to be all or nothing as far as they were concerned. It was finally Time that proved to be the great healer of wounded pride and sensibilities, and the great ‘Nottinghamshire Schism” gradually petered out and died a natural death. Writing in his book More Than a Game. The Story of Cricket’s Early Years, former British Prime Minister John Major, and acknowledged cricket aficionado, had this to say about it all in 2007: “The distinctions were absurd and insulting, but in Victorian Britain they were commonplace."