Earliest known surviving footage of Test cricket in Australia

BY SIMON SMITH

We are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the earliest known surviving film of Test cricket in Australia with a new digital video master. The restored 1910 film is complete with the original orange-tinted intertitle and available for the first time at the correct film speed of 16-frames per second. It can be viewed on the NFSA YouTube channel and is likely to be seen in an upcoming edition of 7.30 Report about English cricketer Percy Fender’s home movies during the 1928-29 Ashes tour of Australia. Fender’s films capture what is believed to be the earliest known footage of cricket legend Donald Bradman.

You can also watch 1930 footage of Bradman in the NFSA collection on australianscreen.

The digital video master is a half-minute silent 35mm nitrate film fragment that is part of an incomplete Pathé Animated Gazette newsreel. It was screened to Australian audiences in December 1910. Filmed at the Sydney Cricket Ground, this is the earliest known surviving Test match action filmed on Australian soil and the first time Australia was playing a Test match on home soil against a nation other than England. What a ball however it would be!

Following the opening orange-tinted intertitle of the newsreel, the first scene captures  the South African players in good spirits as they prepare for a team photograph. Long before the days of clothing sponsorships and multi-coloured team outfits, two non-selected players can be seen resplendent in their suited civilian attire. Amusingly, and in a far cry from the professional fitness routines of today’s elite athletes, four of the visiting team can be seen happily smoking away on cigarettes and pipes!

Captained by wicketkeeper Percy Sherwell (seen sitting right of the vacant chair in the middle row), the squad included such notable players as batsman Dave Nourse (father of future champion batsmen Dudley Nourse) and all-rounders Jimmy Sinclair and Aubrey Faulkner. The film then switches to the opening day’s play of the First Test on 9 December 1910. Both pieces of footage are the earliest known surviving recordings of Test match action filmed on Australian soil and the first time Australia was playing a Test match on home soil against a nation other than England.

Facing the bowling of Springbok paceman Jimmy Sinclair, Australian opening batsman Warren Bardsley drives his shot to the left of Charlie Llewellyn stationed at point (just out of frame). With opening partner and fellow New South Welshman Victor Trumper at the non-striker’s end, the pair set off immediately for a dangerous single. Found just short of his ground by a superb direct hit from the left arm of Llewellyn, Trumper’s desperation causes him to drops his bat, slipping over as he pulls up. Cutting short a promising 27 quickly compiled runs from only 38 deliveries, Trumper walked from the ground, never to know the significance of the moment to Australian sporting film history. Disappointment from the 9000 spectators in attendance would however be short-lived. Australia’s end of day total of 494 runs for the loss of six wickets became the new record for the most number of runs scored on the opening day of a Test match in Australian cricket history – a record that remains unbroken 100 years on.

This film fragment remains the only known surviving footage of Victor Trumper at the crease spanning the master batsman’s two decade, 255 game first class career, and one of only two surviving films of him with a bat in his hands. It is also believed to be the earliest known film of a South African Test team in action. Considered the greatest batsman of his era, the filmed run-out would prove a rare failure in a series Trumper would go on to dominate. Scoring two hundreds and two half centuries in his remaining eight innings of the series, Trumper easily topped the team batting averages with the Bradman-esque figure of 94.42. Achieving his highest Test score of 214 not out in the 3rd Test in Adelaide, this series was the pinnacle of Trumper’s Test cricket career. In June 1915, less than five years after this film was taken, a nation would mourn his passing at 37 from Bright’s disease. In another morbidly curious piece of trivia, Jimmy Sinclair, the South African bowler in the film, would die mysteriously only 14 months later in Johannesburg, aged 36. Fieldsman Charlie Llewellyn would controversially come to be known as the first (and only) non-white South African Test cricketer for the next 82 years until the prison release of Nelson Mandela and the removal of the racially divisive Apartheid legislation. Seventy years after his untimely passing, Trumper would be one of the inaugural members inducted into The Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985.

If you have any other footage of cricket you believe to be important, the NFSA would be interested to hear from you. Please email us at collection [at] nfsa.gov.au or give us a call on 1800 067 274.