THE OLDEST RIVALRY

When dragons roamed cricket's empire

An illustration from a cricket match between USA and Canada played in 1858 at Hoboken
An illustration from a cricket match between USA and Canada played in 1858 at Hoboken ©Getty

Consult any comprehensive cricket archive and you will read, eventually, that the first international match was played at the MCG in March 1877 - the original men's Ashes Test. There's a lot of fake news out there, and that's a prime example. And we can't blame an AI glitch.

In fact, the first sporting event of any kind between teams representing different countries was a cricket match played almost 33 years earlier than that inaugural meeting between Australia and England. It was four months before Samuel Morse sent the first telegraph message, more than three months after the world's last pair of great auks - a species of flightless bird - were killed on the Icelandic island of Eldey, and just more than a month after Karl Marx first met Friedrich Engels in Paris. Wisden wouldn't appear for another 20 years.

The match wasn't contested near places where cricket has a notable presence today. The venue was almost 17,000 kilometres from the site of what wouldn't be the MCG for another nine years. What would become the Chepauk was still 72 years away from existing, and more than 13,000 kilometres in the distance. Lord's - which was 30 years old at the time - was more than 5,500 kilometres away.

The game in question was played at what is now a nondescript city block. Three streets away and 87 years later what would be the world's tallest building for the first 40 years of its existence reached its full height of 443.2 metres.

You can't see that structure, the Empire State Building, from Dallas in Texas - where the men's T20 World Cup will start on Sunday. But the teams who will launch the tournament there are descended from the sides who took to the St George's Cricket Club - then on Bloomingdale Road, now on part of a block on Broadway between West 30th and 31st Streets - to birth international sport itself. On Sunday they will be called the United States and Canada. On September 24 and 26 in 1844 their pioneering clash was billed as "United States of America versus the British Empire's Canadian Province".

Even so, the scorecard in the New York Daily Herald referred to the teams as "St George's Club" and "Canadians". The Americans were not labelled as such perhaps because membership of St George's - whose teams were magnificently nicknamed the Dragonslayers - was open only to subjects of the British empire. But their XI for the match included players from Philadelphia, Washington and Boston as well as New York.

It was quite some game of cricket. The boundary was the unmarked edge of the ground, the pitch was unspeakably poor, the bowling was underarm, Canada did not name a captain, and one of the Americans arrived late on the second day of play and was replaced in the field, as was one of the umpires. The crowd on the first day started at 5,000 and swelled to 20,000. Between USD100,000 to USD120,000 was estimated to have been bet on the match. The prize money, USD1,000, would be worth more than USD43,000 today.

At stumps on the first day the US were 61/9 in reply to Canada's 82. Rain prevented play on what should have been the second and last day, so the match was extended by a day. The Americans were dismissed for 64, then they bowled out Canada for 63. That set the US a target of 82. The Canadians rattled them out for 58 to win by 23 runs. Three batters each made the match's highest score of 14, and there were two five-wicket hauls and one of six.

International cricket's second-ever match followed in July 1845, when the same opponents met at McGill University in Montreal and Canada won by 61 runs. You also won't find that entry in the archives, which say the US and Canada first played each other in a T20I at White Hill Field in Sandys Parish, Hamilton - the capital of Bermuda - in August 2019. Seven more T20Is, one of them abandoned, and an ODI are also on that list.

The Americans lead the official rivalry 4-3, so a Canadian win on Sunday would level matters. But the Canadians would be within their rights to demand a recount. "Don't forget," they could argue, "we slew the Dragonslayers."

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