In October 1861, an English representative cricket team captained by Heathfield Stephenson, set sail from Liverpool in England with the purpose of visiting Australia and engaging the "local" colonial population in a number of cricket matches. On arrival in Australia in March 1862, the English team was amazed by the greeting they received from thousands of people present when the ship berthed in Melbourne. More to their amazement was the fact, the streets of Melbourne were lined by many thousands more people who had come out to greet the visiting team.
Although cricket had already been well established in Australia for many years, the Englishmen could not believe the level of support for the game in Australia. Rather than treated as simple sportsmen, they were accorded a level of status usually reserved for the most important VIP's and royalty. It appeared to the Englishmen, the sport was as popular in Australia as it was in the mother country.
During their tour of Australia, the English team played a total of 14 matches against a variety of teams representing the colonies of Victoria and New South Wales. Australia at this time, was made up of a number of separate colonies and as such, did not have a National team for cricket, therefore at no stage did the Englishmen have the opportunity to take on the best the Aussies could muster. What is very notable about the tour however, is the fact the Englishmen competed against a team in Melbourne, representing The World.
From the 14 matches played, it became very evident to the touring team, Australia was not to be taken lightly when it came to the sport of cricket. A total of 5 draws and 3 losses were inflicted upon the tourists, who had at no stage conceived any idea the Australians may be capable of offering any decent competition. The touring English team who numbered only 12 players were often faced in several of these matches, with the daunting prospect of competing against 22 or more opponents. The laws of cricket at the time did not stipulate any maximum number of competitors for each team, therefore opposing teams would often drastically outnumber their opposition.
This initial tour to Australia was to give birth to an annual competition between the two countries, however the first Australian touring team did not go to England until 1868. A little know fact amongst cricket fans is, this Australian team consisted solely of Australian indigenous players. Not only did these indigenous players equate themselves more than adequately during this inaugural tour, they were able to beat their opposition on at least 14 occasionís. The English cricket authorities were not only taken aback with the fact they were beaten, but the fact they were beaten by what they described as a team of "savages."
The annual competition between England and Australia continued for several years to come. On 5th March 1877, a touring English team met the Australian team in the very first Test match in Melbourne. This match was a ferociously competitive game with the Australians coming out on top and winning by the margin of 45 runs. The English were not happy with this situation as they had put together the finest team of professional cricketers money could buy at the time. They found it difficult to accept they had been beaten in the very first test match, by a team from the colonies that consisted mainly of part-time cricketers.
Great rivalry began to develop between the Australian and English teams, setting the scene for future battles between the two, and attempts by the English to dominate the sport they had developed. They were seriously concerned the sport of gentlemen was being dominated by the convicts from the Antipodes and the thinking of the day became, England must win at all costs.
The greatest cricket competition in history was about to begin. The Ashes were close to being born!
Origin of the Ashes - History in the Making
This is the most legendary of all cricket series. Played between Australia and England, this series has even caused bad diplomatic relations between the two countries. When Englandís Barmy Army come up against the Aussieís at the ďGĒ...itís almost war! Learn about the origins of The Ashes with this video produced by the ABC.