The First Test against Australia
The first Test between England and Australia was held in Melbourne in 1877, although it would not be described as a Test Match until some years later. Prior to 1877, there had been several tours by English teams to Australia, but they often had to give players to their opponents to make it anything of a match, or in some cases their opponents would be allowed to field more than 11 players. However by the time of this first ever Test, Australian cricket had developed to such an extent that it was possible to have a real contest, even though it wasn’t the best possible England X1 as none of the leading English amateurs, including WG Grace, were involved. There were however several Sussex players present on the tour.
James Lillywhite was the England captain
As with previous tours to Australia, this one was a privately financed affair and the England captain, Sussex player James Lillywhite, was a key backer. Born in Westhampnett in West Sussex, he was a member of the famous Lillywhite cricketing family, a nephew of William Lillywhite, and usually referred to as James Lillywhite junior, to distinguish him from his elder cousin, William, who was also named James. He had already been involved in several previous overseas tours to Australia and also to North America in 1868. Lillywhite was primarily a bowler, although he was also a useful lower middle order batsman. He first played for Sussex in1862 when he took 9 for 29 wickets against MCC which might be regarded as a fairly promising debut. He continued to play for the county until 1883, and took part in several more Australian tours. Later he would become an umpire and officiate in six Test matches.
Horsham born Henry Charlwood was also in the team. Prior to making his debut for Sussex in 1867 at just eighteen years old, he had made some impressive scores for the Henfield club. He continued playing for Sussex until 1882. He became the county’s leading batsman and was known as “The Hope of Sussex” . Like Lillywhite, he had taken part in the North American tour of 1868.
Also in the side was James Southerton who was born in Petworth and first played for Sussex in 1854. At his peak, he was perhaps, the finest bowler in the country, and with his slow deliveries became the first bowler to take more than 200 wickets in a season. This feat was helped by playing for two counties in one season, and indeed in one year, 1867, he played for three: Sussex, Hampshire and Surrey. In those days it was very easy to switch from one county to another but by 1877, he was playing solely for Surrey. He was 49 years old when he played in the Melbourne match, and he remains the oldest person to make a Test debut, a record which is unlikely to be beaten.
By Peter McQuade, May 2023