The ‘Ides of March’ is remembered in history most for the assassination of Julius Caesar. With the calendars having changed in the Gregorian era, there is no knowing if the current March 15 is still the date on which the greatest of Caesars met his cruel end - Et tu Brute and all th.
The middle of March may have also become memorable in the modern calendar for the birth of Test cricket although they are probably not celebrating it except on the ICC website and those diehard fans who populate the online spaces these days.
History is fascinating for all the quirky facts thrown up as it got written down and revised over time. Not many might remember that the first ‘Test’ match was not actually planned as a proper England versus Australia contest. But it was the first one to be played on level terms with only eleven men in each team (Previously professional teams would give a handicap of one or two players, allowing the opposition to field that many more).
The match - played at the famous Melbourne Cricket ground on March 15, 16, 17 & 19 in 1877 - was between a Grand Combined Melbourne and Sydney XI against James Lillywhite’s professional touring team. This timeless Test was arranged at short notice because New South Wales and Victoria had played well against the tourists and the need for a bigger contest was thought up.
Some crazy tales surround what came to be recognised as the first Test match. First, both teams were not at full strength. Australia’s best bowlers Allan, Evans and Spofforth were not playing, so too the leading England batsmen of the day since they were all amateurs and not qualified to play in this professional England team.
The tourists’ only wicket-keeper Pooley was said to have been ‘confiscated’ in New Zealand from where the England team arrived in Melbourne somewhat seasick. The rest, as they say, is history. Charles Bannerman, who was born in Kent 25 years earlier, played the first ball, made the first run among 165 in all before retiring hurt when a ball from Ulyett split a finger. A Melbourne professional named Newing fielded for him and became cricket’s first official ‘substitute’.
Australia won by 45 runs and in an amazing coincidence won the first Centenary test held in 1977 by the same margin on the same ground. The tale is still worth telling about the first Test although today’s generations may not even know why a ‘Test’ is still spelt with a capital T in the old fashioned way to indicate that it was a real test of skills.
Meanwhile, at the venue where India recorded their first ever Test win — Chepauk in 1952 — the buzz today is all about the IPL T20 to come next month when the favourite home side, Chennai Super Kings, are to be welcomed back after a two-year ban. But lest the team feel terrible about a ban because of someone gambling, in this case a team owner, rest assured that cricket was born as a betting game and wagers were very common in England in the early days and abducting good opposition players was also not unheard of.