Alfred Shaw – Emperor of Bowlers. That is what his contemporaries dubbed him, but gazing at the 19th century photographs Shaw looks astonishingly like Edward VII, having the same shaped face, the stout figure and the spade beard. Edward VII however only played a handful of cricket matches and achieved nothing. The Lillywhite Companion of 1866 places HRH at the top of the first-class batting table – he had two innings and scored 2 runs! The editor published a letter from HRH’s Secretary acknowledging receipt of the book in the front of the annual!
Obituaries tend to the laudatory, but the best way to place Shaw in the pantheon of famous cricketers is to quote from Cricket of 31 January 1907:
‘To say that he was one of the Kings of Cricket is to understate, rather than exaggerate, the case, for all good judges of the game are unanimous in regarding him as having never been surpassed as a bowler; indeed, the saying ‘As accurate as Alfred Shaw’ has, among cricketers, as much significance as ‘as safe as the Bank of England’ among people generally. It is of course impossible to compare Shaw with such old-time worthies as David Harris, William Lillywhite, Lumpy and others, for the conditions that existed in his time were quite different from those of sixty or seventy years earlier. It is nevertheless quite as impossible to believe that any of the great trio mentioned ever excelled the Nottinghamshire crack so far as precision is concerned. That Shaw must be reckoned the greatest of all medium pace bowlers is everywhere acknowledged. His extreme accuracy of pitch and a deceptive flight combined to credit him with hundreds of wickets.’
The above extract is less than a tenth of that particular eulogy. Brought up in the round-arm era, his action remained in W G Grace’s words, ‘easy round-arm’. In September 1863, Notts arranged a second Colts Trial. Shaw, playing with the Colts (he was born in Burton Joyce in August 1842) took seven wickets for l4 runs. He then appeared in a MCC v Colts of England match at Lord’s and took 13 for 55.
His First-Class debut came in Notts’ first game of 1864 and for the next 22 years (except for 1881 and when injured) he was a permanent member of the county side. Because of the Notts’ bowling strength, for several years he played as an all-rounder, with batting as his strength but from 1871 he was a principal element in the Notts attack. In 1877 he missed most of the summer through illness, but the following season was perhaps his most outstanding. He bowled in partnership with the left-arm Fred Morley and both were engaged at Lord’s by MCC as well as playing for Notts. In all first-class matches that season Shaw took 201 wickets at 10.95, bowling 2,630 overs; Morley had figures of 197 wickets at 12.11 off 1,996.3 overs. For Notts Shaw took 92 wickets and Morley 126.
It was in that summer that the Australian touring side first visited England (excluding the 1868 Aborigines Team); their first fixture was against Notts at Trent Bridge. Shaw and Morley bowled unchanged through both Australian innings. Shaw took 11 for 55, Morley 8 for 72. Australia were all out 63 and 76 and Notts won by an innings. It would be informative, but repetitious, to log every outstanding analysis returned by Shaw; his final first-class bowling figures for Notts are 898 wickets at 11.51 and in all first-class games 2026 wickets at 12.13 (plus one wicket in which no analysis survives).
From 1865 to 1881 (except for 1868 and 1869 when he played for the All England Eleven) Shaw was engaged at Lord’s. In 1883 he was persuaded by Lord Sheffield to come to Sheffield Park, his lordship’s private ground in Sussex, and scour Sussex in order to unearth fresh talent for the Sussex County side. Rather oddly, by today’s standards, this appointment with Lord Sheffield coincided with Notts appointing Shaw as county captain. His success as captain however has never been equalled for Nottinghamshire and rarely by other county captains – Shaw took Notts to the County Championship title in four successive summers. Precisely what occurred next is not clear, though the outcome is.
He parted company with Notts and Mordecai Sherwin was made captain for 1887. The press were astonished at the sacking of the most successful captain of all time. Shaw remained with Lord Sheffield for another nine seasons but his mission to discover new Sussex talent failed – in fact in 1894 Shaw, after seven years out of county cricket and now aged 51, was co-opted into the Sussex county side. The season’s review explains the outcome:
‘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.’
Twice he took seven wickets in an innings – against Surrey and against Notts, two of the strongest batting sides. His legs finally gave way early in the following summer, when, against Notts at Trent Bridge, his analysis read 100.1-31-168-4. (there were 5 balls per over, but Shaw’s 500.1 balls in a single innings remains the record in Championship cricket).
He finally retired from County cricket, though making a last appearance in First-Class matches for Notts v Philadelphians in 1897. After leaving Lord Sheffield’s employ, Shaw joined the First-Class umpires’ list for 1898 and remained on it until ill-health forced his retirement in 1905.
Whilst full of praise for his bowling and captaincy, critics were not too enthusiastic about Shaw’s batting and fielding. In 1875 a journalist commented:
‘Shaw is not very certain in his batting and fielding; he hits hard to square-leg, and sometimes plays in good form, at other times he is flukey, and he will sometimes field well and make good catches, whilst at others he is slow and cannot get over the ground at all; he is usually a dead shot at the wicket’.
Shaw toured Australia five times – in 1876-77 he bowled the first ball in the first ever Test Match; in 1881-82 he captained the side including in four Tests. In 1884-85, 1886-87 and 1891-92 he acted as manager and did not appear in any first-class games. During the three tours of the 1880s he was joint promoter of the trip and made substantial sums, but he was also joint promoter of the 1887-88 tour (though not travelling to Australia) and later claimed he lost all the money made on the previous ventures. In 1868 and 1879 he toured North America.
As a businessman he was in partnership with Arthur Shrewsbury in the sports goods firm, Shaw & Shrewsbury, founded in 1880. He was at one time landlord of the Lord Nelson Inn in Burton Joyce and from 1878 to 1881 landlord of the Prince of Wales Inn in Kilburn, London.
Alfred Shaw died at his home in Gedling in January 1907 and is buried in Gedling Churchyard.
His brother William played one match for Notts in 1866.