William Oscroft, son of Thomas Oscroft and brother of John, was without doubt the best of the numerous Oscrofts, who were all accomplished cricketers. His name first appears in MCC Scores & Biographies in a match on 22 July 1861, when he played for Eastbourne v Rotherfield, being credited with 12 wickets in the match.
At the start of that season he had taken his first professional engagement with the Eastbourne club, an engagement which he continued until 1864, when his frequent selection to play for Nottinghamshire ended that contract.
Having been born on 16 December 16 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 did occasionally play for his native village of Arnold during September and he was a member of the Bestwood Park team from about 1868 onwards.
William Oscroft represented the Nottinghamshire Colts in the 1862 trial at Trent Bridge, without distinguishing himself, but his appearance for the Colts of England XI v MCC at Lord’s in May 1864 caused a sensation – 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 which was made in 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 remarkable.
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 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, on one occasion, v Surrey, carrying his bat for 53 out of a Notts total of just 94. In that same season he completed the County’s first century opening partnership with Charles Brampton. 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 Fifties, 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.
He captained the side in two seasons - 1881 and 82 - and in the second of those was awarded a benefit match against the touring Australians which realised him about £650 which, he claimed, was to that time the highest received by a professional player.
William made two tours to Australia, with Grace’s team in 1873-4 and again under Richard Daft in 1879 when he headed the tourists’ batting averages.
His performances throughout his career with Nottinghamshire are very uneven – 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, and it appeared that his playing days were finished; but in 1872 he regained his former touch and by 1873 was second to Daft. 1875 saw him the poorest of the six regular Nottinghamshire batsmen and this up and down quality persisted until 1882, when, on his doctor’s advice, he retired.
He was landlord of the Royal Oak Inn in Nottingham in 1875 and ten years later took over the Peacock Inn on Mansfield Road.
William Oscroft died from locomotor ataxia on 10 October 1905 and is buried in Arnold Cemetery.