By Shane Dell updated 04/05/05
In 1868, Australia's first touring cricket team departed on its inaugural tour of England. A notable feature of the Australian side at the time was the fact, the team was comprised solely of Indigenous Australian players. Consisting of 13 players, all the members were from the western region of Victoria. During the tour, the team was engaged to play 47 matches against the various teams who believed the task of showing up the imposters from the colonies would be a foregone conclusion. How wrong they were, of the 47 matches played, the tourists more than surprised their challengers. With the statistics of 14 wins, 19 draws and 14 losses.
The gentlemen of English cricket were aghast to discover the threat from the colonies was real. It had never entered the minds of those who were the bastions of cricket, that a colonial team would be capable of impressing the gentry of English society. There were several notable and unexpected performances by the touring team. In one of the first matches, which was played at Lords in June 1868, the Australians playing against the MCC were able to outbat the opposition in the first innings by 21 runs. The Earl of Coventry, batting for the home side, was dismissed cheaply by a ripping leg cutter bowled at a blistering pace by Australian all rounder Johnny Mullagh. This caused a sensation amongst the spectators who gathered at Lords, with the realisation the tourists were a force to be reckoned with.
Although the MCC went on to eventually win the match, Johnny Mullagh immediately became the standout player. His prowess with the ball in the first innings was more than evident, returning bowling figures of 5-82 off 45 overs, a performance only eclipsed by his skill with the bat, making 75 runs from a variety of daring strokes. Promptly christened, the W. G. Grace of the Australian team, Johnny Mullagh, displaying the skills of the most gifted cricketers of the time, became a force to be reckoned with. His excellent skills with both bat and ball were at all times a leading example to both his fellow team members and the opposition. During the game at Lords, Dr. W.G. Grace, a spectator on the day and known to all modern day cricket fans as the father of English cricket was so impressed with the athleticism and enthusiasm of Johnny, he challenged him to a competition referred to at the time as "the long throw".
The competition involved the throwing of a cricket ball over a distance, the winner was decided by the greatest distance achieved. Johnny averaged a distance of 104 yards, however, this distance was beaten by W. G. Grace who was able to average a distance of 116 yards. The fact W.G Grace laid down the challenge was more than enough to show the respect he had for the talents of this cricketer from Australia. Being the first of many tours to come, this initial competition was part of the foundation of the rivalry, which became Australia v England cricket culture and is known as the Ashes Cricket Series.