The first officially recognised Test match was held in March 1877, more than three hundred years after the first instance of cricket being played. That means the history of the pre-Test cricket era is quite long and rich. It also included the first international match that took place between, as surprising as it may sound, the USA and Canada. But that Test match between Australia and England at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in 1877 contributed hugely to the professionalisation of the game of cricket.
The rules and regulations of the game back then were very different from what they are now. Even the governing body that set up those rules was different. The International Cricket Council (ICC) was yet to be founded. The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), established about 100 years before the inception of Test cricket, used to take care of the game at that time.
Interestingly, in the early days of Tests, the number of balls per over was four whereas it is six now. But there had been variable numbers of balls per over in different parts of the world until the rule was amended in 1980. That's because the MCC didn't specify the number of balls in the rulebook, merely saying that the captains of both sides would decide it after discussing it among themselves.
Right now the Indian Premier League (IPL) is taking place in the UAE. Sharjah International Cricket Stadium is one of the grounds hosting the tournament and the length of the square boundary at one side is just 58 metres. If someone from the 1800s heard that, he would have been shell-shocked. Because at that time six runs were given only if the batters could smash the ball out of the ground. The rule was changed as late as 1910.
A year before that, which means in 1909, the ICC was formed. It was then called the Imperial Cricket Council which had three members- Australia, England and South Africa.
So, South Africa was the third nation playing Test cricket. They made their debut in 1889. Another remarkable change in cricket rules took place that year. Declarations were first authorised in Tests but they weren't allowed before day three. That means for two years, teams had to continue batting until the 10th wicket fell even if they didn't want to. That sounds very tiring. But what's more tiring and gruelling were the matches themselves. The 'Timeless Tests'. The real deal.
The authorities have universally settled for five-day Tests. There has been a lot of chatter too about four-day Tests and even a four-day Test took place between South Africa and Zimbabwe in 2017. Three-day, four-day Tests weren't a very uncommon thing in the early days but timeless Tests were the norm, a bit like the game of baseball.
Between 1877 to 1939, 99 timeless Tests took place and in those Tests, there was zero possibility of a draw theoretically. But quite a few of those matches had to be left unfinished because of visiting sides' shipping schedules.
The last timeless Test took place in 1939 between South Africa and England which was also the longest Test match ever in history and it went into the Guinness Book of World Records. The match began on March 3 and ended on March 14 (12 days) but still, there was no result. The match went on for 43 hours and 16 minutes, a total of 1981 runs were scored and as many as 5447 balls were delivered. But England players had to leave the ground midway as the ship supposed to take them home was scheduled to leave South Africa.
England legend Wally Hammond then said that these timeless matches weren't doing the game any favour. Since then, no timeless Test was ever played and the authorities settled for limited-day Tests. It was undoubtedly one of the most remarkable decisions in cricket history.