CRICKETER OF THE YEAR - 1953

David Sheppard

Few cricketers at the age of 23 have accomplished as much as DAVID STUART SHEPPARD, the Sussex and England opening batsman. Sheppard made his first-class debut in 1947, but no until 1949 did he appear with any regularity. In the nest three years he represented Cambridge in three University matches, captaining the side in 1952, appeared in six Tests for England, toured Australia and New Zealand with the MCC, scored a Test century against India, played for Gentlemen against The Players at Lord's, obtained over 2,000 runs in two successive seasons, shared in two opening partnerships of more than 300, and, finally, headed the first-class batting averages. Already, therefore, Sheppard has established himself as one of the leading batsmen in England, and, with many more years ahead of him, he seems destined for a great career.

Born at Reigate on March 6, 1929, Sheppard became interested in cricket from an early age and was encouraged by his father to watch the game as much as possible. When he went to Northcliffe House Preparatory School at Bognor he regarded himself almost entirely as a left-handed slow bowler and he tried to model his action on that of the late Hedley Verity, his schoolboy hero. In fact, Sheppard, for his first year at school, batted number 11.

At the age of 13, Sheppard went to Sherborne, and there his serious cricket training began. HE came under the guidance of MM Walford, the Oxford Blue and Somerset batsman, who was games-master at the School. Walford's tuition and encouragement played a vital part in the development of Sheppard. Creese, the former Hampshire left-hander, the professional there, also helped. Under their influence, Sheppard became an opening batsman and gave up bowling.

In 1946, when 17, he became a regular member of the first eleven and was easily the outstanding batsman, averaging 44.72 with the next best 19.00. The following year he did even better with 78.60, hitting four centuries. He represented the Southern Schools against The Rest at Lord's and also the Public Schools against Combined Services. In that match PBH May, who, like Sheppard, became a Cambridge Blue and England player, mad 146 in the first innings.

Such was his form as a schoolboy that Sussex invited him to play for them that year. He made his debut against Leicestershire at Hastings on August 13, but had the disappointing experience of being out lbw first ball. He scored only two in the second innings and was again out leg-before. Sheppard played two other matches for Sussex in 1947, his best score being 20 not out. After leaving Sherborne, he went into the Army for two years, and in that period played occasional games for the Sussex first and second elevens.

Sussex obviously regarded Sheppard highly, and 'Patsy' Hendren, then coach, took special interest in him. He taught him a good deal about the game, and was rewarded in 1949 when, at Eastbourne in August, Sheppard opened in the innings against Glamorgan and scored 204 - the first three-figure innings of his first-class career. Sheppard really established himself when he followed with centuries in his next two matches. He made 147 against Leicestershire at Hove, sharing with John Langridge in an opening partnership of 238, and then 130 against Surrey, also at Hove, Langridge this time helping him in a stand of 172. Such batting gave Sheppard second place in the Sussex averages for the season with 47.52 from 17 innings.

So Sheppard was already an established batsman when he went to Cambridge. There he joined JG Dewes, GHG Doggart and PBH May in a batting side probably as strong as any county in England. Sheppard not only maintained his form, but did so well that in August he was chosen for England against West Indies at The Oval. He batted number three and made 11 and 29. During the season he scored 1,885 runs and hit five centuries, including 227 against West Indies at Cambridge. Dewes made 183 and they shared in a stand of 343, the highest opening partnership in the history of Cambridge and the best anywhere in the world against a West Indies team. In the same match Worrell and Weekes put on 350 - a record for any West Indies wicket in England. Against his own county, Sussex, Sheppard helped Dewes in an opening partnership of 349, beating their own record. In the season he also appeared in the remarkable Test trial at Bradford. He was on the opposite side to Laker, who in the first innings took eight for two, and scored only 4 and 3.

Although there were certain flaws still to be eradicated in Sheppard's technique, the Test selectors considered him a fine prospect and they chose him to tour Australia with the MCC side that winter. Sheppard did not have a particularly successful time, averaging only 23, but he appeared in the last two Tests and scored 41 in the second innings at Adelaide. It was in Australia that Sheppard began to alter his style slightly, and he did so by watching and getting advice from Hutton. Mainly an off-side player at first, Sheppard changed his methods so that his defence became tighter and he developed more on- and leg-side strokes. He looked a maturer batsman when he returned to England, and proved it by scoring 2,104 runs (average 52.60), his seven centuries including two in one match for Cambridge against Middlesex at Fenner's.

The selectors did not call on him against South Africa, but last season he returned to favour, playing in the Third and Fourth Tests against India. At The Oval he made 119, his first Test hundred. Again he scored over 2,000 runs and he had the satisfaction of heading the English first-class averages with 64.62.

Sheppard, tall and well built, looks a batsman from the moment he takes guard. With legs slightly apart and hands held high and together, he adopts an aggressive attitude, as if showing every intention of getting on with the game. In actual fact he is not a particularly fast scorer, although when on top of the attack he treats all bowling unmercifully. His most productive strokes come in the arc from mid-off to mid-wicket, with a specially good shot off his toes wide of mid-on. He also cuts and pulls well. As a fieldsman, either in the deep or close to the wicket, he is of the highest class. He prefers being near the bat, where he rarely missed a catch. He seems to swoop on the ball as it comes to him and few batsmen risk a sharp single when he is around.

Quiet and unassuming, Sheppard for a long time considered giving up regular cricket to concentrate on the Church. He has been a lay preacher in many parts of England. His loss to the game would have been unfortunate, but in September it was announced that he had accepted an invitation to captain Sussex for 1953. Thus, for the moment, Sheppard remains in cricket. The only time he captained Sussex in 1952 he led the side to victory over the Indians - the second county to beat the touring team in the season. Sheppard's captaincy will no doubt be watched closely, for here is a possible future leader of England. - LS.

© John Wisden & Co