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All rights reserved. You may not copy, distribute, transmit, reproduce or otherwise make available this content in any form or by any means. Early Days: 1876‒77 to1882
It should be borne in mind that the early encounters between sides representing England and Australia were more business ventures than international sporting contests. The very first tour of Australia by an English cricket team, in 1861–62, had only taken place because the sponsors, Spiers & Pond, had no luck tempting Charles Dickens to come out for a lecture tour. Most of these pioneering trips were done for profit, rather than the good of the game (it’s tempting to bracket them alongside the modern-day ICL, IPL, EPL and every other sort of L).
The other important factor to remember is that few of the early tours involved really representative sides. For example, the England side in what has come to be accepted as the very first Test of all, at Melbourne in March 1877, was some way from being the best XI the country could have mustered, not least because it was an all-professional outfit –which meant no amateurs like W. G. Grace, by far the leading player of the time. But that match has claimed its place in cricket history for two main reasons: it was the first time sides representing England and Australia had met on level terms – i.e. 11 a side – and the fact that Australia won upset the accepted order of things.
The Englishmen demanded a return fixture, which they won, and the ball was well and truly set in motion. Another side, this time with the odd amateur (but still Graceless), toured in 1878–79, lost again, and also ran into crowd trouble. Around this time Australian sides started making regular visits to what Wisdentended to call the “Mother Country”, and because of the limited player-base (cricket was then largely centred on Melbourne and Sydney) the teams tended to be nearer to full-strength. Again their trips were profit-making exercises (the players usually signed up for a share in any surplus).
Back in the Mother Country herself, little attention was paid to the efforts of the touring teams that went to Australia. Partly this was because of the difficulty in gaining information in those far-off days: it wasn’t terribly exciting to find out in your morning paper that England had won in Ballarat or Broken Hill three weeks previously. Wisden didn’t attempt to report the overseas matches properly until 1884: the almanack’s first detailed account of that inaugural Test in 1877 was printed 99 years later. Insularity played a part, too: when the “Colonials” came to Britain they were usually soundly beaten when something approaching the best available England side was put out, as happened at The Oval in 1880 in what is now accepted as the first Test match on English soil.
All this changed in 1882 when, also at The Oval, the Australians pulled off a nailbiting victory, by just seven runs, over the might of the whole of England (Grace and all). Fred Spofforth, Australia’s “Demon” bowler – the spiritual fore-runner of Gregory, McDonald,
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