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England, Australia get Test cricket off the mark

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Last updated on 15 Mar 2023 | 11:45 AM
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England, Australia get Test cricket off the mark

On this day in 1877, England and Australia were involved in the first-ever Test match at the MCG

As many as 2,499 Test matches have been played so far giving the cricketing world plenty of joy and heartbreaks with each passing game. On March 15, 1877, we witnessed the first-ever Test, between England and Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). 

England had already been in Australia for some time now. In 1876-77, James Lillywhite took a bunch of professional cricketers to New Zealand followed by a tour to Australia where they were to play a couple of matches against a combined Australia XI. These matches were later classified as Tests. 

Before playing these two encounters, the English side had already played 18 matches on this tour. Before that, they had played eight matches in New Zealand, forming a core group of players, but wicketkeeper Ted Pooley was forced to be left behind in Christchurch after he was arrested for his involvement in a betting scandal.

Many had written the English team off, calling them the weakest side to play the colonies. WG Grace led a team for a similar assignment three years ago, and that experience taught Lillywhite not to mix amateurs with professionals.

Lillywhite agreed to take on Australia for a couple of matches barely 24 hours after he arrived in the country. Moreover, their reserve wicketkeeper Harry Jupp too was not fully fit, suffering from inflammation of the eyes. The lack of options meant he had to play. There was also a place in the XI for 49-year-old James Southerton, who still remains the oldest-ever debutant.

The match

In front of a crowd of about 1,500, which rose to 4,500 as the day rolled on, the first ball in Test cricket was bowled at about 1 in the afternoon. The first ball was bowled by Alfred Shaw, faced by Charles Bannerman, who scored the first-ever run in Test cricket. Allen Hill dismissed Bannerman’s opening partner Nat Thompson, which turned out to be the first-ever wicket in Tests.

Bannerman was let off the hook on single-digits and the batter then made the opposition pay finishing the first day on 126 out of the team’s total of 166 for 6. Bannerman, who became the first-ever Test centurion on Day One, had to retire hurt on 165 as Australia were bowled out for 245.

Bannerman scored 67.3% of the team’s runs which to date happens to be a record for the highest percentage of runs scored by a batsman in a completed innings. Years later Michael Slater scored 123 of a total of 184, which meant he had scored 66.84% of the runs.

In reply, England were bowled out for just 196 with Gloucestershire-born Billy Midwinter finishing with 5 for 78. He went on to play four more Tests for England between 1881 and 1882.

Bannerman this time walked out to the middle with the crowd – which had gone up to 12,000 – giving him a standing ovation. England failed to hang on to chance as they did in the first innings, but it was not as costly as Bannerman was dismissed for just four.

England needed 154 to win, but managed just 108, handing the Australians a 45-run win – incidentally Australia beat England by the same margin in the Centenary Test at the same venue in 1977.

What followed?

The Victoria Cricket Association presented the Australian team with gold watches.

Public subscription of £83 and £23 was raised for Bannerman (165*) and Tom Kendall (7 for 55) respectively

Less than two weeks later, another match was arranged between the two sides at the MCG. England won the match by four wickets and squared, what turned out to be the first-ever series.

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