Durban's First Major Cricket Match

By Reg Sweet - 9 May 2005

Durban's first cricket match of any note dates back to 2 May 1860, so we have an interesting Durban anniversary on our hands this month.

Shortly before that date, the Maritzburg Cricket Club sent a "Challenge to the Gentlemen of Durban" signed by :"Sam Williams, hon sec." Cricket was already being played in the Capital , but at this stage there was still no organised cricket in the seaport city.

Undaunted, Durban picked up the challenge. At Deer's London Hotel, 11 players were chosen as Champions of Durban. Mr A. Moore acting curator of the Botanic Gardens, "had a nice pitch mown on the flat by the racecourse", it was recorded in The Natal Mercury, and the match would be followed by a public dinner in honour of the Maritzburg team at the Masonic Hotel.

Stores and businesses closed at noon on the big day, said the report, "and the town turned out en-masse to witness the fight. The scene, with its horsemen, flags and wagons was a very gay and inspiring one."

It has to be recorded that Durban, against the odds, won this opening encounter despite their lack of experience, by six wickets - or, in the quaint parlance of the scoresheet, "with six wickets to go down." Mr Moore's pitch, it can only be assumed, was the villain of the piece. Maritzburg were dismissed for 30 (Starr 13, Button 6. Hornby 4 wickets, Allington 3. Runs scored off the bowlers were unrecorded) and 54 (Starr 15, Trenouth 6. Allington 3 wickets, Hornby 3, Landsdell 3). Durban were dismissed for 40 (Downard 13, Landsdell 6, Burton 6, Allington 6. Starr 3 wickets) and 53 for six (Burton 21 not out).

The scoresheet remains a mystery. Catches were sometimes recorded, but often not. Bowlers suffered a similar fate. All extras were classified as byes, and neither wicketkeepers nor bowlers were credited with stumpings, What was more, the scoresheet failed to add up !

Still, those were early days. What was certain was that some famous Natalians played in this historic match : Harry Escombe and Sir Henry Binns, to name just two.

Harry Escombe played in the historic match. The picture is of his staue in the town gardens.

And, as the newspaper report faithfully recorded, "When we remember that the Durbanites have had hardly any practice at all, some of them not having played for months past, everyone must admit that the laurels were bravely won. They had a formidable foe, a hard struggle, and, we are bound to add, a glorious victory. The great crowd of bystanders seemed to take a great interest in the progress of the game, and the final result was hailed with loud cheers."

All that was 145 years ago this month. Let's give that very first Durban side of 1860 a loud cheer of our own !

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