History of Test Cricket

Although cricket has been played in England since the seventeenth century, test cricket is widely regarded to date back to 1877, marking the moment when cricket moved away from England to being an international sport. The first test match was played between England and Australia in 1877 and the success of the competition gave rise to the Ashes, first played at the Oval in 1882. Today there are ten cricketing test nations, and test cricket is widely regarded as the ultimate measure of ability, ‘testing’ the strength of the best cricketing teams in the world.

Test Nations

There are currently ten nations with official test status designated by the International Cricket Council (ICC) The ten test nations and the date of their initiation into test cricket are :

  • England: March 15, 1877
  • Australia: March 15, 1877
  • South Africa: March 12 1889 (Due to apartheid South Africa were banned from international cricket between 1971 and 1991)
  • West Indies: June 23, 1928
  • New Zealand: January 10, 1930
  • India: June 25, 1932 (before 1947 the Indian team was made up of players from Pakistan and Bangladesh which are now independent test nations)
  • Pakistan: October 16, 1952 (before 1971 Pakistan was made up of players from Bangladesh which is now an independent test nation)
  • Sri Lanka: February 17, 1982
  • Zimbabwe: October 18, 1992
  • Bangladesh: November 10, 2000


Due to the length of test matches, test cricket (unlike One Day matches) is not played in the same way as a multi-team tournament is usually conducted between two nations, with a series of test matches being placed in the host country and umpires being provided by the host teams. Exceptions to the dual-team nature of test cricket came in the 1912 Triangular Tournament, contested between South Africa, England and Australia and the Asian Test Championship held in 1998-99 and 2001-02 between India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Due to the waning popularity of test cricket, however, recent years have seen the introduction of a six-year rotation cycle in which all the test nations play each other over the course of the cycle, with a trophy going to the top ranking team at the end of the six years.

England v Australia

Hosted by Australia at Melbourne Cricket Ground on March 15 1877, the first test match lasted for four days and was played between England and Australia, marking the beginning of a special competitive relationship between the two teams. Captained by James Lillywhite, Australia won the inaugural test match by 45 runs but, by popular demand, a second match was immediately organised for March 31 and this time England were victorious, winning the contest by 4 wickets. After several further matches between England and Australia, the match that is now regarded as the original ‘Ashes’ was played at the Oval in 1882. The match lasted for three days and after a tense game in which one spectator died of a heart attack, Australia beat the English team by just 7 runs.

The English Cricket team travelled back to Australia and in 1882/3 the two teams played three test matches which made up what is now recognised as the Ashes series. The series did not start well for England and in the first match Australia beat the English team, eight of whom were amateurs, by 9 wickets. In the second match, however, England were on much stronger form and went on to beat the Australian team by 27 runs. In the deciding third match, England’s lead was even better and they won the match by 69 runs, taking home the urn which had been presented to the team by a group of Melbourne ladies.

The term ‘the ashes’ originated in 1882 when, after England’s defeat by Australia, a journalist from Sporting Times mockingly said of English Cricket that “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.” The term stuck and following the article, Hon Ivo Bligh, captain of the English Cricket Team vowed to bring ‘the ashes’ back from their tour around Australia. The historic trophy which is now represented by a Waterford Crystal urn, was presented to Bligh after a social match in Melbourne in 1882 as a symbol of ‘the ashes’ which his team were hoping to regain. After Bligh’s death the urn was bequeathed to the Marylebone Cricket Club museum at Lords and was the inspiration for the official Ashes trophy which was first presented to the Australian Cricket team after their defeat of England in 1998.

Other Test Nations

England’s success in the first Ashes series continued between 1884 and 1889, when England won fourteen of the nineteen test matches contested between the two nations. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, sixty four test matches had been played in total, most of which took place between England and Australia but a few between England and South Africa who became a test nation in 1889. Although South Africa lost every one of their first eight test matches, their presence in the highest level of cricketing competition signified the move of test cricket to other parts of the world. In a series between England and South Africa in 1905/06, the South African team made their mark by beating England 4-1 in a test series hosted by South Africa. In 1912 the first and only triangular tournament took place between South Africa, England and Australia, with England winning the final match against Australia by 244 runs. Although South Africa failed to win any of their matches, they did draw against Australia in the test match played at Trent Bridge from August 5 – 7 1912.

By 1918 the three test nations regularly competed against each other, although after the triangular tournament, the contests were always played between two nations. By 1939 India, the West Indies and New Zealand had also made their test debut, significantly increasing the popularity of test cricket around the world.

Early test matches and series results (1901 – 1939):

  • 1901 – Australia v England: 4-1 (Australia)
  • 1902 – England v Australia: 2-1 (Australia)
  • 1902/03 – South Africa v Australia: 2-0 (Australia)
  • 1903/04 – Australia v England: 3-2 (England)
  • 1905 – England v Australia: 2-0 (England)
  • 1905/06 – South Africa v England: 4-1 (South Africa)
  • 1907 – England v South Africa: 1-0 (England)
  • 1907/08 – Australia v England: 4-1 (Australia)
  • 1909 – England v Australia: 2-1 (Australia)
  • 1909/10 – South Africa v England: 3-2 (South Africa)
  • 1910/11 – Australia v South Africa: 4-1 (Australia)
  • 1911/12 – Australia v England: 4-1 (England)
  • 1912 – Triangular tournament between South Africa, England and Australia: England won
  • 1913/14 – South Africa v England: 4-0 (England)
  • 1920-21 – Australia v England: 5-0 (Australia)
  • 1921 – England v Australia: 3-0 (Australia)
  • 1921-22 – South Africa v Australia: 1-0 (Australia)
  • 1922-23 – South Africa v England: 2-1 (England)
  • 1924 – England v South Africa: 3-0 (England)
  • 1924-25 – Australia v England: 4-1 (Australia)
  • 1926 – England v Australia: 1-0 (England)
  • 1927-28 – South Africa v England: 2-2 (draw)
  • 1928 – England v West Indies: 2-0 (England)
  • 1928-29 – Australia v England: 4-1 (England)
  • 1929 – England v South Africa: 2-0 (England)
  • 1929-30 – New Zealand v England: 1-0 (England)
  • 1929-30 – West Indies v New Zealand: 1-1 (draw)
  • 1930 – England v Australia: 2-1 (Australia)
  • 1930-31 – South Africa v England: 1-0 (South Africa)
  • 1930-31 – Australia v West Indies: 4-1 (Australia)
  • 1931 – England v New Zealand: 1-0 (England)
  • 1931-32 – Australia v South Africa: 5-0 (Australia)
  • 1931-32 – New Zealand v South Africa: 2-0 (South Africa)
  • 1932 – England v India: 1-0 (England)
  • 1932-33 – Australia v England: 4-1
  • 1932-33 – New Zealand v England: 0-0 (draw)
  • 1933 – England v West Indies: 2-0 (England)
  • 1933-34 – India v England: 2-0 (England)
  • 1934 – England v Australia: 2-1 (Australia)
  • 1934-35 – West Indies v England: 2-1 (West Indies)
  • 1935 – England v South Africa: 1-0 (South Africa)
  • 1935-36 – South Africa v Australia: 4-0 (Australia)
  • 1936 – England v India: 2-0 (India)
  • 1936-37 – Australia v England: 3-2 (Australia)
  • 1937 – England v New Zealand: 1-0 (England)
  • 1938 – England v Australia: 1-1 (Australia)
  • 1938-39 – South Africa v England: 1-0 (England)
  • 1939 – England v West Indies: 1-0 (England)

Test cricket was stopped during the Second World War and recommenced in 1946 with the Ashes being hosted by the Australian team. Test cricket continued to be played between the test nations, with Pakistan being added to the list in 1952, although the Ashes was arguably the most popular of any test series.

Ashes matches and series results (1946-70):

  • 1946-47: 3-0 (Australia)
  • 1948: 4-0 (Australia)
  • 1950-51: 4-1 (Australia)
  • 1953: 1-0 (England)
  • 1954-55: 1-3 (England)
  • 1956: 2-1 (England)
  • 1958-59: 4-0 (Australia)
  • 1961: 1-2 (England)
  • 1962-63: 1-1 (draw)
  • 1964: 1-0 (Australia)
  • 1965-66: 1-1 (draw)
  • 1968: 1-1 (draw)

Rebellion against Test Cricket

During the 1960’s South Africa’s apartheid policy had a significant impact on international cricket: after South Africa cancelled a series against England because a black cricketer was due to play for the English team, the test nations voted to suspend South Africa from international play. During 1971 and 1991 South Africa organised a series of rebel tours, where international cricket teams were paid large amounts of money to tour South Africa. The ICC blacklisted all players who took part in the rebel matches but the tours still attracted a large number of late career players.

In 1977 another rebellion took place, led by Australian business man Kerry Packer who, after a dispute with the Australian Cricket Board over television rights, formed his own privately run cricketing league. Known as World Series Cricket, the league was successful because it offered much higher payments to players than test matches and for a short time test cricket lost many of its best players to WSC. The new cricket league lasted until 1979, after which a truce was made between Packer and the ACB, and the WSC players went back into the official international contests.

Test Cricket Today

During the end of the twentieth century, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh were all initiated into test cricket and for the first time cricket was no longer dominated by white nations. In recent years the ICC has committed to encouraging the development of cricket in Africa, Asia and America in the hope that more nations will be added to test cricket in the future. Due to the increased popularity of ODI’s (One Day International matches), test cricket has undergone some adjustments marked by the introduction of the ‘Test Championship Table,’ in 2001 which ranks the test nations over a six year cycle. Despite a recent dominance by South Africa, Australia has continually topped the table and is widely regarded as the strongest cricket team in the world.

Test Records

Most matches played – England: 864

Most matches won – Australia: 320

Most consecutive test wins – Australia: 1999-00 – 2000-01

Most consecutive losses – Bangladesh: 2001-02 – 2003-04

Most runs in an innings – Sri Lanka (v Columbo, 1997): 952

Fewest runs in an innings – New Zealand (v Auckland, 1954): 26

Most runs scored during career – Brian Lara (West Indies): 11,953

Highest individual score – Brian Lara: 400 (v England, 2003-04)

Most runs scored in a series – Don Bradman (Australia): 974 (v England, 1930)

Most test centuries – Sachin Tendulkar (India): 37

Most wickets taken during career – Shane Warne (Australia): 708

Most wickets in a series – Jim Laker (England): 49

Most catches during career – Mark Waugh (Australia): 181

Most dismissals – Mark Boucher (South Africa): 396

Most stumpings – Bert Oldfield (Australia): 52

Most matches played – Steve Waugh (Australia): 168

Most matches played as captain – Allan Border (Australia): 93