England v Australia, only Test, The Oval

England squeeze home in country's first Test

Martin Williamson

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Lord Harris chases a ball to the boundary, England v Australia, The Oval, September 1880
Lord Harris chases the ball to the boundary during Australia's second innings © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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The hastily-arranged match between the Australians and an England XI captained by Lord Harris, now deemed to be the first Test staged in England, was won by the home side but produced a thrilling contest which ebbed and flowed to the end.

The Australians came into the match without their trump card, the fast bowler Fred Spofforth who had injured a hand in a meaningless game a week earlier. His absence almost certainly proved the difference between the sides. Harris had failed to persuade two or three top names to play for him, but despite that the England team was strong.

Despite the authorities dismissive approach to the whole tour, the appeal of a match between strong England and Australia sides proved a massive attraction. On the first day 20,814 spectators paid admission, with another 19,863 on the second. Thousands more found vantage points on trees outside the ground and on the gasometers.

In glorious late-summer sun, Lord Harris won the toss and batted, reaching 404 for 8 by the close of the first day of three. WG Grace made 152 in three hours 55 minutes out of 281 scored while he was at the wicket, while Bunny Lucas and Lord Harris added fifties. Only three late wickets gave the Australians any hope.

England's tail was soon polished off on day two - the last six wickets fell for 16 runs - and then bowled out the Australians for 149. Fred Morley, the Nottinghamshire left-arm seamer, took 5 for 56 and the follow-on was enforced. When they reached the close on 170 for 6, still 101 from making England bat again, few doubted the game would extend to lunch on the final day.

A small crowd of 3751 gathered for the last rites, and two quick wickets seemed to signal the end. But Billy Murdoch, Australia's captain and a top-order batsman, remained and set about the bowling, and he found good support from the Nos 10 and 11, George Alexander and William Moule, who both chipped in with thirties. Built around Murdoch's 153, they did enough to give their side a lead, but it was only 57.

WG Grace, weary from bowling, chose to bat down the order but the decision backfired as England crashed to 31 for 5, both EM and FR Grace making ducks, FR bagging a pair in his only Test. WG Grace strode out at No. 7, steadied the innings, and England won by five wickets, sparking wild celebrations. The significance of Spofforth's absence was underlined two years later at The Oval when England were set 85 and lost, Spofforth taking 14 wickets in the match.

The was a sad footnote as Fred Grace, the youngest of the three brothers playing in the game, was dead within a fortnight. From The Oval he traveled to a match in the rain at Stroud, got soaked and then slept the night on a damp mattress. He contracted a chill and died days later from pneumonia. Despite failing with the bat at The Oval, his catch to dismiss George Bonner went into cricket folklore. The mighty Bonner skied one towards the gasometer side of the ground, the ball going so igh that the batsmen had completed two runs and were on they for a third when Grace held the catch. Where Grace took it was measured the same day as being 115 yards from the bat.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

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Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.
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