Batting for the Poor; The Authorised Biography of David Sheppard: A Review

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A review of Andrew Bradstock’s Biographer of Cricketer and Bishop David Sheppard                                                                                                                        Batting for the Poor, The Authorised Biography of David Sheppard: A Review

I picked up The Authorised Biography of the Celebrated Cricketer and Bishop off of a trolley in Waterstones. I was immediately attracted to its curious cover image of a Reverend wearing a collar, waistcoat, and holding a cricket bat. On the face of it, this biography seemed like nothing particularly special. In fact, it had the impression of any other tediously churchy biography of a now largely forgotten member of both the cricketing and religious establishments. Why would his life interest us today in an age when both cricket and the church are clutching at straws for survival in the modern world?

Professor Andrew Bradstock’s biography of Bishop David Sheppard sets out to disprove just that. The life he recalls is one of celebrity, redoubtable humility, sporting prowess, and a deep passion for social justice.

Out of his privileged upper middle class upbringing in Surrey, Sherborne, and Cambridge and his years as a Boy’s Own Hero as Captain of Sussex County Cricket Club and England, David Sheppard developed a faith so powerful it propelled him to his mission in a divided Liverpool. His guiding philosophy was of an unstinting ‘bias to the poor’. In this vein Bradstock quotes Sheppard’s autobiography, Parson’s Pitch:

“[I] tried to keep firmly in mind that all this [theology] was a background to meeting real needs of real people and not simply some unbending intellectual argument”.

It is this essence of the man that Bradstock illuminates so powerfully in his biography.

But perhaps the most accomplished aspect of this book is the way in which Sheppard’s passion for cricket is explored. Sheppard was allowed to tour Australia with an MCC party, made his test debut at the Oval against the West Indies, and captained Sussex all while still an undergraduate at Cambridge. Bradstock recalls a match at Eastbourne in August 1949 where he scored his first maiden first-class century, 199 by close of play, and 200 by the next day.

Sheppard also played in ‘Laker’s Match’, at Old Trafford in 1956 a match which Sheppard later recalled as possibly his best. Sheppard’s 113 for England was somewhat overshadowed by Jim Laker’s achievement where he took 19 of the 20 Australian Wickets.

However, Sheppard challenged the Cricket establishment when it needed to be challenged. In this endeavour he lost some of his friends and he became unpopular with some of the national media. In a touching tribute Archbishop Desmond Tutu recalls in the Forward that;

“As a cricketer he sacrificed much by refusing to play against a team calling itself ‘South Africa’ but chosen only from its white minority”.

The mutual relationship between Sheppard and his Cricket is thus powerfully evoked throughout the book and demonstrates the two dominant features of David Sheppard’s life, Cricket and the Church.

Sheppard’s ecclesiastical life post retirement from professional cricket was spent in Liverpool where he devoted himself as Bishop to the plight of the inner cities. Bradstock credits him with helping the city to rediscover its spiritual purpose. He attributes much agency to Sheppard for the publication of the Church of England’s report, Faith in the City published in 1985.

Sheppard’s experience and devotion to the plight of the inner cities, coupled with his fame and celebrity, was instrumental in bringing the problems of the inner cities to the attention of the Thatcher Government and helped to bring about real change. Sometimes, Sheppard’s contributions led him to clash with Mrs Thatcher, an event he describes, of course, in cricketing terms;

“My mouth went dry as I remembered it doing once when facing Lindwall and Miller. But I kept going.”

Bradstock presents a powerful picture of the scale of the difficulties that Liverpool faced, and places Sheppard front and centre alongside his counterpart and friend Archbishop Derek Worlock.

The visits of the Queen and Pope John Paul II provide touching moments in a narrative wrought with urban strife and religious turmoil. The reconciliation of the city is placed in the book as having been founded in the friendship of Worlock and Sheppard. A statue is now the physical manifestation of the city’s newfound harmony. It is appropriately located halfway between the Roman Catholic and Anglican Cathedrals on Hope Street.

Anyone who reads this timely biography will be compelled to examine their own personal beliefs and prejudices. This book is neither for cricket lovers or religious christians alone, but a joy for both to indulge. Sheppard’s life exhibits moments of deep pleasure, passionate faith, a lifelong love of cricket, but above all an unending concern for social justice.

Time and again Bradstock refer’s to St Paul’s dictum that we are, “all members of one another”. This simple belief guided David Sheppard throughout his professional life. It is the key to understanding his complex character which is masterfully disentangled in this biography.

 

David Sheppard: Batting for The Poor: The authorised biography of the celebrated batsman and bishop

Andrew Bradstock

SPCK £19.99

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