England v Australia
County Ground, Northampton: 12th – 15th June 1937
In front of a curious English crowd of 5000 spectators Australia’s Margaret Peden strode to the centre wicket with Molly Hide and promptly won the toss. It was the commencement of the first Test match on English soil.
In typical Peden fashion, she chose to bat and walked off the field to pad up, opening the batting with Peggy Antonio. In dull light the pair walked purposefully to the wicket, Peden in her trademark wide brimmed hat tilted slightly backwards, and Antonio sporting both hidden and visible superstitious trinkets. She was by far the most superstitious of the Aussies, once having to leave the field to retrieve her black cat broach, a lucky charm she could not do without.
Opening the bowling for England, Betty Belton and perennial thorn in the Australian side from the tour in 1934, Myrtle Maclagan. Both bowled a maiden over. Peggy Antonio would never die wondering. Where her spin bowling quite often offered up loose balls, so too her exuberance when batting often offered up loose shots. She was an aggressive batter and liked to go after the bowling, particularly outside off stump and had already enjoyed plundering the English bowling in the tour games, however she was out bowled for a duck to Meg Belton with the last ball of the third over. Australia were one wicket down without score.
That was the last of the joy for England as Peden hung around, determined to put Australia on the right track, while Maclagan for once was ineffective. At the other end, Hazel Pritchard carried her tour game form into the Test and delighted the crowd with her forceful driving. Finally the talented young batter was finding her feet at Test level. Peden went for 34, while Hazel scored a fine 87, a classy collection of drives and glances.
Kathleen Smith, batting at number six, top scored with 88, serving up some vicious pulls to the leg side. Good contributions along the way from the tail and the Aussies managed to score their highest total in Test cricket, an even 300. Hide, Belton and Eileen Whelan picked up three wickets each, while Maclagan was kept quiet, taking just the one scalp.
In fading light, England’s openers Mollie Child and Muriel Lowe faced up against Mollie Flaherty and Smith, with Peden going for the right/left arm fast combination. Child struggled against the pace of Flaherty and repeatedly played and missed. When the score was 12, she nudged a ball to mid-on and took off for a run. Quick as a flash, Flaherty raced at the ball and threw down the stumps from side on, running Child out. At 1/14, England negotiated the remaining balls and finished the day only one down.
Overnight rain saw the batting conditions deteriorate and England resumed the next morning under dark skies. Peden introduced spin through Peggy Antonio and the leg spinner took out Haddesley, then the prize wicket of Betty Snowball. Lowe made her way to 42 on the back of a series of uppishly played leg glances that didn’t go un-noticed by the Australian skipper.
Alicia Walsh’s off breaks then cleaned up Hide, the captain, for a duck. Nell McLarty removed Lowe while Antonio cleaned up the rest, taking 6/51 as England were all out for 204, behind on the first innings by 96 runs. The only England player to stand tall was the mighty Myrtle Maclagan, who was 89 not out. Myrtle was still a splendid player. Indeed, had she opened the batting she would most surely would have carried her bat.
The wicket was playing tricks and the Australians were soon to learn just how difficult a pitch it was on which to bat. Antonio scored one more than her first innings duck, and Peden was out stumped by Snowball for 6. Pritchard was runout for 17 while Molly Hide bowled both Pat Holmes and Smith. The Aussies limped to stumps 9/91. It was a far cry from the first innings. To make matters worse, Flaherty had injured a muscle in her side and batted with a runner.
Early on day three, top scorer Nell McLarty was out for 23 and Australia’s second innings finished at 102, giving them a lead of 198. Given how badly the wicket was behaving, it ought to have been enough, but then the old firm of Maclagan and Snowball had other ideas and got England off to a steady start.
Smith opened the bowling with McLarty, who’d obviously recovered sufficiently from her injury and just when it looked like the batters were well settled, Maclagan edged one to keeper Winnie George and England were 1/58. Joan Davis came in at first drop and kept the score moving before she was bowled by Smith for 19. The score at a respectable 2/97 and the irrepressible Molly Hide saunters to the crease. Just six runs later and she was bowled by Smith, who was having an inspired spell.
Antonio chipped in with the wickets of Child and Muriel Haddesley as Peden was ringing the changes. She put a fieldsman in a leg slip position when Lowe arrived at the crease and the batter duly clipped it to the athletic McLarty. Nell took another catch to dismiss Joyce Haddesley and entertained the crowd by juggling it, eventually catching the ball after three attempts.
England had the wobbles but still at the crease the brilliant Betty Snowball, ever steady as she watched the wickets tumbling at the other end. Fast running out of partners, she began to take more and more risks in an effort to farm the strike.
Still well short of the total required, she took one risk too many and Mary Taylor was run out. However it was apparent that the wicket keeper Winnie George had broken the wicket with her hands, and Taylor started walking off, knowing she was well short. Realizing her mistake, George yanked out the stump and appealed again. “If you insist, it’s out,” said the umpire.
As Taylor marched towards the pavilion, Peden summoned the England captain and the batter, and insisted she resume her innings. Explained Peden, “I couldn’t have a wicket on such terms therefore I brought back Taylor, explaining that Australia hadn’t appealed a second time.”
At tea, England was 8/156, staring at defeat and just after 5.00 PM, Belton was bowled by Antonio, giving victory to the Australians by 31 runs. It was the closest Test match so far and the first victory by Australia in Test cricket.
Peden’s captaincy played a key role and she was cool throughout the game, yet wouldn’t compromise her sportsmanship when she refused the run out of Taylor. Her shrewd tactics were on display for the entire Test, yet it was a victory won by the entire team. And thus, Peden became the first Australian captain to win a Test match. “The first Test is ours,” said Peden said to the press, “I am very proud of my team.”
Australia 300 (Smith 88, Pritchard 87, Hide 3/50, Belton 3/56) and 102 (McLarty 23) defeated England 204 (Maclagan 89*, Antonio 6/51) and 167 (Snowball 72, Smith 4/50, Antonio 3/40) by 31 runs