At the beginning of August this year, the England test team played what is supposed to have been the 1,000th test match since the 1877 Ashes test against Australia in Melbourne, a match which was won by Australia by 45 runs. But was it really a test match? The players in that 1877 game had no idea they were test cricketers. England’s finest player, W.G. Grace, wasn’t there. Nor was Australia’s great bowler, Fred Spofforth. England played as James Lillywhite’s XI and only later was the match awarded test status.
Nevertheless, the show was on the road. Simon Wilde, cricket correspondent of the Sunday Times, has had the engaging idea of telling the story of the England national team. It started out as a profit-making enterprise, arranged by impresarios such as Lillywhite, but was quickly appropriated by the MCC, which regarded itself as a gentleman’s club.