Arthur Shrewsbury and William ‘Billy’ Gunn are two of the greatest batsman that Notts have ever produced, and 130 years ago today they wrote themselves into cricket’s history books with a record-breaking First-Class partnership.
The 1890 season is generally regarded as the first official County Championship and Notts came into the competition as the joint ‘Champion County’, having shared the 1889 title with Lancashire and Surrey.
Notts’ first match in the new competition was at Trent Bridge against a Sussex team that had beaten the MCC earlier that week and, having won the toss, the home captain John Dixon opened the batting with Shrewsbury.
In the early stages “the cricket presented no features of interest, runs coming slowly” according to the Nottingham Evening Post.
Dixon had only managed 13 runs when he was caught, leaving Notts at 26 for 1 and bringing Billy Gunn to the wicket.
Both batsmen played carefully and took the score to 103 lunch but “play grew very monotonous in the afternoon session” and, on 75, Shrewsbury was put down for the only chance that he offered in his marathon innings.
The opener reached his century after three hours and ten minutes at the crease, and Gunn took just five minutes fewer to pass the same milestone “without making a really bad stroke”.
"Gunn always held a complete command over the bowling, showing great judgement throughout and hitting brilliantly when he got the chance.”
Sporting Life report, 17 May 1890
Both men batted carefully until stumps were drawn with Notts on 341 for 1, already a record partnership for Trent Bridge. Shrewsbury had scored 164, while Gunn had contributed 152.
Looking back at the first day’s play, the national press were more complimentary than their local colleagues. Sporting Life referred to “remarkable batting” and believed that “against the two great Nottingham men the Sussex bowlers found themselves quite helpless … finer or more correct batting has seldom been witnessed.”
By 11:45 am on the second day the batsmen broke the First-Class record partnership score of 340, and 30 minutes later the innings total passed 400.
Shrewsbury reached his double century soon afterwards, having batted for almost six-and-a-half hours.
The next milestone would be Gunn’s double century, but that was never reached.
The Evening Post reported that “Gunn hit in a somewhat half-hearted way at a curley one, and was very well caught … This was the only mistake he had made during exactly six hours’ stay at the wicket.”
Gunn had scored 196, and the record-breaking partnership had been worth 398 runs.
Shrewsbury continued to build his innings while other batsmen were ordered to hit out, declarations only being allowed on the final day of a match at this time.
"Shrewsbury batted on steadily in his customary cool, confident and scientific manner. His batting on the whole was equal to anything he has ever done.”
The Sportsman report, 17 May 1890
The opener was the seventh man dismissed for 267, equalling his previous highest score.
Despite Sussex’s deliberately poor fielding (in an attempt to shorten the time available for their batting), Notts were eventually all out for 590.
With the inevitable ‘scoreboard pressure’ telling on their batsmen, Sussex were bowled out for 186 and 138 to leave Notts victorious by an innings and 266 runs.
Arthur Shrewsbury ended the season as the highest scorer in the inaugural County Championship, amassing 1,082 runs at an average of 49.18. Billy Gunn was the fifth-highest scorer, totalling 693 runs at 33.00. But after their resounding win in the opening match, Notts only managed four more victories and finished fifth in the eight-team table.
The record established by Shrewsbury and Gunn has been surpassed numerous times in the past 130 years, with the highest County Championship partnership currently standing at 555 and the record second-wicket partnership at 465*.
Meanwhile, the worldwide First-Class records are 624 and 594* respectively.
And thanks to Darren Bicknell and Guy Welton’s opening partnership of 406* in 2000 against Warwickshire, Shrewsbury and Gunn’s 398 is no longer an overall Notts record.
However it does remain the county’s highest second-wicket partnership, and just one reason why these two great batsmen deserve their place in the record books.