County Championship – 3rd (W 8, L 3, D 3)
Captain – M Sherwin
Notts under the command of Alfred Shaw had won the championship for four successive seasons. In the spring of 1887 however the County Committee decided that Shaw was too old to play regularly and the leadership was to be passed to Mordecai Sherwin after Arthur Shrewsbury declined the post. Shaw had played for 23 years and was 44 years old. He was none too happy with the decision, but the Committee felt that young blood was needed to be introduced into the eleven and in pursuit of this policy they also dropped John Selby, though he was only 37.
For the opening match of the season, which happened to be the Surrey Whitsun game, Fred Butler was brought in – he had refused a third year as professional in New York – for Selby and Jack Mee of Shelford, a fast right-arm bowler, for Shaw. Mee had forced his way in by an astonishing feat in the Colts Trial, when he took 13-26. Large crowds came to Trent Bridge and saw Surrey struggle to 115 all out (Dick Attewell 5-36), with the policy of trying Mee, who took 3-42, being most successful. Notts’ batting however was equally brittle and the home county were all out for 89 (George Lohmann 5-39). Half-way to lunch on the last day Surrey were 264-3 in their second innings, and since declarations were not permitted, a draw seemed certain. John Shuter, the Surrey captain, then instructed his batsmen to get themselves out. Shuter himself simply knocked down his own wicket and two others merely left their creases to allow Sherwin stumpings; another, George Jones, followed Shuter’s example and knocked down his own wicket. About lunch time Notts were left with 316 to win – which was considered impossible – so they had to bat out the afternoon. As it was William Gunn (72) batted brilliantly, but the rest failed against Lohmann (5-66) and provided Surrey with their first win at Trent Bridge since 1870 by 157 runs. Notts enthusiasts were quite upset by Surrey’s tactics but on the second day, Surrey supporters had vehemently attacked Notts for wasting time. The result of the match did not so much depress Notts as inspire Surrey. At last the Southerners had beaten Notts at home, now there was nothing they could not achieve. Notts in fact recorded some excellent victories in the following weeks.
In the second week of June, Middlesex succumbed by an innings and six runs in two days at Lord’s; Shrewsbury 119, Middlesex 86 all out and following-on, 176 all out, Attewell 8-42 in the match. A bore draw followed at Trent Bridge against Yorkshire in John Selby’s benefit game, only 702 runs were scored off 625.3 4-ball overs during the three days, a scoring rate 1.12 runs per over, Notts, then beat the MCC at Lord’s by 28 runs, Frank Shacklock 8-32 in the second innings. Lancashire went down by an innings and 86 runs at Trent Bridge. Notts scored 376, Shrewsbury scoring 130 and John Dixon performing the hat-trick in the second innings - Johnny Briggs, Walter Robinson and George Yates his victims, the latter two bowled.
In mid July, Kent fell to a nine wicket defeat at Trent Bridge. Notts got a first innings lead of 36, Gunn scoring 90. Kent were bowled out in their second innings for 171 (Attewell 4-19). Shrewsbury (74 not out) and Gunn (45 not out) saw Notts home. At Hove, the unfortunate Sussex fell for 139 and 87 in reply to Notts’ total of 515 (Shrewsbury 101, William Barnes 160) – victory for Notts by an innings and 289 runs. It was a similar story against Gloucestershire at Trent Bridge, another innings victory; Notts 298 (Shrewsbury 86, Harry Daft 88), Gloucester 176 (Richardson 4-32) and 84 (Richardson 4-20).
Thus, when Notts went to the Oval for the return with Surrey, both sides had played seven matches and each had lost once. Almost double the number who watched the 1886 game turned up on the first day – about 27,000 – and with few policemen present the crowd got a little unruly, but there was no serious misconduct. As in the first match, Notts introduced an unknown player – Joseph Sulley of Arnold, a fast left-arm bowler from Notts Amateurs CC. Notts batted first and made 248, due to no small part to Henry Richardson who coming in at No 9 made 54 not out and enabled the last two wickets to add 105. The new bowler, Sulley took the middle out of Surrey’s batting and ended with 4-66. Surrey were dismissed for 212, five wickets had fallen for 96, but the lower order fought back. Sherwin sprained his wrist batting. Gunn, who was a brilliant outfield, went behind the stumps and Sulley was a handicap in the field, so five catches were grounded. Notts scored 168 in their second innings, leaving Surrey nearly all of the last day to make 205, the wicket became easier. The Notts bowlers, especially Barnes (3-56), made every effort to win the match, but the fielding again let the side down and amid great excitement, Surrey won by four wickets. 51,607 spectators paid admission, which was regarded as a record for a match in England and on the final afternoon the Surrey Club received 110 telegrams requesting the result of the game. Although there were some other exciting matches after this, nothing could compare with Surrey’s victory.
The following week, Notts won by an innings and 65 runs at Clifton College: Notts 423 (Shrewsbury 119 not out), Gloucestershire 172 (Richardson 5-43) and 186 (WG Grace 113 not out, Barnes 5-31). Notts then drew with Middlesex at Trent Bridge, the highlight a career best 267 for Arthur Shrewsbury who batted 615 minutes without giving a chance as Notts were 596 all out. Barnes scored 115, adding 214 for the third wicket with Shrewsbury, but with a bit of rain around, Notts batted for all the first two days. Middlesex followed on, but were two down at the close. At Old Trafford however Notts met their third defeat of the season, when the Sutton-in-Ashfield bowler, Briggs took 7-53 and dismissed Notts for 114 in their second innings. Earlier, Notts, batting first, had made 92 (Dick Barlow 8-26 and 11-68 in the match).
In the game at Bramall Lane stumps were drawn when Yorkshire needed three to win with two wickets remaining; Attewell 8-113 in the match. Sussex suffered a second heavy defeat by an innings and 294 runs, with Notts making 570. Gunn (205) hitting his first double century for the county was well supported by Shrewsbury (135) and Barnes (120). In the final game at Maidstone, Attewell took 11-57, as Kent were beaten by 123 runs. Notts finished joint third with Yorkshire in the nine team table with eight wins.
The Editor of Wisden imposed a new method of deciding the Championship for 1887, which enabled Surrey to win, though under the least matches lost, which the Notts Secretary favoured, the title would have been shared with Middlesex.
Although Notts lost the Championship, Shrewsbury won all the batting laurels. Scoring 1,653 runs, the great batsman averaged 78.71, heading the first-class averages for the third successive year, but this time by an overwhelming margin. His average was the highest ever achieved up to that date. Wisden commented that “His judgment is as remarkable as his patience is untiring”. In Notts matches, Shrewsbury scored 1,388 runs @77.11. Gunn (791 runs @39.54) and Barnes (722 runs @38.00) supported him well. Dixon scored 335 runs @27.91. William Scotton missed five matches and his form fell away, scoring 288 runs @22.15.
Attewell was Notts leading bowler with 73 wickets @13.43. Support came from Flowers (49 wickets @15.83), Richardson (27 wickets @16.70), Shacklock (37 wickets @20.56) and Barnes (47 wickets @20.59)
Wisden though were scathing of Notts slow batting stating “The attendances at Trent Bridge have shown a great falling off. The reason for this, to a very large extent, is the slow game that Notts have got into the habit of playing. Apart from the Surrey game there were scarcely ever 3,500 people in the ground at the same time. Though cricket happily is not played for gate money alone, support from the public is essential and we feel certain that were the Notts men to adopt a faster and more brilliant style of play, the attendances at Trent Bridge would once more compare favourably with those on other County Grounds”.
Of the new players in the Notts team, medium-pacer Henry Richardson of Bulwell and engaged by Liverpool CC was the most promising. Mee was one of a family of professional cricketers, including his father and one of his brothers. Sulley who returned some impressive figures in 1887, was already aged 37 and only played in one more match – in 1888 – and Fred Butler, though playing in six games, hardly did anything. Left arm bowler Richard Hardstaff made his debut in 1887 and was not to reappear again until 1893; he spent much of his career in the Lancashire League and made only sporadic appearances for Notts. In 1899 he was no-balled for throwing which ended his First-Class career. Wicket-keeper Jack Carlin played twice in 1887. According to tradition he was a left-hand bat, but on learning that Notts did not want a left-hander, he switched hands. In 1888 he joined the Lord’s staff, staying with the MCC until 1912. Only in 1900 and 1901 did he become a regular in the line-up.
There were four other trialists, Arthur Burrows of Awsworth, an all-rounder, who died three years later, aged 24. Thomas Morley, a cousin of Fred, was a fast bowler who gave excellent service to Norfolk. Alfred Price, son of Walter, was like Richardson engaged at Liverpool CC and actually played a First-Class game for Lancashire in 1885; as a batsman he had little success in three Notts games in 1887. Finally John White of Bulwell, yet another cricketer with Liverpool CC, played one match as wicket-keeper when Sherwin was absent.
In the autumn of 1887, Edwin Browne published his 60-page history of Notts cricket, half of which was devoted to the 1887 season, presumably Browne intended the book to be a continuation of FG Spybey’s Notts Annuals, which ran for nine editions, up to and including 1886.