First Test match

England v Australia 1899

In picking the England team for the first of the five Test matches the committee had rather a thankless task. It was early in the season for such a big event, and so many of the matches in May had been played on wickets damaged by rain that there had not been a really fair chance of discovering what men were in form. The great difficulty, however, lay in the question of fast bowling. Lockwood had broken down at the Crystal Palace in the first match of the Australian tour; Richardson was obviously not himself, and Mr. Kortright, owing to a bad strain, was quite incapacitated. Mr. Bradley had not any means of showing the improved form which afterwards secured him a place in the England eleven at Manchester and the Oval, and altogether the committee found themselves face to face with a situation which, before the season began, could not in any way have been foreseen. Making the best of a bad job, they decided, in the event of the weather proving fine, to let Hirst, for this one occasion, be the England fast bowler. It cannot be said that the experiment was in any way a success. Hirst worked hard for his side, his fielding indeed being perfection, but as a bowler he did not cause the Australians any trouble.

As everybody knows, the match ended in a draw, time alone saving the English eleven from defeat. When stumps were finally pulled up on the Saturday afternoon they wanted 135 runs to win and had only three wickets to go down. Ranjitsinhji saved the side with a superbly - played 98 not out, his best innings against the Australians during the whole of the season. Never probably did a batsman, in the endeavour to save a match against time, play such a free and attractive game as he did during the last forty minutes he was at the wickets. In one respect, however, he was, nearly all through his innings open to serious criticism, his judgment in running being sadly at fault. What should have possessed him to attempt short runs when there was nothing to gain and everything to lose one cannot pretend to explain. The Australians stoutly maintained that in one of these purposeless ventures he was run out, but the umpire ruled otherwise, and there, of course, was an end of the matter.

Altogether he was at the wicket for two hours and three quarters, his only mistake being a difficult chance, low down at forward short leg, when he had made 29. Up to a certain point during this last innings a crushing defeat for England seemed inevitable. The team went in after luncheon with nothing to hope for but a draw, and at the end of fifty five minutes four wickets were down for 19 runs, the four men out being Grace, Jackson, Gunn and Fry. Grace and Jackson were bowled by Howell in one over with beautiful break-backs. Hayward was Ranjitsinhji's best helper in saving the game, staying in for an hour and twenty five minutes, during which time 63 runs were put on. The Surrey batsman, however, when he had scored 12, was fortunate in being palpably missed by Darling at forward short leg.

Apart from Ranjitsinhji's batting on the last day, the Australian took all the honours, and yet up to a certain time on the Friday it was quite an even match. Indeed, there was one point on Friday when England had, on paper, distinctly the better of the position. The Australians' first innings had been finished off for 252, and Grace and Fry were together with England's score at 70 for no wicket. Just after this, however, Grace lost his wicket in his over-eagerness to score from Noble on the off-side, and from the moment of his downfall to the finish of the game the Englishmen were completely outplayed.

The Australian batting was in nearly every respect admirable, but in the first innings it was marked by extreme slowness, the whole of the opening day being occupied in scoring 238 for eight wickets. The pitch was perhaps rather slower than had been expected in such fine weather, and the English bowling and fielding were maintained at a very high pitch of excellence, but at the same, the Australian batsmen played with a care that would not often lead to victory in matches restricted to three days.

The hero of the game from the Colonial point of view was Clement Hill, who followed up a capital 52 with a splendidly-played 80. In his second innings he was batting for two hours and forty minutes without giving the semblance of a chance, and was out at last to a most brilliant catch by Grace at point, close to the ground with the right hand. Noble, though he did not make so many runs, was not far behind Hill in quality of play, his 41 and 45 being excellent displays of careful cricket. All through the game then Australian bowling was better than that of the Englishmen, steadily and well as Hearne and Rhodes worked on the opening day.

The match proved a substantial attraction, but the attendance scarcely justified the elaborate preparations that the Notts committee and made in erecting new stands round a great portion of the ground. The weather could not have been more favourable, and from the first ball to the last the game was watched with the closest and most eager attention.

© John Wisden & Co