Which Teams Played the First International Cricket Match?

England may have been responsible for introducing the world to the game of cricket but they were not involved in the sport’s first international match. Instead, the United States and Canada set this sporting milestone. These are hardly two countries you would associate with cricket but many decades ago it was briefly a semi-popular sport on the North American continent.

USA vs Canada: Background

First match between the US and Canada illustration

This opening international cricketing clash makes for quite a fascinating story. It all began in 1840 when a man supposedly called George Phillpotts claimed to be a cricketer for Toronto CC and sent a challenge to St George’s Club in New York. Full of confident British ex-pats who had cricketing experience, they accepted Phillpott’s offer and travelled across the border for this sporting contest.

Upon arrival though, the St George’s club discovered that they had been victims of a prank. The man claiming to be Phillpotts did not play for Toronto CC and subsequently, this proposal came as a complete shock to the team. Given that the New Yorkers had travelled all this way for a game though, the Canadians decided to cancel their weekend away fixture so they could take on their surprise guests.

The visitors won the match but both teams had such a good time they agreed to make it an annual event. Toronto CC got their revenge when travelling to New York for the following encounter and at this point, things got a little more serious. Determined to get back on top, St George’s brought along three ringers with them when it was their turn to return north again. Toronto CC refused to play though as the ringers were not part of the New York-based club.

To break out of this impasse, St George’s suggested the match should become a contest of the very best players on either side of the border. It would no longer be a club versus club match but rather a country versus country clash. Toronto accepted this offer and both clubs began looking for the best talent they could find.

The Teams

USA & Canada flags

The fixture was scheduled for September 1844, in New York, with $1,000 at stake. Toronto, or rather Canada, travelled down with a mixed assortment of players. Their star man was all-rounder David Winckworth, regarded as safe with the bat and with a mean fast right-hand bowl. He was named as the opening batsman alongside John Wilson, formerly of England, who had recently travelled across the Atlantic.

Other notable representatives for Canada included George Barber, a nine-fingered batsman who once spent two whole days at the crease in a single-wicket match. There was also John Beverley Robinson who later became the Mayor of Toronto and Fred French who was also the team’s groundsman, caretaker and cook.

Team America on the other hand were led by a carpet salesman, Robert Tinson. He was joined by Sam Wright, a cricket professional from Sheffield who had moved west with his two sons, Harry and George. Although both sons were talented cricketers themselves, the pair were better remembered for their baseball careers. In fact, they were such a hit with the thinner bats, you can find both in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Match

Cricket bat and ball in black and white

With all the preparation taken care of, it was time for the match held at St George’s usual home down Bloomingdale Road in Manhattan. Around 5,000 people showed up to watch the two-day contest, a similar attendance figure to the one seen when the USA played Canada in their recent T20 World Cup debut.

The visitors won the toss and opted to bat. Runs did not come thick and fast in those days so despite batting until mid-afternoon, Canada only had 82 runs to show for it. It was the USA’s turn after this and they responded with a haul of 64, the biggest share of these coming from Tinson (14). This marked the halfway point in the contest but the second day’s play was a washout. Due to this, all the players took the day off and agreed to return the following day hoping for better weather.

Despite only pausing for a day, this was enough time for one umpire, who had made a controversial LBW call in Canada’s favour, to go missing along with USA’s number three batsman, George Wheatcroft. Some believed the disappearances had something to do with the large amount of betting activity on the match. The Weekly Herald reported that almost $100,000 had been wagered, which works out to be over $4m in today’s money.

Despite this, the delayed second day of play did take place with Canada opening the batting again. Winckworth’s score of 14 was the best for the visitors and other batters chipped in to push their run total to 63. This meant the United States needed 82 runs to win the match. A challenging target but one that appeared feasible when the opening pair of James Turner and John Syme reached 25 runs.

It was at this point though that cricket witnessed its first international batting collapse. George Sharpe tore through the American order, missing Wheatcroft, taking six wickets for just 11 runs. To add to the drama, Wheatcroft did finally appear 20 minutes before the final wicket, arguing that the game should be restarted so he could have the opportunity to bat.

Canada refused a replay though, giving them a 23-run victory as the Americans could only muster 58 in the second innings before being bowled out. The travelling side also refused a ‘double or nothing’ game proposed for the very next day. Instead, they opted to keep their winnings safe and travel back north having won cricket’s first ever international fixture.

What Happened After?

New York Giants in 1913
Popularity of cricket declined in both the US and Canada with the US turning to baseball

Despite turning down the offer of an immediate rematch, the two sides did agree to continue with this fixture. They played it both home and away in 1845, with Canada winning on both occasions. Their winning run would not continue for too long though as when playing in Harlem in 1846, it was the USA who ended up on top. Part of the reason for this was that one of Canada’s best players, Winckworth, their top batter in the 1944 match, had moved to Detroit and had subsequently swapped teams.

Tensions were so high following Canada’s first defeat that the two nations did not play another game for another seven years. Although the fixture did eventually resume, cricket’s popularity began to wane around this time. Canada just did not embrace it like most of the British Empire, while in the USA, the Civil War accelerated baseball’s rise as the country’s favourite bat and ball game.