Beware the Ides of March? Not if you’re a Test cricket fan

mds1970 Roar Guru

By mds1970, mds1970 is a Roar Guru


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    The Ides of March are come. But not gone. And while this is a day for Julius Caesar to beware, for cricket fans it’s a day to celebrate.

    On this day 140 years ago, Test cricket started. Australia took on England at the MCG and a great sporting tradition was created.

    There had been England teams touring Australia before, as promoters looked to make money in the colonies. But the colonial teams were weak, and to create some competition, Australian teams would field up to 22 players.

    One promoter, Lord Sheffield, gave a grant to Australian cricket for a trophy to encourage more regular competition. To this day, the Sheffield Shield bears his name.

    When James Lilywhite brought his team out in the summer of 1876-77, he found Australian cricket had greatly improved. And so at the end of the summer, it was decided to play two 11-a-side games.

    And Test cricket was born.

    It was just after 12 noon that Alfred Shaw ran in to bowl the first ball. Charles Bannerman faced, scored the first run, and went on to top score, retiring hurt at 165.

    By top scoring in the first innings, Bannerman created the record for the highest innings by an Australian on Test debut. That record still stands.

    Bannerman’s knock dominated the Australian innings, the Aussies dismissed for 245. England were set 154 to win in the fourth innings, but were skittled for 108. Australia had won by 45 runs.

    Australia and England were the first Test cricket teams. The tradition between the two countries stepped up another gear after Australia achieved a narrow, seven-run win over England in 1882.

    A mock obituary notice in an English newspaper lamented the death of English cricket. “The body will be cremated and the Ashes taken to Australia”.

    When England toured Australia the next summer, a small urn was presented to the England captain, legend says a burned bail is inside.

    England had regained the Ashes and Test series between the two sides have seen the Ashes up for grabs ever since.

    South Africa was admitted to the Test cricket fold in 1889. They were followed by the West Indies in 1928, New Zealand in 1930, then India in 1932 and Pakistan in 1952.

    Under apartheid rule, South Africa was expelled from Test cricket in 1970.

    In the early days, Test matches lasted three days, later extended to four, then to five. There were several decades where all Tests in Australia and the deciding Test of the series elsewhere were timeless.

    There were four balls an over, then five, then six. In Australia, there were eight-ball overs until the late 1970s. There were still eight balls an over when the centenary of Test cricket was celebrated in March 1977.

    The Centenary Test was a remarkable match. The 800th Test to be played, it was a celebration of the tradition.

    Debutant David Hookes hit Tony Greig for five boundaries in an over. Rick McCosker, retiring hurt with a broken jaw, bravely returned to face the pace bowling in an era when helmets were still unknown.

    Set an unlikely 463 to win, England were on track to get there, Derek Randall scoring a magnificent 174, before Dennis Lillee ripped through the England tail in the last hour.

    Dennis Lillee statue at the MCG

    Australia won the game by 45 runs, exactly the same margin as in the first ever Test match 100 years earlier.

    Behind the scenes however, a revolution was in the planning. Tours in the early years were run by private promoters, yet for nearly a century all professional cricket was run by cricket associations.

    But Kerry Packer was signing players for a breakaway movement that would divide the cricket world in two. It took two years to bring it back together. When it came back, commercial TV, one-day cricket and day-nighters had become a regular thing.

    Many predicted that Test cricket would die. But there’s more of it now than ever before.

    Since the Centenary Test in 1977, 1453 Tests have been played. Nearly twice as many in the last 40 years than in the 100 years preceding.

    And there are more countries playing Test cricket. Sri Lanka joined in 1982, 1992 saw Zimbabwe admitted, and South Africa re-instated. And Bangladesh became a Test country in 2000.

    And what of the future?

    The world of cricket is changing. Domestic franchise T20 cricket is on the rise. But there’s no sign of the amount of Tests slowing down. It’s the traditional form, the players love it and it rates well on TV.

    It’s been going for 140 years. There’s nothing to suggest it won’t last another 140 years. The world will change, but Test cricket will still be with us.

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    The Crowd Says (14)

    • March 15th 2017 @ 12:29pm
      Perry Bridge said | March 15th 2017 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

      And the great MCG has been so central to so much of this – I love parking in the parkland to the north of the ground – where the footballers first toiled – and while the modern colosseum is far removed from the more modest 1800s incarnations – the fact is that attendance of fans was from the early days a key driver in both the developments of the venue and in the case of the local brand of football the evolution of its rules/gameplay.

      Cricket – a little more universal however Australia has still managed rather greatly to impact this over the journey.

      So – while upstart cities bid for ‘franchises’ with ‘new money’ (whether it be to host an F1 GP, or an NFL side or whatever) – there is such rich sports heritage in Australia that must never be forgotten nor taken for granted.

      • Roar Guru

        March 15th 2017 @ 7:23pm
        mds1970 said | March 15th 2017 @ 7:23pm | ! Report

        Absolutely. You look at the MCG and it has evolved with the times from the modest structures of the 1870s to the massive stadium it is today.
        But you’re spot on. In both cricket and footy, it’s central to who we are as a sporting nation.

        I live in Sydney; but the MCG is iconic. And the anniversary this article celebrates is something that is a special part of Australian sport.

    • Roar Guru

      March 15th 2017 @ 1:06pm
      JGK said | March 15th 2017 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

      Good to see this get some recognition.

      Google are commemorating it today with their homepage pic too.

      • Roar Guru

        March 15th 2017 @ 7:52pm
        mds1970 said | March 15th 2017 @ 7:52pm | ! Report

        Good work by Google. I thought it was a historic anniversary of something important & worthy of a mention.

    • Roar Guru

      March 15th 2017 @ 8:16pm
      Anindya Dutta said | March 15th 2017 @ 8:16pm | ! Report

      Nice one @mds. Its indeed an occasion that should be celebrated. We are much the richer for what happened that March day 140-years ago.

      • Roar Guru

        March 15th 2017 @ 10:54pm
        mds1970 said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:54pm | ! Report

        Thanks Anindya. A milestone anniversary worthy of taking note of.
        Test cricket is a big part of our sporting tradition.

    • March 15th 2017 @ 10:02pm
      Adrian said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:02pm | ! Report

      Okay, first off, W G Grace came to Australia in 1873/74, some 4 years before the first “test match”. But his side was “W G Grace’s XI” not an “England XI” (nor was Lilywhite’s XI called England either). His side did indeed play 11 vs 22 matches but they also played 11 vs 11 matches, against both Victoria and New South Wales, and lost both. His side also played against a combined Victoria and New South Wales XI, and won. W G Grace was quoted, when finding out that Lilywhite’s side was subsequently regarded as the first ever test matches, as saying that surely at least one of his three were the first test match.

      The difference was not the 11 vs 11 but rather the concept of an all-Australian XI. Lilywhite’s side faced up against an Australian XI that in theory featured players from all of Australia’s states and territories, something that they thought of when the combined Victoria and New South Wales XI lost to Grace’s XI. It was revenge, in a sense, which gives more credit to the idea that Grace’s side had been the first test matches.

      It was a curious choice to consider Lilywhite’s to be the first test side, since it was generally considered a pretty weak side, and to not feature W G Grace, who in that time was easily the best ever player in cricket history, meant it couldn’t really be a test XI. Indeed, it didn’t feature any of the Grace brothers, and, other than perhaps Lilywhite himself, had nobody who would be good enough to make an all-England XI.

      The curious thing is that England was called the “MCC”, or Marylebone Cricket Club in all matches until the 1970s, so the first test match was certainly not England vs Australia. Rather, it was Lilywhite’s MCC-based XI vs Australia. But it wasn’t even really an MCC XI.

      Grace’s XI had stirred up cricketing interests in Australia such that they were able to band together to form one national team. That’s why it was a test match, not because of it being 11 vs 11. Not because of England. But because of Australia.

      It is nice to have a few facts right there, but you got some important ones wrong. Many people, myself included, still consider the first test to be in 1873, not 1877, and it is a matter of considerable debate that the 1877 tour was considered the first test just because it was all-Australian, when the English side was not all-England.

      • Roar Guru

        March 15th 2017 @ 10:52pm
        mds1970 said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:52pm | ! Report

        I’ve gone off the official records in calling the game that started 140 years ago today the first Test match.
        In the early days, tours were often privately promoted; and it wasn’t till many years later that an official list was put together of which games were recognised as Tests.
        The absence of WG Grace does not in itself make the 1877 game not a Test. Teams have been under-strength for many reasons over the years. Indeed, Australia were without Fred Spofforth, who refused to play because Billy Murdoch wasn’t selected as wicket-keeper.

        If I was to write an article commemorating the 140th anniversary of the 1873 game, I’d have had to write it four years ago. I didn’t.
        But, for whatever reason, no games in the 1873 tour were recognised as Test matches.
        There have been other games that also weren’t. The World Series Cricket games and the rebel South Africa tours don’t appear in the official Test records. Even though the Australia & West Indies WSC teams were stronger than the official Test teams at the time.

        • March 16th 2017 @ 9:02am
          bigbaz said | March 16th 2017 @ 9:02am | ! Report

          Yep, I’m with with you 1970 , can’t remember any debate in 1977 that the celebration should have been played 4 years earlier.

          • Roar Guru

            March 16th 2017 @ 10:33am
            mds1970 said | March 16th 2017 @ 10:33am | ! Report

            I was only 6 years old when the Centenary Test was played; too young to remember and certainly too young to understand any such debate if it happened.

            But I’d be interested to find out who the “many people” are who recognise any games played in 1873 as Test matches. Adrian’s comment above was the first I’ve heard such a thing suggested.

          • March 16th 2017 @ 12:22pm
            Pope Paul VII said | March 16th 2017 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

            Me either. Plus W G was continually surprised when he wasn’t the centre of the universe.

            I remember the greatest controversy being “The Computer Test” published by the Australian I think. It was the greatest all time Aus and Eng XIs, numbercrunched. Braddles was only credited with 8 and 68 or thereabouts. The great batsman was not impressed with computer or the numbercrunchers.

      • Roar Guru

        March 17th 2017 @ 1:38am
        JGK said | March 17th 2017 @ 1:38am | ! Report

        Similarly, there is a bit of mystery as to why this match wasn’t the counted as the first Test match on England soil…

    • March 15th 2017 @ 10:06pm
      Linphoma said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:06pm | ! Report

      Yes, I’m an old duffer.
      I can still remember catching snippets of the score on the last day throughout the school day. I ducked into an arcade where there was an electrical goods store while waiting for the bus to take me home. They had TVs (was it colour?) in the window, and Randall was still batting! He must have been about 150-odd.
      The bus took me home and I rushed in and caught the last hour live. And then the presentations with Randall thanking Lillee for “the boomp on the ‘ead”.

      • Roar Guru

        March 15th 2017 @ 10:27pm
        mds1970 said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:27pm | ! Report

        I was only 6 at the time of the Centenary Test and don’t remember it live. I’ve seen highlights of course, and read a lot about it.
        It would be nice to have similar celebrations and a Sesquicentennial Test in 10 years time.

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