Philip Barker

Given fair weather in Southampton over the next five days, or if necessary six, either the cricketers of India or New Zealand will become the inaugural men's world Test champions. In the event of a draw, the title will be shared.

The winners will be able to claim to be top of a world where more than 100 nations play the game, but only 12 enjoy elite Test match status. 

That circle did not include India or New Zealand when the International Cricket Council (ICC) was formed in 1909.

Back then, the organisation was known as the Imperial Cricket Conference and Australia, South Africa and England were the only full members.

Although the first international cricket match was between Canada and the United States in 1844, the first official Test match did not take place until 1877.

Australia beat England by 45 runs in Melbourne in what was described as a "grand combination” match.

This snappy title did not catch on. The term Test was in use within a decade, apparently coined by an Australian called Clarence Moody.

Even so, the organisation of the international game was still a little haphazard.

Thus, in 1908, South African tycoon Abe Bailey suggested a competition which would involve Australia, England and South Africa in a tournament to be staged during the English summer of 1909.

The renowned magazine Cricket: A Weekly Record of the Game devoted a long article to Bailey's idea and also informed its readers that he was the son of a Yorkshireman who had been born in the Cape. 

Southampton's Ageas Bowl is due to host the first World Test Championship final between New Zealand and India ©Getty Images
Southampton's Ageas Bowl is due to host the first World Test Championship final between New Zealand and India ©Getty Images

"When gold was discovered in Johannesburg he hastened thither, and it speaks eloquently for his pluck and determination that he made the journey on foot," the magazine said.

His fortune made, Bailey became a Member of Parliament in his homeland and set about developing cricket, which he described as "his hobby".

"Mr Bailey's proposal, of which so much has been heard recently, is that a series of matches be played in this country between representative teams of England, South Africa and Australia," it was written.

"The time he considered opportune owing to the form shown over here last season by the South Africans, and because the Australians in all probability would be visiting us in 1909.

"The South African Cricket Association is said to be strongly in favour of the tournament taking place next year.

"The South Africans have shown themselves to be thoroughly in favour of it and English cricketers have generally expressed their approval."

The Australians sounded a dissenting voice, however. John Corbett Davis, a writer in the Sydney Referee magazine under the pen name "Not Out", thundered: "It would be temporarily ruinous to the game.

"It would make the game more the business and less the pastime for players than ever."

Even Cricket: A Weekly Record of the Game sounded a cautious note.

"The scheme is certainly an attractive one, but there are many points which need careful consideration before anything can be arranged," the magazine warned.

It did not prove possible to hold the event in 1909, but the first ICC international meeting was held at Lord's Cricket Ground in London during the England v Australia Test match.

England playing Australia at Lord's in a Test match in 1899 ©Getty Images
England playing Australia at Lord's in a Test match in 1899 ©Getty Images

The Australians were represented by Les Poidevin, a talented sportsman who played first class cricket and was also good enough at tennis to play in the Davis Cup. 

The other designated Australian delegate was Peter McAlister, but he was unable to attend the meetings because he was actually playing in the Test.

The gathering was chaired by the Earl of Chesterfield, the President of Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), and attended by Lord Harris, who had once featured on Baron Pierre de Coubertin's shortlist for members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). 

Harris never did join the IOC, but remained a stalwart of the MCC.

The South Africans were represented by Sir Henry Leveson-Gower, an English cricketer known by the nickname "Shrimp", and George Hillyard, the 1908 Olympic doubles tennis champion.

Hillyard proposed "that the principle of triangular contests is approved" and that "an effort should be made to have the first triangular contest in England in 1912".

This was seconded by Poidevin and unanimously agreed.

The Reverend Robert Holmes, a noted historian of Yorkshire cricket, wrote: "Most of us are eagerly anticipating the triangular contest which will make 1912 ever memorable in the history of the game."

Each team was to play six Test matches, meeting the other sides three times.

"Each country shall take a third of the gate at Test matches," it was agreed.

When the Australians arrived in 1912, they were divided after bitter squabbles with the cricketing governing body. 

Such was the rift that star batsman Victor Trumper and future captain Warwick Armstrong were among a group which refused to tour.

They still began in promising fashion with a victory inside two days against South Africa in Manchester.

Apart from a century by Aubrey Faulkner, who was inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame earlier this week, the South Africans had no answer to the Australian bowling.

India won their first Test match in 1952 and are now bidding to become world champions ©Getty Images
India won their first Test match in 1952 and are now bidding to become world champions ©Getty Images

Jimmy Matthews completed the victory with a hat-trick, his second of the match.

South Africa's woes continued when they were bowled out in 90 minutes for 58 by England, en-route to another innings defeat. They lost five of their six matches.

The weather at Lord's sabotaged any real prospect of a result when England met Australia. Bad weather and poor crowds dogged the competition from then on.

The ninth and last match of the series, held at Kennington Oval in London, was scheduled as a "timeless" match. 

England beat Australia by 244 runs to clinch the series. They were skippered by C.B Fry, who had once equalled the world long jump record, and 1908 Olympic boxing gold medallist Johnny Douglas.

Australia's team journeyed home with only two victories against South Africa to show for their efforts.

The Pall Mall Gazette asked: "Has the triangular series failed? The International Cricket Conference has not said so in so many words but no other meaning can be read into their declaration concerning future international contests."

The ICC's five-year programme of tours up until 1917 did not include another triangular. In fact, there was only one further Test match series before the outbreak of the First World War.

Cricket had long been popular in India. An enthusiastic team called the Parsees ventured to England as early as 1886, but it was not until 1932 that All India was awarded Test status.

India's first Test match victory came in February 1952 when they beat England by an innings in Madras, now called Chennai. 

Over the next 15 years they won against Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand, but all of these successes came on the sub-continent.

The New Zealanders' Test debut arrived two years earlier than India's in 1930, but they had to wait 26 years and 45 matches for their first victory, achieved in Auckland against the West Indies in March 1956.

New Zealand had to wait 26 years for their first Test win but could now reach the top of the tree ©Getty Images
New Zealand had to wait 26 years for their first Test win but could now reach the top of the tree ©Getty Images

Their first away wins came in a drawn series against the South Africans in 1962.

India did not win away from the sub-continent until 1968. By a twist of fate, the team they beat was New Zealand.

Dick Brittenden, the veteran New Zealand cricket writer, summed up the series for Wisden Cricketers' Almanack.

“New Zealand were generally outplayed by a team stronger in batting, more reliable in fielding and far better equipped in spin bowling for the turning pitches on which the Tests were played," he said. 

India were captained by Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi who had courageously played despite the loss of sight in one eye after a motor accident.

The Indians owed much to the bowling of spinner Erapalli Prasanna who took 24 wickets in the four match series, and batsman Ajit Wadekar who struck a match winning 143 in the third Test.

Wadekar later succeeded Pataudi as captain, and led India to series victories in the West Indies and England in 1971 in a truly golden year.

In 1980, New Zealand achieved what many felt to be "the impossible" by defeating the West Indies. 

At the time their opponents were considered unofficial world champions, thanks in no small measure to a fearsome fast bowling quartet including Michael Holding, known as "Whispering Death".

Holding kicked a stump out of the ground in anger at an unsuccessful appeal, in an uncharacteristic display of temper.

New Zealand's success was inspired by their own supreme pace bowler Sir Richard Hadlee.

In the years which followed, a cartoon in one cricket magazine, which showed the mighty All Blacks rugby team promising to atone for defeats handed out to the cricketers, became redundant.

In fact, New Zealand and India have enjoyed much greater success than in their formative years.

For this week's final, the teams have been handed a dossier of playing conditions which runs to 95 pages.

It will be the 2,425th Test match played and will be a far cry from the pioneers in the 1877 "Grand Combination" match. 

Not least because the winners will receive $1.6 million (£1.1 million/€1.3 million) in prize money.