Today, March 15th 2012, marks a very special day in the cricketing calendar. It is, of course, the 135th birthday of Test cricket.
The oldest and longest format of the game was born all those years ago on March 15th 1877, when Australia and England took to the field in Melbourne. Australia won the inaugural Test by 45 runs, with opening batsman Charlie Bannerman scoring 165 to record Test cricket’s first century.
Test cricket has greatly evolved since that day in Melbourne. Whether it be through the abolishment of ‘Timeless Tests’ to make way for the modern five day game that we all know and love, or the tinkering of laws as various flaws were ironed out, one thing has remained unchanged: the Test arena is one for only the very finest of cricketers; a place where each and every participant will face the toughest physical and mental challenges of their careers, and the stage upon which they have an opportunity to seize immortality. Plenty have taken that opportunity, achieving feats that have echoed through the ages and leaving devotees with more than just a transient memory.
To those that have entertained, to those that have left indelible memories in our hearts and minds, and to those that have given blood, sweat and tears for the glory of their nation: we salute you and are truly thankful.
In the modern era Test cricket is under ever increasing threat. A proliferation of limited overs cricket in particular has started to take its toll on this king of formats, and it is surely the duty of every single person in a position of power within cricket to ensure that the tradition, values and status of Test cricket that began on that day 135 years ago is cherished, preserved and enhanced. Test cricket remains strong, but with prudent remedial action those in power can do their part to ensure that, another 135 years from now, someone else is sat in my very place reflecting on Test cricket’s greatest moments over its 270 year life span.
To mark this special day, in ascending order, here are my five greatest moments in the history of Test cricket:
5) Don Bradman dismissed for a duck in his final Test innings
Whilst the retirement of the peerless Sir Don Bradman was a great moment to celebrate the career of the finest batsman that ever lived, it is also perhaps the most poignant in the history of Test cricket. In 1948, arriving at the crease needing only four runs to complete his career with a Test batting average of 100, The Don was bowled for a second ball duck by English leg-spinner Eric Hollies. Surely amongst the most memorable moments in the history of Test cricket.
4) Jimmy Mathews takes the only double hat-trick in Test cricket
Mathews, an Australian leg-spinner, took a hat-trick in each of South Africa’s innings during a Test match at Manchester in 1912. Incredibly, Mathews took both hat-tricks within the same day of play, and failed to take any more wickets for the duration of the Test. A feat that is unlikely to be achieved again.
3) Brian Lara scores 400 not out
In 2004 West Indian batting legend Brian Charles Lara became the first and only man in the history of Test cricket to score 400 runs in a single innings. Batting first on a placid pitch against England Lara hit a gargantuan 43 boundaries and four maximums. Again, a record that is likely to endure through the ages.
2) Jim Laker takes 19 wickets in an innings
Old Trafford, 1956. England’s off-break bowler Jim Laker took 19 of the 20 Australian wickets to fall, and became the first man to take all ten wickets in a single innings. Match figures of 68-27-90-19 provide the finest match bowling returns in the history of Test cricket – don’t expect it to be bettered any time soon.
1) The Ashes are born
Test cricket’s oldest series, and one that was named in 1882 after a mock obituary claiming that English cricket had died (with the body to be cremated and taken to Australia) was published in the Sporting Times following England’s defeat to Australia on English soil for the first time, has led to some of the greatest Test matches. The 2005 series, perhaps the greatest series in Test cricket’s long history, came close to making the top five alone. “The Demon Bowler” Australia’s Fred Spofforth took 14 wickets for 90 runs in the match as England capitulated to 77 all out chasing a second innings total of 85 to win at The Oval. Alleged to contain the ashes of a bail taken from that Oval Test match, a tiny urn was presented to England captain Ivo Bligh in Melbourne during the following series between the sides in Australia, a relic that has been awarded to the winner to this very day.
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