John Neil Shepherd was born on 9 November 1943 in Bellplaine, St. Andrew on the island of Barbados, homeland of so many great West Indies players.
He made his debut in February 1965, playing for Barbados against the touring International Cavaliers, a team that included Colin Cowdrey, Peter Richardson and Alan Knott, and was managed by Les Ames.
Ames and Cowdrey were sufficiently impressed by this 21-year-old to offer him a place on the staff at Kent, although the rules of the Championship in those days meant that Shepherd had to spend two years ‘qualifying by residence’ before he was eligible to feature for the first team.
The county’s report on the Second XI at the end of 1965 stated that “Shepherd, from Barbados, was the outstanding cricketer, for not only did he obtain more runs than anyone else, namely 873, but he also took over 50 wickets and, in addition, his fielding was of the highest standard. There can be few, if any, better fielders in first-class cricket today.”
Shepherd went on to play 303 matches, scoring 9,401 runs at an average of 26.33, with eight centuries and a highest score of 170. He also took 212 catches.
He took 832 wickets at 26.56, with a best analysis of 8-83. He took 5 wickets in an innings 45 times and ten wickets in a match twice.
The stage was set for his debut in the Championship side of 1967. He made a fifty on his debut, against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge, a match delayed by snow and rain, and by the end of the season had been awarded his county cap (no.146), as well as being on the winning side in the Gillette Cup Final. All in all, it had been a very successful first season.
In 1968, he did even better, scoring over 1,000 runs in the season, including his career-best 170 against Northants at Folkestone.
He also took 96 wickets, and had he not missed three games in mid-season, he would have achieved the elusive 1,000-run & 100-wicket double, which no Kent player had managed since 1936.
Such was his success that he was selected by West Indies to tour England in 1969, and he played in all three Tests that year. Sadly, he injured his back in the third Test, and played no more cricket that summer, but played two more Tests when India toured West Indies in early 1971.
He was not chosen for West Indies after that, but spent ten more years playing for Kent, and was a crucial part of their side during the golden years of the 1970s.
In 1979 he was selected as one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year. The Almanack asked the question, “Why did he play only five times for his country? With nearly 10,000 runs and 1,000 wickets to his name, Shepherd has reigned comfortably as one of the most successful all-rounders in the world.”
He continued to play for Kent until 1981, when he moved to Gloucestershire for a few twilight seasons.
“Shep” was brave enough in 1973 to tour South Africa with Derrick Robins’ side, becoming the first black cricketer to tour there, at the height of apartheid, and in the Winter of 1975-76 he played for Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the Currie Cup.
He has always been at the forefront in breaking down racial barriers and has been quoted as saying, “I never thought of myself as an overseas cricketer, just a member of the Kent team.” His Kent teammates and everyone who saw him play thought of him just as a brilliant cricketer who gave his all in every game.
In 2011, he became the first person of African-Caribbean heritage to become President of any county, when he took on the role at Kent, and was hugely popular in the role.
He also served on the Kent committee for several years, and is now President of Kent Cricket’s Supporters Club.
By Jonathan Rice
During October, we will be celebrating the contributions of a select number of Kent Cricket’s black and bi-racial cricketers from the Club’s 151-year history.
Black cricketers have made substantial contributions to Kent; in title-winning teams, and also captaining sides that live long in the memory of Kent Members and supporters.
The Club is committed to taking the right steps to ensure that Kent Cricket is a Club for everyone, and we remain fully committed to our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy.
Kent Cricket CEO, Simon Storey, said: “Kent has a proud tradition of trophy-winning sides featuring players from around the world and from a variety of backgrounds.
“Although this month is Black History Month, we believe that the history of our black cricketers should be a year-long celebration.
“The Club is working hard to become more of an inclusive environment at all levels.
“We acknowledge that there is still a lot of work to do to achieve this across our sport, but we are striving to make positive steps towards a more equal, diverse and inclusive world for us all.”