England v Australia, The Oval, 1880

I was there

In the 1939 Autumn Annual, Revd CJM Godfrey wrote of his memories of attending the first Test in England, at The Oval in September 1880, as a schoolboy

In the 1939 Autumn Annual, Revd CJM Godfrey wrote of his memories of attending the first Test in England, at The Oval in September 1880, as a schoolboy

The death of Mr. Justice W. H. Moule in Sydney, New South Wales last September, the last survivor of the First Test Match in England, brought back to an old cricketer's memory some features and details which the Editor has invited him to jot down for the Annual.

Fifty-nine years is a long stretch back and memory sometimes plays one false. I have no books of reference but I have the score and bowling figures. By July, 1880, the Australians had proved themselves worthy of a representative, match. When the 1880 fixture list was drawn up, presumably there was no thought or suggestion of a match v. England (the title "Test " was unknown). C. W. Alcock, the secretary of Surrey, offered The Oval to Lord Harris if he would arrange the game, a compliment to Australia with the promise of a financial success and a suitable wind-up of a great cricket season. The match was a huge success, with but one disappointment, and that a serious one. Fred Spofforth, the greatest bowler (to me) of all time, had broken a finger. There were but two reserves, A. H. Jarvis, a stumper, and a change bowler, W .H. Moule, who played but seldom on the tour.

Yes, I was there by a slice of luck. It was just before returning to School for my last year before going to Oxford. On September 5 I happened to meet on the Hastings parade, Frank Watson Smyth, the old Cheltonian, a curate of Christ Church. " I know where you would like to be tomorrow," he said, "at The Oval, where the first England v. Australia match will be played." Before I could reply, he produced two golden sovereigns with the parting injunction to give him a full report of the game on my return.

So for three days on the Oval grass, I absorbed the first of the many great struggles that have followed between England and Australia. There were giants in those days, giants to us schoolboys and, I fancy, to most cricketers. Every member of the English XI had in his own branch reached the top of the cricket tree. The three Graces, Lord Harris, Alfred Lyttelton, A. P. Lucas, A. G. Steel, Frank Penn, with Barnes (the allrounder of Notts) and Shaw and Morley (par nobile fratrum). I had seen the Australians at Hastings in 1878 and 1880, both of which games were dominated by Spofforth. Other men who had impressed me were Blackham, Palmer, Murdoch, McDonnell, Bonnor and Boyle.

Two features of this glorious game stood out beyond all, and there were many, WG's 152 and Murdoch's 153 not out, half the latter being compiled with Moule (the last man) as companion, Moule making 34 and the stand compelling England to bat a second time. Murdoch's score made history; without it the Australians would hardly have reached 200 and an innings defeat would have done injustice to a really good side.

The early Australian elevens had a wealth of outstanding bowlers, some good batsmen and first-class stumpers. They won their games by bowling and fielding and the uncanny placing and changing almost imperceptibly of fieldsmen. What might have happened in the 1880 game with Spofforth available was partly revealed by the 1882 Test.

Looking back at two generations of cricketers, I am doubtful whether the English bowlers Steel and Shaw (slow right) and Morley (fast left) have ever been surpassed as a trio for England in Test Matches.

Of other features in this memorable game G. F. Grace's catch of Bonnor is historical. I can see and feel it now, the carry, the height, the agonising suspense of the fall.

Readers must remember that this was the first of all Tests in England. We are so accustomed to Tests of all sorts today that the glamour has gone. Further, a three-days Test when you are fairly sure the end is certain produces a concentration and intensity unknown today.