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The bizarre incident that marked the first-ever Lord's Test match

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13th August, 2019
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As we approach the Lord’s Test, it is worth reflecting on the first Test match played there, in 1884, and how Australia’s first innings was only terminated after a very curious incident.

This was the 15th Test match but the ‘Home of Cricket’ had not played host until now.

In the first match of the three-game series, weather had saved England. While Tests were played over four days in Australia, they were of only three days’ duration in England.

The first day of the series at Old Trafford had been washed out and the visitors had run out of time to force what looked to be a certain victory for them.

The second Test, at Lord’s, saw four changes made to the home side, with Lord Harris restored as captain.

The Australians did not have that luxury as only 12 players undertook the tour (the profits made by this privately run team could then be divided among just those dozen players).

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The tourists were under pressure at 6-93 but George Giffen’s 63 led the recovery.

After medical student Henry ‘Tup’ Scott was joined by Harry Boyle when the ninth wicket fell, they put together a stand of 69 (a tenth-wicket record for Australians at Lord’s until 1975), when an unexpected incident ended the Australian innings on 229.

Boyle had made 26 and Scott was on 75 when the latter was caught at point off leg-spinner AG Steel. Nothing too strange with that – except the catcher was Scott’s own captain, Billy Murdoch, who was acting as a substitute fielder for the opposition.

WG Grace had left the field with a cut to the forefinger of his right hand, so where was the English 12th man? Was one appointed? If the Australians were to offer a substitute, why of all players would the opposition captain choose to field?

In their recent book on Billy Murdoch, Ric Sissons and Richard Cashman probably come closest to the story when suggesting that Murdoch’s close friendship with Grace may have provided some explanation. This dated back to the 1880 tour, when Grace stood out from prominent English figures like Lord Harris as someone who was prepared to play the tourists.

In the first Test on English soil that year, the two had a bet. Grace had made 152 and Murdoch was sure that he could beat this score. When the Australian second innings finished, Murdoch had reached 153 not out so Grace presented him with a sovereign that Murdoch wore on a watch chain for the rest of his life.

Later, when Murdoch moved to live in the mother country, he ended up playing the last four seasons of his long career with Grace at London County.

They enjoyed each other’s company and shared a liking for plenty of good food and drink it seems.

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So when Grace needed a substitute, Murdoch may not have hesitated. How was he to know that a catch from the top scorer would go his way? How was he to know that he would actually play a Test match for England a decade later?

In taking it the catch, he become the first substitute fielder to do so in a Test match.

The cricketing gods may have looked kindly on Murdoch for this sportsmanlike gesture. Although the first Test at Lord’s was lost by his team, the next match, at the Oval, was a personal triumph as he scored the first Test double-century, making 211.

And with whom did he put on a partnership of 207 which was the first double-century stand in Tests? None other than Tup Scott, who must have forgiven his captain for that strangest of strange dismissals in the first Lord’s Test match.