The month of March is special to the three oldest Test cricket playing countries – England, Australia and South Africa. All three began their respective Test cricket histories in March.
We know the 15th of March as the Ides of March: the day on which Brutus and Co. stabbed Julius Caesar to death. So perhaps it does not augur well to commence Test cricket history on that day? But then, that’s how it was. The first-ever Test cricket match was played on the Ides of March of the year 1877, Down Under. This month, it would be apt to recall what happened in that very first Test Match.
(Incidentally, the Ranchi Test match between India and Australia started exactly a day after the 140th anniversary of Test cricket.)
The first ball ever to be delivered in a Test match was by the right-hand medium-pacer Alfred Shaw of England. The batsman who faced this ball was also the first one to score a Test century; and this was in this very Test match, which also made him the first cricketer to score a ton on debut!
Sadly, this happened to be what we know as ‘the one swallow which does not make a summer’, or a flash in the pan. Bannerman went on to play just 5 more Test innings, and scored more than 25 in only one of them. He ended his Test career with just three Test matches under his belt. He was also the first cricketer to be retired hurt…effectively making that century on debut an unbeaten one.
The first wicket-taker in Test cricket history happened to be Allan Hill, who opened the bowling with Shaw. He scalped the Aussie Nathaniel Thompson – castling him for just 1 run. Hill also took the very first catch in Test cricket, giving Shaw his first Test wicket. The first-ever duck was scored by the Aussie #11 – fast bowler John Hodges, bowled by his Pommie counterpart (as far as opening the bowling is concerned, that is) Alfred Shaw.
We use the term ‘Mankaded’ quite often now. Run-outs could also be christened ‘Gregoried’ in general, after the Aussie skipper in the March 15, 1877 Test match – D W Gregory – who was the first batsman to be run out.
Test cricket of course started off as a boring and drab affair, with the Aussies scoring at a rate of about 1.4 runs per over in their first innings. John Hodges got another first to his name, when he became the first Aussie bowler to bag a Test wicket.
Henry Jupp got into the record books as the first Englishman to score a half-century, while William Midwinter (Australia) became the first-ever bowler to bag a 5-wicket haul in Tests. How about a new term, ‘do a Midwinter’, even if the match is being played in the hot summer months? It would be interesting to see how Jupp got out, LBW; the first batsmen to have done so – again, perhaps ‘Jupped’ would be a nice coinage! Shaw did a Midwinter when the Aussies came to bat again, and the left-arm spinner Thomas Kendall bowled the Aussies to victory, by doing better than Midwinter and Shaw. He bagged 7 wickets in the last innings of the Test match!
It was then on the 12th of March, 1889, that another country made its debut in Test cricket – South Africa. This Test match was also played in the southern hemisphere (like the first Test, 12 years prior to it) at Port Elizabeth, close to the southern tip of the African continent. The common factor between this one and the Melbourne Test was Britannia, who ruled the waves at the time.
England would go on to win this match. Albert Innes opened the batting for the Proteas and was dismissed for a duck. He however, became the first South African to ‘do a Midwinter’, if I may write so, when England came in to bat. This one, like the 1877 one, was however, a good Test match, which yielded a result in the end, a far cry from the tame draws which characterised most of Test cricket for a very long time afterward.
So, as India played Australia twice (with another Test coming up) in the month of March this year – the 141st one in the history of test cricket, the Aussies would recall that very first match played in March in 1877 in which they defeated their ‘rulers’, England. It is also close to 85 years since India played its first-ever Test Match at the Mecca of cricket.
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