D.J. Shepherd

Few cricketers have achieved such an exquisite piece of timing as Donald John Shepherd, born at Porteynon, a tucked-away hamlet in the Gower peninsula eighteen to twenty miles from Swansea. On the afternoon of Friday, September 5, 1969 exactly four weeks after his forty-second birthday, in what was Glamorgan's last game of the season on a Welsh ground, he took the wickets which gave his team the County Championship after a lapse of twenty-one years and at the same time admitted him to the distinguished company of bowlers who have collected over 2,000 victims in their careers. He became the thirtieth cricketer to pass this massive landmark of ability and endurance and the first man of other than English birth. It seemed almost a stage-managed end to the summer in which Charles had been invested Prince of Wales.

Shep, for by the diminutive he is affectionately known throughout the game, has been an ornament to cricket on and off the field in a career spanning twenty-two years. There was no family talent for cricket and success did not come easily or quickly. When it did it was the reward for such qualities as perseverance, determination and a willingness to break the original mould and carefully reshape the clay.

The young Shepherd at no time remotely intimated that he would stand out from the flock in a cricketing sense. His early memories were of a father giving all his waking time to establish the family provision business in an area of sparse population, of a grandfather who scored for the village team and occasionally allowed his grandson to sit beside him while he did so, of odd games for the Gowerton Boys School. His ambition to be a cricketer was as dormant as his opportunities were scarce. Yet the destiny which shapes a man's ends rough hew them as he may, began to reveal itself when he did his national service in the Fleet Air Arm.

A posting to Worcestershire brought him the first real desire to do well at cricket and to the notice of the Worcestershire club. He was invited to a trial at the county nets and when news of this filtered through to Wales at a time when Glamorgan's burning ambition was to build an all-Welsh eleven it quickly had a dragon or two at Cardiff breathing fire. If there was a boy from the Gower who had cricket ability they intended that he should devote it to the cause of Glamorgan and not for some team at the wrong end of the Severn.

The first faltering steps on the path to fame had been taken, but it was to be a hard and thorny way with much travail, physical and mental. He was at this time, 1948, bowling fast-medium when he joined the M.C.C. ground staff at Lord's on a professional basis -- and there can be no harder way to start a career in cricket than that.

His first game for Glamorgan was a second eleven fixture in the Minor Counties competition against Devon at Exeter the same season. The experience was as bleak as Snowdonia in January. He sent down some thirty overs, had 61 runs hit off him and did not have a single wicket to show for it. But if at this point in time he lacked penetration he already had command of length and line. Glamorgan were prepared to wait and their judgement was handsomely justified. Shepherd was a worker and a thinker and subtly he changed to cut and finger spin without sacrificing a great deal of his pace. His bounding stride reminds one slightly of Douglas Wright who took 2,056 wickets for England and Kent between 1932 and 1957. Shepherd really struck a balance between seam and spin which gave him the best of both worlds. That beautiful high delivery is a legacy of his early days which has never deserted him. His extra pace on the turning wickets of these islands as distinct from the slow spinner pure and simple, has given batsmen down the seasons less time to play their strokes. When the pitch is true, his mastery of line and length with the odd change in pace and flight has made him perhaps the hardest bowler to get away that the post-war game has produced.

He had a tough baptism at top level -- The Oval in 1950 against Surrey, just beginning nearly a decade of utter domination. He survived it and only two seasons later took 100 wickets and earned his county cap. He has done this eleven times in all with 177 wickets in 1956 his greatest haul. Summer after summer he has wheeled down well over 1,000 overs, the cheerful, uncomplaining bed rock of the Glamorgan attack. Many will regard it as equally important that he is one of the best competitors and sportsmen to emerge in the past twenty years. Quick witted, good tempered but never less than a great fighter, an unfailing sense of humour and no tantrums -- any captain's beau ideal.

His fielding in the deep has been nearly as distinguished as his bowling. He has held over 200 catches and even now only a fool of a batsman would risk one for the throw when "Shep's; trusty right arm is about to ping the ball into the wicket-keepers gloves from third man.

As a batsman he has been one of the unadulterated joys of the post war game. There was a period in his career when he used to spread his left foot towards mid-wicket and hit a four over extra cover but, alas, he has discontinued this bewitching shot possibly because it was unbecoming in an elder stateman of the cricket field!

They say that when he goes out to bat on a Welsh ground he can empty the bar and the beer tent in five seconds flat - the only human agency or otherwiseable to bring about this phenomenon. His idolitors know that he is likely to be castled for a duck, but they always hope he is going to hit another 73 as he did at the Old Cardiff Arms Park ground nine years ago against Derbyshire. He took 26 of one over from Edwin Smith and reached 52 in a quarter of an hour. In the same year, when the Australians came to St. Helens, he had 51 on the board from just 11 scoring shots and fourteen minutes after he took guard.

Once against Gloucestershire also at Swansea, he went in No. 11 and made top score, one of his sixes disappeared clean over the Rugby stand. Another time at Colchester he topped edged a six over an outraged third man. Shep's batting is nearly almost a feast or famine but there have been times when Glamorgan's need was dire when the man's enduring stickability has inspired him to a point not far off sublime. On saturday August 23, last year he was responsible for a totally unexpectedlast wicket stand of 70 in company of Lawrence Williams, Glamorgan's newest recruit. Not only did this give the Welshmen three totally unexpected batting points but it undoubtedly denied Essex victory and enabled Glamorgan to become the first team for thirty-nine years to complete a county championship programme undefeated.

Universally admired as a player and liked and respected as a man, Shepherd has never picked for England or a major overseas tour but he has the knowledge that in a game which increasingly has been maimed by self-inflicted wounds and intercine strife nno man has ever been heard to say a wrong word about him.

© John Wisden & Co