The confidence of the players and followers of the Maitland Cricket Club grew rapidly. Reckoning that they “need not fear meeting any Club in NSW”, they issued a challenge to the Victoria Club, one of the leading clubs in Sydney. The Victoria Club was unable to accept but passed it on to another Sydney club, the Australian, which took up the offer. The Mercury reported: ‘The Australians for the past year or two have been so successful that they have had much difficulty in finding a match, and even if any of their repeated challenges has been accepted, it has generally been under the condition that one or more of their best men should not play. On the present occasion, however, the challenge of the Maitland gentlemen was unconditional, which of itself spoke well for the spirit and confidence of the Club”.
Accompanied by several friends and supporters, the local team left Morpeth by the steamer Rose, bound for Sydney. The match – the first between a Sydney club and one from the northern portion of the colony – was played on May 19 1845 on a rain affected wicket. The Australian Club scored 107 and 120 in their two innings to the Maitland Club’s 44 and 19, thereby winning the match by 164 “notches” (in these early days runs were often referred to as “notches” – a term derived from an old method of scoring where notches were cut into a stick). The Maitland visitors had difficulty in coping with the “fine bowling” of T Rowley and R Still who took 10 and 9 wickets respectively.
Undaunted by this defeat, the Maitland Club invited the Australian Club to a return match in Maitland. This time the locals were hopeful of putting up a much better show than they did at their meeting in Sydney. The Mercury reported three new players had joined the club and a fourth was expected to join. The players were “practising regularly” and improvements were carried out to the Windmill Hill ground “by leveling it and removing obstructions, particularly large stumps which had hitherto been a stumbling block to this otherwise excellent hard ground”. The reporter predicted if the “present fine, clear bracing weather” continued (the match was to be played in the middle of the winter month of June!) “both men and ground would be in an excellent condition”.
The Sydney team arrived by the steamer Thistle on the Sunday morning “accompanied by several of their friends and backers” and confident of victory. Their confidence was justified for in a two day match the Australian Club again showed its superiority to win by an innings and 13 runs. The locals, despite all their practice and the addition of the “new players”, could only manage 34 and 56 in their two innings to the Australian Club’s 103.
Not prepared to acknowledge the superiority of the Australian Club, some of the Maitland players proposed a “four-a-side match” for a wager of five pounds. In this encounter the Maitland Club salvaged some pride and “their backers got back some of the money they had lost” when the local four won 35 and 2 for 6 to the Sydney-siders’ 24 and 16. An interesting incident occurred during this match when one of the local players, Wright, sprained his ankle on a small stump and split open his lip while running for a high catch. When Wright’s turn came to bat the Australians refused to allow him a runner “as the Maitland men had kept them very close to a hasty bargain previously”.
This challenge was followed later in the week by several single wicket matches (very popular in the early days of cricket, both in England and Australia, with betting taking place both before and during the matches). On the Friday afternoon at the end of the week-long visit “a friendly game was played by some of the members of both clubs and other persons, which concluded the sports of the most complete sporting week seen in Maitland for a long time”.