Saturday, 29 September, 2012

The man behind the biggest cricketing superstition

 David Shepherd doing his famous routine when the scoreboard showed Nelson


On this day 254 years ago, into a prosperous Norfolk family, was born a man who would lead England to many memorable victories.


Admiral Horatio Nelson, an inspirational leader, won most of his conquests in the seas – but left his indelible and quaint legacy on the cricket grounds.

In 1791, after the British forces landed at Calvi, Nelson was at one of the forward batteries early in the morning when a shot struck one of the sandbags protecting the position. In the spray of stones and sand, Nelson was struck by debris in his right eye and lost its use permanently.

Six years later, in 1797, in the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, as Nelson stepped ashore he was hit on the right arm by a musket-ball. His humerus was fractured in multiple places and his arm had to be amputated.

He never lost a leg, but somehow, after his valorous death during the victorious Battle of Trafalgar of 1805, the legend of one eye, one arm and one leg grew. And strangely it filtered into cricket.

The score 111 and its multiples have been dreaded by teams around the world for long. Teams conspire to adjust the scoreboard to 110 or 112 during friendly games, and the players hold their breath when the match is important enough to forbid such manipulations of fate.

It is the same score which saw umpire David Shepherd execute that endearingly peculiar hop and leap that made the spectators wait eagerly for the nelson to register on the scoreboard, and break into a loud cheer when the shuffle was performed. When asked at the end of his career, Shepherd simply explained that he did it because he did not want anything untoward to happen to anyone. He also added that nelson was for: “One arm, one eye and one lump of sugar in his tea.”


The man behind the biggest cricketing superstition
British military hero, Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758 - 1805). He lost his right arm during a battle with the Spanish at Santa Cruz © Getty Images


Celebrated cricket scorer, Bill ‘Bearders’ Frindall once referred to nelson as "one eye, one arm and one etcetera", cheekily implying that Nelson's alleged third lost body part was ‘something else’. This, however, remains equally mythical and unverifiable.

An investigation by The Cricketer in the 1990s revealed that wickets are no more likely to fall on nelson than on any other total. In fact, the score at which most wickets fall is zero. However, there is another school of thought that believes that the score is unlucky because it resembles three stumps without bails.
On November 11, 2011, in the Test match between South Aftica and Australia, at eleven past eleven in the morning, the Proteans required 111 runs to win. The crowd and umpire Ian Gould performed Shepherd's leg raise for that minute, with the scoreboard reading 11:11 11/11/11. 

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