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Before The Ashes Cricket Series

Before The Ashes Cricket Series

This article concerns the very beginnings of the Ashes series in the nineteenth century. Whilst the birth of the Ashes can accurately be dated to 1882, cricket matches had previously been held between England and Australia for a number of years. Before the emergence of modern professionalism in the game of cricket, the game in England was played mainly by the upper classes on a strictly amateur basis. Indeed, throughout the world it was recognised as an amateur sport. That said, the early matches were privately funded affairs and, similar to other contests of the time, most matches were against odds.

The first tour of Australia, in 1861-62, was led by Heathfield Harman Stephenson who captained an England team put together by cafe owners Messrs Spiers and Pond. Stephenson was an accomplished all-rounder who could bowl fast-roundarm, he was a right-handed batter and an occasional wicketkeeper. This was not the first time that Stephenson had toured as a cricketer; a couple of years previously, he was a member of a 12 man cricket team to tour North America, a far cry from the number of personnel that tour with teams nowadays.

When the team arrived in Australia, they were surprised by the interest generated. Over 15000 turned up for the first match in Melbourne, and like the opposition in North America, England found themselves playing 22 opponents. The Australian team of raw talent even inflicted a couple of defeats on the England team.

George Parr was asked to captain a team for a further tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1864, having captained the team that toured North America some five years previous. George was known as “The Lion of the North”. He was a right-handed batter who bowled the occasional right-handed underarm. The team returned home unbeaten.

Charles Lawrence, who had toured Australia with HH Stephenson in 1861/62, and had remained there, coached, managed and played for a successful Aboriginal side that toured England in 1868 with great success, despite losing one of their number with tuberculosis.

What is now considered to be the first Test Match between England and Australia was played in 1877 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Once again the tour was privately funded, with the captain, James Lillywhite, and a team of English professionals taking on the Australians in an 11-a-side match, following a gruelling tour of New Zealand. Australia won the first match by 45 runs, with their batsman, Charles Bannerman, scoring Test crickets first century. England won the second match, also played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, by four wickets to square the series.

England returned to Australia in 1878. An attempt was made to make up the team completely with amateurs but it was found to be impossible. Two professional cricketers were drafted in from Yorkshire, and played the Australians at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in January 1879. Australia won the match, with Fred Spofforth taking 13 wickets for 110 runs.
Lord Harris, who had led the trip, concluded that betting on matches should be outlawed, as the players were using it to supplement their incomes. In total, Lord Harris’ side played 15 matches on tour, including one in New Zealand – a draw, and one in New York – a win. Of the 13 matches in Australia, they lost 3, where, apart from what has become known as the Third Test match, sides fielded more than 11 players.

The rivalry that has blossomed between Australia and England must not be under-estimated. To understand this it is necessary to return to the early matches between the two countries.

In the 1880 tour of England, the Australians found it hard to find suitable opposition, as doubt had been cast upon their ability. In saying that, the tourists played a total of 37 matches, including the first Test Match between the two on English soil. A hastily arranged match in September of that year at the Oval included the three Grace brothers, with WG scoring 152 of the England first innings total of 420. Following on, the Australians scored 327 in their second innings, but England won the match by 5 wickets. It was said that no contest had created such world-wide interest, and that over 44000 people attended the game over the 3 days.

In the following year, another privately funded tour to the Southern Hemisphere was arranged. This was the most ambitious tour to date, including 30 matches in America, Australia and New Zealand. There were four matches arranged against a full Australian side. As previously, the tour was blighted by the gambling that Lord Harris had highlighted on a previous tour. Australia won two matches and the other two were drawn; in fact, the first drawn match in Test history.

In their tour of England in 1882, the Australians played 33 first-class matches, and squeezed in another 5 matches on their four month tour. But the big one as far as the Australians were concerned was the Test match against England played at The Oval on 28th- 29th August.

It was here that the Ashes series was born following the 7 run win by Australia against the best that England could summon. And it was Spofforth who took 14 wickets for 90 runs in the match, and bowled his last 11 overs for 2 runs and 4 wickets, who proved to be the destroyer for Australia. An astonished Oval crowd fell silent, struggling to believe that England could possibly have lost to a colony. It was here that the foundations were laid for a sporting event that captures the imagination of both countries, and will continue to do so with the Ashes 2013. Following this humiliating defeat a mock obituary for English cricket was penned by Reginald Shirley Brooks, under the pseudonym “Bloobs”, and it appeared on 2nd September 1882 in The Sporting Times.

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