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The day the Australia’s cricketers came to Sunderland

Ashbrooke. Sunderland, was full  for the 1948 visit of the Australian cricket team.

Ashbrooke. Sunderland, was full for the 1948 visit of the Australian cricket team.

WEARSIDE cricket fans will be bowled over by a new book. Today we take a look.

HOWZAT! A new book featuring Wearside’s links to a historic Ashes game planned for this summer has just been published by sports historian and archivist Keith Gregson.

Australia in Sunderland: The Making of A Test Match details ten games played by Australia within the town between 1878 and 1977 – complete with archive photos and documents.

“On August 9, 2013, the Australian cricket team will step onto the Emirates Durham International Cricket Ground for a history-making Ashes Test – the first ever on Durham soil,” said Keith.

“For cricket fans this is the final page of the final chapter of a fairy tale which started to turn into reality in the 1990s, with Durham County’s move to First Class cricket status.

“However, there is a already a solid historical link between Australia and the County, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the ten matches played by Australia in Sunderland.”

Wearside’s cricketing roots are thought to date to at least 1801, just before the Napoleonic Wars, when the first recorded local games were held on Monkwearmouth Shore.

It would be another seven years, however, before Sunderland Cricket Club – whose members would later beat the Australians during their first visit to these shores – was documented.

“It was officially constituted in 1834, as Bishopwearmouth CC, but later merged with Hendon Terrace CC – changing its name to Sunderland Cricket Club,” said Keith.

“Sunderland CC is acknowledged as the oldest established sports club in Tyne and Wear and, since the opening of Ashbrooke Sports Ground in 1887, it has made its home there.”

Ashbrooke quickly became known as ‘The Lord’s of the North,’ and a two-day Durham v Australia cricket match in 1926 drew a packed house of 20,678 spectators.

But the first visit to Sunderland by the official Australian cricket team took place much earlier, almost ten years before Ashbrooke was built – causing great excitement among fans.

“The date was September 1878 and the opponents were the XVIII Gentlemen of Sunderland,” said Keith. “Sunderland won, but Australia only had eight players and had to borrow three.

“A re-match between the sides was held two years later, in 1880. This time Australia won – thanks to the bowling of famous fast bowler Fred Spofforth.

“These first two games against the Australians were played at one of Sunderland Cricket Club’s former grounds in Chester Road – a windswept spot in the shadow of the workhouse.”

The Aussie tourists were to return to Sunderland eight more times over the next 100 years, with the rest of the matches being hosted by Ashbrooke – often attracting bumper crowds.

“The final match, in 1977, was against a Minor Counties select side. The visitors were always treated royally – a point often mentioned by officials at post-match gatherings,” said Keith.

Australia’s links with local cricket have continued to grow over the years, with this summer’s Ashes game seen as a “triumphal conclusion” to a sporting relationship dating back decades.

“There could be no better time to tell the tale of Sunderland’s long-standing relationship with Australian cricket,” said Keith. “The test match will be an incredible event for cricket fans.

“Change in cricket is usually slow. First Class cricket came to Durham almost out of the blue, and to have perhaps the most exciting fixture the game can offer 20 years on is quite a feat.

“My book shows why Durham has been there, or thereabouts, in cricketing terms for well over a century. Although a minor county, it could still drum up a large following.”

n Australia in Sunderland: The Making of A Test Match, by Keith Gregson, was published by MX Publishing this week at £6.99.

 

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