'You always think you're indestructible': Jack Shantry's fine innings is over, but the memories remain
In a decorated career, cricketer Jack Shantry became the master of a certain type of shot.
It involved cutting the ball between fielding players, finding a certain gap that would only really be accessible to left-handed players.
He played it with precision so many times – and every time, he could have been knocking the ball through a gap between parts of his childhood garden in Gains Park, Shrewsbury.
After 10 years in the professional game playing for Worcestershire County Cricket Club, an ongoing back problem forced proud Salopian Jack to hang up his bat in June, cutting short his career at the age of just 30.
Born into a cricketing family in Shrewsbury, Jack was always destined to play the sport.
He grew up in Gains Park with his older brother Adam, also a former professional cricketer, and it was here the pair began to forge their careers.
“I was super sporty when I was younger, I loved it. I played cricket, football, badminton. I played any sports I could get my hands on,” says Jack. “We weren’t a particularly well off family, so we spent all our time playing sports. I was very competitive, as was my brother. It might have ended up in tears a few times, but we were always really competitive playing on the driveway or in the garden.”
The trademark cut shot
As with so many youngsters, they improvised their cricket pitch on their family driveway – and it was there that he mastered that cut shot.
“The house was a little semi-detached with a garage on the side. We would bowl from the top of the driveway where the road was towards the garage,” says Jack. “There was a small gap to the back garden square on the left hand side for a left-handed batsmen, and if you could get the ball through that gap then it was four runs. It was the best shot. My best shot, even as a professional, was a cut shot in that same area of the pitch because I was so used to as a kid playing the same shot over and over again.
“I could play a cut shot the way most players couldn’t use it because of playing it that way on the drive.”
Jack, who attended both Oxon Primary School and The Priory School started playing cricket at Perkins Cricket Club, now known as Sentinel, while also plying his trade with Shrewsbury Cricket Club.
“Shrewsbury had a really good junior team with the likes of Joe Hart playing as well as Rob Foster and James Gale, players who went on to play county cricket,” said Jack. “I was really lucky that I had a cricketing background and heritage with my dad and my brother but I also grew up with some really good young cricketers. I was in the right place at the right time.”
After leaving school and working in a local shop Jack went to Manchester to study English Literature at university.
“The dream was always to be a professional cricketer, but I didn’t make my debut for Shropshire until I was 17 or 18 and no counties were on the radar for me,” he said.
He signed on as a goalkeeper for semi-professional football side Hyde United, but continued to play cricket, getting match time playing for the second team at Worcestershire and impressing, taking an incredible seven wickets for 30 runs in one match.
“This first team weren’t doing particularly well at the time so I got a call to go down and they offered me a summer contract,” he says. “I was playing first team cricket, which was my lifelong dream, and missed exams to play in these games. I got a zero in quite a few exams. I had become cricket minded instead of academically minded.”
He jumped at the offer of a full-time contract, and made his professional debut was against Essex at Chelmsford in a 40 over match, where he instantly took the bails of an England international.
“My first wicket was Ravi Bopara, caught by Moeen Ali,” he says with a smile. “It was great and we won the match.”
Jack had an unorthodox technique and says he was one of the slowest bowlers on the county circuit.
“I had to make my name as a swing bowler having skills and being extremely accurate,” he said.
The main highlight for Jack was in 2014 against Surrey.
“We had two games to go we were first or second in the league and they were third and we had to win one of our last two games, the other team being Essex who were also at the top,” he says. “I scored 100 in the second innings and took 10 wickets in the match, that was my best game. I remember coming in to bat, we were several wickets down with a lead of just 35, I scored my hundred in just over 80 balls and gave ourselves a lead just over 200, and we bowled them out quite quickly, with me and Moeen Ali bowling unchanged.”
Jack became the first player in the history of first class cricket to take 10 wickets and score over 100 runs when batting at number nine or lower.
Throughout his career Jack played against some of the world’s best cricketers such as Justin Langer, Michael Clarke, and, most memorably, Sir Alistair Cook, the former England captain and all time leading run scorer for his country.
“He was actually very complimentary about me,” says Jack with a grin. “I was a left arm bowler. I would swing the ball into the pads and your natural inclination is to work the ball off your pads but if you do that then there’s a man there ready to catch the ball. So that was my tactic against Cook. He’s a fantastic player but hasn’t got a great deal of shots, a cut pull, and that clip of his legs, so I thought I would try and make his strength a weakness.
“He went on to score a hundred,” laughed Jack. “But every time I bowled that ball he just let it hit him on the pad. I bowled at him for two and a half days in both innings and he never played the shot. He was ruthless and determined. At the end he said, I’ve got a dead leg from leaving so many balls to the pads.
“Those kind of memories are the ones that stick with you.”
Injuries take their toll
But the dream was not to go on forever and his ongoing injury meant Jack played his last match in March. He retired in June.
“The injury I have is a wear and tear injury that has happened over a period of time,” he explains, his naturally chipper tone giving way to something more sombre.
“Any sportsman has a shelf life and will know their time is coming. I was incredibly stubborn and believed I could get through it and be fine. But it was becoming increasingly obvious that I wasn’t going to get through it and I wasn’t going to be fine.
“The opinions of the experts and the back specialists was this wasn’t going to get better and was de-generative and said it might be best if I was to stop.
“I was finding myself having issues bending down and when it gets to that level when it affects you around the house you have to start thinking. It was the hardest decision I have had to make but it was the right one. I wasn’t doing myself justice on the pitch and was finding it difficult off the pitch too. You always think your indestructible at twenty-something, but the likelihood is you won’t at some point.”
After giving up the game Jack moved back to Shrewsbury town centre with his fiancee Sofie who he is due to marry in May.
While he has many great memories from his professional career Jack is now focussing on the future. In the immediate he will be doing some coaching at Shrewsbury School with his brother Adam, and beyond that is in the process of becoming a top level umpire.
From February Jack is having a testimonial year and he will be holding a series of events raising money for charity.
- For details of Jack's testimonial year, visit Shants2019.co.uk