50 years ago, England and Australia played what they thought was a ‘joke match’- little did they know it was the first ever ODI and had kicked off cricket’s brave new world
- England played Australia in an impromptu 40-over match in 1971
- The encounter took place at the MCG after third Test was ruined by rain
- The 40 eight-ball over game was won by the hosts in front of 46,000 fans
- Australia recently took on India in the 4,267th one-day international match
Even at the age of 88, Ray Illingworth has a stickler’s memory for a scorecard. Yet when it comes to the first one-day international, which took place 50 years ago today in Melbourne, his instant recollection is not of runs or wickets, but of a dressing-room mutiny.
One-day cricket is part of the furniture now. The most recent international, between Australia and India at Canberra on December 2, was the 4,267th. Despite the rise of Twenty20, the 50-over World Cup remains the most coveted of all limited-overs trophies.
But when Dave Clark, the manager of England’s 1970-71 Ashes tour, told Illingworth’s team they were to take part in an impromptu 40-over match at the MCG to make up for the third Test being ruined by rain, there was little sense among the players that they were about to create history.
Aussie wicketkeeper Rod Marsh in acrobatic form during the match at the MCG in 1971
On the contrary, they were too busy fuming over money.
‘The players were treated pretty badly,’ says Illingworth, half a century on. ‘There was nearly a riot in the dressing room. The manager just wandered in and told us what was happening. We were never consulted.
‘It wasn’t in our contract to play the extra one-dayer or an extra seventh Test, which they just tagged on. We could have refused to play. It wasn’t a very happy situation. The manager just had a chat with Donald Bradman, and all they were interested in was making some brass for Australian cricket.’ Several years before Kerry Packer took advantage of the general feeling among the world’s best players that they were overworked and underpaid, Illingworth’s account provides an ominous foretaste.
‘We didn’t take the game particularly seriously,’ he tells Sportsmail. ‘The Australians were paid a full match fee and we weren’t paid much at all. We were there to win the Ashes and I didn’t want anyone to get injured. That made this game a bit dodgy.
England played an impromptu 40-over match at the MCG after the third Test was ruined by rain
‘I think we were offered £25 each for the seventh Test, and I’m still not sure we ever got paid. I can’t say we played with any killer instinct. I just couldn’t bring myself to kick them up the arse.’
Famously, England went on to win the Ashes 2-0 — the first time they had regained the urn in Australia since Bodyline, 38 winters earlier. But their first attempt at limited-overs internationals was mainly a non-event — even though 46,000 spectators turned up for what should have been the fifth day of the Test.
They might have expected a better show from England. After all, county cricketers had been playing one-day matches since the introduction of the 65-over Gillette Cup in 1963, although the Australians’ first taste had not been until November 1969. Still, no one was sure what constituted a decent score in a game of 40 eight-ball overs a side.
‘We didn’t know, to be perfectly honest,’ says Keith Fletcher, who made 24 off 47 balls. ‘We looked at the game as a one-off, before we got back to the proper stuff of Test cricket and the four-day matches against the state sides.’
It seems incongruous now, but Geoff Boycott faced the first delivery, from Graham McKenzie. And by the time he became one-day international cricket’s first wicket, caught by Australian captain Bill Lawry off Alan ‘Froggy’ Thomson, he had made eight in 37 balls — hardly the innings of a brave new world.
‘Boycs at the time wasn’t a one-day player,’ chuckles Illingworth.
Ray Illingworth (right) was the England captain for the 1970-71 Ashes tour
‘You’d pick him on a bad wicket, maybe, but not on a decent pitch.’ More attuned to the demands was Boycott’s opening partner, John Edrich, who died aged 83 shortly before Christmas. He hit the first four, a whip through midwicket off Thomson, and went on to make 82 off 119 balls, the game’s highest score. Of England’s anaemic tally of seven boundaries, Edrich managed four.
The innocence of the occasion was highlighted when Charlie Elliott, the English umpire who served as man-of-the-match adjudicator, gave the award to Edrich, a member of the losing side. ‘Without John’s 82,’ he reasoned, ‘there would have been no match.’
Put into bat, England were bowled out for 190 in their final over, with only Basil D’Oliveira, who made 17 off 16, scoring at better than a run a ball.
And a limp performance was summed up when Australia opener Keith Stackpole took three wickets with his gentle leg-breaks — the only wickets of his ODI career. He was pleased enough to mention the game in his autobiography: ‘Although the Poms are past masters at one-day cricket, we gave them a thrashing.’
In fact, Stackpole’s success was another glimpse into a future where slow bowlers dominate the rankings in cricket’s shortest form. Of the 14 wickets to fall that day, nine went to spin, with Ashley Mallett and Illingworth also collecting three each.
The international between Australia and India at Canberra on December 2 was the 4,267th
Mallett later revealed England weren’t alone in feeling underwhelmed by the occasion. ‘They called it the first one-day international, which rather surprised me years later,’ he said.
‘I thought, “Gee, it’s part of history”. That game, we thought, was a bit of a joke.’ To add to a surreal mood, the organisers of an event billed on TV as an ‘International Knock-Out Match’ between an ‘Australian XI’ and an ‘England XI’ offered $2,000 to any batsman who managed to hit the clock on the top deck of the Members’ Pavilion.
As local journalist Keith Dunstan pointed out: ‘There was only one six, and that was hit in the wrong direction.’ It was struck over long-on off Illingworth by Ian Chappell, who top-scored for Australia with 60 from 103 balls. His brother, Greg, was unbeaten at the end with Rodney Marsh as the hosts won by five wickets with 42 balls to spare.
Rothmans had been hastily roped in as sponsors, and handed over $2,400 to Australia and $400 to England.
Eoin Morgan captained England to World Cup after thrilling victory over New Zealand in 2019
For a while, normality resumed. The focus returned to Test cricket, and Illingworth’s team returned home as heroes — despite the performance of the Australian umpires, who failed to award them a single lbw decision in the series.
‘We won the Ashes against the odds,’ says Illingworth. ‘The umpiring was a disgrace. It wasn’t just the lbws: it was the caught behinds, too. Keith Stackpole was the one who benefited most. He later told me all seven or eight decisions that were given not out were out. No wonder he had a good series.’
But the 1960s had not been much of an advert for Test cricket, dogged by over-cautious batting and too many draws. And despite the players’ bemusement, a seed had been sown.
After the game, Bradman told the crowd: ‘You have seen history made.’ In the press box, even the traditionalist EW Swanton, of The Daily Telegraph, was heard to say: ‘There is clearly a great future for this sort of thing.’
The second one-day international took place in August 1972, when a century from Dennis Amiss helped England beat Australia at Edgbaston. But at the ICC’s AGM the following year, England proposed a men’s World Cup (the first women’s tournament took place in 1973). The ball was rolling. In 1975, three run-outs by Viv Richards helped West Indies win the first final, against Australia at Lord’s.
‘I don’t think anyone imagined what one-day cricket would become,’ says Illingworth. Inevitably, perhaps, he adds: ‘But Test cricket’s still a better game.’
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