When you step into the Kia Oval this summer, you will be stepping into one of the oldest and historically important cricket grounds in the country. Situated ten minutes away from the City, the Kia Oval has seen many ‘firsts’ in its time.
The memorable oval shape of the ground dates back to c1790 when an oval road was first laid around what was originally a cabbage garden and then a market garden.
Then, in 1844, the Duchy of Cornwall leased the land to turn the market garden into a subscription cricket ground. With turf brought in from Tooting Common, the Surrey County Cricket Club opened in 1845.
20,000 spectators gathered at The Oval in 1868 for the first game of the Aboriginal cricket tour of England, the first tour of England by any foreign side.
The first Test match in England was played at The Oval in 1880 between England and Australia. In 1882, Australia won the Test by seven runs within two days. The Sporting Times wrote a mocking obituary notice stating that English cricket had died at The Oval and the ashes would be taken to Australia. The English captain at the time, Ivo Bligh, had vowed to ‘regain those ashes’ and the tour was quickly dubbed as ‘the quest to regain the ashes‘.
After winning two of the three Tests on tour, a small urn was presented to Bligh, the contents of which are reputed to be the ashes of a wooden bail and were described as ‘the ashes of Australian cricket’. The Ashes trophy was thus created and is still hotly-contested whenever England plays Australia.
GENERAL SPORTING FIRSTS
Away from cricket, The Oval launched many other ‘firsts’ in international sports. In 1870, the ground hosted the first ever International football match in England – between England and Scotland – and, two years later, hosted the first ever FA Cup Final between the Wanderers and Engineers in 1872. The Wanderers won 1–0. The same year also saw The Oval host the first ever Rugby Union international fixture between England and Scotland.
As with most International sports, cricket was entirely abandoned during the First World War; 210 first-class cricketers are known to have joined the armed forces, of whom 34 died. The Oval is also referenced in ‘MCMXIV’ by Philip Larkin:
Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;
During World War II, The Oval was initially requisitioned as storage space to house searchlights. It was later turned into a prisoner of war camp, with the intention of holding enemy parachutists. However, since they never came, The Oval was never actually used for this purpose.
Whether you think it mars the London landscape, or believe it to be an historical monument; the Grade II listed Victorian gasometer has been a part of the view from the grounds since the 1847. The decorative structure has seen the entire history of the Oval play out and has survived both wars and redevelopment.
THE FEATHERS OF THE DUCHY
The Oval cricket ground was leased from the Duchy of Cornwall, who remains landlord to this day. The Duke of Cornwall is also the Prince of Wales – England’s heir to the British Throne. And, in 1915, the then Prince of Wales granted the Surrey Cricket Club the right to use the Prince of Wales feathers for the club badge.
In the twentieth century, the first One Day International match played at The Oval was on 7 September 1973 between England and West Indies. It hosted matches of the 1975, 1979, 1983, and 1999 World Cups.
The Oval also once held the record for the largest playing area of any Test venue in the world. That record has since been surpassed by Gaddafi Stadium in Pakistan. It is still, however, the largest in Great Britain.
In more recent times the Kia Oval hosted the final of the 2005 Ashes – for many the greatest series ever played – and staged England Ashes victories in 2009, 2013 and 2015.
This summer promises to be just as exciting. England will be taking on Sri Lanka at the Kia Oval in the only One Day International played on a weekday in London before facing Pakistan in the final Test match of the summer.
And we can’t wait.