Cricket - The hallowed English sport & the first ever 'Ashes' - 1882

After more than two years working on The Football History Boys, it came to our attention that our readership were beginning to really engage with the history of sport. From this we sent out a recent survey asking whether or not TFHB should branch out to look deeper into other sports like rugby, tennis, cricket etc. The feedback was overwhelming and so from today The Football History Boys is to be joined by a secondary site - The Sporting History Boys.

The Cricket World Cup, the biggest one day tournament in professional cricket is currently taking place. However for England fans who have experienced so much success in recent years, the 2015 competition could be considered one of the lowest points for several decades. England were dumped out at the Pool stage after 5 matches, losing 4 in miserable fashion whilst only winning 1 against Scotland. The mess that is the England and Wales cricket team has been likened to that first Ashes loss back in 1882. England gave the world the great sport of cricket yet was on the receiving end of a beating from its colony. That Test Match defeat gave way to one of the greatest rivalries in the history of sport, "The Ashes" and in 2015 it shall take place once more!

As The Football History Boys begins it expansion into all different types of sport, I take a look at one of the fantastic, trailblazing events that held mould modern cricket. To do that I must first take you to Ben and I's Sport and Society lectures in Swansea University. The esteemed sports historian Martin Johnes took us through a timeline of the growth of professional sport, through the lens of gender, class, the economy etc. Cricket's greatest source of growth came via the British Empire. 

In the 19th century, the British Empire was known to be so big that "the sun never set" on it. says this about the mighty and power of the Britsh Empire:  "At its peak, the British Empire was the largest formal empire that the world had ever known. As such, its power and influence stretched all over the globe; shaping it in all manner of ways." Sport in particular was majorly effected by a spread of British nationals across the world, those travelling taking their favourite sports with them. Of course temperate affected which sports prospered, the incredibly hot climates of India and Australia seeing the game of cricket favoured over the likes of football.

Sport was taken worldwide by the British - An Indian polo team above
Cricket was a sport engrained in the fabric of British society, Henry Newbolt published a poem in 1892 called 'Vitaï Lampada'. It refers to a solider who is a former public schoolboy. The first verse talks about being 10 runs from victory with your last wicket left: 
"There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night --
Ten to make and the match to win --
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his Captain's hand on his shoulder smote --
'Play up! play up! and play the game!'" [1]
Newbolt likens this to the discipline and camaraderie of being on the battle field. Vitaï Lampada can be used to explain some of the attitudes towards cricket, the hallowed English sport. George Harris, England's second ever captain was a star at the time but did not feature in that first Ashes test. Harris said of the sport "cricket is not only a game but a school of the greatest social importance". [2] He tells of the upper class nature of cricket, the gentleman's game. This meant that professionalism was outlawed and captain had to be amateurs, of course meaning they were not paid the privilege to play.

The iconic W.G. Grace
Perhaps the first ever sporting celebrity developed during this period, W.G. Grace. Born William Gilbert, W.G. would become how he was best known, his initials a sign of his amateur status. However Grace was not just playing for the love of the game and in-fact became very rich thanks to a healthy payment of "expenses" for travel and the advertising he would eventually receive. Richard Holt records his hard work and effort in the cricket whites but also his draw to gamesmanship, a bet and even organising the odd testimonial in which he would receive a hefty chunk of money. [3]

Grace was so widely regarded that even the famous creator of detective Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, wrote a poem about the time he took his wicket. Conan Doyle was a keen amateur cricketer and during one first class game once sent Grace back to the pavilion. [4] The 19 verse piece describes in detail the wicket as Grace was caught behind to Conan Doyle's delight: 
"Once in my heyday of cricket, One day I shall ever recall! I captured that glorious wicket, The greatest, the grandest of all..." 
"...Out – beyond question or wrangle! Homeward he lurched to his lunch! His bat was tucked up at an angle, His great shoulders curved to a hunch. Walking he rumbled and grumbled, Scolding himself and not me; One glove was off, and he fumbled, Twisting the other hand free." [5] 
So to the first ever 'Ashes' cricket match... well first off it's important to note the Ashes story only happened after the ninth test meeting between the countries. England had been on the losing side in a tour to Australia but on English soil they were undefeated. In 1882 a one-off test match was arranged between the two, starting on the 28th August. The match would take place in London's The Oval, featuring Albert Hornby as the Cheshire born England captain and Billy Murdoch as Australia's Melbourne born skipper.

Murdoch won the toss and elected the bat first with things firmly starting in England's favour. The Aussies lasted 80 overs (only 4 balls per over) but within two hours they were facing humiliation as they posted 63 all out. Only 3 players managed to make it into double figures with Tom Garrett scoring 10 from 38, wicket-keeper Jack Blackham top scoring with 17 from 54 and captain Murdoch notching a slow 13 from 64 balls, keeping his wicket in tact. England's bowling stars were Ted Peate with 4 for 31 and Dick Barlow with 5 for 19. [6]

The 1882 Australian cricket team. (Credit: Guardian)
The hosts were in control and England would respond by putting on a disappointing 101 off 71.3 overs. Top scorers for England were Maurice Read with a 19 from 45 balls and George Ulyett with 26 off 59. The first innings though, was dominated by the bowlers and in particular the pace of Fred Spafforth the 29-year-old Australians. The ICC Hall of Fame inductee of 2011 posted a Test best of 7 wickets for just 46 runs. Holt records how Spafforth "took the wicket of W.G. Grace with his second ball in a match against the MCC during the first Australian tour of England in 1878." He says this "gave notice of a new power in the world of cricket" [7] and the "demon bowler" showed it again in 1882.

As England's last wicket of Peate fell, stumps were called with The Oval seeing the favourites lead by 38 after Day One. Into the second day and the hosts wished to keep the momentum up. However Australia passed their first first innings total before losing a wicket before Hugh Massie fell on an impressive 55 from 60 balls, bowled by Allan Steel. The resistance was broken and Australia lost Bonner, Bannerman, Horan and Griffen in quick succession for just 13 runs, leaving the visitors on 79/5. Captain Billy Murdoch took the initiative to steady the ship with 29 off 55 without losing his wicket (meaning England failed to dismiss him consecutively) but the rest collapsed to 122 all out off 63 overs.

Fred Spofforth destroyed England... Twice in two days!

So the target was set, England would need to chase just 85 to beat those they had once taught the game to. Captain Hornby and Grace would open the order but only 15 was on the scorecard when the first man fell, Hornby for 9 off 17. Next up was Dick Barlow, in an out again within minutes, clean bowled by Spafforth for a golden duck. Ulyett and Grace built a decent partnership of 36 for the third wicket, Ulyett then Grace falling within two balls of each other to Spofforth and Boyle respectively. Grace had showed his ability with 32 from 54 balls but his teammates just disintegrated as Spafforth ramped up the pressure. Alfred Lyttelton made a slow, slow 12 but his wicket so a dismal display by the second half of the batting order. No further partnership made more than 4 runs between them, the ducks of Steel, Read and Studd adding to the earlier one of Barlow. 

England stumbled to 75/8 as Lucas fell too for 5. The hosts needed just 10 for victory and reports suggest many spectators couldn't deal with the tension. However they did not have long to wait... Despite Fred Spafforth's heroics it was Harry Boyle who claimed the winning wickets. the very next over for just two balls. England were all out for 77, the hosts, the inventors of the game, the side that had never lost in England, were defeated. Australia had pulled off a spectacular upset and straight away the criticism began. The home fans congratulated the Australians, particularly Spafforth who recorded 7 for 44 in the second innings, making his match stats a remarkable 14 wickets for a measly 90 runs.

In the days that followed, the newspapers had a field day. Some posting obituaries to English cricket. The Tamworth Herald called the match "the greatest event in the cricket world that has ever happened" as England lost to "the Colonists by seven runs". [8] The Sheffield Telegraph meanwhile praised "the Colonists" in the field, adding "the bowling of Spafforth will not be forgotten for many a day". [9] Of course the most famous mock-obituary being published by The Sporting Times on 2 September 1882, the notice that began the 'Ashes' legend (below). 

The famous obituary posted by The Sporting Times

The weeks following saw both sides use the term to building up the return tour to Australia. Ivo Bligh, new England captain, promising to regain "The Ashes". England travelled to Australia and began the quest for revenge on 30 December 1882 but lost the first test by 9 wickets. The next two though were sweet as during January 1883, England won Match Two by an innings and 27 runs before winning the decider to reclaim bragging rights by 69 runs at Sydney Cricket Ground. 

There are plenty of theories surrounding the little urn that is fought over to this day but it is understood by many that Ivo Bligh was presented with "The Ashes" upon victory as a personal gift. After his death in 1927 they were passed on to Marylebone Cricket Club to be kept at Lords Cricket Ground. So unlike many may believe, the urn played for every campaign in recent years did not appear immediately after the historic match in 1882, neither did the term "The Ashes" which disappeared from public usage.

The Ashes have lead to some phenomenal sporting moments!
In 1903 Pelham Walker claimed he wished to regain the ashes from Australia's grasp when talking about the Test Series and from the 1920s "The Ashes" became synonymous with the rivalry between the two countries as the media adopted it. Since then the official record stands at 32 series wins for Australia, 31 wins for England with 5 drawn series. This summer marks the 69th "official" battle for the urn but with England currently in a slump, will the boys be able to take the title from the Australians in July?

By Gareth Thomas (Check us out on Twitter: @GJ_Thomas, @TSHBs & @TFHBs or 'like' our Facebook: TFHB & TSHB)


[1] Read the whole poem 'Vitaï Lampada' here.
[2] Cricket's Crazy Moments (Marks and Spencer PLC: Chester, 2010), p. 89. 
[3] Richard Holt, 'Sport and the British: A modern history' (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1989), p. 101-102.
[4] Cricket's Crazy Moments, p. 28-29.
[5] Read the whole poem 'A Reminiscence of Cricket' here.
[6] Scorecard for the game over at
[7] Holt, p. 229.
[8] Tamworth Herald, 2 September 1882, p.3. (Via British Newspaper Archive).
[9] Sheffield Telegraph, 29 August 1882, p. 3. (Via British Newspaper Archive).


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