1909 Ashes – England’s first win in Birmingham
Hosting the inaugural Test at Edgbaston was a big learning curve for Warwickshire and an expensive one. The financial fallout from the rain-affected Ashes Test in 1902 showed there were lessons to learn - and the club learned them well. The second Test in Birmingham, another Ashes duel seven years later, made a profit despite interference again by rain.
Warwickshire were kept waiting for Test No.2 due to the paucity of international cricket in that era. England played no home Tests in 1903, 1904, 1906, 1908 while the 1905 Ashes series was contested on the 'old five' grounds and South Africa's first away Test series, in 1907, took place at Lord's, Headingley and The Oval.
But the Bears were keen to remain an international host ground and were delighted to be awarded an Ashes contest again in 1909.
Again, the city was a frenzy of preparation. The Sports Argus (A Journal of All Manly Pastimes, as it described itself on its masthead) reported that: "Preparations are continuing for the coming of the 'Cornstalks' for the first Test. We are promised a big service of trams, the manager of the trams apparently having a keen desire to augment the receipts of his department."
As in 1902, thousands of seats were brought across from Villa Park but this time they were to remain at Edgbaston for the rest of the season (Warwickshire's home season ended on August 21 while Villa's 1909/10 campaign, which would conclude with them becoming League Champions, did not start until September 1).
"England's first win in Birmingham was secured largely due to the brilliance of bowlers from the north and south of England. In terms of character, left-armers George Hirst and Colin Blythe could not have been more different."
On the field too were plenty of similarities to seven years earlier. Remarkably, seven years on, half the 22 players from the 1902 Test were selected again. And again it was to be a tale of England domination - this time rewarded by victory.
England's first win in Birmingham was secured largely due to the brilliance of bowlers from the north and south of England. In terms of character, left-armers George Hirst and Colin Blythe could not have been more different: Hirst, fast-medium, was a muscular, intimidating Yorkshireman who regarded no cause as lost; Blythe, a spinner from Kent, was highly intelligent, moody and intense. At Edgbaston, the chalk-and-cheese duo combined to wipe Australia out by sharing 20 wickets in the match.
After a long rain delay, Australia chose to bat on a wet wicket and were promptly skittled for 74 with Blythe taking six for 44 and Hirst four for 28. England's batsmen then also struggled, faltering to 13 for three before some middle-order smiting from Arthur Jones and Gilbert Jessop lifted the total to 121 and a lead of 47.
The Aussies then succumbed a second time to Blythe and Hirst who each harvested five for 58 to dismiss the tourists for 151. That left a victory target of 105, which appeared no formality on a pitch on which 30 wickets had fallen for 336, until Jack Hobbs made it into one.
The great Surrey batsmen loved playing at Edgbaston. In 35 innings there during his career he averaged 61.93, due in no small part to his efforts of 1909. A week before the Edgbaston Test, Surrey visited Warwickshire in the championship and Hobbs struck 160 and 100 (having scored 159 against the Bears at The Oval two weeks earlier!).
In the first innings of the Test, Hobbs fell first ball, as had CB Fry, but second time round the openers made light of the target, knocking off the required 105 in 32.2 overs. Fry was nervous early on so Hobbs took responsibility, shepherded the strike and unfurled an array of glorious strokes to see England home, victorious by ten wickets, at 3.10pm on the third (and final) day.
Half an hour later, the sun belatedly shining, England's players emerged to take the applause of the sea of jubilant spectators which covered the field as emphatically as the rainwater had seven years earlier. Among the loudest cheers were those accorded to the blunt, buccaneering Hirst and the shy, sensitive Blythe.
By the time Birmingham hosted its next Test match, 15 years later, Hirst would be coaching at Eton School and, aged 53, still donning his whites occasionally. Blythe had been dead almost seven years, killed in action at Passchendaele.
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