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.
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England’s 3rd Test playing tour of Australia took place during the English winter of 1881/82. The team was selected by the triumvirate of James Lillywhite, Alfred Shaw, and Arthur Shrewsbury. The experienced James Lillywhite acted as the manager of the team, whilst Australian entrepreneur John Conway acted as their Australian agent and arranged the fixtures in the Antipodes. The schedule this time included 5 second-class games in North America before the tourists set foot on Australian soil. The American leg of the tour did not go as well as expected financially, but the Australian tour more than compensated the tourists for any financial losses they may have incurred in America.
As part of the tour, the English cricketers also visited New Zealand, playing 7 second-class games there. The 11-member English squad of professional cricketers was led by Alfred Shaw, and of the total of 30 matches played on the tour, only the 4 Test matches in Australia and 3 other matches (1 against NSW, and 2 against Victoria) played in between the Tests, were of first-class status.
At the completion of their American leg of the tour, the English squad left San Francisco on the SS Australis on Saturday, 22 Oct/1881. Sailing via Honolulu and Auckland, they reached Sydney at noon on Wednesday, 16 Nov/1881. They managed to complete the Pacific crossing in 22 days and 21 hours, a new record for the quickest crossing.
The book 200 Years of Australian Cricket 1804 – 2004, revised and updated by Garrie Hutchinson, carries media reports of a rather disturbing episode that had marred the early part of the tour. It was, perhaps, at some time during the first first-class match of the tour, between NSW and the tourists at the Association Ground, Sydney, from 9 Dec/1881, when whispers began to circulate of a plot being hatched at Cootamundra, later to be renowned as the birthplace of Don Bradman, whereby 3 of the visiting Englishmen were to be offered bribes to be “non-triers” during the following match against Victoria. It was rumored that George Ulyett and John Selby were to receive £ 500 each, and that William Scotton was to receive £ 250 in the event that Victoria won the match at Melbourne.
It was reported that when Selby had made a remark to another member of the team, one who had not been in the know, regarding the “fixing” scheme of the match, Ulyett had threatened physical violence upon the duo if they dared to leak the story. Ulyett and Selby had then reportedly combined to chastise Billy Midwinter physically when the latter had refused to be part of the betting and bribery scheme. Well, the heavenly Match Referee, the Champion of fair and virtuous play, thought it fit to change the script somewhat, ensuring that the Englishmen won the game by 68 runs, thus putting the betting fiasco to rest.
Commenting on the issue, Ted Peate was reported to have remarked: “The bookmakers were standing up doing their business as if they were in Tattersall’s ring. They were very badly hit by the result of the match. Certain of their schemes failed – much to the satisfaction of most of us.” Although skipper Alfred Shaw was initially not willing to give much credence to the rumors, while he was on the field, he did notice certain instances of unusual misfielding on the part of some of the Englishmen, and finally “came to the conclusion that the rumors were not without foundation.”
Commenting on the issue, the Australasian of 20 Dec, 1881 had this to say: “Professional cricketers who keep late hours, make bets to some amount, and are seen drinking champagne at a late hour with members of the betting ring when they aught to be in bed, must not be surprised if people put a wrong construction on their conduct. They have only themselves to blame.” Indeed, the sad fact of the matter was that the “fixing” episode had split the English team into several camps.
At the end of it all, Shaw’s XI as the tourists were being referred to, drew both their Tests at Melbourne (the 1st and 4th), and lost both their Tests at Sydney (the 2nd by 5 wickets, and the 3rd by 6 wickets). The ageing Shaw, by this time almost 40 years of age, took no wickets in the Australian 1st innings of the 1st Test, and did not bowl at all in the 2nd innings. He did not bowl in the home side’s 1st innings in the 2nd Test, and captured 1/12 in the 2nd innings of the same Test. Shaw had no wickets in the 3rd Test. His haul for the 4th Test was 1 1st innings wicket.
However, this 4th Test at Melbourne from 10 Mar, 1882 had some interesting sidelights, as follows:
· This was the last drawn Test match played in Australia till the 1946-47 season, the first post-World War II Ashes series between Australia and England.
· With his 1st innings score of 149 while opening the innings, George Ulyett became the first Englishman to score a Test century in Australia.
· Ulyett’s score of 149 was to be the highest in a Test by an English batsman in Australia until it was surpassed by opening batsman Bob Barber with a score of 185 in the 1st innings of 3rd test played at Melbourne during the 1965/66 series.
There was no escaping the fact that his second Test series in Australia as a player, in this case, as the skipper, was not a fruitful one for the Emperor of Bowlers. He captured only 8 wickets in his 7 first-class matches, including the 4 Test matches. His only saving grace with the ball was his analysis of 3/5 in the NSW 2nd innings at Sydney in Dec/1881, bowling last in the sequence, in a game which the Englishmen managed to win by 68 runs.
1884-85 - Now as administrator
History tells us that Alfred Shaw had made three more trips to Australia, not as a player, but in a more administrative and advisory role. The 1884/85 venture by England to Australia proved to be of historical importance; it was the first ever 5-Test series in cricket history. It was not before the 1899 season that the first 5-Test series was arranged in England.
The 1884-85 tour, the second to Australia under the management of the trio of James Lillywhite, Arthur Shrewsbury, and Alfred Shaw, was, however, severely blighted by squabbles over money matters. The initial problem was set in motion by several members of Billy Murdoch’s 1884 team returning from the recent England tour. Many members refused to turn out for their regional teams in the encounters against the visitors unless they were paid at par with the tourists for these games. This attitude of the senior Australian players coming shortly before the beginning of the first Test caused a flutter and forced the authorities to convene a meeting to resolve the issue. Fortunately for all concerned, good sense prevailed and the authorities heaved a sigh of relief.
Here is a summary of the results of the Test matches between Australian and the touring England side in the 1884-85 series:
1st Test Adelaide England won by 8 wickets
2nd Test Melbourne England won by 10 wickets
3rd Test Sydney Australia won by 6 runs
4th Test Sydney Australia won by 8 wickets
5th Test Melbourne England won by an innings and 98 runs
Some interesting events took place in Australia in connection with this Test series, as follows:
· The first ever Test match at Adelaide was the brainchild of the Secretary of the South Australia Cricket Association, John Creswell, and he put in Herculean efforts to make it possible. Contemporary media reports state that in recognition of the enormity of the occasion, the South Australian government had declared 12 Dec, 1884, the scheduled first day of the Adelaide Test, to be a public holiday to enable a large section of the public to witness the historic event in Adelaide.
· The undercurrent of discontent over the perceived disparity in emoluments between the Englishmen and the local players continued to simmer. The authorities of Victorian Cricket Association, the hosts of the 2nd Test, however, stood firm and excluded the dissenters, selecting an entirely new team under Tom Horan, and capping nine debutants. One great beneficiary of the move was Sam Morris, the first ever player of West Indian heritage to represent Australian in a Test. The 2nd Test got underway on New Year Day of 1885 at Melbourne and the home team were devoid of stalwarts like Blackham, Boyle, Bonnor, McDonell, Palmer, and Scott.
· A strange sight greeted the players as they assembled at the Sydney Cricket Ground on 20 Feb/1885. There had been a hailstorm, and the entire cricket ground was coated with a layer of hail. Under the headline “‘Snow’ in Sydney”, the local media had reported: “the ground had the appearance of being wrapped in a coating of snow.”
· Between the 2nd and 3rd Test matches, an unusual event took place in Australia. Following the practice of their English counterparts, the Australian domestic cricket associations finally arrived at a mutual agreement, as reported in Melbourne on 20 Jan/1885, that “Players may no longer go to the wicket with bats of any width, but must comply with the standard of 4 ½ to 5 inches.”
· The home team was reinforced by the presence of some of their senior players though Murdoch, disappointed and disillusioned with the way in which the whole series was being managed, returned to his Law practice at Cootamundra.
· England decided to dispense with the services of John Conway as their local representative and fixture arranger. There were whispers of Conway and Murdoch being at loggerheads and that the former had taken sides in the wrangle over the money matters that had plagued the home side up to the 2nd Test.
· The Australian win by 6 runs in the 3rd Test was the narrowest margin of victory in the total of 19 Test matches played till date.
· With all the bickering over money, the Australians had four different captains in the 5 test matches, as follows: Murdoch, Horan, Massie, Blackham, and Horan again.
· There was a surfeit of Umpires in the 5th and deciding Test. The two originally nominated for the Test did not take the field, one through his demise (Edward Elliott, who passed away on 19 Mar/1885, two days prior to the start of the 5th Test), and the other “through disinclination.” Of the replacement umpires, George Hodges refused to take the field after tea on the 3rd day of the Test, allegedly because of insulting remarks by some English players over an umpiring decision. Australian right-arm fast-medium bowler Tom Garrett, participating in the Test match, stood in for Hodges as a substitute. “Dimboola Jim” Phillips, the other designated umpire for the Test, and making his umpiring debut at this level, was replaced by JC Allen on the 3rd and 4th days of the Test. “Paddy” McShane playing in Australian colours in this Test, had umpired the 4th Test at Sydney.
When the series finally came to an end, and the dust had settled down, the trio of James Lillywhite, Alfred Shaw and Arthur Shrewsbury, having done their accounting for the tour, discovered that they had made a “small profit of approximately £ 500,” Alfred Shaw himself, now about 42 years old, played in only 10 of the 26 “minor” games of the tour, and Lillywhite, now also aged about 42 years, appeared in only 2 games.
1886-87 The fourth visit
Shaw’s fourth trip to Australia was in the 1886/87 season, and was also the third organised by the by now well-known group of Lillywhite, Shrewsbury, and Shaw, who also selected the team of 11 professional cricketers, Notts wicketkeeper Mordecai Sherwin being the last man to make the list. By now, Lillywhite and Shaw had, by and large, given up playing cricket altogether. This tour did not include any matches played in New Zealand, and only 2 Tests were played, both at Sydney.
The Test matches of the 1886/87 series went as follows:
1st Test Sydney England won by 13 runs
2nd Test Sydney England won by 71 runs
Some notable events of this tour were as follows:
· Australian skipper Percy McDonnell created a slice of Test history when he won the toss in the 1st Test and put the opposition in to bat first. This was the first such instance in Test history.
· England were dismissed for 45 in the 1st innings of the 1st Test, their lowest ever innings total. Even so, they won the Test.
· Reginald Wood of Lancashire, who had later emigrated to Australia, became the first replacement tourist in history, replacing William Barnes in the 2nd Test. Between the Tests, Barnes was involved in a heated altercation with the Australian skipper, Percy McDonnell, and, in the heat of the moment, had aimed a punch at the latter. He had missed and ended up punching the wall behind with great force, fracturing his right wrist, and was therefore rendered hors de combat for the 2nd Test match.
· The interesting thing about Wood was that he had played for Victoria against the present tourists in their first first-class match of the tour.
· During the lunch interval on the 3rd day of the 2nd Test, one Mr. Hunt of the Oxford Hotel presented the English skipper and opening batsman Arthur Shrewsbury with a pair of gold spectacles as a memento to remind the visiting skipper of the match against NSW just prior to the 2nd Test, in which he had been dismissed by CBT Turner for a “pair”.
· JJ Ferris (18 wickets in his first two Tests), and CBT turner (17 wickets in his first 2 Tests) were the bowling heroes for Australia although the home side lost both Tests.
The tour ended early for Shaw because he had to return to England after the 1st Test to honour his coaching assignments for Lord Sheffield. Thus, Shaw was to be found on board the Bengal, leaving Sydney on 4 Feb, 1887, and arriving in London on 23 Mar. The Hon. Ivo Bligh, who had enjoyed an extended stay in Australia on health grounds, also happened to be on the same vessel, as were a group of kangaroos for English zoos.
The final venture of the firm
The fourth and final venture of the old firm of Lillywhite, Shaw, and Shrewsbury to Australia was in the 1887-88 season, and resulted in their largest pecuniary loss – thought to be amounting to about £ 2400. The team had to be selected in a hurry because Lord Hawke, the England and Yorkshire stalwart was also in the process of selecting a team to tour Australia at the same time. Shaw’s team was to be promoted by the Sydney Cricket Ground authorities, whilst Lord Hawke’s team were to have the patronage of the Melbourne Cricket Club. Fortunately, as the parallel tours progressed, the rival camps came to their senses and decided to name a combined squad for the lone Test match of the tour, played at Sydney from 10 to 15 Feb/1888. The combination proved to be fruitful for England as they won the Test by 126 runs.
In a departure from their usual custom, Alfred Shaw remained behind in England and carried out important managerial duties, urging his co-organisers to sign up such important professional cricketers as Briggs, Lohmannn, Read and Shrewsbury before the rival camp could appropriate them. For the first time, they included 4 “gentlemen” cricketers in their group of 12, and managed to poach Mr. Charles Aubrey Smith from Lord Hawke’s party, and to persuade him to lead the side.
Off-field incidents marked this particular tour more than events on the field of play. Here are some of the more interesting of them:
· Ironically, both the English squads travelled to Australia on the same vessel, the Iberia, departing from Plymouth on 17 Sep, 1887, and arriving at Port Adelaide on 25 Oct, 1887, where Shaw’s group recovered their land legs for about 2 days before proceeding to Sydney by train.
· On 8 Feb, the County Cricket Council met at Lord’s, London, and among their other business and issues of the day, made a slight modification in the LBW law, stating that a batsman shall be given out: “if any part of his person between the bowler and the wicket stop the ball, whether the ball pitches straight or otherwise.” On cold reflection, it was then feared that this modification was likely to favour Charlie Turner and to enable him to “terrify the English even further.”
· The Colonial match against Victoria at Melbourne from 16 Dec/1887 was to lead to the largest innings defeat in the history of first-class cricket in Australia till that time. Dismissed for 68 and 100, Victoria wilted under the ponderous total of 624 all out, bolstered by 232 from opener Shrewsbury and 118 from George Brann. Shrewsbury’s XI thus won the match by an innings and 456 runs, as comprehensive a victory as can be imagined.
· The local media reported a meeting of delegates from the Colonial Cricket Associations of Victoria, NSW, South Australia, and Western Australia at the Oriental Hotel of Melbourne towards the end of the second week of December/1887. The agenda included deliberations on the future of Inter-Colonial cricket in Australian over the next few years. The first decision taken was that there were to be no tours by any English teams for 3 years immediately following the twin 1887/88 tours. It was further decided that no Australian team would tour England for the next four years from the same date (completion of the 1887/88 English tours). This last decision, however, was almost immediately negated by the Australian tour of England in the English summer of 1888 under Percy McDonnell.
· Interestingly, the delegates at the conclave mentioned immediately above also advocated the adoption of 6-ball overs in Australia going forwards. It may be mentioned in passing, that even in England, 6-ball overs were to come into being for first-class cricket only in the 1900 English season. In Australia, 6-ball overs became the vogue for a short time from the 1888/89 season up to the outbreak of World War I.
· Despite the modified LBW ruling and the fears about it being to Turner’s advantage, out of the 20 English wickets that fell in the only Test, there was only one LBW dismissal, admittedly to Turner.
· In a low-scoring Test, the bowlers of both sides called the shots. Victors England were propelled to their win by George Lohmann (5/17 and 4/35) and Bobby Peel (5/18 and 4/40). For Australia, the bowling heroes were, as expected, Charlie Turner (5/44 and 7/43) and JJ Ferris (4/60 and 2/43).
· Prominent Australian players, George Giffen, Tom Horan, Billy Bruce, and Affie Jarvis, opted out of the Test, demanding higher remuneration for their participation.
· Australian right-arm fast medium bowler CTB “Terror” enjoyed unprecedented success with his bowling skills in the season, taking 106 wickets in his 12 matches at 13.59, a feat reportedly “unique in the annals of Australian cricket” till that time.
Shaw and Grace
Shaw’s final tour of Australia was in the 1891-92 English winter, when a 13-member team under the captaincy of Dr WG Grace visited Australia, the group including as many as 8 professional cricketers. Shaw did not play in any of the 29 matches of the tour, and was seen solely in a managerial role. After the fiasco of the 1887/88 season when the presence of two separate English teams had toured Australia simultaneously, English cricketing presence in Australia had begun to lose some of its charm and appeal. There would have been some trepidation in the minds of the powers that be in English cricket of the time about the propriety and advisability of selecting WG Grace to lead the team for such an important tour, given the bad blood that Grace had gone out of his way to generate on his last Australian tour.
It took two men of character and proven pedigree to restore faith in English cricket in the Antipodes. Fortunately, Lord Sheffield, a true-blue Earl of the realm, decided to take the initiative by using his persuasive charm on Dr WG Grace to convince the latter to make another foray to Australia after his “honeymoon tour” of 1873-74, when Grace had stated publicly that the English tourists “had a duty to perform to maintain the honour of English cricket, and to uphold the high character of English cricketers." Sadly, the Doctor’s overbearing and boorish demeanour and his mercenary attitude had soured relationships between the tourists and the Australian hosts on that occasion. It was, therefore, a calculated risk that Lord Sheffield was about to take with the venture of 1891-92.
Lord Sheffield accompanied the team in the capacity of Manager, whereas Alfred Shaw’s portfolio on the tour was that of “Team Manager.” The Englishmen played a total of 27 games in Australia, these including 3 Tests, and 5 other first-class matches against regional teams. The Test matches did not go as planned for England despite the massive presence of the English skipper, as the following chart will show:
1st Test Melbourne Australia won by 54 runs
2nd Test Sydney Australia won by 72 runs
3rd Test Adelaide England won by Innings and 230 runs
Here are some interesting side-lights of the 1891/92 tour:
· The first suggestion of the formation of an Australian Cricket Council came from Dave Gregory, former Test cricketer and the Secretary of the NSW Cricket Association during a meeting on 10 Nov/1891.
· The local press estimated that a total of 63,652 interested spectators had watched the proceedings of the 1st Test match at Melbourne, the largest assemblage ever for the Colonies.
· There was another “first” for Australia when 6-ball overs were used for the first time in the 1st Test at Melbourne.
· The 2nd Test at Sydney reportedly attracted a total of 52,978 spectators over the 5 days.
· Despite the huge expectations from a batsman of his calibre, WG Grace managed a total of only 164 runs from his 5 Test innings with a highest score of 58.
· It was reported that, despite his “amateur” status, WG Grace had charged personal “expenses” in excess of £ 3000 for the tour.
· The local media were highly critical of the way in which WG Grace seemed to go out of his way to cause unpleasantness on the tour. He refused to allow a runner for Harry Moses, who had injured his leg, during the 2nd Test and also denied a substitute for Robert McLeod in the same Test. Grace seemed to derive a sadistic pleasure in seeing Moses hobbling on the field before relenting on the second day of the match.
· For the 3rd Test, Grace refused to allow Blackham to toss with his “lucky” penny, did not feel it necessary to attend the official lunch and kept complaining constantly about the condition of the wicket and the length of the ground.
· Despite an overall loss of about £ 2000 on the tour (Australian media estimated the loss to be in the region of £ 4000), Lord Sheffield endeared himself by making a handsome donation of £ 150 towards the development of Australian cricket. The amount was then utilised in the making of an impressive trophy, subsequently named after the generous donor, for the Australian domestic (inter-colonial) competition.
· As is common knowledge, the Australian national domestic tournament for the Sheffield Shield was formally launched at Adelaide with the match between South Australia and New South Wales on 16 Dec/1892. The attendance for the match was reported to be about 15,000 over the 5 days of play.
· At the end of it all, the Australasian was moved to comment that the visit of Lord Sheffield’s team “had caused a cricket revival which has surpassed even the most sanguine anticipations of those who viewed the tour favourably.”
· Ric Sissons, in his book The Players. A Social History of the Professional Cricketer, quotes part of a letter written by Shaw from Australia to his friend and business partner, Arthur Shrewsbury, while commenting on the high cost of the so-called amateurs of the party he was the manager of in 1891/92: “I told you what wine would be drunk by the amateurs. Grace himself would drink enough to swim a ship.”
The relationship with Lord Sheffield
Let us now take a look at another interesting passage in the life and times of Alfred Shaw, the quintessential English professional cricketer, namely, his relationship with Lord Sheffield. A brochure dedicated to Trent Bridge, the third oldest Test cricket venue in history, informs us that in his earlier years, Alfred Shaw had been employed at Lord’s as a professional between the years 1865 to 1881 (with the exception of the seasons 1868 and 1869, when he had been part of William Clarke’s All-England Eleven, popularly known as the AEE). It was in the year 1883 that Shaw came under the persuasive influence of Lord Sheffield.
Henry North Holroyd succeeded to the title of 3rd Earl of Sheffield upon the passing away of his father in 1876. As part of the estate that he inherited at the Sheffield Park House in East Sussex, was the cricket field that had primarily been laid out under the direction of his father, the late 2nd Earl. The 3rd Earl developed the ground and pavilions further and later hosted the first first-class match of the 1884 Australian tour of England under Billy Murdoch at the Sheffield Park ground of Uckfield from 12 May, 1884, the Australians winning the encounter rather easily by a margin of an innings and 6 runs.
Alfred Shaw, the consummate and discerning professional cricketer that he was, was engaged by the 3rd Earl of Sheffield in the 1883, Shaw’s brief being to establish a base at Sheffield Park, and to scout around the county with the intention of unearthing fresh talent for the Sussex County Cricket Club. In an unusual turn of events, this move by Lord Sheffield coincided with Shaw being elevated to the captaincy of Nottinghamshire. The move proved to be very beneficial for Nottinghamshire. In the era before the formal organisation of the County Championship from 1890 onwards, Shaw led Nottinghamshire to four consecutive unofficial County titles, for the years 1883 through to 1886, an unprecedented and unparalleled record for a Nottinghamshire County skipper till date.
The Final Burst
Shaw then parted company with Nottinghamshire under mysterious circumstances in 1887 and Mordecai Sherwin was invested with the mantle of leadership. In the meantime, his scouting activities on behalf of Sussex did not prove to be as fruitful as expected although he remained with the 3rd Earl of Sheffield for a period of almost 9 years. From 1887 onwards, having opted out of the Nottinghamshire team, he remained completely out of touch with county cricket.
In 1894, after 7 years in the wilderness, as it were, Shaw was rather unexpectedly co-opted into the Sussex county team. The veteran was almost 52 years old at the time. The local media did not appear to be surprised by the move, and at the end of the season, the following comments appeared in print about the champion bowler: “The famous veteran bowled with a skill and accuracy which proved him by far the best bowler in the Sussex team…The fact that Shaw headed the Sussex bowling averages speaks volumes for the manner in which he has retained his form.”
Indeed, in 7 matches in the 1894 season, Shaw captured 41 wickets at an average of 12.58. In the drawn match against his previous team, Nottinghamshire, at Trent Bridge, Shaw’s 395th first-class match, he had figures of 7/34 in the Notts 1st innings total of 89 all out. He later captured 7/69 in the Surrey 1st innings at The Oval on 28 Jun/1894, proving to all and sundry, if any proof of his virtuosity was ever required, that the old magic had not deserted him with time. He played only 1 more season for Sussex, in 1895, picking up 15 wickets from his 3 matches of the season, including 6/111 in the Lancashire 1st innings at Old Trafford in May/1895.
The great man played his last first-class match in Jul, 1897, representing his old county Nottinghamshire against the Gentlemen of Philadelphia at Trent Bridge. He was almost 55 years old at the time. In a drawn game where the visitors batted only once, Shaw had figures of 50-21-75-3, the overs consisting of 4 deliveries. After that, Finis was finally written on his remarkable cricketing career.
Assiduous chroniclers of the cricket career of Alfred Shaw have estimated that he had played 658 documented matches of all categories of cricket between 23 May/1864 and 14 Jul/1897. During all this time, he scored 10,218 runs at 12.19. His wicket haul appears to be 3601 at 9.60. His best figures in all these years were his 14/12, playing for James Lillywhite’s XI against XXII of South Australia at Adelaide from 16 Nov/1876.
Here is a break-up of the modes of dismissal off his bowling:
Bowled - 1819
Caught - 1379
Hit Wicket - 36
LBW - 149
Stumped - 218
Total - 3601
Following a trend popular among professional cricketers of his time, Alfred Shaw was in the habit of accepting occasional umpiring during and after his active playing days. The archives reveal the fact that his first documented umpiring engagement was in the game between Eton College and Harrow School at Lord’s, London, from 13 Jul, 1866. Shaw would have been about a month shy of his 24th year at the time. He is seen to have stood in 13 “Miscellaneous” games up to Dec/1886.
Shaw’s career as a first-class umpire began with the match between the MCC and Surrey Club, also at Lord’s, from 28 May/1866. Shaw’s career as a first-class umpire was to stretch till 4 Sep/1905, when he donned the white coat for the last time in the match between the Gentlemen of the South and the Players of the South, played at Bournemouth. He is known to have officiated in 134 first-class games, including 100 County Championship games.
Towards the end of his umpiring career, he had been in very indifferent health. Wisden states that at the end of the 1905 season: “It was felt, however, that he no longer possessed the strength for the work, and when the county captains met at Lord’s to select the umpires for the following season, his name was omitted from the list.”
For a man who had been in active cricket from 23 May/1864, and who had graced various cricket fields of England, North America, Australia, and New Zealand in one capacity or another for upwards of 40 years, the writing was finally on the wall. The time had finally come for his indomitable spirit and exceptional skills to bow to Anno Domini.
Having charmed the known cricket world of his time with his accuracy and skill, Alfred Shaw passed away on 16 Jan/1907 after a long illness at his home in Gedling, Nottinghamshire, and was laid to rest at the All Hallows Church, Gedling. His demise was reported far and wide. The Register (Adelaide) of Friday, Jan/18/1907, made the following announcement: “The death is announced, at the age of 64 years, of Alfred Shaw, a noted cricketer, who formerly played for Notts and Sussex, and at one time was considered the best bowler in England.”
Commenting on the departed Shaw in his book Cricket, WG Grace made the following comments in the chapter Cricketers I Have Met: “He has proved himself to be one of the very best round-arm bowlers of the present (nineteenth) century. Rather strangely, he was played at first for his batting, and he performed very well: but after 1870, when he began to bowl about medium-pace, his success was so great that his batting excellence was lost sight of by the general public. The great power of his bowling lay in its good length and unvaried precision….”
In a later publication, Cricketing Reminiscences and Personal Recollections, WG Grace recollects the fact that it was Richard Daft who had dubbed Shaw the Emperor of Bowlers. Grace added: “For many years, the exalted title was well-deserved… The fact that he went through his long career without bowling a single ball very wide of the wicket, and was only once ‘no-balled’ is eloquent testimony to his accuracy of pitch…”
The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser of Wednesday, 23 Jan/1907 carried brief career profiles of Alfred Shaw. An obituary appearing in a local newspaper went as follows: “In a quiet, ivy-covered corner of Gedling churchyard, within less than a stone’s throw of the grave of his cricketing comrade and partner, the late Arthur Shrewsbury, was laid to rest this afternoon the body of Mr. Alfred Shaw, one of the greatest cricketers that Nottinghamshire ever produced…”
It was thus that the Emperor passed on to the Elysian fields to assume the rightful place that he had deserved all along, among the pantheon of the greatest past cricketers of all time.