The name, applied to team or individual scores of 111 or multiples thereof (known as double nelson, triple nelson, etc.) is thought to refer to Lord Nelson's lost eye, arm and leg; however, notably Nelson actually had both of his legs intact, and the third missing body part is mythical. Longtime cricket historian and scorer, Bill "Bearders" Frindall once referred to it online as "one eye, one arm and one etcetera", implying that Nelson's alleged third lost body part was "something else", however this is equally mythical. Umpire David Shepherd during a radio interview to mark his retirement explained it as "One arm, one eye and one lump of sugar in his tea."
It is thought by the superstitious that bad things happen on that score, although an investigation by the magazine The Cricketer in the 1990s found that wickets are no more likely to fall on Nelson and indeed, the score at which most wickets fall is 0 (a duck). It may be considered unlucky because the number resembles a wicket without bails (a batsman is out if the bails are knocked off their wicket).
David Shepherd made popular the longstanding practice of raising a leg or legs from the ground on Nelson in an effort to avoid ill fate. When crowds noticed this, they would cheer his leg-raising.
The equivalent superstitious number in Australian cricket is 87, or the "Devil's Number". Many, including commentators and journalists, mistakenly think 87 is considered unlucky because it is thirteen shy of 100 however it came to be known as the "Devil's Number" after Ian Johnson was dismissed for 87 while playing grade cricket and Keith Miller commented "That's funny, I once saw Bradman dismissed for 87". It turned out that Bradman had actually been dismissed for 89 and the MCG scorers hadn't updates his last two runs before his dismissal however the superstition remained. Statistics have shown that more Australian batsmen are in fact dismissed on the numbers surrounding 87.
On 11 November 2011, in a match between South Africa and Australia with the time at 11:11 with South Africa requiring 111 runs to win, the majority of the crowd and umpire Ian Gould did Shepherd's leg raise Nelson for that minute with the scoreboard reading 11:11 11/11/11.
- Booth, Lawrence. Arm-ball to Zooter: A Sideways Look at the Language of Cricket. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-051581-7.
- Paul Coupar and Mark Eklid (November 2005). "Shepherd's hop for the best". ESPN Cricinfo. Retrieved 2014-02-09.
- Kolo Toure and the Top 10 sporting superstitions. Retrieved 27 December 2013
- Wellington v Nelson 1873-74
- Nelson v Wellington 1891-92
- David Shepherd (2003-04-12). "David Shepherd's Umpire Guide - My Quirks". BBC Sport. Retrieved 2007-01-19.
- Geoff McClure (2007-11-20). "Why 87 is anything but Australian cricket's magic number". The Age. Retrieved 2009-06-30.
- The Nelson at 11:11 on 11/11/11