Test Cricket turns 141 today. Although it is well past its prime, it’s not an old man who has lost his authority. Test cricket is still alive and kicking, still enticing thousands to attend and still making millions chatter about it. While its son the ‘limited overs’ fails to maintain a hold its newest born – the ‘T20s’, Test Cricket is very much respected and loved all over the world. It all began on this day in 1877.
The 1860s were the formative years of Cricket in England and its periphery. Various cricket clubs came into the existence and soon a notion of the national team was realized. The England team, which comprised of both amateurs and professionals, then started touring its colonies and playing against the native teams.
The tour to Australia-New Zealand in 1876-77 was undertaken under the captaincy of James Lillywhite, who from his experiences took along only the professional cricketers. Lack of funds meant only 12 English players to be onboard for the tour which meant no reserves or rest in case of an injury.
These were also the years when Australia was coming through the ages and was yet to be a formidable opponent. In some tour matches, the English team would even face a team of 22 players. The major states like Victoria and New South Wales showed steady improvement in the standards nevertheless.
The English team visited and played in New Zealand also. They came back to Australia to play against the combined Australia XI, a combination of Victorian and New South Wales cricketers at Melbourne.
The match was scheduled on the next day of the English team’s arrival from New Zealand. The English were very much exhausted by all the travel so far and the sea-sickness took most of them down on the eve of this great match. They were further handicapped as their wicket-keeper Ted Pooley was left behind in New Zealand, facing a charge of assault.
15th March 1877, the Great Combination Match began on the grand Melbourne Cricket Ground at one in the afternoon. Charles Bannerman, who faced the first ball in Test cricket, scored the first run in Test history off Alfred Shaw’s second ball. The scorers and statisticians never rested after this instance.
Australia in their first innings scored 245, out of which 165 belonged to Bannerman alone. The first centurion of Test cricket still owns the record of scoring highest percentage of team runs in an innings. England in reply collapsed to 196 with Billy Midwinter claiming five wickets.
Alfred Shaw’s 5/38 in his 34 overs rekindled the hopes of the English team as they started chasing 153 runs to win. Lilywhite’s XI collapsed within two hours for a paltry score of 108 thus setting Australia’s winning margin at 45 runs. A result that would be repeated exactly after 100 years.
The follow-up from England was on the expected lines though as they claimed victory in the second Test match by four wickets. The cricket traditions between these countries sustained, and it reached its zenith in 1882 when the legend of Ashes came into existence. Since then the ‘flannelled fools’ have ruled over the heart of cricket overs.
1st Test Match, 15th-19th March 1877, Melbourne
1st innings – 245 (Charles Bannerman 165*, Alfred Shaw 3/51)
2nd innings – 104 (Tom Horan 20, Alfred Shaw 5 for 38)
1st innings – 196 (Harry Jupp 63, Billy Midwinter 5/75)
2nd innings – 108 (John Selby 38, Tom Kendall 7 for 55)
Australia beat England by 45 runs