No. 5 January 23, 2010

The first Test

Chandrahas Choudhury
The international five-day game is born


For the first three quarters of the 19th century, the most important occasions in the cricketing universe were the matches played in England between teams like the North and the South, and the Gentlemen and the Players - professionals and amateurs. But from the late 1850s onwards, bands of enterprising cricketers began to tour other countries, mainly Australia. A game played in 1877 between James Lillywhite's all-professional side and a Combined Sydney and Melbourne XI at the MCG is regarded today as the first Test match. Hitherto, the Empire had usually trumped its outpost in games between the two, but Lillywhite's team was in for a surprise: Australian opener Charles Bannerman made a monumental 165 in the first innings, and though none of his team-mates went past 20 in the match, the home side still emerged victors by 45 runs.

One more "Test" was played in the series, which England won. Indeed, England continued to hold the edge over Australia for the rest of the century, winning 26 games to the latter's 20. But this first match, with the honours claimed by the underdog, was not only to kickstart the era of international cricket but also to give the game in Australia its own distinctive nature, settling for ever into its bedrock, in the words of Ronald Mason, "the inexhaustible self-confidence that is the outstanding characteristic of Australian cricket".

The Turning Points series was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine in 2003