First Test Match

England v Australia 1896

The first of the three Test matches proved an enormous attraction, the official return showing that on the opening day no fewer than 25,414 people paid for admission, The full attendance was estimated at nearly 30,000 but while this great crowd was in itself a compliment to the Australians it had a grave disadvantage. The field of play was seriously encroached up on, and it is to be feared that a good many of the people saw very little of the cricket. Under the circumstances it would hardly be fair to criticise the conduct of those present, but there was certainly an absence of the quiet and decorum usually characteristic of Lord's ground.

For two days the match was favoured with delightful weather, but the condition changed on the third morning, when a most inopportune fall of rain rendered Englands's task in the last innings far more difficult than it otherwise would have been. The committee of the MCC took the utmost pains in choosing the England eleven, and leaving aside the question of whether they were right or wrong in not asking Ranjitsinhji, there was little fault to be found with their final selection. The Australian team differed in two instances from the side that afterwards appeared at Manchester and the Oval, Graham and Eady being chosen to the exclusion of Iredale and McKibbin. Iredale had in the previous week seemed quite out of form, and McKibbin had so far done nothing to uphold his Australian reputation.

The match was the most sensational of the whole tour, its fortunes changing from time to time in a fashion that was quite bewildering. England won by six wickets, but before that gratifying end was reached some startling things happened. Trott had the good fortune to beat W. G. Grace in the toss for innings, and when the Australians went in to bat on a perfect wicket a score of at least 250 was confidently expected. To the amazement of everyone on the ground, however, the Australians failed in a fashion that has seldom been seen on a dry true pitch, being all got rid of by Richardson and Lohmann in an hour and a quarter for 53 runs. The Surrey bowlers did wonders, but lack of nerve on the part of the Australians must have been largely answerable for such an astounding collapse.

With the match to all appearance in their hands, England went in to bat soon after half past one, and when time was called at the close of the aftenoon, they had scored 286 for eight wickets. This was a very fair performance but at one time something much bigger seemed in prospect, 250 being on the board with only four men out. It must be admitted, however, that the Australian bowlers were far from fortunate in the support they received, Abel being palpably missed in the slips when he had scored nine, and W. G. Grace let off at long-on at 51. Abel, apart from his one chance, played a splendid innings, going in first wicket down at 38, and being out fifth at 256. He hit thirteen 4's, and was at the wickets three hours. Jackson, who in brilliant style scored 44 out of 69, palpably gave away his innings. The encroachment of the crowd prevented Darling catching him on the on side, and at once, he gave the fieldsman a second opportunity.

The attendance on the second day was only half as large as on Monday, a great many people evidently thinking the match as good as over. Those who stayed away, however, had reason to regret their want of faith in the Australians, as they missed seeing some of the finest cricket of the whole season. England's innings was quickly finished off for 292, and then the Australians, with a balance of 239 against them, went in for the second time. The early play suggested a repetition of Monday's breakdown. Darling and Eady being got rid of for three runs. Giffen and Trott, however, stayed together at the critical time and carried the score to 62.

Then on Giffen's dismissal, Gregory joined Trott, and a partnership commenced which as long as cricket is played will cause the match to be remembered. Getting together before one o'clock, the two batsmen resisted the England bowling for nearly two hours and three quarters, putting on in that time no fewer than 221 runs. Both played superbly, their cricket leaving no room whatever for adverse criticism. So far as could be seen, neither of them gave a chance, but the English players were positive that Trott, with his score at 61, was caught by Hayward in the slips. Gregory hit 17 fours in his 103, and Trott, who was batting nearly three hours and a half, struck 24 fours in his 143. When Gregory left at 283 the Australians were 44 runs ahead with six wickets to fall, and the position of England was certainly an anxious one. Richardson and J. T. Hearne, however, bowled in splendid form, and by six o'clock the innings ended for 347, the last six wickets having gone down for 64 runs. Donnan batted practically with one hand.

England wanted only 109 to win, and at the call of time they had scored 16 for the loss of Abel's wicket. Had the ground remained firm and dry, the finish of the game on Wednesday morning would no doubt have been uneventful, but rain quite altered the condition of the pitch, and the Englishmen had a vastly more difficult task than they had expected. Thanks chiefly to Brown and Stoddart, they hit off the runs for the loss of four wickets, but it might have gone desperately hard with them if the Australians had accepted all the chances offered. Kelly, standing back to Jones's bowling, was especially at fault.

© John Wisden & Co