The BBC comedy Blackadder Goes Forth famously referred to the three great English universities: Oxford, Cambridge and Hull.
Two of those notable seats of learning compete in one of the oldest regular fixtures at Lord’s. The history of cricket in Cambridge and Oxford dates back to the 18th century - as early as 1755 the Public Advertiser carried details of a match between the gentlemen of Cambridge University and the scholars of Eton College. But it was only in 1827 that the long-running ‘Varsity’ series of matches began. It was the result of a challenge laid down by Oxford captain Christopher Wordsworth to his Cambridge counterpart Herbert Jenner. The two already had form as they had played on opposite sides in the Eton v Harrow match at Lord’s in 1822 and 1823, a contest which owed its beginnings in 1805 to an identical challenge.
The 1827 contest was spoiled by bad weather, with play restricted to one day only. Oxford had the better of things, posting a solid 258 before bowling Cambridge out for just 92. Both captains were very much to the fore. Jenner made 47 in Cambridge’s innings – no-one else reached double figures – after claiming five Oxford wickets with the ball. Wordsworth made no impression with the bat but bagged seven wickets with the ball. Rain washed out the second day, and the match progressed no further.
It was the first of many contests. From 1838 until 2000 the match was held on an annual basis and always at Lord’s, except for four occasions between 1843 and 1850 when Oxford hosted the game. The sequence was interrupted only by the two world wars and the Covid-19 pandemic. From 2001, the annual fixture at Lord’s between the men’s sides became a 50-over game. A women’s match has also taken place concurrently on the Nursery Ground. The Universities continue to contest a first-class match each year, alternating as hosts.
Hull University have never played at Lord’s.