George Giffen. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
George Giffen. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

It is a well-known fact that the very first ball in Australian First-Class cricket history was bowled underarm by William Henty of Tasmania to Duncan Cooper of Victoria at the Launceston Racecourse ground at about 11 AM on February 11, 1851 in front of a gathering of an estimated 2,500 eager spectators.

Even so, Ric Finlay, in his essay on the history of Tasmanian cricket in the 1800s tells us that there were only 3 even (11-a-side) games (retrospectively attributed First-Class status) played by Tasmania between 1869 and 1873, all of which were won quite easily by the opposing team, Victoria, on each occasion. Tasmania played no other First-Class cricket from 1858 to 1877, when a Tasmanian team made the journey to South Australia (SA). The game was won by SA by an innings and 13 runs.

With the development of the local game at a rapid and encouraging pace, Tasmania soon felt confident enough to undertake a tour to New Zealand in early 1884, playing 4 First-Class games in February 1884, two games each against Otago and Canterbury. Barring one drawn match, Tasmania lost the others.

It was an odds match between Tasmania and George Vernon s XI at Hobart in 1887-88 that brought Tasmanian cricket into the reckoning again. After Vernon s XI had scored 297, Tasmania XXII responded with 405 for 13 when the game had ended in a draw. Ken Burn (who would be selected to represent Australia in England on the 1890 tour, and would actually board the ship before it became known that he had never kept wickets in his career, though he had been erroneously selected as a wicketkeeper) was shown as having scored 99 in the Tasmanian innings, although it had later transpired that a scoring error had deprived him of a rightful century. The outcome of this game prompted the inclusion of Tasmania in the First-Class roster for the season 1888-89, though they played only one game, against Victoria.

First-Class cricket for 1888-89 got underway at Adelaide with SA taking on an Australian XI from and making short work of them thanks mainly to the bowling skills of George Giffen (5 for 54 and 4 for 72). The hosts won by 8 wickets, Giffen remaining not out on 35 in a winning total of 52 for 2.

The first game of the season at Melbourne (at The G , as it is now called) was the tie between Victoria and an Australian XI. Charlie Turner (2 for 38) and JJ Ferris (5 for 52) were the usual wicket-takers in Victoria s first innings of 149. The Australian XI first-innings total was a substantial 274 with Jack Edwards scoring 52 and Harry Trott 59. William Bruce had figures of 6 for 47. The Victoria second innings was a very feeble effort with wickets falling at regular intervals to the bowling of Turner (5 for 50) and Ferris (2 for 28) to end at 103. The Australian XI won by an innings and 22 runs.

Sydney then took over the action with New South Wales (NSW) taking on the Australian XI. The first thing that strikes the student of the game from the scorecard is the fact that there are five gentlemen (Charles Bannerman, EJ Briscoe, Thomas Nunn, John Payne, and James Swift) named as umpires for the match, with no explanation for the presence of so many men in white coats in the same game.

The NSW first-innings total reached 342, Harry Donnan scoring 87*, Charles Richardson 73 and Percie Charlton 50. Turner (2 for 77) and Ferris (5 for 92) took most of the wickets. NSW secured a lead of 88 runs by dismissing the Australian XI for 254. Charlton got into the act with 4 for 82, while another debutant, Sydney Callaway, took 3 for 89. In keeping with the protocol of the times, the Australian XI followed on, but the story was somewhat different in their second innings.

Trott scored 172, sharing a second-wicket stand of 243 with Alec Bannerman (54), while JJ Lyons got 101. When time ran out in a drawn game, the Australian XI second-innings total stood at 472 for 9.

Although Victoria won their match against SA at Melbourne from Boxing Day of 1888 by 15 runs, the standout all-round performance was from Giffen. The Victoria 1st innings finished at 181, Jocky Drysdale scoring 50. Giffen took 6 for 82. The SA first-innings total of 270 was possible primarily because skipper Giffen (135) scored exactly half of the runs.

In the Victoria second innings of 192, George Giffen took 7 for 77, bowling unchanged. He had done the same thing in the first innings as well. It may be mentioned here that of the 8 First-Class games played in Australia in 1888-89, 6 were played with six-ball overs, the others being of the four-ball over format. This was the fourth game of the season, and the first with six-ball overs.

Despite the valiant efforts of the SA skipper, his team was dismissed for 88 (himself being the top-scorer with 19) to lose by 15 runs. The heroics of Giffen were witnessed by only about 7,000 spectators over the four days of the game.

The only game for Tasmania in the season commenced at Melbourne on the first day of 1889 against a well-balanced Victoria team. The timeless game was heavily disrupted by the weather and no play was possible on Days Two and Three. William Sidebottom won the toss for Tasmania and put the hosts in, perhaps prompted to do so by the uncertain weather conditions. Victoria were dismissed for 230 with most batsmen getting starts.

Tasmania ended Day One on 41 for 4. After a rain-interrupted Day Four, they finally got bowled out for 67 on Day Five, for 67. Trott and Jack Worrall took 4 wickets each. Following on, Tasmania reached 195. The outstanding performance of the innings was from Claude Rock (102), who shared a second-wicket stand of 77 runs with William Savigny (35), Harry Trott taking 5 for 67. Victoria won by 9 wickets, and the match raised a grand total of 123 in gate money.

A word about Rock may not be out of place here. He was the father of Owen Rock, who, in his 6 First-Class games, had a Bradmanesque average of 94.75, and whose maiden First-Class century happened to be the very first to be scored at SCG.

The first of the traditional Victoria-NSW clashes for the season was at MCG. Although NSW won by 6 wickets, the game was a rather run-of-the-mill affair without any outstanding individual performances worth reporting. The only individual fifty came from Jack Edwards (50) in the Victoria first innings of 152. The only individual 5-wicket haul was achieved (inevitably, perhaps) by Ferris with 6 for 62 in the Victoria second innings of 163. Spectator turnout for the game was estimated to be about 17,500 over the 4 days of the game.

The return game at Sydney was a relatively low-scoring affair won by Victoria by 12 runs. The NSW first-innings total of 240 was the only one in excess of 200, and boasted fifties from Percy McDonnell and William Richardson. Trott shone with the ball with 5 for 72.

The Victoria first innings amounted to 137, Trott top-scoring with 44. Turner (5 for 58) and Charlton (4 for 16) took the major part of the wickets. Following on, Victoria scored 178, Ferris picking up 5 for 45. However, Victoria found two champions in Billy Trumble (6 for 33) and Worrall (4 for 19), who dismissed NSW for a second-innings total of 63.

The last match of 1888-89 was between an Australia XI and the Rest at Sydney, won rather easily by the former by 214 runs. There were three individual centuries in the game. In the Australian XI first-innings of 377, Turner, in a somewhat unaccustomed role as an opening batsman, scored 102, sharing a first-wicket stand of 144 with Bannerman (134). Turner s usual ally Ferris was not very far behind, contributing 57.

When the Rest scored 298, the top score was from Frank Walters (122). The second-innings efforts from both teams fell somewhat short of expectations. In the Australian XI total of 173, the wickets were taken by Callaway (5 for 89) and Hugh Trumble (4 for 49). The Rest, missing Henry Donnan and Maesmore Morris through injuries, were dismissed for 38. Turner took 5 for 20 and Ferris 2 for 18.

With no tourists visiting Australia, 1889-90 saw only 5 First-Class games being played. The season saw the introduction of 6-ball overs in Australian domestic cricket on a general basis, a protocol that was to continue till 1914-15 and the outbreak of World War I.

The season was launched at Adelaide with a game between SA and Victoria that Victoria won by 18 runs. The Victoria first innings of 320, runs came mainly from Drysdale (66) and Sam Morris the first player of African descent in Australian First-Class cricket 50. John Reedman had 5 for 50.

SA replied with 282, skipper Giffen (85) leading from the front and being ably supported by Harry Haldane (70). Trumble was the bowling hero with 7 for 89. In the Victoria second-innings total of 221 all out, Haldane Trott contributed 72. It was Giffen with the ball again, taking 7 for 104. For once, Giffen failed with bat in the SA second-innings total of 241, scoring only 9. However, the lone century of the game came in this innings, Lyons scoring an authoritative 134. Trumble had the last laugh for Victoria, opening the bowling and capturing 8 for 110, making it a match haul of 15 for 199.

The first Victoria vs NSW match of the season was played at Melbourne and was attended by a total of 26,500 spectators over four days of play. The revenue accrued from the game was reported to have amounted to 977. Victoria won the game by 8 wickets and Trumble took 6 for 40 and 4 for 67. NSW could manage only 109 in their first innings in reply to 251, and had to follow on. They put up a much better fight in the second innings, scoring 261, Bannerman scoring the only century of the game (117).

The game between Victoria and Tasmania was played at Hobart and was won very easily by Victoria, by a comprehensive innings and 147 runs. Victoria scored 338, Willie Over top-scoring with 91. George Pennefather was the hero of the bowling effort, claiming 6 for 86.

The Tasmania first innings limped along to 39. The scorecard informs us that 2 Tasmania batsmen, George Vautin and skipper-wicketkeeper Charles McAllen (both debutants) were absent although there is no further illumination on this issue. Why two debutants would absent themselves from the first innings (without any mention of injury) but bat in the second innings is a question that finds no answer in the scorecard. William Sidebottom, on the other hand, is shown as being absent hurt in both innings. Trott took 6 for 10. As expected, Tasmania followed on and scored 152, Trott picking up 6 for 81, this time for 81 runs. This was the only game for Tasmania in the season.

The next engagement for Victoria was the return match against NSW, this time at Sydney. Bannerman (49) and Sammy Jones (100) got NSW off to a good start with a first-wicket stand of 156. Frank Iredale (53) and skipper Harry Moses (48) also made contributions to the team total of 349. Harry Trott and Trumble took 4 wickets each.

Blackham (66) top-scored in Victoria s 216 while Turner took 5 for 71. Following on, Victoria scored 237, Worrall scoring 59. It was Turner again, with 6 for 97. Rather surprisingly, Ferris could not take any wickets in this game, an unusual aberration. NSW won by 6 wickets.

As a historical footnote, it may be mentioned that Syd Gregory, scion of one of the most famous cricketing families of Australia, and who would later become the first player from any country to play 50 Tests, made his First-Class debut in this game. Gregory would play his 50th Test against England Lord s in 1912. Contemporary reports state that the historical event had been marked by the presentation of a wallet containing 200 to him by Sir George Reid, former Australian Prime Minister and then Australian High Commissioner in London. It was not until December 1959 that Ray Lindwall would play his 59th Test to break Gregory s Australian record of 58 caps.

The last game of the season was also played at Sydney, between NSW and SA. The NSW first innings amounted to 240 with Jones (68) and Donnan (51) scoring fifties. Giffen took 3 wickets before top-scoring with 52 in the SA total of 155. Following on, SA were dismissed for 148, Charlton taking 7 for 44. NSW then reached the winning target for the loss of only 1.

One of the 3 debutants for SA in this game was Arthur Hill, one of 6 cricketing brothers, one of whom was the celebrated Clem Hill.

The sixth Test-playing tour of England by Australia in 1890 was not a good one for the visiting team, who returned after 228 days away (March 28 to November 11), having lost 2 of the Tests, the third at Old Trafford being abandoned without a ball being bowled.

There were 5 First-Class matches played in the 1890-91 in the absence of any visiting team. The first of these games was at Adelaide between SA and NSW. It was estimated that the game had attracted about 20,500 spectators in the four days of play.

SA scored 241, Harry Blinman remaining undefeated on 73 and Ferris capturing 8 for 84. NSW then made a formidable 406, Moses and Iredale scoring 67 each, Charles Richardson 56 and Donnan 58. Giffen took 6 for 150. It was Ferris again in the SA second innings of 191, with figures of 6 for 108, bowling unchanged. NSW then made rather heavy weather of the 27 run winning target, losing 4 wickets in the process.

The first match of the season for Victoria was a home game against traditional opponents NSW. Victoria reached 161, Charlton taking 5/84. NSW finished 10 short with Bannerman (45) and Gregory (50) the only ones with meaningful contributions. The surprise package for Victoria turned out to be Jim Phillips, who picked up 7 for 20 from his 41.5 accurate overs (28 maidens).

Note: This was the Phillips who would go on to play 124 First-Class matches but no Tests, and who would gain widespread recognition and appreciation for his umpiring skills, standing in 29 Tests and 279 First-Class matches, and making it his mission to stamp out any suspect bowling action as laid down by the laws of the game, both in Australia and England. It was Phillips who, in his official capacity in the white coat, had once referred to the celebrated amateur cricketer CB Fry as CB Shy on account of the latter s highly dubious bowling action. His militant attitude with regard to illegal bowling actions would later cause a paradigm shift inthe thinking processes and tolerance of other contemporary umpires and would prompt the authorities to call a meeting of all the county captains to Lord s in 1900 for a meeting to discuss the contentious issue, and would causemore stringent scrutiny to be put in place from the following summer in England.

Victoria collapsed to 88 innings in the face of incisive bowling by Ferris (4 for 27) and Charlton (6 for 45). However, NSW then tumbled to defeat after being dismissed for 62, Trumble taking 6 for 33 and Phillips completing his 10-wicket haul with 3 for 24. Victoria won the game by 36 runs.

SA travelled to Melbourne for the next match of the season, against Victoria. In many ways, this game was a signal personal triumph for Giffen, and resulted in a victory for the visiting team by an innings and 62 runs. About 21,500 spectators paid an estimated 900 in gate money for the privilege of witnessing Giffen s tour de force.

Giffen won the toss and took first strike. After the first wicket had fallen on 64, it was the skipper all the way, scoring an epic 237 out of a total of 472. Just how overwhelming Giffen s innings was may easily be gauged from the fact that there were only two other men with scores in excess of 50; Lyons (53) and Blinman (50). Phillips continued his good bowling form for Victoria with figures of 6 for 91).

Although the Victoria first innings began well enough with a stand of 96 between Richard Houston (54) and Bruce (58), Giffen had the final say, capturing 5 for 89 in a total of 220. Clearly outclassed, Victoria followed on and were dismissed for 190, the only saving grace being a polished 81 from Trott and a stubborn rearguard act of defiance from Trumble (48). Inevitably, George Giffen had 7 for 103, bowling unchanged. Giffen was to subject the hapless Victoria team to another virtuoso performance at Adelaide in the next season, but that is another story.

Another humiliating defeat was on the cards for Victoria as they travelled to Sydney for the next game of the season, the return match against NSW. This time Victoria lost by an innings and 94 runs.

There was no inkling of impending doom as Victoria first. The openers added 65, but things went all downhill from there onwards, despite 106 from opener Frank Walters. Turner captured 8 for 74 to restrict Victoria to only 181.

The NSW reply began on similar lines, with a solid opening stand of 92 from Bannerman (35) and Turner (70). The script began to differ with the arrival of Moses at the fall of the first wicket. His 147 turned out to be cornerstone of the NSW total of 465.. The lone spark of defiance on the part of Victoria was from Phillips (5 for 88).

The 284-run deficit turned out to be too heavy a cross for Victoria to bear and they succumbed to 190. Blackham scored a courageous 50, but there was very little merit in the rest of the batting. Turner put in another sterling performance with the ball, taking 7 for 100.

The last match of the season was the between Victoria and Tasmania at Melbourne. Victoria won the low-scoring game by 9 wickets as bowlers put up their hands from both sides. Tasmania were dismissed for only 50, Carlton taking 5 for 26 and Phillips 3 for 13.

Victoria replied with 106, Bruce scoring 48. Debutant Norman Rock, nephew of Tasmania skipper Claude, captured 5 for 21. The Tasmania second-innings total was 149 with George Gatehouse contributing 40. It was Carlton again for Victoria, taking 7 for 53. Victoria reached the target with the loss of a solitary wicket (to Rock), thus winning their first and last games of the season.