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Great Test Matches - Gulu Ezekiel Column
by Gulu Ezekiel
Aug 28, 2008
Test cricket was born in Melbourne on March 15, 1877 when an XI of Australians-in actuality consisting only of players from Melbourne and Sydney-defeated an XI of Englishmen in a four-day match.

But it would take another seven years for a Melbourne newspaper to describe the contests between England and Australia as 'tests'. It was after a further eight years that this game received the accolade of the first Test match. Thus none of the participants at the time were even vaguely aware that they were a part of sporting history. Indeed at the time the match was called the 'Grand Combination Match'.

However, the fact that both sides consisted of eleven players added to its sanctity as till then English touring sides would find themselves pitted against teams of 18 and even 22 players.

The tourists led by James Lillywhite were the fourth team to visit Australia since 1861 and like the home side, was not fully representative as they only included professionals. That meant the mighty WG Grace who at the time was at the peak of his powers, was left behind in England.

The Australians were without some of their best players including legendary fast bowler Fred Spofforth (who declined to play) while England's wicket-keeper Ted Pooley found himself on the wrong side of the law and behind bars on the New Zealand leg of the tour.

In fact Lillywhite's men had to play the match just 24 hours after returning from a rough sea voyage from across the Tasman that left them feeling shaky and unwell.

Australia's captain Dave Gregory won the toss and his opening batsmen Charles Bannerman and Nat Thompson went out to face fast bowler Alfred Shaw at 1.05 p.m.

The 25-year-old Kent-born Bannerman faced Test cricket's first delivery from the 34-year-old Shaw while his partner became the first batsman to fall, bowled by Allen Hill for one in the fourth over. Hill would also take the first Test catch, next man Tom Horan for 12 off Shaw's bowling.

The day had started with just 2,000 spectators at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. By the next there were 5,000, mainly to watch Bannerman.

It was to be the only first-class century of his career and the first in the history of Test cricket. And still after all these years Bannerman's 165 (retired hurt) remains the highest individual contribution to any Test innings. When play ended at 5 p.m. on the first day the opener was still batting on 126 in his side's score of 166 for 6! He had received a 'life' when on 9.

Bannerman was to play only two more Tests in his career. But he secured for all time his special place in the annals of international cricket.

The fans who were keen to watch their hero bat on and on must have been disappointed when Bannerman was forced to retire hurt. The burly all-rounder George Ulyett was troubling all the batsmen with his pace and lift and one of those lifters struck Bannerman and split open a finger, forcing him to go off with the total reading 240 for 7. He had batted for 285 minutes and hit 18 fours.

The injured centurion could not resume and the Australian innings was terminated at 245, Shaw and off-spinner James Southerton both picking up three wickets. Next highest scorer was Tom Garrett with 18 not out.

Considering the state of the pitch and the relative inexperience of the Colonials, this was an impressive total, one that proved too much for the Englishmen.

Opener Harry Jupp top scored with 63. But the rest of the batsmen struggled against another England-born Aussie, Billy Midwinter who finished with figures of 5 for 78 (from 54 overs) with his medium-pacers. At the time an over consisted of four balls.

Australia went in to bat again with a lead of 49 runs, something few among the spectators or indeed the players themselves could possibly have imagined at the start of the match.

Bannerman was still struggling with the injury with his hand bandaged and when he was first to go for 4, the rest of the batting folded up dramatically for just 104. Captain Gregory recorded the highest score of 20. Shaw, bowling unchanged throughout the innings picked up five wickets to finish with match analysis of 8 for 89.

England were now chasing 154 for victory on the final day. But it proved beyond their reach. Lillywhite drastically changed the batting order with new openers Hill and Andrew Greenwood both falling to left-arm spinner Tom Kendall with just seven on the board.

Kendall's spin proved mesmerising. Half the side was sent packing for only 62 even as the crowd, now swollen to 12,000 in anticipation of a famous victory, watched in mounting excitement and a certain amount of disbelief too.

England never recovered. They limped to 108 all out (John Selby 38) and Australia had won by 45 runs.

Kendall was the star performer with 7 for 55. But like Bannerman, the other Aussie hero, Kendall too would never again be able to match this feat.

Smarting from their shock defeat, the Englishmen demanded a re-match. They got it and won it too by four wickets at the same venue two weeks later.

But that could not dampen the euphoria that swept across the continent. It was the first time the 'Mother Country' had been beaten by the Colonials in an even contest and the Aussie media saluted the new heroes.

The Daily News of Sydney hailed the triumph as epoch-making: "Up to this year England had at least led the world in cricket. An Australian XXII might play an English XI with a fair chance of not being defeated, but to be defeated in a cricket contest man to man by the natives of an island comparatively lately discovered is too much. In this distant land a generation has arisen which can play the best bowlers of the time."

Exactly 100 years later at the same venue and in an astonishing coincidence, Australia defeated England in the Centenary Test by the identical margin of 45 runs. But that is another story.
 
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