The beginning of international cricket? (1984)

1884 - a year to remember

As a result of George Orwell's seminal work, most of us will have entered 1984 with some sense of foreboding. As a consequence, the year will probably prove to be something of an anticlimax; it may even be uneventful. By contrast, 1884 was a significant year, not least in cricket history. In his book Lord's 1787-1945 Sir Pelham Warner said: "Looking back, it seems to me that the season of 1884 marked something like the beginning of international cricket as we understand it today."

Among the cricketing visitors to England were the first touring team from Philadelphia. This historic city has always been a great centre of American cricket and the late nineteenth century witnessed some fine performances by Philadelphian players. In addition to the American tourists, 1884 saw an Australian visit. As can be seen from a study of photographs of the touring side, 1884 was a transitional period for cricket dress. At this period coloured shirts were disappearing and white ones were becoming customary. White buckskin boots were first worn in 1882. Sweaters were also beginning to appear, and Shaw and Shrewsbury's team which visited Australia in 1884-85 had quite a modern appearance with matching blazers and caps. The wearing of ties on the field was not so common as it had been, but small bow ties were in fashion.

Even in those seemingly golden days, not everyone was content. In Lillywhite's Cricketers' Annual there was an article by Incog entitled Cricket in 1884. It includes these ever-topical words: Some hypercritical persons, no doubt sensitive and solicitous for the highest interest of the game, are apt to decry everything which savours of the commercial element in connection with our national sport. Even then there was a feeling that there were too many and too-frequent tours.

Until 1884 Test matches in England had all been played at Kennington Oval, owing to the pioneering influence of the Surrey Secretary, C. W. Alcock. The famous Test match of 1882 and the following series down under in 1882-83 had generated much interest in the international game, and for the first time three Test matches were allocated for the 1884 season. Old Trafford and Lord's thus became Test grounds.

The Old Trafford match was due to start on July 10, but the Manchester weather ran true to form and no play was possible on the first day. The weather ensured that the match was drawn, but Australia had the better of it. Old Trafford looked different in those days. The present pavilion dates from 1894, but its predecessor was quite a handsome edifice. In 1856 the Manchester Cricket Club had had to move from their home in the Chester Road, to make way for an Art Treasures' Exhibition. Less than a mile away they found eight acres of good, level, sandy land. The pavilion was described as being a great ornament to the ground. Not the least of its amenities was an excellent wine cellar, no unimportant acquisition in a cricket pavilion.

England were victorious in the Lord's Test by an innings and 5 runs. The headquarters of cricket also looked very different from the way it does today. The area adjacent to the Wellington Road was occupied by Henderson's Nursery; next door to that was the Clergy Orphanage. The Tennis Court stood where the Mound Stand is now, and the pavilion, erected after the fire of 1825, still had five years to run before it was demolished to make way for Verity's present structure.

At Lord's, 1884 was a busy year off the field as well as on it. MCC commissioned the 1884 Code of the Laws of Cricket, a conservative revision which remained in force until 1947. Directed towards clarification of existing legislation rather than radical change, it laid down how many players could take part in a game and the number of innings there should be. The ways runs could be scored and how the result of a match could be decided were listed. There was a separate section containing the laws for one-day matches. In these games six-ball overs were legalised, though in first-class cricket the over still consisted of four balls. There were definitions for such terms as dead ball, byes and wicket down; the thickness of the bails was specified; boundaries were mentioned for the first time. The most radical change, initiated by Lord Harris, was an alteration to Law 48 concerning no-balls and read: If the umpire at the bowler's end be not satisfied of the absolute fairness of the delivery of any ball, he shall call 'No-ball'. This was an attempt to eradicate an epidemic of throwing.

The only President of MCC ever to die during his period of office, the Hon. Robert Grimston, passed away on April 7, 1884. Two days earlier John Wisden had also died, of cancer, at the age of 57. He was a splendid all-round cricketer who seems to have been universally respected. Although the centenary of his birth (in Brighton) in 1926 was not specially noted by Wisden, the jubilee issue of 1913 contained many tributes to him, including one from Sir Kenelm Digby who had been in the Harrow XI when Wisden was coach there. Sir Kenelm wrote: "I have the pleasantest recollection of his quiet, modest and unassuming character, his unfailing good temper, his keenness in and enjoyment of his work, his genial disposition which made him a great favourite with all the present and former members of the school with whom he came in contact." Sir Spencer Ponsonby-Fane wrote in a similar vein: "He was a very fine and accurate bowler, perfect length. He was a fast medium, but I think he was classed as a fast bowler... He was a good field, and an excellent bat, which was rather exceptional for a bowler at that time."

Wisden was known as the Little Wonder on account of his small physique and cricketing prowess. He was only 5 feet 4½ inches in height and in his prime he weighed but 7 stones. His outstanding feat on the field of play occurred in the North v South match of 1850 when he clean bowled all his opponents in their second innings. In 1852 he joined forces with James Dean to found the United All England XI. Three years later, with Frederick Lillywhite, he established the cricket outfitting business which he managed for a good number of years. In 1857 he was appointed Secretary of the Cricketers' Fund Friendly Society, an office he held until his death. In 1859 he went with George Parr's pioneering team to Canada and the United States, and in 1864 he set the seal on his distinguished career by issuing the first number of Wisden, called then simply The Cricketer's Almanack. Though a pale shadow of its later self, it proved to be the Book of Genesis in the Cricketers' Bible.

© John Wisden & Co