First Class cricket is one of the three major forms of professional cricket apart from List A and T20 cricket. First-class cricket is the first form of cricket that was considered as a professional standard. The origin of the word first-class is debatable. In 1894, the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and secretaries of four English county clubs conducted a meeting to categorize professional matches played in Great Britain as first-class matches. Thus, in 1895, the inaugural first-class match of the season took place between the MCC and Nottinghamshire.
Australian journalist Clarence Moody wrote in his book “Australian Cricket and Cricketers” where he chronicled 39 matches between 1859 to 1894 and tagged them as “Test matches.” Moody’s matches were automatically included as first-class matches retrospectively after Imperial Cricket Conference’s (ICC) defining law that was passed in May 1947.
The ICC let out a statement to define first-class cricket. The definition was as long as three sentences. The salient features of a match to be tagged as first-class draw relevance even today. These features are as follows:
- The match should have eleven players and each side can be allowed to bat twice (two innings per side).
- These matches must last for three or more days.
- First-class matches must be played on natural and not artificial turf.
- Matches should be held at venues with certain specifications that make them fit for hosting professional matches.
- The matches adhere to the Laws of cricket.
- The governing body of each nation must recognize that particular match as a first-class match.
A major difference between test matches and first-class matches is that the former is played between two full-time members of the International Cricket Council (ICC). Thus, by default, a player’s first-class statistics includes performances in test matches as well.
Englishman Wilfred Rhodes holds the record for playing the most first-class matches (1110 matches) and also holds the record for most wickets taken in the format (4204 wickets). Another Englishman, Jack Hobbs, holds the record for scoring the maximum runs in first-class matches. He hit 61,760 runs at an average of nearly 51 runs in a career that lasted for approximately three decades. The legendary cricketer WG Grace, holds the record for being the only player to score over 54000 runs and take over 2800 wickets. Grace played first-class cricket between 1865 to 1908.