The main purpose for the 26 cricketers who have been selected for the new North-South Series is to showcase their 50-over skills at a tasty time for the format, ahead of the ICC Champions Trophy on home soil this summer, and then the World Cup in 2019.
But in representing North or South, the teams captained by Keaton Jennings and James Vince will be renewing a cricketing rivalry that stretches back to 1836 - and following in the footsteps of such greats of the game as WG Grace, Wally Hammond, Harold Larwood, Brian Close and even Barry Richards.
North versus South is the second oldest representative fixture in England’s cricket calendar – behind only Gentlemen versus Players, the contests that used to separate professionals and amateurs.
It began in 1836, with two first-class matches – the first at Lord’s won by the raiders from the North, before the South gained revenge in Leicester, with Kent’s champion all-rounder Alfred Mynn scoring a century.
South have the edge in the historical record, leading 63-55 in first-class fixtures – and that is largely down to Grace, the Gloucestershire phenomenon who dominated in the rivalry’s heyday, the 1870s – before the introduction of county and international cricket.
The teams played seven matches (all first-class) in 1875 - and because WG was in his prime, the South almost invariably won. (North did win a game in 1875, but only after WG had taken 14 wickets for 108 and top-scored with 20 out of 38 all out.)
The games were played as official Test trials in 1923 and 1927 – with Jack Hobbs a member of the South team beaten at Old Trafford in 1923, and Harold Larwood of the North bowling at Douglas Jardine of the South, his future Bodyline captain, in a rain-affected draw at Sheffield’s Bramall Lane in 1927.
The last first-class meeting was held at Stanley Park in Blackpool in 1961. The North had probably the more recognisable names – Close, Brian Statham, a young Raymond Illingworth and captained by the Lancashire stalwart Cyril Washbrook. But the South won, as they had the previous game in Torquay three years earlier, with a century for Roger Prideaux and five second-innings wickets for Glamorgan’s Peter Walker.
But perhaps fittingly, as the North-South Series has been introduced by Andrew Strauss specifically with 50-over cricket in mind, the last match was a one-day clash, at the John Player ground in Nottingham in July 1971.
This was anything but an England trial, as one-day international cricket had only been given a half-hearted debut earlier that year in Australia – and the teams included a number of overseas players who were established in county cricket such as Richards, Roy Fredericks, Mushtaq Mohammed and Majid Khan.
Richards top-scored with 69 in a South total of 216 all out, with three wickets each for Worcestershire favourite Basil D’Oliveira, and Derbyshire seamer Alan Ward.
D’Oliveira made 37 in the North reply but despite a half century from Yorkshire’s Richard Hutton, the South won by nine runs, with five wickets for Sussex quick John Snow, and three for Middlesex off-spinner Fred Titmus.
It has taken almost 46 years, and a trip to the desert, for the North to have the chance to claim their revenge!
With thanks to Scyld Berry of the Telegraph, and author of Cricket: The Game of Life