Only two weeks ago, Dai Sport’s Richard Thomas paid a warm and widely circulated tribute to Don Shepherd ahead of a landmark birthday. Now, he reflects on the life of the Glamorgan great who inspired and uplifted cricket followers, both on and off the field.
This has been a wretched few days for Glamorgan and indeed Welsh sport. In fact, off the field 2017 has turned into an annus horribilis for the county.
The death of Don Shepherd last Friday, only six days after his 90th birthday, produced an outpouring of eulogies from the world of cricket and beyond.
Not only was Don recognised as the most canny and skilled of bowlers, reflected in his 2,218 first class wickets – the most taken by anyone who has not played for England – but he was also heralded as being a great and lovely man. Indeed, he would have been first-choice captain of any Gentleman’s XI.
Many are still coming to terms with the fact that ‘Shep’ has left the field for the last time and headed for the far pavilion.
But it is doubly sad that Shepherd’s death has come in the same year as John Derrick – another candidate to be inked straight into the Gentleman’s XI. Unfortunately, John lost his battle with a brain cancer in March, with his innings closed rather too prematurely at only 54.
Shepherd and Derrick had much in common and not just a deep love of the game. They both proved that nice men can succeed in the deeply competitive world of professional sport.
Shepherd not only won the County Championship in 1969 but also made key contributions to Glamorgan’s two wins over the touring Australians in 1964 and 1968.
Derrick, meanwhile, was arguably Glamorgan’s most successful coach, guiding the county to two National League titles in 2002 and 2004, as well as earning the club’s only promotion to the County Championship Division One.
Off the field Shepherd was a vastly knowledgeable coach himself and turned into a crucial mentor to Robert Croft. He delighted in the Hendy man’s 71 Test and ODI caps.
A lesser individual, who had been denied international honours himself, may have shown twinges of jealousy at Croft’s success, but not Shepherd.
Perhaps there is an argument that previous Glamorgan regimes treated Shepherd and Derrick a little shabbily.
Despite Derrick’s success he was unceremoniously sacked in 2006 but never showed any anger and frustration and went on to work faithfully for Cricket Wales managing Wales’ age-group sides for both boys and girls, while many believed Shepherd should have been recognised with the Glamorgan presidency, something that never came his way.
But of course, neither complained at their lot. They let others do that for them.
Against what is a trend these days, Shepherd and Derrick were proud one county players and coaches. That loyalty and all round nice-guy demeanour is unfortunately dying from cricket, a sport that has lost two great men of the game.