On this day in 1827, Oxford University Cricket Club and Cambridge University Cricket Club played their very first cricket match, inaugurating a now annual tradition and igniting a ferocious rivalry between the two most prestigious universities in the United Kingdom. The first of many instances of the “University Match” was played over two days at the traditional Lord’s stadium—often affectionately known as the “home of cricket”—in St John’s Wood, London, and it was a draw. Over the years there have been 58 wins for Cambridge, 54 wins for Oxford, and 54 draws.
The 1827 game was initiated by Charles Wordsworth—who was the Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane in Scotland, a classics scholar and school teacher, and of course a keen cricketer and rower. Wordsworth had studied at Christ Church College, Oxford, where he obtained a first-class degree in classics, while his old school friend Charles Merivale had studied at Cambridge. Thus, with his close contacts at both Oxford and Cambridge, Wordsworth was able to organise a cricketing match-up between the two academic rivals. He captained the Oxford team and took a rather impressive seven wickets—meaning he bowled out seven batters by knocking the wooden wicket off the three stumps behind them.
A couple of years later, in 1829, Wordsworth and Merivale also arranged the very first Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge, with two teams of rowers racing along the river by the countryside town of Henley-on-Thames. Wordsworth’s crew won the very first Boat Race, which eventually proved far more popular than the cricketing University Match; these days the annual battle between the Oxford University Boat Club and the Cambridge University Boat Club takes place along the Thames through Central London, and is watched by around a quarter of a million spectators and many more on television.
Nevertheless, the now fierce sporting rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge started on the well-mown lawns of the cricket fields, and not the choppy waters of the Thames. And although it started a long time ago, it is still relatively recent in cricketing terms; the first county match, between Kent and Surrey, dates back to 1709, if not earlier.