Yesterday – 15th of March, 2017. As we woke up in the morning and stared into our smartphones, Google greeted us with a lovely doodle – after all exactly 140 years ago, in 1877, the first ever Test match was played between England and Australia.
Most cricket fanatics would have immediately clicked on the doodle which led to a plethora of articles and scorecards, depicting the happenings of a sunny afternoon at Melbourne when the English team - conspicuous by the absence of the legendary Dr. W.G. Grace - took on the Australians.
Here’s presenting seven things you need to know about the very first International Test match played in the history of mankind -
#1 An all professional English Team
In those days, the cricketing scene in England saw heavy rivalries between two factions – one who played cricket full-time and called themselves the “professionals” and one who played cricket along with their other full-time jobs, more out of passion and entertainment, aptly named as the “amateurs”.
Funnily enough, the amateurs on average were much better players – Dr. W.G. Grace – being a leading example. The captain, all-rounder James Lillywhite, apparently having learnt valuable lessons from infighting during previous tours, preferred to tour Australia with an all-professional line-up of just 12 cricketers.
#2 England’s first choice wicket-keeper jailed for assault
England’s first choice wicketkeeper Ted Pooley had to miss the historic first test match, largely due to his affinity towards gambling. The English team had a brief stopover in New Zealand where a lot of unofficial cricket matches were organised for the tourists, often featuring more than eleven players in the opposition.
The culture of betting, based on the individual scores of batsmen, was quite common at that time and Pooley, who never missed a chance of making easy money, put his money on all batsmen representing the Canterbury side, scoring 0.
By coincidence, eleven batsmen ended up doing exactly that – but what of course didn’t help Pooley’s case was, that he himself stood as an umpire in that match – convenient, wasn’t it? Needless to say, a brawl ensued and Pooley was left languishing in a Christchurch jail, while the rest of his teammates scripted history.
#3 A united Australian team
Australian cricket, at that time, also had their fair share of problems – due to the continual tiffs between Victoria and New South Wales. With much difficulty, a combined Australian XI comprising of established players from both sides was put together.
However, as soon as Frederick Spofforth - Australia’s leading fast bowler at that time – came to know that Jack Blackham of Victoria has been chosen as wicketkeeper over his New South Wales teammate Billy Murdoch, he backed out.
The selectors however, were able to rope in quick replacements, which resulted in a united Australian team for the first time ever – which is one of the key reasons, why this match was designated in due course as the first International Test Match.
#4 The many “firsts”
The first delivery in Test cricket was bowled by Alfred Shaw of England and was faced by the legendary Australian opener Charles Bannerman. The first ball was a dot and the first run came from the next delivery off Bannerman’s blade.
Bannerman went on to score Test cricket’s first century, but unfortunately also became the first batsman to retire hurt, when he broke the index finger on his right hand just after lunch on Day 2. As a result, W. Newing, got the opportunity to become the first ever substitute fielder in a Test match.
Allen Hill of England claimed the very first Test wicket when he bowled Australia’s Nathaniel Thompson – and also took the very first catch in Test cricket to dismiss T. P. Horan off Alfred Shaw’s bowling. Australian captain Dave Gregory was the first cricketer to be run out in the Test match, while his brother Ned Gregory earned the dubious distinction of scoring the first duck later in the innings.
In England’s first innings, Australian medium pacer Midwinter picked up Test cricket’s first ever five-wicket haul, and in England’s second innings, wicket-keeper Blackham claimed the first Test match stumping.
#5 Mid-match betting and more!
Charles Bannerman wouldn’t have gone on to score 165 had it not been for English all-rounder Thomas Armitage, who made a mess of a simple catch, resulting in the ball hitting his tummy. Armitage apparently having felt immensely guilty, placed a bet with his captain Lillywhite that he would score a fifty – but made a mere 9 and 3 in the match.
Another notable incident involved England’s second choice wicket-keeper Harry Jupp, who was forcibly included to ensure the English had a playing eleven, as his eye inflammation rendered him unable to keep wickets in this match.
Jupp made up for his absence as a wicket-keeper by scoring England’s first Test fifty, but not before he had accidently stepped onto his stumps – something which both umpires failed to notice – resulting in an extra life for him before he became Test cricket’s first LBW victim to Thomas William Garrett’s bowling.
#6 Golden Match Rewards
As was the custom, the “gate money” – money collected from the spectators was equally divided between both the sides and England by virtue of their loss received just that and managed to just break even. The Australians, who won by 45 runs, were of course richly rewarded – each player was presented with a gold watch by the Victoria Cricket Association.
The public also pooled in to present a lump sum to Bannerman for his century, medium pacer Thomas Kendall for his 7 wicket riot in England’s second innings and wicket-keeper Blackham for his astute keeping behind the stumps.
#7 140-year-old Records!
Two records still stand from the very first Test match ever played. One involves the lone centurion Bannerman whose score of 165, laced with 18 boundaries and lasting 290 minutes meant that he scored 67.3% of his side’s runs. The record came under severe threat by his compatriot Michael Slater 122 years later, when he scored 123 of Australia’s 184 during the fifth Ashes Test match of 1999.
While statistically speaking, there is a fair possibility of this record getting broken sometime in future, the other record of oldest Test debutant seems to rest permanently with James Southerton – who walked into the first ever Test match to be played, aged 49 years and 119 days.