Shephard has fond memories of the day he got the better of Flintoff and Murali
The experiment of putting County Board XIs'¯into English cricket's senior limited-overs competition never really took off with the Board XIs often overwhelmed by first-class opposition.'¯
And when, against Lancashire at Blackpool on June 27, 2001, Warwickshire Board XI slumped to 22 for five, it looked like a familiar story. The Stanley Park audience braced themselves for a brief day’s entertainment.
Peter Martin, on his way to 9-2-16-5, and Glenn Chapple had unzipped the top order and the great Sri Lankan off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan and Andrew Flintoff had not even bowled yet.
But out to bat at number seven, against an attack containing five bowlers who played international cricket, walked Solihull Sixth Form College teacher and Kings Heath batsman Gavin Shephard to play what Wisden was to describe as “an innings of the highest calibre”.
Shephard first added 40 with captain Chris Howell to avert total embarrassment. Then, when the innings again appeared about to implode, at 76 for eight, he and Spencer Platt added 86 - just one short of the competition ninth-wicket record.
Shephard saw off that new- ball barrage and dealt with Murali (10-3-21-3) and Freddie (8-1-33-0) to shepherd his side to a respectable 163. He finished unbeaten on 73 from 107 balls with ten fours (five off Flintoff) and two sixes.
It was not enough to save the Board XI from defeat - Lancashire eased to a seven-wicket win with 15 overs to spare. But it earned him the man-of-the-match award.
“It was a day I will always treasure,” said Gavin, who still teaches sport at the college whose staff he had just joined when he travelled up to the game at Blackpool.
“I still sometimes refer to it in my work these days when I am talking about achievement motivation and risk-taking in sports psychology. I remember, when I was driving up to Blackpool the night before, thinking ‘right, no regrets, I don’t want to be driving back home thinking if only’.
“Then we won the toss and for some reason chose to bat on a greentop and were soon 20 for five. One or two of the top order were a bit rabbit-in-headlights and nicked off.
“For me, the seminal moment came when I had three or four. Flintoff came on and I thought ‘right, it’s him or me’. I gave him the charge and drilled him through extra cover. That got me up and running and was the moment I imposed myself on the opposition.
“I went on to hit current Lancs first team coach Glen Chapple straight over the sightscreen out of the ground and just really enjoyed myself out there.
“Murali was almost impossible to read and the ball seemed to come down at medium pace and did all sorts but it was just a real thrill to be facing a bowler of that quality. I particularly enjoyed smashing him over mid-off for four!
“It is my proudest day in cricket and was very nice to hear some of the Lancashire guys saying afterwards: ‘Wow are you not playing first-class cricket?’”
Unlucky never to be offered a contract with Warwickshire, Shephard, along with brother Stuart (who played two seasons of first-class cricket with Combined Universities), went on to score many runs in club cricket, helping a string of clubs, including Kings Heath, Aston Manor, Mitchells and Butlers, Stratford and Barnt Green, to much success. Now 46, he plays for Norton Lindsey & Wolverton in the Cotswold Hills League Premier Division, having chosen to bring an end to his long career in the Birmingham League.
“I love it at Norton Lindsey,” he said. “It’s a lovely club and a great set-up. I’ve had some fantastic times in the Birmingham League but there are always young guys coming through and it’s their time now.
“My brother and I want to keep playing for a few more years yet with the hope of eventually representing the Warwickshire over 50s team.
“I was in the Warwickshire system for quite a while, representing all the age groups, playing 2nd XI and doing 12th man for the first team, and at one stage was very close to getting a contract and part of me will always look back and think ‘what if?’
“But I can’t complain. I’ve had so many wonderful times in cricket - and that game at Blackpool is right up at the top.”