On 11 and 12 February 1851, teams from Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania) and Port Phillip District (now Victoria) played the first cricket match between two Australian colonies, recognised in later years as the initial first-class cricket match in Australia. It took place at the Launceston Racecourse, known now as the NTCA Ground, in Tasmania. The match was incorporated into celebrations marking the separation of the Port Phillip District from New South Wales in 1851 as the colony of Victoria.
The team representing Port Phillip, generally named "Victoria" in the press, was drawn from the Melbourne Cricket Club. The Van Diemen's Land team, designated "Tasmania" in newspapers, consisted of players from both Launceston and Hobart. The visiting team was expected to have an advantage through the use of fast overarm bowling. Cricket in Victoria was also considerably more advanced than in Tasmania, whose bowlers operated underarm. The match, intended to be played to a finish with no limits on time, took place on a pitch that made batting difficult. As was usual practice at the time, overs comprised four deliveries and there was no set boundary.
John Marshall was the captain of the Van Diemen's Land team and William Philpott led the Port Phillip team, which batted first. The Victorian team found the home bowling difficult to face, on account of its unusually slow pace; in their first innings, they scored 82. Van Diemen's Land replied with 104, assisted by a large number of extras. The batsmen coped better than expected with the overarm bowling, although Thomas Antill took three wickets in four balls in returning figures of seven wickets for 33 runs. Batting again, the Victorian team scored 57, leaving the Tasmanian team needing 36 to win. When the first day's play ended due to bad light, Van Diemen's Land had scored 15 runs and lost six wickets. The next morning, the home team scored the required runs for the loss of one more wicket, recording a three-wicket victory.[notes 1] The match, which had been keenly anticipated, was a great attraction and was followed closely in the press in Melbourne. Additionally, there were many social events for the visiting team.
Following this match, intercolonial cricket became increasingly widespread; cricket in Australia became more popular and was given a boost when teams of English cricketers began to tour the country, leading to a rapid increase in the playing skill of Australian cricketers.
The NTCA Ground, previously known as the Launceston Racecourse, where the match took place
It is uncertain precisely when and how cricket began to be played in Australia. It may have arrived along with the First Fleet from England but no records document this. Nevertheless, the game grew relatively quickly. The first recorded match in Australia took place in Sydney in 1803 between the military and civilians; according to the journalists Jim Kilburn and Mike Coward, in a review of Australian cricket, the New South Wales governor ordered that equipment for the game should be made in government workshops. Similar early games between the military and civilians took place in Tasmania and Victoria. The vast distances between the colonies initially prevented intercolonial cricket, but clubs quickly came into existence in the population centres and an element of competition soon arose. A combination of the presence of the British military, the attraction of English pastimes that did not require sophisticated venues or practices, and a desire to develop a society similar to that of Britain made cricket an attractive outlet for Australians. By 1832, the Sydney Gazette was able to state that "cricket was now the prevailing amusement of the colony and that no gentleman could expect to 'dangle at a lady's apron strings' unless he could boast of his cricket prowess." Matches began to be covered by newspapers, and the sport's popularity spread with the population.
One of the most prestigious clubs in Australia was the Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC), which was formed in 1838, only three years after the founding of Melbourne. The MCC dominated cricket in Australia for the rest of the century. Although club membership was intended for the social elite, similar to that of leading English clubs at the time, its ability to secure the best cricketers in its teams made it enormously popular with spectators; the intention of the MCC seems to have been to spread cricket's popularity in a similar way to the Marylebone Cricket Club's efforts in England.
Cricket was less well-established in Tasmania, then known as Van Diemen's Land. Although cricket was probably played soon after the island was settled in 1803, and was reasonably popular by the mid-1810s, the first recorded matches took place only in 1825. There was little organisation or competition; there were few clubs, and none in Hobart, in the south of Tasmania, until 1832, or in Launceston, in the north, until 1841. Partly, this may have been due to an insistence among Tasmanian clubs that only the social elite could play cricket. The cricket historian Jack Pollard suggests that Tasmanian cricket failed to thrive in its early years because of "the strange reluctance of the strong, prestigious clubs in Hobart and Launceston to hire professional players to coach and strengthen their teams". With these main cities 200 kilometres (120 mi) apart, it was difficult to establish competitive games; despite an abandoned attempt in 1841, the first match between North and South Tasmania did not take place until 1850. These difficulties prompted Launceston cricketers to seek opponents from the Australian mainland rather than from Hobart.