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The first official Test match: Looking back at Chapter 1 of cricket history

Smit N. Shah
ANALYST
Feature
Timeless

England
England's 12-member squad to visit Australia that went on to play the first official Test in 1877

On 15 March 1877, over 140 years back, the first-ever official cricket match was played between arch-rivals Australia and England at the massive and iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in Australia. It was unarguably the biggest event in the history of cricket, which eventually led to the commercialization and globalization of the game.

Starting that day cricket has kept evolving, game by game, smashing records and reaching new milestones along the journey. Exciting new formats have been introduced, and high-octane cricket leagues around the globe have been able to pull crowds and generate good revenues. The way the sport is marketed, presented and broadcast has resulted in deeper engagement and broadening of horizons.

Cricket has a rich history filled with amazing moments, interesting incidents and unbelievable performances. Let us revisit chapter one of the game's expansive history book, taking a moment to look back and reminisce.

A bit of history within history

In November 1876, England captain James Lillywhite and a side arranged by him became the first team to tour on commercial basis i.e as a business venture and not on an invitation basis.

Lillywhite formed a squad comprising only professionals, leaving behind all the amateurs, resulting in a small 12-member squad.

Starting from November 1876, Lillywhite's men played a whopping 17 Tests across Australia and New Zealand in a span of five months - a true display of tenacity and fervor. Then wicket-keeper Ted Pooley got convicted in New Zealand for his involvement in a betting scandal, leaving behind just 11 members and making things more physically challenging for them.

Determined but short of finances, Lillywhite accepted to play two more matches against the Combined Australia XI that included players from Victoria and New South Wales. The 18th match played by Lillywhite's team, between March 15-19 1877, was granted the status of the first official Test.

Interesting records created during the first match

Charles Bannerman scored the first run and century in Test cricket
Charles Bannerman scored the first run and century in Test cricket

The Oldest Player - At 49 years and 119 days, James Southerton, a bowling all-rounder who debuted in that match, still remains the oldest player to make a Test debut. In the modern era, the record seems highly unlikely to be broken.

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The First Toss - Australian captain Dave Gregory won the toss and elected to bat first.

The First Delivery - England pacer Alfred Shaw bowled the first ball in Test cricket to Charles Bannerman.

The First Run - Bannerman scored the first run in Test cricket, off the second delivery.

The First Wicket - The prestigious title of being the bowler to pick the first-ever Test wicket went to Allen Hill, when he got rid of Nat Thompson.

The First Century - Bannerman produced a virtuoso display of batting, scoring a brilliant 165 (retired hurt) - the first ton in the history of the game. It was this innings by Bannerman that helped Australia muster up a reasonable total of 245 in the first innings.

The First Duck - The Australian innings saw everything, from a duck to a century. The embarrassing title of being the first batsman to score a duck went to Ned Gregory.

The First Five-for - Australian medium-pacer Billy Midwinter wreaked havoc in the English batting lineup, picking up 5 for 78. He became the first bowler in Test cricket to pick a five-for.

The match turned out to be a nail-biter. Starting with a crowd of 4,500 on Day 1, it crossed 10,000 on Day 3 as the match kept getting more engrossing.

Australia were able to hold their nerves better and won the historic match by a margin of 45 runs. The hosts team's slow bowler Tom Kendall ran circles around the English batsmen in the second innings, picking up 7 for 55.

The Scorecard:

Australia 245 & 104 (Aus won the toss and elected to bat first)

England 196 & 108

England went on to level the series by winning the second Test.

To commemorate 100 years of Test cricket, Australia and England played a Test match between 12-17 March 1977 at the MCG. Interestingly, Australia won the match by the same margin of 45 runs as they did 100 years back.

Greg Chappell played in the centenary Test in 1977
Greg Chappell played in the centenary Test in 1977

Below is the scorecard of that match:

Australia 138 & 419 

England 95 & 417 (Eng won the toss and elected to field first)

As per cricket historians, the first Test had a lot of missed chances and umpiring errors. But the passion for the game and the whole-hearted efforts by Lillywhite's team and the combined Australia XI led to the formalization of the beautiful game of cricket.

Hundreds of matches and thousands of runs and wickets later it has become even more mature and is passionately played, viewed and loved by millions across the globe.

Also see – Mzansi schedule

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