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The bishop who played cricket

March 06, 2005 14:16 IST

Determination allied with intelligence helped David Sheppard fashion a successful if intermittent career in the strong England side of the 1950s before rising to the office of bishop in the Church of England.

Sheppard, who died on Saturday aged 75, was a tall, classical batsman in the Cambridge University tradition who tallied 1,172 runs at a respectable average of 37.80 including three centuries in his 22 cricket Tests spread over 13 years.

His life, though, was essentially shaped by his deep-rooted Christian belief and his contribution to English society radiated well beyond the boundaries of a cricket field.

A former Bishop of Liverpool, Sheppard started his ministry in the inner London suburb of Islington then moved to the Mayflower Family Centre in deprived Canning Town.

He was consecrated Bishop of Woolwich south of the Thames then shifted to Liverpool where he again devoted himself to instilling Christianity and social justice in another impoverished arena.

In 1968, faith and cricket combined when Sheppard became an outspoken opponent of the proposed England tour of South Africa.

Sheppard had refused to play against the 1960 South African side because of his deep-rooted abhorrence of apartheid.

Eight years later he combined with the renowned broadcaster and writer John Arlott and a future England captain in Mike Brearley as part of an ultimately successful campaign to isolate South Africa in the so-called "D'Oliveria Affair".

John Vorster, prime minister of the white-ruled republic, had refused to admit an England team containing the mixed race player.

Basil D'Oliveria was born in Cape Town but emigrated to England when he was denied the opportunity to advance in his native country because of his colour.


After a boarding school education following the early death of his father, Sheppard blossomed with Cambridge University and Sussex in the early 1950s through assiduous application and force of will.

He made his England debut in the final Test against West Indies in 1950 then had an unproductive tour of Australia later in the same year.

Sheppard scored 119 against India at the Oval in 1952 and led England in two Tests against Pakistan in 1954. Recalled to the side in 1956, he became the first ordained minister to play Test cricket.

Appropriately Sheppard marked the occasion with 113 in the fourth test at Old Trafford, a match what will always be remembered for Jim Laker's 19 wickets.

His most celebrated comeback came in the spring of 1962, when Sheppard was widely tipped to lead the England side to Australia after some unguarded remarks from the chairman of selectors Walter Robins.

In the end, the selectors opted for the unpredictable if gifted Ted Dexter, another Cambridge man, with Sheppard selected as an opening batsman.

Again rising to the occasion, Sheppard struck 113, batting "as well as I have ever done" to steer England to victory in the second Test at Melbourne.

His experiences in the field, where his reflexes were dulled by a lack of regular first class cricket, were less happy but would have long been forgotten had it not been for Fred Trueman.

Trueman, the black-haired Yorkshire fast bowler who scaled new peaks throughout a long tour, subsequently became a regular on the after-dinner speech circuit.

"He says that when I dropped a catch of his bowling he told me that I should have learned more about putting my hands together," Sheppard ruefully recalled in his autobiography "Steps along Hope Street."

Five years after his final retirement the "D'Oliveira Affair" split English cricket.

Sheppard spoke out forcibly against contacts with South Africa and his stance led to a split with his Cambridge contemporary and former captain Peter May.

He took a similarly principled stand when the inner cities were ravaged by the steep rise in unemployment during Margaret Thatcher's first Conservative government from 1979-83.

"Attitudes to unemployed people could be harsh," Sheppard wrote. "I found myself engaged in a sharp disagreement with the Duke of Edinburgh at a glittering function in Liverpool."

Sheppard's faith during a life devoted to bettering the lives of those around him after his conversion to Christianity while at Cambridge was tested to the full. His wife Grace suffered cancer and agoraphobia and he, himself, endured a series of cancer operations before his death .

In his autobiography he paid tribute to the role cricket had played in forming his character.

"There is quite a long list: powers of concentration; determination to succeed; application and the need to review; coping with ordeal; handling the press; combining being a public person with private life; leadership in a team; playing hard and playing fair; seeking for justice."

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