One of Welsh sport’s true legends has a special day this weekend. Don Shepherd had a longevity and tanker load of statistics that makes some modern cricketers look like slackers in comparison. Richard Thomas pays tribute to the great man.
Many believe every August 12th is the signal for men in tweed to point double-barrel shotguns at unsuspecting grouse, but as all Glamorgan fans know the Glorious 12th marks the birthday of one of the county’s favourite sons.
And this Saturday Don Shepherd will move, unbeaten, into the 90s.
It should, and hopefully will, be an occasion marked officially by the club he served successfully as a player across 23 summers between 1950 and 1972 and who he played for a mere 647 times.
In that time, he sent the cricket statisticians into a frenzy as he gained the reputation as one of the best bowlers ever to play the game.
And to this day those who witnessed him bamboozle many a batsman with his deadly off-breaks still shake their heads when it comes to a lack of Test cricket recognition.
Shepherd has become known as the best player never to play for England having accrued a remarkable 2,218 first-class wickets at an equally remarkable average of 21.32.
As we celebrate Shepherd’s 90th birthday it does seem strange that a bowler who took more than 100 wickets in a summer on 12 occasions – five of those consecutively from 1959 to 1963 – failed to get a phone call from the selectors.
Privately, Shepherd must wonder himself why he never wore the three lions on his chest, but he is as miserly with his self-pity as he is with his bowling.
And it is a testament to the modesty of the man that he has never complained about it publicly. He has left others to do that on his own behalf and there is quite a queue.
Perhaps the greatest accolade bestowed upon Shepherd’s playing ability came from Richie Benaud who said that if Don had been Australian he would have had more than a handful of Test caps.
The original voice of cricket John Arlott never had any doubt about who he would field for England: “Give me the three Ss: Shackleton, Shepherd and Statham.” Incidentally Brian Statham won 70 caps and Derek Shackleton seven.
His captain during the 1969 County Championship-winning side, Tony Lewis said Shepherd matured into a super craftsman who: “would have been a pillar of any England side had he been chosen.”
And Alan Jones, another to have his own issues with England selectors, says quite plainly of his Glamorgan colleague that some of the players who have represented England “are not fit to lace his boots”.
Of course, you do not take that many wickets without gaining some accolades. Quite appropriately he was named one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year in 1970 and in 1992 he was made a life member of the MCC.
Perhaps those moments, the winning of the 1969 County Championship, and the deep respect of fellow cricketers and thousands of cricket fans are some consolation to him.
Happy birthday, Shep.