The oldest cricketing nation in the world, England took part in the first test match in 1877, losing to a team from Australia by just 45 runs. Throughout the history of English cricket, the England team have won 301 of the 864 test matches they have competed in and, despite recent disappointments, are currently ranked number two in the ICC test rankings.
England’s national cricket team dates back to 1739 when a team of eleven cricketers from all over the nation joined forces in an attempt to beat the so-called
‘unconquerable’ team from the county of Kent. In 1859 a team from England took part in the first overseas cricket tour, travelling to North America to play a series of ‘against odds matches’ (where the opposing team was permitted to have more than 11 players to make a more even match, given that England were the more experienced team). In 1961 England made their first tour of Australia, travelling to New Zealand the following year.
After a series of ‘against odds’ tours England returned to Australia in 1877 to play their inaugural ‘even-player’ international game, which is now regarded as the first official test match. The match was close but the Australian team eventually beat the English players thanks to a century by Charles Bannerman. The following year the Australians made a return tour of England, but this time the English team had the edge and they won the test series 1-0.
Australia made a second trip to England in 1882, beating the English team 1-0. Following England’s disappointing performance, a journalist for the Sporting Times wrote of England cricket that ‘the body will be cremated and the Ashes taken to Australia.’ In reference to the humorous assessment of their performance, England captain Ivo Bligh said of their tour to Australia the following year that they were off on a quest ‘to reclaim the Ashes.’ The English team duly won the series 2-1 prompting a regular ‘Ashes’ series between the two teams which, with the exception of the war years, has taken place every two years ever since.
In the early years of the Ashes England were undoubtedly the strongest team, winning the series ten times before the dawn of the twentieth century. A century on, however, and the tide has turned with England losing all the Ashes series’ since 1987, with the exception of the 2005 Ashes in which the England team beat Australia 2-1.
In 1889 England made their first tour to South Africa, winning the series with ease, but by 1907 England’s performance had weakened and that year the South African team beat England 4-1. Between 1900 and 1914 England also struggled to better the Australian side, winning only half of the Ashes contested. In 1912 the three test nations took part in a triangular tournament held in England. With a weak Australian team and poor bowling from South Africa, England dominated the contest, winning four out of six matches to the delight of King George V, the first British monarch to watch a test match.
Between the Wars
After the First World War the England team were weakened by loss of players and in 1920-21 they devastatingly lost the Ashes 5-0, the first time a team had won every match in the series. By 1926 England had regained their strength and won the Ashes three further times before the Second World War. In 1932, following Australia’s victorious series in the previous Ashes, England bowler Douglas Jardine developed a (somewhat controversial) method of bowling, known as the bodyline or fast leg theory, designed with the sole intention of weakening Australian batsman Don Bradman’s performance. The tactic worked and England won the Ashes in 1934, unaware that this would be their last Ashes victory for nineteen years.
Just before the outbreak of the Second World War, England made a tour of South Africa during which they experimented with the principle of the ‘timeless test match’. The final match played on the tour was deemed to be timeless, meaning that it was to be played until one side won, allowing no possibility for a draw. However, after ten days without a winner the England team were due to catch a boat home, and the match was declared a draw.
Success and failure in the post-war decades
After the war England had mixed success, winning the Ashes three times during the early fifties, but failing to win the trophy at all during the 1960s. In 1968, however, England’s efforts were rewarded when they gained the Wisden Trophy, drawing the Ashes 1-1 that same year. England’s period of dominance came in the seventies when, with the emergence of World Series Cricket, Australia and Pakistan lost many of their better players to Kerry Packer. Packer was the founder of the World Series, and offered tempting packages which lured away top players from several countries. In 1977 England beat Australia 3-1 in the centenary Ashes contest and reached the World Cup final that same year against the West Indies.
Despite having a number of strong players during the eighties, most notably Ian Botham, England lost several significant test series that decade, including a disastrous tour of the West Indies which they lost 5-0. Test cricket continued to go downhill for England during the nineties when many of the team’s best players retired and for two and a half years the team failed to win a single test match. Despite their poor test record around that time the team did perform better in one day cricket, reaching the final of the World Cup in 1992. In more recent years, however, it is one day cricket that has suffered the most and the England team are currently placed seventh in the ICC one day rankings.
In 2005 England regained the Ashes for the first time in eighteen years but since then, despite having a number of strong players, the England team has continued to disappoint, losing all five tests in the 2006 Ashes series. In the 2007 World Cup England beat only the West Indies and Bangladesh out of the test playing nations. And in September 2007 England also had an early knockout in the inaugural Twenty20 tournament, being eliminated in the Super 8 stage of the competition.
W.G Grace: A pioneering sportsman and legendary batsman, British cricketer WG Grace is famed for developing the batting techniques which have been used in the game ever since. Grace’s batting peak came during the 1870’s when he managed to hit 879 runs in just eight days. In 1895 at the age of forty-seven Grace stunned the world when he made 1000 runs in the month of May alone, becoming the first cricketer to score 1000 in a season.
Jack Hobbs: Nicknamed ‘the Master,’ Hobbs made his first-class debut in 1905, playing for Surrey and went on to play as part of the England team, as one of the key batsmen to regain the Ashes in 1926. A right-hand batsman, Hobbs went on to score more career runs than any other cricketer before or since and more centuries than any other player.
Geoff Boycott: Regarded as one of England’s finest opening batsmen, Boycott played cricket for England between 1962 and 1986. Gooch scored a total of 8114 test runs during his career and on retirement went on to become one of cricket’s most outspoken commentators.
Ian Botham: The top England cricketer during the 1980s, Botham was knighted in 2007 for his fundraising achievements for Leukaemia research. During his cricketing peak Botham was captain of England and regarded as a good all-rounder, taking 383 wickets and scoring fourteen centuries over the course of his career.