Australian captain Bill Lawry (left) and England captain Ray Illingworth at the toss    Getty Images
Australian captain Bill Lawry (left) and England captain Ray Illingworth at the toss Getty Images

The first-ever One-Day International was played January 5, 1971. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the time when a potentially abandoned Test match set a concept that has gone on to dominate the world of cricket for over three decades and boasts probably the most coveted reward in the sport.

The 1970-71 Ashes generally had a dull beginning: the first two Tests produced drab, defensive cricket in general, and the conditions for the third Test at Melbourne were simply atrocious. The first two days were called off ahead of the Test, and the authorities had decided to extend play by a day.

However, incessant rain meant that the third day s cricket was also washed out. The Melbourne authorities were facing a huge financial loss at the prospect of a complete washout, and the Australian Board convinced their English counterparts into an extra (seventh) Test.

However, the conditions improved, and play finally seemed possible on the last day of the Test. The authorities, not willing to give up on a day s profits, decided to host something that seemed bizarre and completely light-hearted: they wanted a 40-over (8 balls per over) match. There would be one innings per side, and the side that would score more runs would win, irrespective of whether the other side was bowled out or not. There would also be bowling restrictions: no bowler would be allowed to bowl more than a fifth of the total number of overs per side.

In other words, there would be no draw.

The tone of the match was completely unofficial the sides went into the match as Australian XI and England XI. Rothmans decided to pay 5,000 to sponsor the match; and the Man of the Match award was supposed to be worth hold your breath 90!

It was a weekday. The authorities were really skeptic about the success of the match and the potential turnout. They had expected 20,000 people. Over 46,000 people turned out to watch the match that day. The Board had even invited Sir Don Bradman, who delivered a pre-match speech to both teams, making them aware of the momentous occasion they were about to be a part of. He also addressed the crowd at the end of the match, reminding them of the same.

Bill Lawry won the toss and decided to put England in. Derek Underwood, one of the greatest exponents on a wet wicket (it has often been said that England carried Underwood on rainy days the people carry umbrellas), was surprisingly left out of the England XI. On the huge Melbourne Cricket Ground with an outfield that had slowed down considerably, England managed to hit only 7 fours in their entire innings. John Edrich alone hit 4 of them, and top-scored with 82, thereby scoring the first fifty in the history of ODIs.

England did not manage to last their 40 overs: they were bowled out for 190 by the off-breaks of Ashley Mallett and, surprisingly, the rather pedestrian leg-breaks of Keith Stackpole. Mallett had later admitted that he never took the game seriously, and it was only years later that the significance of the occasion finally hit him. He, however, went on to return the best bowling figures in the match.

The Australians played a lot more aggressively than their English counterparts; after a solid start between Lawry and Stackpole, Ian Chappell and Doug Walters launched themselves. Chappell hit 5 fours and a six, and Walters matched him with six fours, thereby bringing the target within reach. Basil D Oliveira was hit for 21 runs in an over, and after a couple of quick wickets, Greg Chappell and Rodney Marsh saw the Australians through with 42 balls to spare.

Despite the one-sidedness of the match, it was generally declared a great success. Though Wisden refused to publish any official report of the match, many cricketers and administrators foresaw the future, and predicted that it will be a successful format. They even suggested that every tour should consist of two separate international series for Tests and ODIs.

The media generally welcomed the new format, and predicted the excitement that it was supposed to bring to the sport. The Guardian called it a One-Day Test; and Alan McGilvray, commentating on ABC, mentioned that the format involved more tactical ploys and generally sharper fielding and running between the wickets.

Within four years the first World Cup was played. The tournament probably still remains the most revered prize of cricket. And a few years after the first World Cup, a certain Kerry Packer came along and took the popularity of the one-day format to unprecedented heights a zenith it did not seem to forfeit for decades.

Brief scores:

England 190 in 39.4 overs (John Edrich 82; Ashley Mallett 3 for 34, Keith Stackpole 3 for 40) lost to Australia 191 for 5 in 34.6 overs (Ian Chappell 60; Ray Illingworth 3 for 50) by 5 wickets with 42 balls to spare.

(A hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobiac by his own admission, Abhishek Mukherjee is a statistical analyst based in Kolkata, India. He typically looks upon life as a journey involving two components cricket and literature not necessarily as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the game with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a rather steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers the sport has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks and googlies in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in)