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On this day in 1860 the first test match in England was played against Australia at the Oval cricket ground.
Along with the English language, cricket has been said to be one of the unifying and civilising factors of the British Empire. It remains popular in most of the great nations that were formerly part of the Empire – Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa and the West Indies, where cricket is a national sport. Even in the USA there are cricket clubs.
The game remains an essential part of the British character, as this poem by Sir Henry Newbolt confirms, Vitae Lampada:
There’s a breathless hush in the Close to-night –
Ten to make and the match to win –
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
“Play up! play up! And play the game!”
The sand of the desert is sodden red, –
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; –
The Gatling’s jammed and the Colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
This is the word that year by year,
While in her place the school is set,
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind –
“Play up! Play up! And play the game!”
Today I give thanks for the strength of character that made the British Empire that brought peace and contentment to many, but by no means to all.