Alfred Shaw

ALFRED SHAW, after a long illness, died at his home, Gedling, near Nottingham, on January 16th. In him there passed away one of the greatest figures in modern cricket. His connection with the game lasted more than forty years, only ending in 1905, when, despite shattered health, he managed somehow to get through his duties as one of the umpires in county matches. 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. Born at Burton Joyce on August 29th, 1842, Alfred Shawplayed his first match at Lord"s in 1864 for the Colts of England against the M. C. C. and Ground. The Colts were beaten by ten runs, but Shaw did great things, taking thirteen wickets and dividing the honours of the game with the late William Oscroft, who, also appearing at Lord"s for the first time, scored 51 and 76. Both men were at once given places in the Nottseleven, and in the following year Alfred Shaw had the distinction of being picked for Players against Gentlemen, both at Lord"s and the Oval. In this early part of his career Shaw"s bowling was faster than in later years, and he was essentially an all-round man. Indeed, so good was his batting that in the Gentlemen and Players" match at the Oval in 1866 he made a score of 70. His great days began about 1870 or 1871. With a decrease of speed he got far more spin and break on the ball, and from 1872 to 1880 he was, beyond all question, the best slow bowler in England. After his first trip to Australia he was laid aside in the season of 1877 by a severe attack of bronchitis, but otherwise his success was uninterrupted. After being on the M. C. C."s ground staff from 1865 to 1867, inclusive, he had a year with the All Egland Eleven, but in 1870, he returned to Lord"s, and for the M. C. C. and Notts most of his best work was done. His position as the leading bowler of his day once established he paid less regard to batting, contending that no bowler who wished to remain for any length of time at his best ought to get many runs. For his self-denial in this respect he was well rewarded, his form with the ball being uniformly good till he was close upon forty years of age.

Of all his feats, perhaps the most remarkable was accomplished in a match at Lord"s in 1875, between Notts and the M. C. C. In the M. C. C."s second innings he sent down forty-one overs and two balls for seven runs and seven wickets, bowling out, among other batsmen, W. G. Grace, A. W. Ridley, C. F. Buller, and Lord Harris. On May 27th, 1878, he played for the M. C. C. at Lord"s in the sensational match against the first Australian Eleven, and it was no fault of his that the Club suffered a nine wickets" defeat, he and the late Fred Morley getting the Australians out for a total of 41. A little over two years later Shaw appeared for Englandagainst Australia at the Oval in the first Test match ever played in this country. After 1880 his bowling began to show some falling-off, and in the great match at the Oval in 1882 England"s slow bowler was Peate. In the meantime the only regrettable incident of Shaw"s career had occurred, he being one of the prime movers in the strike of the Notts professionals in 1881. The quarrel was made up before the end of the season, but it left some feeling of soreness behind. Shaw continued to play for Notts for some years longer, dropping out of the eleven in 1887. Though he was at that time a man of 45, it was probably a mistaken policy on the part of the Notts committee to dispense with his services. He had great influence over the other Notts professionals, and for that reason, together with his long experience and fine knowledge of the game, was most valuable as captain. When a few years later the fortunes of Nottshad declined, a member of the team was heard to say, very sorrowfully, We never went down the hill while we had Shaw with us. That the veteran had a good deal of cricket left in him was proved when he afterwards played, under the residential qualification, for Sussex. Time had robbed him of much of his spin, but his bowling was still wonderfully steady. However, he soon found the strain of county cricket too much for him at his age, and without any formal farewell, he retired from the active pursuit of the game, and in due course took up umpiring.

As a bowler Alfred Shaw placed his chief reliance on accuracy of pitch. In this respect he has never been surpassed. When in his prime he could keep up his end for hours, without ever becoming short or getting in any way loose. In being able to get through so much work he was greatly helped by his delivery, which, from the beginning of his career to its close, was beautifully easy and natural. When the ground helped him, he broke back a good deal, but he never set much store on a big break, always arguing that the most dangerous ball was the one that did just enough to beat the bat. Unlike most of the present-day bowlers, he regarded the off theory as more or less a waste of time, preferring to keep on the wicket and trust to variations of pace and elevation to deceive the batsmen. It may be interesting here to quote W. G. Grace"s opinion of him. In his book on cricket Mr. Grace says: The great power of his bowling lay in its good length and unvaried precision. He could break both ways, but got more work on the ball from the off; and he was one of the few bowlers who could very quickly cause a batsman to make a mistake if he was too eager to hit. An impatient batsman might make two spanking hits in succession off him, but he would not make a third. Shaw was sure to take his measure and get him in a difficulty. On a good wicket, when batting against him, I did not find it difficult to play the ball; but I had to watch him carefully, and wait patiently before I could score.

In Shaw"s great days scores were by no means so big as they are now, and as compared with the doings of even the best of his successors his figures seem very wonderful. To give only one example, he took in 1880 177 wickets in first-class matches for less than nine runs apiece. It must be said, however, that at that time batsmen had not acquired anything like their present ability to get runs on wickets spoilt by rain. The arts of pulling and hooking have made a great advance during the last quarter of a century. Still, Shaw contended that even modern batsmen would not have dared to pull so much if the bowling had been as steady in length as it was in his time. In conjunction with James Lillywhite, and the late Arthur Shrewsbury, Shaw, beginning in the winter of 1881-82, took four teams to Australia. The first three trips answered very well, but the fourth venture-in 1887-88-resulted in financial disaster, another English eleven, with the late Mr. G. F. Vernon as captain, touring Australia at the same time. The Melbourne Club were responsible for the visit of Mr. Vernon"s side, and they, like Shaw and Shrewsbury, suffered heavily in pocket. Shaw went to Australia for the last time as manager of Lord Sheffield"s eleven in 1891-92, and discharged a difficult task with unfailing tact and judgment. It was through Lord Sheffield that he first became associated with Sussex cricket, being engaged while still a member of the Notts eleven to coach the young Sussex players.

© John Wisden & Co
 
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