Test cricket becomes a truly international sport

It is 1889 and England and South Africa meet to play the series of first-ever Test matches against each other. Test cricket is about to become a more international game after this series.

England is one up in the series when the two teams meet at Cape Town for the second Test. England’s opener Robert “Bobby” Abel scores a patient 120 with several other batsmen putting up reasonable scores. At the end of the day, England is all out for 292 despite these starts, mainly thanks to the slow left-arm bowling of South African
Gobo Ashley, who is making his debut in the match, and bowls wonderfully well.

Johnny Briggs is introduced

It is now the second day of the match. South Africa steps out to bat on a sunny morning, with the determination to do their best to square the series. But it all goes wrong at the top of the innings. Albert Rose-Innes is trapped LBW by a fast yorker in the first over. Arthur Ochse gets run out in a mix up with opener Bernard Tancred.

And then, after eight overs have been completed, Johnny Briggs, the slow left-arm orthodox bowler, gets into the act.

Briggs bowls a magnificent 19 over spell when he runs through the hapless South Africans. He takes 7 wickets for 17 runs. Six of his victims are bowled, while fast bowler Nicolaas Theunissen manages to get his leg stuck plumb in front of the wicket. South Africa is all out for 47 and follows on. Opener Tancred remains not out and becomes the first man in Test cricket history to carry his bat through the innings.

A remarkable second spell

In the second innings, England captain Monty Bowden opens the bowling with Briggs. Opener Rose-Innes is run out in the first over without facing a ball. And then Briggs gets into the act.

Astonishingly, this time he bowls an even better spell. He needs just 14 overs to dispense of the South Africans grabbing 8 wickets for 11 runs. All eight of his victims are bowled. The run out of Rose-Innes and Fothergill bowling Owen Dunell with an unplayable yorker are spoilers that don’t allow Briggs to potentially gather the first ever 10-wicket haul in Test cricket.

Nonetheless, Johnny Briggs sets a new Test record of 15 wickets in the match for just 28 runs, in two magnificent spells of bowling. This is a record that is to last for the next few decades.

England wins the match by an innings and 202 runs. It is a match that will remain memorable forever thanks to two men and their incredible spells, Johnny Briggs and Gobo Ashley.

Johnny Briggs

Born October 3rd 1862 in Nottinghamshire, Johnny Briggs was the first man to reach the landmark of 100 Test wickets. Briggs is acknowledged to be one of the greatest left-arm spinners of the 19th century. In a bizarre twist of fate, he got his big break with Lancashire for his fielding prowess. At a time when good fielding was desirable but not the norm, Briggs’ quickness and energy at cover made Lancashire play him initially just for his fielding. At five feet four inches, Briggs was a small man, but more than his variations and control, both of which were exceptional, he was known for the extraordinary turn that he extracted from the most benign of pitches. CB Fry would write of him, “This little animal is round and smiles, it bowls and bowls and bowls and always gets wickets.” He would play 33 Test matches and eventually end his career with 118 wickets at 17.75 apiece. Like Lance Gibbs, he would boast an economy rate below 2 runs per over. Briggs’ best figures would remain the 8 for 11 he achieved in the match we have just witnessed. Sadly, Briggs’ career was cut short by Epilepsy which was not curable at that time. He passed away in 1902 at the age of 39 from deteriorating health after suffering several seizures.


Extracted from Spell-binding Spells by Anindya Dutta, Published 2017 by Notion Press.

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