Richard Daft was destined to assume the mantle of George Parr, as the greatest Nottinghamshire and England professional batsman of his time. A contemporary journal in the 1870s comments: ‘Great is the hand-clapping, expressive of “see the conquering hero comes”, at Trent Bridge, when Daft, well aware of his importance, walks up to the wicket.’ Fred Lillywhite’s brief pen picture notes ‘Is one of the most accomplished batsmen in the world; for self-command, science, hit, perseverance and judgment no one can excel him.’
Daft, who was born in Nottingham in November 1835, did not make his Notts debut until 1858, playing against Surrey at The Oval, when four of the Notts regulars, including George Parr, were absent. Daft played in that match as an amateur. He was so impressive that he was picked for the Gentlemen v Players the following week and then for North v South at Lord’s immediately afterwards. So, though his debut was later than was common, Daft immediately rose to the top rank of cricketers. In 1859 he made the unusual move from amateur to professional and in 1859, 1860 and 1861 was a regular member of Parr’s All England Eleven. After 1861 his cricket was largely confined to matches for Nottinghamshire, or local club games. From 1864 to 1877, except in three seasons, Daft topped the Notts first-class averages. In 1873 he hit 161 v Yorkshire at Trent Bridge, the highest innings made for the county up to that date and received the largest sum ever given by the Notts Committee for a single feat. However Daft considered that his innings of 118 for North v South at Lord’s was superior. The newspaper report of the time states: ‘It was one of the finest innings ever played at Lord’s,or any other ground. Not one chance did he give and every ball was played correctly. He was got out by a fluke, a ball bowled by Willsher hit his hand and bounded on to the wicket.’ Daft was at the crease over four hours. The MCC presented Daft with a new bat in recognition of his performance – the North won by an innings, no one else really mastering the difficult conditions.
Daft captained Notts from 1871 to 1880 and the county were Champions for six of those ten years. His benefit in 1876 raised £500 and other gifts presented to him were valued at £250. He declined several offers of tours overseas, but in 1879 did captain a side to the United States, the side being composed of Notts and Yorkshire cricketers. 13 matches in all were played, including a Notts v Yorkshire match at Germantown, Notts winning by ten wickets – it was played on October 23 and 24 and the weather being exceedingly cold. Daft officially retired at the close of the 1880 season, but played two games in 1881 due to the strike of Notts players. At the age of 55(in 1891) he was still scoring hundreds in good class local cricket and was asked to play against Surrey at The Oval – this was the needle match of the summer. It was a disaster for Notts, all out 86 and 44, of which Daft made 12 and 2. He did play in two further games that season before retiring from county cricket for a second time.
Although a quite brilliant cricketer, Daft was a hopeless businessman. He had the principal sports shop in Nottingham, but it went steadily downhill. He was also a partner in the Radcliffe Brewery – founded by his father-in-law, Butler Parr. At one time he ran the Trent Bridge Inn, but at the time of his death – in Radcliffe, July 1900 – he was bankrupt. He had joined the County Umpires list in 1898, presumably to aid his financial position and umpired in that season and the next. A rather depressing end to a Nottingham hero. His reminiscences, ‘ Kings of Cricket’ was published and achieved good sales – it is a standard text book for historians – but again any money reward seems to have been frittered away.
Richard Daft was a founder-member of Notts County F.C. and played fairly often for the side until 1871-72. His son, H.B.Daft, played for the club and for England. H.B.Daft and his borther R.P.Daft both played cricket for Notts, whilst Richard’s brother played cricket for the County in the 1860s and soccer for Nottm Forest in 1866. All three will appear in more detail in this work.