A Hong Kong vs Shanghai match being played some time in the 20th century at the Hong Kong Cricket Club Ground. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Contrary to popular beliefs, cricket had penetrated to many lands, mostly in the Commonwealth, in her early stages. Some, like Australia, South Africa, India, and the Caribbean, accepted the sport as one of their own, imbibing every bit of it in their systems. Some, like USA and Canada, toyed with the sport for a while before letting it go. And as for the Far East, they played cricket in the most exotic of locations, which gave birth to the now-forgotten interport cricket match, starting February 15, 1866. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the match that started it all.

1839. The Daoguang Emperor turned down proposals to legalise or tax opium. In fact, he appointed Viceroy Lin Zexu to put an end to opium trade with East India Company. Lin Zexu confiscated approximately 1,200 tons of opium without any payment.

Britain was obviously not going to sit quiet. The First Opium War was waged between UK and the Qing Dynasty. Despite the clear advantage of the latter in numbers, the British prevailed with ease. It ended with the Treaty of Nanking in 1842. The Treaty granted Britain indemnity and extraterritoriality. They also gained access to five treaty ports. China also ceded Hong Kong to Britain.

This also meant that cricket spread in Hong Kong sometime in the early 1840s. The first recorded match was played in 1841. Hong Kong Cricket Club took another decade to form.

When the HMS Highflyer halted on her way in Shanghai in 1858, they played a match with the local XI. The match was probably played at Hongkou on April 22. Cricket was certainly in vogue in Shanghai at that point.

Note: This was not the first match in China. Two months before the match Canton (now Guangzhou) hosted a match between Canton Garrison and Royal Artillery and 59th Regiment, which means there was serious cricket elsewhere as well.

Shanghai’s rise in the Chinese cricket circuit was steep. Shanghai CC acquired their first proper ground in 1863. In fact, they grew so strong that they served as the Chinese national side (not that a lot of Chinese cities objected) for years.

Despite their supremacy in China, Shanghai was, however, no match for Hong Kong, though neither city was probably aware of this fact. Thus, when Hong Kong and Shanghai locked horns at the home ground of the former, they had no idea of what to expect.

The match

Hong Kong Daily Press reported that the contest “could not be considered a very close match”. Had there been a contest on the understatement of the year, the phrase would probably have won the award.

To be fair, all the men who came from Shanghai were not really members of the first-choice XI: they could bring over only those who could secure leaves from their respective employers while Hong Kong fielded a full side. Shanghai also had to spend several days in sea before the contest. To add to their woes, the match was played in February, which was right in the middle of the Hong Kong cricket season but off-season for Shanghai.

Roy Morgan has penned down some of their professions in Real International Cricket, a History in One Hundred Scorecards. For Shanghai, Francis Groom worked for Glover & Co. and was interested in guns, steamships, and tea. Alfred Dent would later collaborate with brother Edward to set up the North Borneo Chartered Company. Henry Dent was taking Dent & Co., primarily silk and tea traders, to places.

Hong Kong consisted of, among others, barrister Edward Pollard; George Maclean, merchant’s assistant at Lyall, Still & Co.; and Thomas Lane, who co-founded Lane Crawford with Ninian Crawford.

The match

Shanghai were skittled out for 107 in no time, DH McKenzie taking 5 wickets and AM Case 3. Four of the first five wickets were bowled and one run out, which might be a telling tale for the weakness of the side.

There was some lower-order resistance from Harry Dent (23) and HR Hearn (25). There were also 23 extras (12 of them wides), which meant the other eight men managed a mere 26 between them.

Hong Kong amassed 430, thus securing a mammoth 323-run lead. RD Starkey alone scored 99 of these, almost outscoring Shanghai all by himself. T Clifford contributed with 71. There were three other forties. Groom, with 7 wickets, waged a lone battle.

Hong Kong might have put up a bigger score had Shanghai not been brilliant in the field, as Morgan has mentioned. He praised AK McDonnell, who was “particularly impressive, letting only one bye” at long-stop, “letting only one bye and it was generally agreed that this was not his fault.”

Note: The scorecard shows two byes. Maybe they ran two in McDonnell’s only glitch.

D Welsh (38) and McDonnell (10) put up a competitive opening stand when the tourists batted again, but the rest was a procession, for only two of the remaining nine men managed to open their accounts. There were 6 extras in the total of 59. McKenzie, with 7 scalps to go with his first-innings haul of 5, with a match haul of 12 wickets.


Little did the cricket clubs of Shanghai and Hong Kong realise that they had created history the moment they took field. Shanghai hosted Hong Kong next year. Though the contest was halted for 22 years, they became a regular fixture starting 1889, and came to be known as the interport matches.

With time other teams came in. 1890 saw a match between Federated Malay States and Ceylon. The next year Hong Kong took on Straits Settlements. Singapore came to the fray the year after.

Though Federated Malay States often played against Straits Settlements in local matches, but they joined hands to form a combined team (Malaya) in interport matches. With Singapore, Sabah, and Sarawak joining forces, Malaysia became a separate team. Singapore pulled out following their independence in 1965.

The last interport match was played between Singapore and Hong Kong in 1987.

The Hong Kong vs Shanghai bilateral contest still exists, though it is a limited-over contest these days. They play for the Bokhara Bell Memorial Trophy, named after the SS Bokhara that sank in 1892.

But that is another story.

Brief scores:

Shanghai 107 (DH McKenzie 5 wickets, AM Case 3 wickets) and 59 (DH McKenzie 7 wickets) lost to Hong Kong 430 (D Davidson 45, RD Starkey 99, T Mercer 45, T Clifford 71, E Wallace 43; Francis Groom 7 wickets) by an innings and 264 runs.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)