First Test Match

England v Australia 1909

The Australians entered upon the first of the Test Matches under somewhat discouraging conditions. In the previous week they had after a couple of strenuous battles been beaten by Surrey at the Oval and the M.C.C. at Lord's, and the fact of their having suffered two defeats so early in their tour naturally made them anxious. Moreover, several members of the team had not found their form. Even in the first match there was on the part of the Selection Committee a curious indecision as to the choice of the England side, no fewer than fifteen players having been asked to be in readiness at Edgbaston. The final choice was determined in a great measure by the condition of the ground. A lot of rain had fallen at Birmingham on the previous day and during the night, and a drenching shower shortly before eleven involved a long delay in starting the game. There was a heavy downpour about half past twelve, and not until five o'clock was cricket considered practicable. Of the fifteen English players Hayward, Albert Relf, Walter Brearley and Gilbert were left out. Hayward's knee was not sound, and the pitch was considered too soft to suit either Relf or Brearley. In the circumstances the selection was perhaps the best that could have been made, but once in the course of the match England were a little short of bowling. The Australians left out Laver, McAllister, Hopkins, Carkeek and Hartigan.

Winning the toss the Australians seemed to have gained a considerable advantage, the wicket at the start being so soft and wet that a good deal of sawdust had to be used. However, the batsmen did not take advantage of their opportunities. Owing to bad light nothing was done between half past five and about ten minutes past six, and in the little time available two wickets fell for 22 runs. The seciond day's play was full of interest. For the most part the wicket was slow and difficult but it improved during the afternoon, and towards the close the batting asserted itself. In the morning the Australians could never master Blythe and Hirst, who bowled unchanged, and in little more than an hour and a half the innings was finished off for 74. Armstrong and Noble were both batting for an hour, Noble's defence while Hirst was making the ball swerve in his most puzzling fashion being masterly. Apart from a couple of dropped catches, which made little difference to the game, the English fielding left no room for fault finding.

Going in against such a moderate total of 74, England had a great chance, but the advantage that Blythe and Hirst had gained for their side was soon lost, three wickets going down before lunch for 17 runs. Tyldesley and A.O. Jones made up for these disasters, putting on 41runs together in rather less than an hour, but with five wickets down the total was only 61. Jessop hit up 22 runs in twenty minutes, but after he left no one could get the ball away and the innings ended for 121. Armstrong bowled wonderfully well and fully deserved his remarkable record of five wickets for 27 runs. He kept a perfect length to his leg breaks and was very difficult to play.

Forty-seven runs to the bad the Australians opened their second innings at five o'clock. In the fourth over with only four runs scored Macartney was leg before wicket, and at 16 Noble fell to a magnificent catch at forward short leg, Jones taking the ball low down with one hand. Ransford and Gregory, playing in fine form on the improving wicket, pulled the game round, and when bad light brought the day's play to a close the score had, without further loss reached 67. Rain fell heavily for some time after the drawing of stumps, but the ground was quite fit for cricket at eleven o'clock on the Saturday morning. The third day's cricket proved quite sensational. In the end England won by ten wickets, but up to a certain point nothing seemed less likely than such a victory. So well did Ransford and Gregory bat, the latter seizing every opportunity to score, that in half an hour the total reached 97, the Australians being 50 runs ahead with eight wickets in hand. Then came an astounding change, five wickets going down in the next half hour for nine runs. The turning point, as it happened, was the dismissal of Gregory. Rendered over confident by hitting a couple of 4's the batsman tried to pull a breaking ball from Blythe and was out to a beautifully judged catch by Thompson, who ran from mid on to short leg. The partnership for the third wicket produced 81 runs. Trumper, after an escape from being caught and bowled, was neatly taken at short leg, Ransford was bowled off his pads, Armstrong made a feeble hit into Jessop's hands at forward cover point and Carter was caught at long leg. Seldom has Armstrong thrown away his wicket so palpably, hitting out at Blythe before he had given himself any time to get the pace of the ground. With seven wickets down the Australians only held a lead of 59 runs, the position being desperate. Cotter hit fiercely for two or three overs, and O'Connor and Whitty put on 26 for the last wicket, but at twenty minutes to one the innings was over for 151.

England wanted 105 to win, and as it happened, Hobbs and Fry hit off the runs in an hour and a half, without being separated. Hobbs from the first played superbly, but Fry seemed strangely anxious and had only just settled down when the match ended. The cricket at the finish was dazzling, Hobbs pulling Macartney round to square leg for three 4's, and Fry making the winning hit- a four to square leg, all run. Hirst and Blythe had the chief share in England's victory. Except for five overs on the second afternoon they bowled unchanged, and all the wickets fell to them, Blythe taking eleven and Hirst nine. Hirst worked untiringly and Blythe was full of clever devices.

© John Wisden & Co