Good and faithful Sheppard
David Sheppard 1929-2005 by Stephen Chalke
In his first summer in the Cambridge side, 1950, it was he more than his fellow freshman Peter May who caught the headlines. He scored a century in the first match, a double century against the touring West Indians and by August he was in the England team. He liked to tell the story of his first Test innings at The Oval. When he had reached 11, the Tannoy announced that Princess Elizabeth had given birth to a girl, and the West Indians in the crowd chanted "Let's have a wicket for the Princess". He was promptly bowled by Sonny Ramadhin.
Then, only 21 years old, he was fitting his study of history around a winter tour of Australia.
His game was still evolving. At Sherborne, a late developer, he had not broken into the first XI until he was 17. But, thanks perhaps to a daily bottle of Guinness from his housemaster, he shot up a foot in two years and became a powerful young batsman, scoring so many runs that he was making his debut for Sussex at 18. After two years of National Service he returned to the Sussex team in August 1949 and in successive matches reeled off scores of 204, 147 and 130.
In Australia runs came less easily but he had determination and he managed to get the introverted Len Hutton to take him under his wing. At this stage, like many from the public schools, he had a predominantly off-side game, but Hutton got him playing over the line of the ball. Back in England the following summer, though he topped 2,000 runs, he became for a while rather an on-sided player.
The next two summers were the apex of his cricket career. In 1952, preferred to May as Cambridge captain, he hit 10 centuries - including a maiden Test hundred against India - and finished top of the national averages. "Sheppard, tall and well built, looks a batsman from the moment he takes guard," Wisden wrote. Then in 1953 he played his only full season of county cricket, captaining Sussex so successfully that the county rose from 13th to 2nd in the table. In the seven years of the great Surrey's reign no county ran them closer than Sheppard's Sussex.
It was a time when young amateurs were expected to lead out seasoned professionals and it is arguable whether any won their respect as completely as Sheppard did. He was an outstanding batsman and a courageous close catcher and he practised a leadership that combined a will to succeed with a gift for pastoral care. According to another amateur Hubert Doggart, he had "an extraordinary personal magnetism which his team found hard to resist" while Jim Parks, later to play under May, Dexter, Cowdrey and Close, has no doubts that "he was the finest captain I ever played under". "He was only 24," wicket-keeper Rupert Webb says, "but he seemed older. He led from the front, he always had time for everybody, and the whole team admired him. If he'd said to me `Try not to get out', they could have hit me on the head and I'd have stayed there." At the end of the summer, Alan Oakman recalls, they all received personal letters of thanks.
His batting was inspirational. On the final day at Leicester it seemed that the home team would never declare, so he signalled the taking of the new ball and laboriously reset the field. Then Charles Palmer, captain and secretary of the impoverished club, waved his batsmen in. "I knew they couldn't afford a new ball," Sheppard joked as they left the field, and he put on his pads and scored an unbeaten 186 in 31/2 hours. "It was the most exciting innings I ever played," he said. At Bournemouth he came down the track to the unhittable Derek Shackleton and lofted him over his head for 22 in an over, and on an awkwardly green pitch at Guildford he battled for a 41/2-hour century that brought victory over the mighty Surrey. "He was wonderfully single-minded," Colin Cowdrey wrote of him, "always hungry for runs."
Then began his theological training - though, in the final words of his 1964 book Parson's Pitch, it was "not so much a case of giving up cricket as of taking up something else which is infinitely worthwhile".
He found time to play much of the 1954 season, even captaining England in Hutton's absence in two Tests, but thereafter his appearances grew less frequent. In 1956 he had played only four first-class innings when he was selected for the Old Trafford Test against Australia but, cheered on by a group of boys from his Islington parish, he went out to bat, was shaken up by a first-ball bouncer from Lindwall and went on to score a century that set up the game for Jim Laker to take 19 wickets. The following year, in the fourth Test at Headingley, he was walking out against West Indies with only 32 first-class runs to his name, but he was equal to the task and made 68.
His ministry took him to London's East End and his cricket became even more sporadic: 10 games, with three centuries, in the next four years. Then in 1962, at the age of 33, he was persuaded to play more regularly and to make himself available for a winter in Australia, perhaps even as captain. On the eve of the decision he scored a fine century for the Gentlemen against the Players but the vote went to Ted Dexter. Some say he lost out because MCC was nervous that he might criticise Australia's whites-only immigration policy, others that he did himself no favours when Walter Robins, chairman of selectors, left a message at the Docklands Settlement for him to ring back and, confusing him with another Mr Robins, a persistent caller from the parish, he did not do so immediately. In the end, perhaps, he was happier to tour as a player and to spend his off-field time fulfilling invitations to spread the gospel.
In the second Test at Melbourne, when he went out to bat in the second innings, he was on a pair, had dropped two catches and was close to losing his place in the side. But he made a patient 113 - "a triumph of character as well as technique," EW Swanton called it - and England won a victory that allowed them to draw the series 1-1. In all he made 330 runs in the five Tests, and the subsequent matches in New Zealand were his last first-class appearances.
As early as 1960 he had made it public that he would not play an all-white South African touring side and in 1968 he returned to cricketing prominence in the wake of the D'Oliveira affair. He was asked by a group of MCC members - angered by the club's handling of events - to propose a motion of no confidence at a special meeting in December. It was an acrimonious time and he suffered personal abuse, as he did again in 1970 when he campaigned for the cancellation of the next South African tour to England. But he drew strength from the words of Isaiah - `Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet' - and, as events unfolded across his life, though he regretted deeply the loss of his friendship with Peter May, he never regretted the position he had taken up. In 1975 he was sent to Liverpool. He was, at 46, the youngest diocesan bishop ever appointed and the same qualities he brought to his cricket - the courage, the application, the pastoral care, the ability to transcend class and status and to treat all people the same, without condescension - were at the heart of his ministry.
They were hard years. The city was rapidly losing its economic position as a major port and he championed the people in the face of a Conservative Government determined to let market forces run their course and a Militant-led council eager to create conflict. He was a leading member of the Church Commission which produced the report Faith in the City, which sought to bring "the squalor and dilapidation of the inner city" into the consciousness of the people living in "the green and wooded suburbs of middle Britain", and this brought him directly into conflict with Margaret Thatcher. In his 2002 book Steps Along Hope Street, he wrote of a particularly bristly meeting at Chequers where she repeatedly interrupted him: "It was like being heckled. Indeed my mouth went dry as I remembered it doing once when facing Lindwall and Miller!"
He retired in 1997 but in the following year he was returned to the House of Lords, to whose debates he contributed with perspicacity. His life's journey had taken him a long way from cricket but he never lost his passion for the game and in 2002 he served as Sussex president. By this time, however, just as he was looking forward to some much-deserved years of quiet, he found himself locked in a long and ultimately unsuccessful battle with cancer. He died peacefully on March 5, one day before his 76th birthday, and is survived by Grace, his wife of 47 years, and their daughter Jenny.
or Sussex, then he had a business career, now he is an actor who has appeared in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral. "If I could have chosen to be anybody in this life," he reflects simply, "it would have been David Sheppard."
The best player of his time
Robin Marlar remembers a man supreme in many ways
My first sight of David Sheppard was at Edgbaston, where he played his first match for Sussex, while still at Sherborne School. In the second innings he was bowled out by Tom Pritchard, Warwickshire's New Zealander, and comfortably the fastest bowler in the country. One of the stumps almost impaled Tom Dollery, the wicket-keeper. Promoted too early, they said.
We first met at Cambridge and soon every suggestion that he might have been mishandled disappeared. It was his conduct in the most memorable net I ever attended in 1952, when he was captain at Fenner's, which earned him my undying respect and affection as the best player of my time.
The strip was lightning-fast, all participants were raring to go after Tripos exams and the two bowlers were Cuan McCarthy and myself. Peter May was the other batsman. Sheppard took the first over, during which McCarthy went through the net and hit the wall behind. Illegal action or not, his pace was awesome. There was still enough steam at the end of three-quarters of an hour for May to find him a handful. Sheppard played him immaculately.
When you share in a stand of 120, to which your contribution is a meagre 12, you come to realise what greatness in a batsman can look like at close quarters. During his presidency where, mellowed, he was so popular and pleased to talk cricket with young and old, he told me that by the end he expected to score a hundred at every visit. His mental attitude has never been bettered.
Finally there have been jibes about his fielding, especially his catching. Sheppard was a magnificent gully, standing, I believe, in a position never seen before or since, six or eight yards from the bat and very square. His understanding with Ian Thomson was such that he caught every mis-hit half-volley, often with his dominant left hand. In Laker's match, where he scored the crucial hundred on the first day, he was a key member of the leg-trap.
We cannot compare generations. Sheppard in his time was supreme as a batsman, captain, catcher and personal presence above all.
Mike Brearley on a man whose kindness, strength and dignity transcended conflict of opinion
David and I first met over the D'Oliveira affair. He proposed the motion of no confidence in the MCC committee and I seconded it. A short while before the meeting itself we had been called in to meet the committee. Alec Douglas Home, then Foreign Secretary, spoke to us as if we were naïve schoolboys who understood nothing of politics. David's response was characteristic: polite but firm. He would not be rattled by bullying.
David had already been a figure in my life before then. I had heard him preach in Cambridge. When I played cricket there, our groundsman and mentor, Cyril Coote, often recalled David's straight drive off the bowling of Sonny Ramadhin which hit the clock on the pavilion roof during his double century against West Indies in 1950. He admired David above all the fine post-war Cambridge batsmen for the correctness of his play, the elegance of his cover drives and his great concentration - all qualities that reflected the dignity of his personality in general.
David played 22 Test matches and is the only man to have played for England as an ordained priest. He was known to be a tough captain. I mention this because David might have struck some as being too nice to be tough. He was not; he knew that to occupy a space you have to say no to others. But he went beyond that; he was big enough for the rarer capacity to remain civil and friendly with those he deeply disagreed with. If he condemned, it was the sin but not the sinner. He was not doctrinaire. When South Africa was still under apartheid, he had the courage to go there to see for himself the country's achievements in developing cricket in the townships.
David was a kind and deeply thoughtful person, who listened closely. He inspired love and brought out the best in others. Recently he and his wife Grace were immensely courageous and cheerful. When I asked him on the phone a few weeks ago how he had been, he said: "Quite good, I had half a good night." Most of us in his position would, I suspect, have emphasised the other half of that night.