Far from modern cricket wear: some members of a Tasmanian team which played Victoria in 1867 (ALMFA, SLT)

Although little evidence has survived, it is probable that cricket arrived in Tasmania with its earliest settlers. The Rev Robert Knopwood alluded to the game in a diary entry at Christmas 1814, and the game was certainly entrenched in Hobart and Launceston in the 1820s. Wherever European expansion occurred, cricket was played, and by the 1830s there were references to cricket in settlements at Richmond, Clarence Plains, Kempton, Sorell, in the Macquarie Valley west of Campbell Town, Westbury, Evandale, Longford and Hadspen.

Club organisation in Hobart and Launceston followed soon after, and by the 1840s attempts to match teams from the north and south were being made. Oatlands was the venue for the first intrastate match between the North and the South in 1850, and in March 1851, Australia's first intercolonial match, played at Launceston between the Gentlemen of Port Phillip and Van Diemen's Land, was won by the latter.

The mainland gold rush set Tasmania's cricket development back many decades from the 1850s, and although English teams touring Australia were happy to include Tasmania in their itinerary, most of the matches were played against the odds, Tasmania fielding up to 22 players in an attempt to create an equal contest. Eleven-a-side matches between Tasmania and the mainland colonies (mainly Victoria) were not resumed on a regular basis until 1889, and Tasmania was a notable absentee in the first attempts to establish a national cricket administration from the 1890s.

Constrained by debilitating poverty in the years up to the Second World War, Tasmanian cricket was maintained on a shoestring budget, and hence was reliant on the generosity of individuals in both the supply of labour and funding. An attempt to include Tasmania in a national Second Eleven Competition in the 1930s fell through, and as first Queensland then Western Australia were included in the major domestic national competition, Tasmania fell further behind. Competitive club competitions in both Hobart and Launceston occasionally produced players of undoubted first-class standard, but wins in the few interstate matches that were played were rare, and by 1962 even the mainland states saw little value in continuing with mostly unequal contests.

Faced with ever-declining prospects, far-sighted administrators in the 1960s embarked upon a programme of self-improvement, supervised by the Australian Cricket Board, and by 1977 enough progress had been made to allow Tasmania a restricted entry into the national Sheffield Shield competition. Tasmania's fairy-tale winning of the Gillette Cup, a one-day interstate competition, in 197879 assisted in the transition to full-time membership, which was granted in 1982. Although Tasmania finished last more often than not in the early years, gradually improving performances were rewarded with Tasmanian representation in national teams, and, in 1994, Tasmania's first Sheffield Shield final appearance. Further finals were played in 1998 and 2002, reflecting improved on-field performances and a progressive administration, particularly since 1986 when Denis Rogers led a team of dedicated board members to a sweeping victory in an extraordinary election.

Tasmania is now a full partner in Australian cricket, and has earned an enviable reputation in sporting circles as an example of what can be achieved by a small state in a national set-up. With a world-class playing facility in Bellerive Oval, the game is as strong in Tasmania in 2004 as it has ever been. (See also Boon, Eady, Marshall, Nash, Ponting.)

Further reading: R Page, A history of Tasmanian cricket, Hobart, [1957]; R Finlay, Island summers, Hobart, 1992.

Ric Finlay