Derek Shackleton

'Master' bowler for Hampshire

Derek Shackleton, cricketer: born Todmorden, Yorkshire 12 August 1924; married (one son, one daughter); died Canford Magna, Dorset 27 September 2007.

Hampshire was John Arlott's county, so it is fitting that what is probably the most memorable description of Derek Shackleton's bowling should come from the Basingstoke Boy: "shrewd, varied, and utterly accurate, beating down as unremittingly as February rain". Anyone who has experienced a wet day in the Pennines, in Shackleton's home town of Todmorden, will understand. Shackleton, tall and lean by the measurements of his day, took 100 wickets a season for 20 years with his medium-fast right-arm bowling and stands eighth in the list of highest aggregates.

Arlott also called him "the modern master of bowling in English conditions", a sentence that also defines his career. Brilliantly successful in county cricket, he appeared only seven times for England, for two reasons: his career was enclosed by a golden age of English fast bowling and he was a match-winner when surface and conditions suited his astute use of seam and swing. On hot sunny days, on flat pitches, he merely stopped batsmen from scoring. As Phil Edmonds once said: "His hair was as immaculate as his length."

Those who have seen the grainy 1963 film of Shackleton's bowling against West Indies must have wondered how he came to be chosen. Here was a man opening the England bowling from a few easy strides, delivering at a pace best described as slow-medium. But by then he was approaching his 40th birthday, and any attempt at speed had been forgotten. Earlier in his career he had a faster ball sufficient to make his county keeper stand back.

As a boy, Shackleton had appeared for Todmorden as a batsman and for Burnley FC as a goalkeeper. The Army took him south where Hampshire spotted him, playing in a service match, and in 1948 after a trial he was contracted as a batsman who bowled leg breaks occasionally. Always short of quick bowlers, Hampshire noted Shackleton's accuracy in the nets and as an experiment asked him to take the new ball. He discovered a natural outswing and then found he could also make the odd ball nip back but, like many other bowlers, was never quite sure how it happened. Enough batsmen were confounded for him to take 100 wickets in 1949, when he was 25. He also scored 914 runs that summer, the nearest he ever came to a double, but was sufficiently proficient to be classed as an all-rounder. By 1959 he was one of Wisden's Cricketers of the Year.

There were days, when the conditions were perfect for him, when he was almost unplayable. Against Somerset, at Weston-super-Mare in 1955, he took eight wickets for four runs and 14-29 in the match. When there was no assistance he could block an end for hours, testing the batsman's concentration ball by ball. Twice he was selected to tour India, by England and by a Commonwealth XI, and twice he found bowling difficult in the arid heat and on pristine surfaces, although his variations in length and pace in minor matches meant he still managed more than 100 wickets on the two tours.

Sussex, led by Ted Dexter, once decided to attack him: "We were caught off strange parts of the bat and Shack finished with 6-50 but in 12 overs instead of his usual 28." A team-mate, Neville Rogers, remembered: "He didn't leave any footmarks. It was as though he bowled in slippers." Hampshire supported him with an expert close catching field – although 46 per cent of his victims were bowled or lbw – and such was his reliablity that his county captains were able to get away with some outrageous declarations knowing that the eventual target could always be defended.

His record places Shackleton alongside Wilfred Rhodes, a spinner, as the most consistent English bowler. Between 1948 and 1969 he took 2,857 wickets at an average of 18.65. His stamina is reflected in the average number of overs he bowled in those seasons: 1,259. In 1961, when Hampshire won their first county championship, his contribution was 1,501 overs, taking 151 wickets at 19.

Shackleton went to play for Dorset (1971-74) and stayed with the game in his retirement, becoming coach to Canford School and occasionally acting as a first-class umpire between 1979 and 1982.

Derek Hodgson

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