County Championship – 5th (W 4, L 4, D 4)
Captain – W Oscroft
The interest in the 1881 season should have revolved around the retirement of Richard Daft and how that affected the batting and the captaincy of the Notts team. The summer however was taken up with another dramatic happening.
Alfred Shaw had been asked by the executive of Bradford cricket ground to bring a Notts team to play Yorkshire on the ground for July 1881. The authorities running the Park Avenue Ground had ambitions to build a reputation to equal Bramall Lane at Sheffield, having successfully organised a fixture against Australia in 1880. The Notts Secretary, Capt Holden, when he discovered this plan, wrote to Shaw objecting to the organising of a cricket match outside the aegis of the County Committee. Shaw replied by saying that Daft had made similar arrangements in 1873 without the Committee complaining. Shaw and his partner Arthur Shrewsbury were invited to meet the Notts Committee to discuss the matter on 23 April. The cricketers refused. A further date for a meeting was suggested and the cricketers stated they would meet any three of the Committee provided Capt Holden was not present. The committee refused this request.
It then transpired that the Bradford match was not the major irritant between Capt Holden and the players. Holden had sent a circular to the leading Notts cricketers asking them to be free to play in all the 1881 Notts fixtures, the players would then receive £6 for a win per match, or £5 lose or draw. The seven leading players – Shaw, Shrewsbury, Fred Morley, John Selby, William Barnes, Will Scotton and Wilfred Flowers – then issued an ultimatum to the Committee;
- That the match between Notts and Yorkshire at Bradford should be allowed to take place under that title.
- That every player should be guaranteed a Benefit after 10 years.
- That the seven players named above should be engaged by the County Club for all the County matches of 1881 and not on a match-by-match basis.
The Committee went so far as to agree to engage all but Scotton and Flowers for all matches. This concession was regarded as rash in some quarters, but the seven players declined the offer. The first county match versus Sussex at Trent Bridge was played with all seven taking part, but the seven again declined to meet the committee. William Oscroft, who kept out of the controversy, was appointed captain in place of the retired Daft; Mordecai Sherwin, Fred Butler and William Gunn made up the eleven. Notts won the contest in two days by an innings and 69 runs, Notts making 311 with 22 year-old Gunn top scoring with 74. Sussex were bowled out for 133 and 109, Shaw 8-70 in the match. All seven rebels were missing for the next match against Lancashire at Old Trafford, as the committee brought back Daft and Fred Wyld and brought in five colts, including Thomas Brown and Charles Shore who were making their First-Class debuts for Notts. The home side won in two days by 10 wickets, Notts all out for 67 and 175 with Lancashire’s Alex Watson taking 11-86 in the match.
Shaw claimed that the stumbling block to an agreement was Capt Holden and it became obvious that neither Holden nor Shaw and Shrewsbury would find common ground. The MCC Secretary was invited to mediate and persuaded the seven players to announce that they were available for selection. Holden however only chose five of the seven for the next game versus Middlesex and the five refused to play without the remaining two. Notts lost their third game by 51 runs at Lord’s with a day spare. The match saw the debut of William Attewell. Notts batted feebly being dismissed for 68 and 116; Middlesex’s right-arm fast bowler James Robertson had career best figures of 8-48 in the Notts second innings. The severely weakened line-up sprung a surprise by defeating Surrey at home by nine wickets in mid-June, Thomas Brown hitting a first-class best of 74 as Notts totalled 377; Edwin Mills, latter to play for Surrey, took 7-97 in Surrey’s first innings and had match figures of 10-152. At the end of June, Notts crashed to an innings and 7 run defeat in two days against Yorkshire at Trent Bridge. Notts 71 and 38 all out, Billy Bates the Yorkshire off spinner having figures of 5-30 and 6-17.
Three weeks later, came another crushing two-day defeat, this time an innings and 22 runs to Surrey at the Oval, William Oates and Thomas Shooter making their Notts debuts. The patched-up Notts team won by 36 runs at Hove, Gunn with 91 and Attewell with match figures 13-134. Sussex chasing 137 to win were 100 all out (Attewell 6-45). July closed with a home draw against Gloucester; Shore (5-40) and Attewell (3-35) made Gloucester follow-on but WG Grace, with a monumental 182 in Gloucestershire’s second innings of 483, ensured stalemate.
For the return at Clifton College starting on 4 August, a breakthrough was achieved when Flowers agreed to return the eleven. Almost single-handed he won the game, scoring 33 in Notts’ 163 and taking 8-23 in Gloucester’s 63 and then when they followed-on he had figures of 4-62 as Gloucester made 118 second time around, Notts won by 10 wickets in two days. A week later Selby and Barnes returned for the drawn encounter versus Lancashire at Trent Bridge, the first day being lost to rain. Scotton and Morley then gave in and returned for the home draw against Middlesex, the second day being washed out, as a gale blew down the reporters’ tent. Shaw and Shrewsbury, though stood firm and never returned to action as Notts closed their 12 game programme with a drawn at Bramall Lane, Sheffield. Once again, the second day was lost as the game never got past the first innings; Notts 173 (Selby 57), Yorkshire 153 (Morley 6-40). The Yorkshire v Notts fixture organised by Shaw did take place at Park Avenue, Bradford, on 18, 19 and 20 July but was dubbed as T Emmett’s XI versus A. Shaw’s XI, with the home side winning by seven wickets; 5,000 attended the first day, making the contest financially viable.
Despite their problems, Notts came fifth in the Championship table, which clearly demonstrated the amount of young talent available to the county. Eight cricketers made their First-Class debut for Notts in 1881. The strike enabled Gunn (435 runs @24.16) to establish himself and of the regulars he was the leading batsman. The bowler with most wickets was a completely unknown medium-pace trundler from Keyworth, William Attewell (35 wickets @18.34). He was quickly re-christened ‘Dick’, because the team had its complement of Williams. Attewell was soon to become the ultimate length bowler. A cricketer with a cheerful smile, he had the build of an athlete and the tanned complexion of one who lived in the open air. A second bowler who made his name in 1881 was Walter Wright (21 wickets @16.09). He made his county debut in 1879, but did little until the Yorkshire match at Trent Bridge when he returned figures of 15-9-10-6. A left-arm medium-fast bowler from Hucknall Torkard, he fell out with Notts in 1886 and played very successfully for Kent between 1888 and 1899.
Of the other colts known as “Holden’s marionettes” that were drafted into the Notts team during the absence of the strikers, two deserve a note. Fred Butler, from Radcliffe-on-Trent, a nephew of George Parr, who played in all 12 games and scored 293 runs @16.27 and Charles Shore (29 wickets @22.06), a slow left-armer from Sutton-in-Ashfield.
Although overshadowed by the quarrel between Capt Holden and the players, another member of the County Committee was involved in negotiations of importance. William Wright, a surveyor, who lived at Wollaton, was a useful player for Notts Gentlemen and Wollaton suggested that the County Club ought to try to secure a long-term lease on the cricket ground and Trent Bridge Inn. This being agreed in principle, Wright then opened talks with the freehold owners, the Musters family, and secured a 99 year lease. William Wright, Capt Holden and Captain Oates stood as trustees on behalf of the County Club. The object of securing a long-term lease was to enable the Club to make more substantial improvements to the ground.