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Turning Points

The first Test

The international five-day game is born

Chandrahas Choudhury
The 1876-77 squad which played the first Test against Australia at Melbourne in March 1877 pictured shortly before they left England.  Back: Harry Jupp, Tom Emmett, Alfred Hogben (a sponsor of the trip), Allan Hill, Tom Armitage. Front: Ted Pooley, James Southerton, James Lillywhite jnr, Alfred Shaw, George Ulyett, Andrew Greenwood. On ground: Harry Charlwood, John Selby.

The England squad that toured Australia in 1876-77  •  ESPNcricinfo Ltd

For the first three quarters of the 19th century, the most important occasions in the cricketing universe were the matches played in England between teams like the North and the South, and the Gentlemen and the Players - professionals and amateurs. But from the late 1850s onwards, bands of enterprising cricketers began to tour other countries, mainly Australia. A game played in 1877 between James Lillywhite's all-professional side and a Combined Sydney and Melbourne XI at the MCG is regarded today as the first Test match. Hitherto, the Empire had usually trumped its outpost in games between the two, but Lillywhite's team was in for a surprise: Australian opener Charles Bannerman made a monumental 165 in the first innings, and though none of his team-mates went past 20 in the match, the home side still emerged victors by 45 runs.
One more "Test" was played in the series, which England won. Indeed, England continued to hold the edge over Australia for the rest of the century, winning 26 games to the latter's 20. But this first match, with the honours claimed by the underdog, was not only to kickstart the era of international cricket but also to give the game in Australia its own distinctive nature, settling for ever into its bedrock, in the words of Ronald Mason, "the inexhaustible self-confidence that is the outstanding characteristic of Australian cricket".

The Turning Points series was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine in 2003