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Wisden's Almanack was already a healthy teenager when Test cricket was born in Australia in 1877. That first international match -- the title Test came much later and has since been borrowed or usurped by several other sports -- was won by Australia in Melbourne.
We have become accustomed to the Press habit of making a fuss of the first maker of a century each summer, the first batsman reaching 1,000 runs or the first bowler completing 100 wickets.
There was no anxious waiting for the first Test century. The man who received the first ball, C. Bannerman, scored it at the first attempt. He made 165 and retired hurt with a hand injury.
Three years later the first century was made for England. Appropriately it was scored at the Oval in the first home Test by W.G. Grace, the greatest batsman of the 19th century. W.G. was accompanied on that occasion by two of his brothers, E.M. who achieved little and G.F. who gained the doubtful honour of being the first Test batsman to bag a pair.
So far as England was concerned the early Test matches were private ventures. Individuals took teams on tour and individual counties staged the matches in England and chose the teams for them.
The lead at home came from the Oval, where the Surrey secretary, C.W. Alcock, played a large part in establishing such cricket in England. Not until 1898 was the Board of Control formed to organise home Tests officially. Five years later the M.C.C. were persuaded to become responsible for tours overseas.
Wisden has progressed by one edition a year. Test cricket snowballed. Expansion was slow to start. England and Australia played 30 matches against each other before South Africa came on the international scene.
There was no further expansion until 30 years later when the West Indies played a series against England. They were followed by New Zealand and India, and finally after the Second World War the division of India brought Pakistan into being as a Test playing country.
The hundredth Test was in 1908. At the outbreak of war in 1914 the total was 134. The number was doubled between the Wars, the actual figure then being 274, and that has again been doubled since 1946.
Thus anyone now in his fifties has lived while more than 80 per cent of all Test cricket has been played. For him only the first 100-odd matches are legendary. The remainder are facts of his lifetime.
Inevitably most of the epic games have been played between England and Australia. Inevitably, because they have been by far the most frequent opponents, and because not often have any other countries been able to match the power of those founder Test Club members.
For all their great googly bowlers in early years, South Africa have been their equals only rarely, and the West Indies reached the top no more than 13 years ago. Yet the West Indies have shared with Australia the greatest Test of all, the wonderful tie at Brisbane in December 1960.
The first of the epics took place at the Oval in 1882. This was the match which Australia won by seven runs and which persuaded the Sporting Times to publish an obituary to English cricket. The notice concluded with the words 'the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia'. And England and Australia have played for those Ashes ever since. W.G. Grace was in the England side; so were Ulyett, the pride of Yorkshire, Barlow and Hornby from Lancashire and other great men of the age. Australia had the greatest star of the day in F.R. Spofforth, the Demon. He took 14 wickets for 90. England were dismissed for 101 and 77, of which Grace made 32.
The Oval was also the scene of another tremendous match 20 years later. Australia had won the 1902 series, but England had some consolation from winning the fifth and greatest match. They needed 263 in the fourth innings on a rain damaged pitch and lost the first five wickets for 48.
The next wicket added 109 in only sixty-five minutes. Jessop, the Croucher, the greatest hitter in the game's long history, played his most wonderful Test innings and remarkably opened the way for his side to turn impending doom into victory by a single wicket.
F.S. Jackson, who made 49, was his partner in that first match-turning stand. Jessop himself batted no more than seventy-five minutes but hit 104 in that time. They were not the only heroes. George Hirst took over when Jackson was out, and at the end a third Yorkshireman, Wilfrid Rhodes, stood with him in a last wicket partnership which made the final 15 runs. Hirst was 58 not out, Rhodes six not out.
Almost a quarter of a century later, in 1926, Rhodes was back at the Oval, recalled at the age of 48 to help England beat Australia in another epic game and to win the Ashes after a gap of 14 years. Again the pitch was damaged by rain, and the Oval could produce a sticky wicket as difficult as any in the country. The rain fell in the night after an innings each had left the match wide open with Australia leading by 22. Hot sun the next morning produced the sticky conditions, and England were batting.
Not even the tremendous closing episode of the Brisbane tie in 1960 was more thrilling than the two hours before lunch that day, when the pitch was as spiteful as it could ever be. It was made thrilling by Hobbs and Sutcliffe, the greatest pair of opening batsmen cricket has yet known. They played right through the sticky period.
Sutcliffe was often in trouble, but no amount of trouble could deter him. He remained unruffled even when a ball from Grimmett struck his wicket without dislodging a bail. He battled through with the help of Hobbs, who stationed himself whenever possible at the end of greater danger. Hobbs, the supreme artist, was superb. However viciously the ball lifted and turned, it met the centre of his bat every time he played a stroke.
By the time Hobbs was bowled by Gregory for 100, they had put on 172, and the pitch had lost its venom. Sutcliffe continued until he had made 161, and a total of 436 left the way open for the oldest and newest of England's bowlers to dismiss Australia for 125.
Larwood took three wickets. Rhodes had already justified his recall to the national side by taking two early wickets in the first innings in addition to scoring 28 and 14. Now he dismissed four of Australia's leading batsmen, Bardsley, Ponsford, Collins and Arthur Richardson, for 44.
The speed of Larwood and the left-arm spin of Rhodes, a classic cricketing combination, cemented the great batting of Hobbs and Sutcliffe, and the veteran had returned in triumph to Test fields on which he had first played 27 years earlier.
At the Oval too, England regained the Ashes under Hutton in 1953 after another long gap, during which the batting of Bradman, Ponsford and their immediate successors and the bowling of O'Reilly, Lindwall and Miller rendered Australia well nigh invincible.
The most thrilling match of the Bradman era was, I think, that at Leeds in 1938. The pitch always favoured the bowlers, and the scoring was low. It seemed that only great skill or exceptional determination could produce runs for the batsmen. Bradman's skill triumphed in an innings of 103; so did Hammond's when he made 76 for England.
Australia's wicketkeeper, Ben Barnett, was the only other man to reach 50. He did not have their batting skill, but he had the necessary determination to score 57, and then 15 not out when Australia, set to make 107, fought home by five wickets.
Otherwise the bowlers controlled the play. The match winners were the Australian spinners, O'Reilly and Fleetwood-Smith, a left-arm googly bowler of erratic genius. O'Reilly took 10 for 122 and floored Hammond, England's champion, in each innings.
Even so, the result was closer than it appears on paper. So well did Doug Wright bowl his leg-breaks and googlies in the final innings that Australia's top four batsmen, Bradman, McCabe, Fingleton and Brown, were out for 60, and a chance off Wright, which caught Verity moving the wrong way in anticipation in the gully, was the decisive event. Hassett gave the chance before scoring. He went on to make 33 and with the resolute Barnett made sure of the result.
England v. Australia has produced many great encounters. South Africa's greatest match was surely played early in 1953 in Melbourne. A young South African side visited Australia with entirely unconsidered prospects, but by means of wonderful team spirit and superb fielding they held their own so well in the Test series that they went to Melbourne for the fifth match only one down.
It looked like being two down when Neil Harvey hit 205 and Australia ran up a total of 520. From that point the South Africans steadily fought their way back into the game. They made 435 themselves, dismissed Australia a second time for 209 and finally scored 297 for four to win. How well every man played his part is shown by the fact that not one South African batsman was dismissed in either innings for a single figure. That tour under the captaincy of Cheetham was South Africa's greatest.
South Africa also took part in what was surely the most remarkable Test, a time-limitless match which could never be finished, because it lasted so long that England had to depart to catch their ship. This was the fifth Test against England at Durban in 1939. It was a slow-motion match in which Van der Byl, Nourse and Melville scored centuries for South Africa. who finally left England to get 696 in the fourth innings.
Gibb scored a century, Hammond another, and Edrich, who had failed in the previous Tests, made 219. When England had to leave they had made 654 for five. The remarkable match had lasted ten days with some interruption by rain and produced nearly 2,000 runs.
West Indies, too, shared a similar match with England nine years earlier at Kingston. Again a ship awaited the English players, and rain on the last two days prevented England from winning after running up a first innings total of 849. Of these Sandham, partner of Hobbs in the Surrey team, made 325. At the close the West Indies, needing 836, were 408 for five.
George Headley had scored 223, his fourth century of the series. In later years West Indies had great batsmen in Weekes, Worrell and Walcott, the famous three W's, and Sobers, whose 365 not out against Pakistan at Kingston in 1958 is the record individual Test score.
But Headley must surely rank as the greatest West Indian batsman. His more recent rivals shone in strong teams. Headley scintillated in weak sides relying very largely on him for their runs. To average 66 in such circumstances was a remarkable performance.
I have seen Bradman score over 300 against England -- though not the innings in which he made 300 in a single day at Leeds. I saw Hutton's marathon 364 in an English total of 903 for seven declared at the Oval in 1938. I saw, too, McCabe's terrific 232 inside four hours at Nottingham during the same series.
I have seen many other superb innings, not forgetting the Hobbs masterpiece at the Oval in 1926. But I would rate Headley's two centuries in the Lord's Test of 1939 as the outstanding Test batting performance. He triumphed in a side that could give him so little support that England lost only seven wickets in the match on their way to an overwhelming victory.
Headley, physically small, had both courage and vast ability. He was a magnificent player who scored his centuries in England and Australia no less surely than on his native West Indian pitches.
Similarly Bradman can be named as Australia's number one batsman with equal confidence. The brilliance of Trumper and Macartney cannot stand against the feats of The Don. Only in his final Test innings at the Oval in 1948 did his average drop below 100, because he was then bowled by Hollies, the English leg-break bowler, for nought.
He was despatched in a moment of sentiment. When he walked to the wicket for the last time in a Test, the ovation from spectators was already enough to mist the eyes, and at the wicket the English fielders clustered to give him three cheers.
Eighteen years earlier on the same historic ground Hobbs had been similarly received on the occasion of his final Test innings. He saw through the mists sufficiently to score nine. Hobbs was to England what Bradman was to Australia, the greatest batsman.
Men of the past, who could recall seeing W.G. Grace and who saw the batsmen of the Golden Age of Cricket early this century, when amateur batsmen such as Ranjitsinhji, Fry, Jackson and MacLaren and professionals such as J.T. Tyldesley and Tom Hayward flourished, conceded first place to Hobbs. Those of us who have since watched and greatly admired Hammond, Hutton, Compton and May have no reason to upset their ruling. I would rate Hammond, cricket's supreme athlete -- a player of glorious balance and grace in all he did as batsman, bowler and the game's greatest slip fielder -- as runner-up to Hobbs.
South Africa's leading batsman was surely H.W. Taylor, around whom their batting was built before and after the First World War. Just before that war Taylor alone could play the bowling of Sidney Barnes. In four matches of the series Barnes took 49 wickets at only 10.93 runs each. Yet Taylor scored 508 runs, average 50.80. When he played his final series against England 17 years later his average was only fractionally below 50.
Of similar eminence in Indian Test cricket was V.M. Merchant, though he cannot be claimed as his country's greatest batsman. Before India played Test cricket Ranjitsinhji, Duleepsinhji and Pataudi represented England, and each scored a century in his first Test against Australia.
Ranji would be recognised as the leader of the trio, though if he was appreciably better than Duleep, whose career was interrupted and then cut short by ill health, he must have been quite amazing.
Add Donnelly as New Zealand's number one, with Dempster in second-place, and the list is well nigh complete, for Pakistan's cricket life is brief. Hanif Mohammed has so far been their leading batsman, possessor of cricket's endurance record, 16 hours 39 minutes of batting while making 337 at Barbados in 1958.
Batsmen have generally been known individually. There have been famous batting teams in Test cricket, of whom the most distinguished has been Hobbs and Sutcliffe. Hobbs also had a great partnership with Rhodes, and more recently Compton and Edrich were jointly household names. There has also been one renowned triumvirate, the three W's of West Indies. Otherwise batsmen have usually been recognised on their own.
In the English side amateurs long predominated among the early Test batsmen from the days of Grace until the First World War, and again in recent years they have forced the professionals into the background. The first great professional batsman was Shrewsbury, but their golden age followed the war, when Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Woolley and Hendren were followed by Hammond and Leyland, then by Hutton and Compton.
Australia's best batsman of the early Test days was Murdoch, and in a long line of illustrious successors Giffen, Sid Gregory, Joe Darling, Clem Hill, Trumper, Armstrong, MacArtney, Bardsley, Ponsford, Woodfull, Bradman, McCabe, Morris and Neil Harvey command mention.
Bowlers more obviously have hunted in pairs. Turner and Ferris set the trend long ago. Turner, nicknamed the Terror, was a right-hander of fast medium pace, distinguished by the same sort of haste from the pitch which later was among Maurice Tate's bowling weapons. Ferris was a left-hander. In two successive tours, 1888 and 1890, they took 964 English wickets, including 51 in five Tests.
The combination of quick right and slower left has been repeated successfully many times since. Lohmann and Briggs, then Richardson and Peel were similar English pairs in the same period. The same George Lohmann, quick medium off-spinner, took 35 South African wickets for only 5.8 runs each in their first series of three Tests in 1895-96.
Perhaps the greatest combination was one of pace, formed by Sidney Barnes and the left-handed Frank Foster. Their great bowling -- 66 wickets in the Tests -- won the 1911-12 series against such Australian batsmen as Trumper, Hill, Bardsley, Ransford, Armstrong, Macartney, Minnett and Kelleway.
Certainly few will dispute that Barnes was Test cricket's finest bowler. His outstanding feat was at Melbourne in 1911-12. On a perfect pitch at the start of the second Test he dismissed Kelleway, Bardsley, Hill and Armstrong for one run in five overs.
As a fast-medium bowler he spun the ball each way, and as a medium-pacer of similar method in his middle sixties, just before the 1939 war, he was still a superb bowler.
The most illustrious partnership of slow spinners was undoubtedly that of Grimmett and O'Reilly, not that O'Reilly was exactly slow. As his great predecessors Spofforth and Turner had been called the Demon and the Terror, so Bill O'Reilly became Tiger O'Reilly. Recently, Laker and Lock have been another famed and feared alliance of slow spinners.
Teams of fast bowlers have been numerous, Gregory and McDonald, whose action was surely the loveliest ever possessed by a fast bowler, Larwood and Voce, Lindwall and Miller and Tyson, and Statham among them.
Lindwall was the craftiest quick bowler we have seen in modern times, and Hall, I fancy, the fastest, slightly in front of Tyson and Larwood, though perhaps Lindwall's express, which he used sparingly, was as quick as anything Hall can bowl.
Hall continues the West Indies fast bowling tradition built up by such as Constantine, Francis, Griffith and Martindale. Despite the splendid all-spin combination formed by Ramadhin and Valentine in 1950, speed has been the main glory of West Indies in the field.
While many bowlers have hunted in pairs, the South Africans in the early part of the century hunted in packs of googly bowlers. They seized delightedly on the discovery by B.J.T. Bosanquet of the off-break bowled with a leg-break action, which was first called a Bosie and since has been commonly termed a googly. Among such bowlers playing for South Africa at that time were Faulkner, one of the finest all-rounders in Test cricket, Schwarz, Vogler, Snooke and White.
Bosanquet introduced his discovery to the Australians during the English tour of 1903-4. They, too, exploited it with more success than the English, for their leg break and googly bowlers, Hordern, Mailey, Grimmett, O'Reilly, Fleetwood-Smith and Benaud, have been the best in Test cricket.
Some bowlers of great stature have not been linked with any particular partner, sometimes because there have not been suitable partners. In addition to any previously mentioned they include among Englishmen J. T. Hearne, Colin Blythe, Verity and Bedser, among Australians H.F. Boyle, G.E. Palmer, Hugh Trumble and J.V. Saunders, and India's Amar Singh, a fast-medium bowler to be mentioned in the same breath as Tate and Bedser.
A curiosity of Test cricket -- the game generally for that matter -- has been the fact that as more efficient protection has been manufactured for wicket-keepers they have retreated more and more from the stumps, until they have become mainly padded longstops.
The men of the last century stood up to the fastest bowlers. Until the Second World War the Test stumpers went back only for the express bowlers. Now they seldom stand up to a medium-pacer.
Australia have had a series of long-service stumpers. In early Test years Blackham kept wicket in 35 matches, then Kelly in 36, Carter in 28 and Oldfield in 54. They never had a wicket-keeping problem, nor have they had one recently with Grout available.
England changed wicket-keepers more often, though they, too, have usually had a regular since Lilley played in the first of his 36 Tests in 1896. Strudwick was the next regular, then Duckworth, Ames and finally the most acrobatically brilliant stumper of them all, Godfrey Evans, who played 91 times for England. South Africa's stars have been Sherwell and Cameron.
Much might be written about the many all-rounders of Test cricket, but space permits only brief mention of the great, from the early days of Ulyett of England and Giffen of Australia to Miller, Bailey, Davidson, Benaud and Mankad of recent years.
A host spanned the years between Ulyett and Benaud. We may leave Australians to decide whether Noble or Miller was their best allrounder, unless, of course, they prefer Jack Gregory or Armstrong. England's all-rounders have included Jackson, Hirst, Rhodes, Crawford, Johnny Douglas, Woolley, Frank Foster and Hammond.
Faulkner headed South Africa's list, followed by Llewellyn, and the West Indies had the incomparable Learie Constantine. His Test record was modest for one of his talent, but he played such energetic, non-stop cricket that no game in which he figured could be dull.
The parade of giants during the 86 years of Test history is far from complete. No mention yet of Douglas Jardine the iron man of cricket, and George Gunn the erratic genius, nor of Plum Warner the diplomat and Lord Tennyson the courageous, who after splitting his hand seriously, scored 63 and 36 virtually one handed against Gregory and McDonald at Leeds in 1921.
And no mention of two superb cricketers who died tragically early, Archie Jackson of Australia and Collie Smith of the West Indies, who otherwise would surely have come to be recognised among the greatest batsmen. However large the number of brilliant players, we can ill spare cricketers as gifted as Jackson and Smith.