William Oscroft, the son of Thomas Oscroft and brother of John, was without doubt the best of the numerous Oscrofts, who were accomplished cricketers. His name first appears in M.C.C. Scores & Biographies in a match on July 22nd, 1861, when he played for Eastbourne v Rotherfield, he being accredited with 12 wickets in the match.
At the start of the 1861 season he had taken his first professional engagement with the Eastbourne club, an engagement which he continued until his frequent selection to play for Nottinghamshire during 1864, forced him to conclude it.
Having been born on December 16th, 1843 and being therefore only 17 when he first went to Eastbourne his appearances in local Nottingham and district matches were very limited, though he will be occasionally found in the eleven of his native village of Arnold during September and he subsequently was a member of the Bestwood Park team from about 1868 onwards.
Oscroft represented the Nottinghamshire Colts in the 1862 trial at Trent Bridge, but without distinguishing himself, but his appearance for the Colts of England XI v MCC at Lord’s on May 23rd and 24th, 1864, caused a sensation, for he hit 51 and 76 in the two Colts’ innings and such batting by a colt was unheard of. Some idea of the brilliance of these innings of Oscroft’s can be gauged by the fact that not one century was hit at Lord’s throughout the whole of 1864 and only two or three batsmen bettered his 76 – the 76 being made from a total of 134 all out, with only one other player even reaching double figures. That an almost unknown colt should have performed such a feat and against Wootton and Grundy, almost if not quite the best bowlers in England, is incredible and cannot receive too much praise.
George Parr engaged him as a member of the All England Eleven, in 1865 and he was to continue to appear for this XI, almost without missing a match until it finally ceased to exist, at which time he was captain and secretary, posts he had inherited from George Parr about 1876.
For Nottinghamshire in 1865, Oscroft completely vindicated the high hopes he raised the previous season. He played in all eight important Nottinghamshire fixtures and though he was to play virtually continuously for the County until 1882, he never again attained the success which was his during his second summer in the XI. Averaging 48.82 for 11 completed innings including one century and three 50, he headed the County’s batting averages and in the whole of the country only two or three other cricketers could show better figures for the season.
His performances throughout his career with Nottinghamshire are very uneven – no doubt due in some measure to the disease which forced him finally to retire and later killed him. Against Surrey at the Oval in 1868, he had the misfortune to be dismissed first ball in each innings and was left out of the side for a few matches. The following summer, he played very consistently, averaging 23.70, though his highest score was only 48, and in 1870 he again batted fairly well in a poor batting year. 1871 was an absolute disaster for he footed the County’s batting table, being below even J.C. Shaw. It would seem that he was finished, but in 1872 he regained his former touch and by 1873 was second to Daft. 1875 saw him the worst of the six regular Nottinghamshire batsmen and this up and down quality persisted until 1882, when he, on his doctor’s advice retired.