No bowler in the history of Nottinghamshire cricket dominated the County attack for so long a period of time as did William Attewell, known by colleagues and fans as 'Dick'. From 1886 until 1898, with one exception, he both took the most wickets each season for the County and obtained them at a cheaper cost than any other of his colleagues.
It is true that Nottinghamshire were not the match-winning combination that they had been in the early 1880s, but without Attewell it is difficult to see how they could have maintained even the moderate success that was theirs.
There they could be little doubt that, great though Attewell’s performances were, they would have probably equalled the brilliance of Alfred Shaw, had Attewell had bowlers of the calibre of Fred Morley or Jem Shaw to support him.
William Attewell was born in Keyworth on June 12th 1861 and at the age of 16 began his professional career on the cricket field, being engaged with Nottingham Commercial CC at Trent Bridge. The first indications of his future success, however, came four years before when he obtained a hat-trick for Keyworth School v Plumtree School.
Attewell’s engagement with the Commercial CC lasted for three season – 1878, 1879 and 1880. In the latter season he had a trial in the Nottinghamshire Colts XXII and appeared again in 1881, in which year he also formed one of the XXII Colts who opposed the MCC at Lord’s.
The quarrel between the Nottinghamshire Committee and the seven principal cricketers of the County in 1881 resulted in the expulsion of these players from the team after the first match of the season and Attewell was given a place in the Middlesex game on 9 and 10 June. In a low-scoring game Attewell was the only player to reach double figures in both innings; in the next contest he proved his all-round ability by taking five wickets in Surrey’s second innings. Surprisingly, although Nottinghamshire’s leading wicket-taker, Attewell did not retain his place in the County XI for the final two matches when five of the strikers made their peace with the committee and returned.
In 1889 Attewell became the second player to record 100 wickets for the County in a season, a feat he also repeated in 1892, 1894, 1895 and 1896.
His only century for the County was hit against Kent at Gravesend in 1897 – Nottinghamshire followed-on 238 runs behind and were in danger of defeat when Attewell and Pike came together and added 112 for the seventh wicket in about two hours and saved the match, Attewell finally being out for 102.
It could not be said that Attewell was a graceful batsman and he had a disconcerting habit of carefully blocking the simplest of deliveries while hitting the best the bowler could produce to the boundary; his methods, however, were often effective.
In 1882 Attewell was engaged on the staff of Lord’s, a position he retained until the close of 1903. He appeared in 53 First-Class matches for the club, but by far his most distinguished effort was his score of 200 v Northumberland at Lord’s in 1889 when he and William Gunn added 419 for the second wicket; Attewell’s most notable bowling performance for the MCC was 32-21-19-8 v Suffolk in 1883.
Attewell played in ten Test matches, only one took place in England – at Lord’s in 1890, when he did nothing spectacular. Though not playing any of the three 1884 Tests, Attewell was decidedly the most effective player to confront the Australia tourists. At Huddersfield for an England XI he had figures of 38.2-24-29-6 and 28-17-30-4.
In 1884-85 he accompanied Shaw, Shrewsbury and Lillywhite’s team to Australia. Eight First-Class matches were contested, in all of which Attewell partook his best results being 31-22-18-3 and 30-19-19-5 v New South Wales at Sydney.
Returning to Australia as a member of G.F. Vernon’s XI in 1887-88, he had a most brilliant finish to the tour. Against the Australian team at Melbourne his figures read 53-16-33-5 and 21-14-15-7 and in the next and final match of the tour again at Melbourne v Victoria, 32-18-30-6 and 65.3-45-28-5.
Making a third tour of Australia with Lord Sheffield’s team in 1891-92, Attewell again headed the First-Class bowling averages taking 44 wickets for 573 runs.
Apart from his engagement at Lord’s, among his other cricketing appointments were with Eton College in 1882, Warwickshire CCC in April 1903, Staffordshire CCC in April 1904 and Oxford in 1909.
At the beginning of 1902 he was appointed to the first-class umpires list and stood in about 130 first-class matches before resigning at the close of 1907.
His occupation was that of a butcher, trading as a retailer from his shop in Keyworth. During the latter part of his life Attewell lived in Long Eaton, Derbyshire, and died there after a long illness on 11 June 1927. His brother Thomas Attewell and his cousin Walter Attewell also played for Nottinghamshire.