There is justifiable pomp and ceremony going on up in Durham at the moment as the raring-to-go Riverside revs up for its first taste of Test cricket. A special clock at Chester-le-Street has been counting down the seconds till the match starts - possibly with Durham's own Steve Harmison bowling the first ball, if the fates conspire to get the toss right.

That clock was set in motion 101 days before the match. Why 101? Well, it has been 101 years since England last tried a new Test ground. That was Bramall Lane, in Sheffield, which staged the third Test of the 1902 Ashes series. Australia won by 143 runs, with Clem Hill scoring the only century - and England never played there again. It's unlikely that Chester-le-Street will be such a one-cap wonder.

The 1903 Wisden intoned that the defeat was "a severe disaster for England", but observed: "The match - the first of its kind ever decided at Bramall Lane - naturally proved a strong attraction, but a mistake was made in fixing it for the latter part of the week, Monday being always the best day for public cricket at Sheffield."

Nowadays the Sheffield public can't see first-class cricket on any day of the week, as Bramall Lane cannot stage it any more. Even in 1902 it was primarily a football ground - Sheffield United's - and in 1973 a stand was built across what was the square to make the ground a proper four-sided soccer stadium. In case you're wondering why England played there anyway, it's probably because Yorkshire's headquarters were at Bramall Lane until they moved to Headingley in 1903. (That didn't stop them playing a Test at Headingley in 1899, though.)

In fact, in 1902 they liked the new-ground idea so much they tried it twice. Three weeks before the Bramall Lane game, England and Australia kicked off the Ashes series in the first match ever staged at Edgbaston. We have some idea of the arrangements for that game, because Rowland Ryder, the son of Warwickshire's secretary at the time, wrote about it in his book Cricket Calling (Faber, 1995). Ryder recalled that his father had no assistant and no telephone. The only help in counting the gate receipts came from the groundsman, and they toiled till 3am to do it. Fortunately for the dedicated duo, Tests at the time were only scheduled to last three days.

The backroom staff at Chester-le-Street will number rather more than the secretary and a groundsman-cum-cashier. But some of them will still be awake at 3am before the Riverside's Big Day - especially if rain is threatened.

Steven Lynch is editor of Wisden CricInfo.