Perhaps the apt way to begin a list of England’s firsts is by stating the obvious – on Wednesday, 1 August, they will become the first ever team to reach the milestone of 1000 Tests.
Let that sink in a bit … 1000 Tests. It was a journey that began back in Victorian times, when the world, and indeed the sport, was unrecognisable from what it is today.
Cricket has come a long way, and England, the sport’s early pace-setters, were its pioneers, playing a huge role in shaping it.
Here’s a list of things they did, mostly before anyone else.
England and Australia played the sport’s first official Test, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground from 15 to 19 March 1877. Australia won the match by 45 runs, largely thanks to Charles Bannerman’s 165. Bannerman helped Australia post 245 in the first innings, and though England fought back with 196, Harry Jupp scoring a half-century, Australia added 104 in the second innings before bundling out England for 108.
James Lillywhite (jnr) led England out for the first time in that historic first Test. A left-arm spinner, he would go on to play another Test as well, later that month, and was said to be a capable umpire in later years.
England didn’t have to wait long for their first victory. In the second Test at the same venue, England would prevail by four wickets for their first ever win in the format. A thrilling encounter in which both sides put in all-round displays, it had England chase down a target of 121, despite being 9/3, thanks to George Ulyett’s half-century.
Allen Hill, a round-arm medium paceman, had the honour of being England’s first wicket-taker. He had Nat Thomson bowled for just one in that first Test – it would be his only wicket of the innings. He would go on to pick up 4/27 in the first innings of the second Test, though.
It had to be him: WG Grace. Cricket’s first superstar scored the first ever Test century by an Englishman, stroking a 294-ball 152 against Australia at the Kennington Oval. It was the fourth Test ever, from 6 September 1880, and the home side won it by five wickets within three days. For Grace, it was a century on Test debut – he would score one more in Tests, and a staggering 124 in first-class cricket.
John Selby became the first English player to be dismissed in Tests. Selby was seen off by John Hodges for an 18-ball 7 on the second day of that inaugural Test. Selby would still go on to play six Tests, scoring two half-centuries en route, so it’s safe to say he didn’t let the ignominy affect him too much.
First series win
England’s first series win came at home, when Australia toured in 1880. England won the only Test in the series at the Kennington Oval, with Grace scoring their first ever century, by five wickets. It was a match that ebbed and flowed, but the home side held firm for a famous victory.
First five-wicket haul
Alfred Shaw, the slow right-arm bowler, became the first England bowler to claim a five-wicket haul in that inaugural Test. Shaw returned 5/38 in the second innings, seeing off Thomson (7), Tom Garrett (0), Bransby Cooper (3), Jack Blackham (6) and Dave Gregory (3). Shaw would play six Tests more, and end with 12 wickets at an average of 23.75.
First ten-wicket haul
This was a long wait, as much as it was an improbable feat. Jim Laker was eventually the man to do it, in July 1956. That it came against Australia would have only pleased the Manchester crowd that much more.
Laker returned a remarkable 9/37 in the first innings with his off-spin, and as if that wasn’t enough, he went one better the next time around. He returned 10/53 in the second innings, dismissing Australia for 205 as they followed-on, to become the first, and so far only one of two bowlers, to claim all the wickets.
First XI: Harry Jupp, John Selby (wk), Harry Charlwood, George Ulyett, Andrew Greenwood, Tom Armitage, Alfred Shaw, Tom Emmett, Allen Hill, James Lillywhite jnr (c), James Southerton