History of Cricket in Australia – From the First Match to BBL

They are the joint oldest test playing nation on earth and were also involved in the first ever one day international and the first T20 international. In the present day, it’s said that there are 1,558,821 registered players Australia.

The history of cricket in Australia extends over 200 years and we’re now going to talk about their timeline in greater detail.

History of Cricket in Australia – Timeline

The Early Years of Australian Cricket

It’s certain that cricket would have been played at some point in the late 1700s but no official records have survived. As with other countries, Australia would have hosted single wicket games along with some team matches between neighbouring villages.

Remember that this is a vast and remote country and the 18th century predated modern media so the majority of these unofficial matches would have gone ‘under the radar’.

History of Cricket in Australia – From the First Match to BBL

1803 – First Recorded Cricket Match in Australia

What is known is that the first recorded cricket match in Australia took place in Sydney in 1803. Little has been reported about the game but this was the catalyst for cricket’s growth in the early part of the 19th century.

1826 – First Australian Cricket Clubs

By 1804, Australian newspapers were suggesting that the game of cricket was already well established.

In the first half of the 19th century, clubs were being set up in many parts of the country. We know that, by 1826, the Currency Club, the Military Cricket Club and the Australian Cricket Club had already been formed.

The island of Tasmania, off the south east coast of Australia was also a hotbed of new cricket clubs at this time. Known as Van Diemen’s land, clubs had been established in Hobart and Launceston.

1835 – First Recorded Match in Western Australia

Outside of Sydney, cricket was relatively slow to catch on with the first recorded cricket match in Western Australia taking place in 1835. The game was between the ‘Builders’ and the ‘Mechanics’.

In reality, the teams are likely to have been architects and engineers against general labourers.

1838 – Formation of Melbourne Cricket Club

A very significant move in the history of Australian cricket came in 1838 with the formation of the Melbourne Cricket Club.

The club was formed in November of that year with its first official game taking place at the Royal Mint. They would become responsible for drafting rules in Australian Rules Football but, of course, cricket was their main focus.

1839 – First Cricket Club in South Australia

Cricket gradually started to take off from that first recorded game in 1803. Down in South Australia, records show that the first club was formed there in 1839.

1851 – First Intercolonial Cricket Matches

Prior to the country’s Federation in 1901, the only first class cricket matches in Australia were the Intercolonial games. The first game of this kind was played between Van Diemen’s Land and Port Phillip in 1851.

By the 1880s, these intercolonial matches were prevalent right across the nation.

1853 – Foundation of the Melbourne Cricket Ground

The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), was first opened in 1853. It was the work of the Melbourne Cricket Club who were set up in 1838 and had spent the previous 15 years playing in various locations around the area.

The MCG is situated in Yarra Park and it is the largest sports stadium in the entire southern hemisphere.

1861 – First English Tours of Australia

The first team to officially tour Australia arrived in 1861. This was a private club, sponsored by Spiers and Pond who were a catering company.

The players were mainly Surrey cricketers and, captained by the notable HH Stephenson, they formed a strong side. A further tour of Australia was undertaken in 1863/84 and led by George Parr.

1868 – First Australian Tour of England

Cricket had become popular among indigenous people and Aboriginal teams were formed. The sides emerged in the second half of the 19th century and a notable Aboriginal squad toured England in 1868.

With Johnny Mullagh and other talented players in their ranks, the team played 47 matches, winning 14, drawing 19 and losing 14.

That tour by the Aborigines in 1868 was the first visit of England by an official Australian representative side. It wasn’t until 1880 that an Australian national side would visit England to play an official test match.

Notable Australian Cricket Players in the 19th Century

Johnny Mullagh

Johnny Mullagh was a member of the Aboriginal party that toured England in 1868. Also known as Unaarrimin, he was a noted all rounder who scored 1698 runs and took 245 wickets in 45 matches.

Johnny Mullagh cricket
Johnny Mullagh, Getty

Charles Bannerman

Charles Bannerman achieved a number of notable records in the game. As a batsman, he received the first ball of the first ever test match and he went on to score the first century, making 165 before retiring hurt.

Billy Murdoch

He would later play for England but Billy Murdoch is primarily known as one of Australia’s first great international cricketers. He made his debut in 1877 and, in 19 test matches, he made over 900 runs with two centuries and a best of 211.

Billy Murdoch
Billy Murdoch, 1895, Getty

Fred Spofforth

The ‘Demon’ FR Spofforth was known as one of the world’s first great fast bowlers. He had a fearsome reputation and was the first bowler to claim 50 test wickets and the first to take a hat trick in a test match.

Jack Blackham

Another man to have played in the first ever test match in Melbourne in 1877, Jack Blackham would enjoy a longer career than many of his teammates. A wicket keeper, he played in 35 test matches up to 1894 and was a regular presence in the important stages of Australian cricketing development.

George Giffen

George Giffen was generally known for his batting but his overall statistics suggest that he was one of cricket’s first great all-rounders. From 1881, he played 31 test matches, scoring 1238 runs and taking 103 wickets.

The Rise of Australian Cricket

1877 – First Test Match

The game between Australia and England at Melbourne in 1877 would go down in history as cricket’s first ever official test match. Played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Australia would eventually win by 45 runs.

Charles Bannerman made the difference with his 165 and he would surely have claimed the Man of the Match award had there been such a prize. After being set 154 to win, England slipped to 108 all out with Tom Kendall taking seven wickets for Australia.

1880 – International Tours

Following the first test match between Australia and England in 1877, Australia carried out their first test tour in 1880. The first test in England was duly played at the Oval and England won by 5 wickets.

Between 1868 and 1877, there were other visits from English sides. Touring parties from England arrived in 1873/74 but an official test match did not take place.

1882 – History of The Ashes Series

While Australia and England had competed in official test matches from 1877, The Ashes wasn’t established as a trophy until the 1882 tour of England.

England famously lost a match on that tour and a satirical obituary appeared in the Sporting Times, lamenting the death of English cricket. The piece ended with reference to the body being cremated and the Ashes taken to Australia.

The trophy itself is a tiny urn which contains the Ashes of a bail that was used in that 1882 test. The 1882/83 series that followed was therefore the first time that the two teams had competed for the Ashes.

1892 – Foundation of the Australasian Cricket Council

The Australasian Cricket Council was the first governing body within the sport. It was the forerunner of the Australian Cricket Board which has since been shortened to Cricket Australia (CA).

It was originally set up in 1892 when state organisations from Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales came together. The Australasian Cricket Council was relatively short lived as it was disbanded in 1898.

1892 – The Sheffield Shield

The Sheffield Shield is Australia’s major domestic first class competition. The first edition was played way back in the 1892/92 season and the competition survives into the present day.

Six States take part in the Sheffield Shield – Tasmania, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales.

The Golden Age of Australian Cricket

The period between 1890 and the start of the First World War is still referred to as a golden age of Australian cricket. This was the time when the game became more established and some notable players began to emerge.

For Australia, that list of names includes the likes of Clem Hill, Victor Trumper and Monty Noble. Trumper was a particular hero of the time and a man whose flamboyant style made him a star. He became the first man to make a century before lunch in a test match and he was loved by all in the game.

This was a successful period for Australian cricket as a whole but, at the end of the conflict in 1918, the sporting world had to start all over again.

Australian Cricket in the 1920s

There was something of an imbalance between test sides in the 1920s. Australia remained strong and were too much for a weaker England team who were whitewashed 5-0 on the 1920/21 Tour.

The decade continued in a similar fashion with more great Australian cricketers becoming established. Among the new ranks were Jack Gregory, Bert Oldfield and the brilliant Don Bradman.

Don Bradman and Bodyline

Everyone has an opinion on who was the greatest cricketer of all time but many will point towards Australia and the great Sir Donald Bradman.

Over a long career, Bradman came close to achieving a perfect batting average of 100.00 but he eventually had to settle for the figures of 99.94 after collecting a duck in his final test.

I’ve covered Bradman and the Bodyline series of 1932/33 in a separate article and it’s well worth a read as a more comprehensive guide to this period.

Don Bradman History of Cricket in Australia
Don Bradman, 1948

Australian Cricket from the 1950s

Post War Cricket

War intervened once again and Australian cricket had to rebuild in the 1950s. Bradman had retired in 1948 and the new order centred around players such as Lindsay Hassett, Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller and Richie Benaud.

Australia developed to become a force once again. In the 1970s, the Chappell brothers were joined by the combative Rodney Marsh plus the pace pairing of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson as sides toured the country with trepidation.

1977 – The Centenary Test

In 1977, Australia and England met again in Melbourne to mark 100 years since the first test match was played. The MCG played host and the game produced a remarkable statistic,

After five thrilling days of cricket, Australia won the Centenary Test by 45 runs – exactly the same margin by which they had won the first ever game back in 1877.

Australia were struggling after being dismissed for 138 on first innings but the home side gained the upper hand when England replied with just 95.

The Australians cemented their superiority and made 419/9 in their second innings, leaving the tourists with an unlikely target of 463 to win. On a dramatic final day, they came close as Derek Randall made a brilliant 174. England eventually fell for a brave 417, leaving Australia as winners by that iconic, 45-run margin.

1971 – The First One Day International

Australia hosted the first official One Day International between two sides and, once again, England were their opponents. The game was played in 1971 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Australia and England were due to play a test match at the MCG but the first three days were washed out due to the weather. With no prospect of a result, other than a tame draw, the teams agreed to play a limited overs international on what would have been the final day of the test.

The game was supposed to be a 40-overs a side affair but it didn’t quite go the distance. England were dismissed for 190 in the fortieth over and Australia duly chased down that target with a full five overs to spare.

1979 – Australian Tri-Series

Australia were forerunners in tri-series cricket where one day international tournaments were played between three teams.

Tri-series were first held in 1979/80 when Australia, England and the West Indies faced off. Tournaments were then held every year through to 2007/08.

World Series Cricket

A battle between television companies in the 1970s took advantage of a situation where cricketer’s wages were being put under the microscope. Australian TV mogul Kerry Packer went on to establish World Series Cricket which ran from 1977 to 1979.

Packer, who was in charge of the Nine TV network felt that cricket had more commercial opportunity while the top players were looking to earn more from a game that paid relatively modest salaries.

Channel Nine attempted to get exclusive broadcasting rights to Australia’s test matches in 1976 but, having failed, Packer went about setting up his own series. With the majority of the West Indian and Australian teams of the time behind him, World Series Cricket had the biggest stars at their disposal.

WSC ran for two years before pay issues and broadcasting rights were resolved and cricket returned to normality.

The South African Rebel Tours

Like a number of countries, Australia lost players to rebel tours of South Africa. Once again, money was the main driving force at a time when these tours could offer far more financial incentive than the regular cricketing circuit.

South Africa had been banned from international sport due to Apartheid but they welcomed unofficial tours from other test playing countries. Australia sent two sides in 1985/86 and 1986/87, both of which were led by Kim Hughes.

The Big Bash League

Australia’s Premier T20 competition is the Big Bash which is traditionally held across December and January each year. The first edition of this tournament took place in 2011 and it currently features eight city franchise teams from across Australia.

Suggestions over expanding the format have occasionally been raised but, for now, the sides taking part are the Hobart Hurricanes, the Perth Scorchers, the Sydney Sixers, the Sydney Thunder, the Adelaide Strikers, the Melbourne Renegades, the Melbourne Stars and the Brisbane Heat.

That very first Big Bash League in 2011 was won by the Sydney Sixers who, along with the Perth Scorchers, are the most successful side in the history of the competition with three titles.

The competition follows the regular T20 format but the Big Bash has introduced some new innovations. A bat flip has replaced the traditional toss while the teams have also been able to bring in substitute players during the game.

Australian Cricket Today

In the modern era, Australia are known as one of the strongest teams in all three formats. They are the most successful side in the history of the ODI World Cup with five victories up to and including the 2019 tournament in England.

They are competitive wherever they appear while modern players have gone on to become legends of the game. Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden and others have taken up the challenge and have added to the rich history of Australian cricket.