In the first of the five Test matches England experienced a strange mixture of good and bad luck. Up to a certain point fortune, in the shape of dropped catches, and a heavy downpour of rain that spoiled the game after the first day, was all on their side, but at the crucial point there came a complete change, rain by drenching the ground on the last day saving the Australians from a defeat that under ordinary circumstances would have been inevitable. Fourteen players had been picked for England, and all were in readiness at Birmingham, on the morning of the match, the three who had to stand down being J.R. Mason, Llewellyn, and Hayward. The choice had been most carefully made by the Selection Committee, and by general consent the eleven that went into the field represented English cricket, at this early period of the season, as fully as possible.
The Australians had to do the best they could without Hugh Trumble, whose injured thumb was not in a condition to admit of his playing, and they left out Carter and Saunders, the latter of whom had not up to this time shown the bowling form which made him so invaluable in the last three Test games. A beautiful wicket had been prepared, and when MacLaren beat Darling in the toss for innings, it was almost taken for granted that England would make a big score. In the end expectation was realised, but success only came after a deplorable start, and after the Australians had discounted their chances by two or three palpable blunders in the field. Fry was caught by the wicket-keeper standing back in the third over a misunderstanding, for which Ranjitsinhji considered himself somewhat unjustly blamed, led to MacLaren being run out, and then Ranjitsinhji himself quite upset by what had happened, was clean bowled, three of the best English wickets being thus down for 35 runs. The position looked very critical indeed and the Australians, encouraged by success, fielded in their finest form.
Happily for England, Jackson and Tyldesley, to some extent, saved the situation. Playing with great judgment and self-restraint against bowling that was changed every few overs, they were still together when at half-past one luncheon was taken, and the score, without further loss, had reached 99. However, soon after the resumption of the game, Jackson ended a beautiful innings by chopping a ball from Jones on to his wicket, and again England were in a bad way. Then came the dropped catches that had such a vital effect on the day's cricket, Tyldesley, with his score at 43, having three escapes. He was missed low down at mid-off by Jones and then, after Lilley had been taken from a skyer, he was palpably missed by Darling at mid-on, and nearly caught and bowled by Armstrong. In this case cricket was as unforgiving as whist, the Australians having to field for the rest of the afternoon, and England's score at the drawing of stumps standing at 351 for nine wickets. The turning point came with the partnership of Tyldesley and Hirst who, in an hour and twenty minutes, put on 94 runs. This was an invaluable stand, but after Hirst left, Jessop, playing very wild cricket, was soon got rid of by a catch at deep cover-point, seven wickets being down for 230. Braund helped to add 34 for eighth wicket, and the score was up to 295 when Tyldesley was out lbw. The Lancashire batsman's innings of 138, apart from the chances referred to, was a truly magnificent display. He was at the wickets for four hours and twenty minutes, his defence being masterly and his cutting a marvel of power and accurate timing. He made most of his runs on the off-side, his hits including a 5 and twenty 4's. Lockwood and Rhodes played very freely at the end of the afternoon, and took the total from 295 to 351 without being parted.
So much rain fell during Thursday night that it was not until nearly three o'clock that the match was proceeded with. Some people expected that MacLaren would at once declare the English innings closed, but acting, it was understood, on Lilley's advice, he decided to let his own side go on batting for a time, so that his bowlers might not have to start work on a slippery foothold. He declared when the score had been raised to 376, and then followed one of the chief sensations of the cricket season of 1902, the Australians being got rid of in less than an hour and a half for 36, Trumper, who played fine cricket for seventy minutes, alone making a stand. The light was bad, but in the opinion of the umpires the wicket was by no means so difficult as to excuse such an ignominous break-down. Rhodes and Hirst bowled wonderfully well and Braund, in getting rid of Hill, brought off a most dazzling catch at slip. The Australians had of course to follow on, and at the call of time had scored eight runs without the loss of a wicket. Had Friday night remained fine the Englishmen would have had the match in their hands, but rain fell for twelve hours without cessation, reducing the Edgbaston ground to such a condition that on Saturday morning it was seen at once that cricket would for several hours be out of the question. The afternoon turned out delightfully fine, but nothing was done until a quarter-past five, and but for the fact of thousands of people having been admitted to the ground after four o'clock, the match would no doubt have been abandoned without another ball being bowled. Losing only two wickets the Australians easily played out time, the game being left drawn at half-past six.