Cricket History

The origins of cricket are obscure, and there are several theories on how it started. One is that shepherds used to play it - one would stand in front of the wicket gate to the sheep fold, and another would bowl a stone or something at him, and he would have to hit it with his crook, which was known as a cricce.

Other theories are that it derives from a game called club-ball, or a game played in churchyards...

The first reference to cricket being played is thought to be in 1300, between Prince Edward and his friend Piers Gaveston and the first recorded match took place at Coxheath in Kent in 1646. The first match between counties on 29th June 1709, when Surrey played Kent at Dartford Brent.

The earliest known cricket photographs were taken in 1857, by Roger Fenton at the Artillery Ground, when the Royal Artillery played Hunsdonbury.

As well as shepherds' crooks, early bats were clubs and sticks. These gave way to long, thin battes, which looked a bit like straightened-out hockey sticks, because the ball was bowled under-arm, and the batters swung their bats like clubs!!

By the 18th century, the batte had developed into a longer, heavier, curved version of the one we know now, carved out of a single piece of wood.

Today's bat was invented around 1853, with the blade made of willow, and a cane handle, which is layered with strips of rubber, tied with twine, and covered with rubber to make a grip. The 'V' shaped extension of the handle into the blade is the splice. The early balls were stones and other missiles. Rather dangerous really, and not surprising that someone came up with an alternative! They're now made of cork, and covered with hand-stitched leather quarters dyed red.

The wicket - the stumps are the three posts. Originally there were two, and at one point, four. The size has varied too - in the 17th century, were up to two metres wide!! The bails are the two bits of wood on the top, and if they fall off, it's all over!!  

A rudimentary form of the sport can be traced back to the 12th century. Written evidence exists for a sport known as creag being played by Prince Edward, the son of Edward I, in England in around 1300. In 1598 there was a reference to the sport of cricket being played by boys at the Royal Grammar School, Guildford. This is generally considered to be the first mention of cricket in the English language. A number of words are thought to be possible sources for the term cricket. The name may derive from a term for the cricket bat: old French criquet (meaning a kind of club) or Flemish krick(e) (meaning a stick) or in old English cricc or cryce (meaning a crutch or staff). Alternatively, the French criquet apparently derives from the Flemish word krickstoel, which is a long low stool on which one kneels in church and which resembles the long low wicket with two stumps used in early cricket.

From the mid-17th to the 18th century, cricket transformed from being a children's game to one played by men for bets. Originally played with only two stumps and a single, long bail, Sevenoaks Vine C.C. established a third stump and second bail (folklore suggests that a certain bowler continuously bowled the ball through the middle of the stumps, but due to the speed nobody could tell for sure). Old Coulsdon hosted the first ever cricket match with three stumps and two bails. The Coulsdon and Caterham Team were a pretty confident bunch, laying out a bullish all-comers challenge in 1731 to beat any 11 men in England. Around 1750, a cricket club was formed in Hambledon, Hampshire. In 1788, the Marylebone Cricket Club framed the first set of rules to govern matches played between English counties.

Cricket entered an epochal era in 1963, when English counties modified the rules to provide a variant match form that produced an expedited result: games with a restricted number of overs per side. This gained widespread popularity and resulted in the birth of one-day international (ODI) matches in 1971. The governing International Cricket Council quickly adopted the new form and held the first ODI Cricket World Cup in 1975. Since then, ODI matches have gained mass spectatorship, at the expense of the longer form of the game and to the consternation of fans who prefer the longer form of the game. As of the early 2000s, however, the longer form of cricket is experiencing a growing resurgence in popularity.

Shepherd's Game

It's far from clear how, when and where cricket was first invented, although it would appear that within England cricket has its roots in the south east. Reference was made to a game similar to cricket in the accounts of King Edward I, being played in Kent as early as the 13th Century. The word "cricket" may well have been derived from a curved staff used by a shepherd that was known as a "cric". This was reportedly used as a bat in front of the gate of a sheep pasture.

Peasant's Game


Cricket was a game played mainly by young peasants and interest is believed to have already spread abroad before it gained in popularity in England late in the 17th Century. Early in the 1760s a club was formed in Hambledon, Hampshire. They were to be the leading side for the next 25 years as they established batting and bowling techniques that would transform the game.

The MCC Form - The Capital Control


Control of the game soon moved to London though after Thomas Lord opened a ground (Lord's ground) on Dorset Fields. The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) was formed there and when it moved to its St Johns Wood base (Lord's) the turf from Dorset Fields moved with it. The MCC soon became the leading club and their revised versions of the law still govern the game today

Derivation of the name of "cricket"

A number of words are thought to be possible sources for the term cricket, which could refer to the bat or the wicket. In old French, the word criquet meant a kind of club which probably gave its name to croquet. Some believe that cricket and croquet have a common origin. In Flemish, krick(e) means a stick, and, in old English, cricc or cryce means a crutch or staff.

Alternatively, the French criquet apparently comes from the Flemish word krickstoel, which is a long low stool on which one kneels in church which may appear similar to the long low wicket with two stumps used in early cricket, or the early stool in stoolball. The word stool is old Sussex dialect for a tree stump, and stool ball is a sport similar to cricket played by the Dutch.

Codification of rules

On September 23, 1771, Shock White of Ryegate used a bat fully as wide as a wicket against the Hambledon Club. This prompted the Hambledon Club to record a minute to the effect that the maximum width of a cricket bat be set at four and a quarter inches. Other clubs quickly adopted this standard, using metal gauges to check the size of bats before allowing their use.

The first recorded codification of the rules of cricket is the Code of 1744. This specified that:

  • the pitch be 22 yards long,
  • the distance between the bowling crease and popping crease be 46 inches,
  • the wickets be 22 inches tall and 6 inches wide,
  • and the ball weigh between 5 and 6 ounces.

The first printed version of the rules printed by W Read in 1775. Then in 1788, the Marylebone Cricket Club published a set of Laws of Cricket, which contained the first complete codification of the rules of the game and the dimensions of the pitch and equipment. Other cricket clubs across England quickly adopted the MCC's Laws and cricket became standardised for the first time. The MCC remains the custodian of the Laws of Cricket to the present day. The laws were recodified in 1947, 1980 and 2000.

Development of rules

In 1821, the distance between the bowling and popping creases was increased from 46 to 48 inches. On May 10, 1838, the size of a cricket ball was codified for the first time, being a circumference between 9 and 9 1/4 inches.

By 1853, the cricket bat had been developed into roughly its modern form, being carved from a single piece of willow and attached to a cane handle.

In 1864, overarm bowling was allowed for the first time. Prior to this, only underarm bowling had been legal.

In 1865, creases were painted with whitewash for the first time. Prior to this, the creases were cut into the turf, forming small ditches an inch in width and depth.

In 1889 a bowler may change ends as often as he likes in an innings (subject to not bowling two consecutive overs) (previously he could only change ends once or twice); a side could declare its innings closed for the first time.

Balls per over

The number of balls in each over has changed throughout cricket's history. The earliest rules of cricket specified that four balls were bowled in each over.

In 1889 four ball overs were replaced by five ball overs, and then this was changed to the current six balls an over in 1900. Since then, many countries have experimented with eight balls an over. In 1922 the number of balls per over was changed from six to eight in Australia only. In 1924 the eight ball over was extended to New Zealand and in 1937 to South Africa. The 1947 code allowed six or eight balls depending on the conditions of play.

Since the 1979/80 Australian and New Zealand seasons, the six ball over has been used worldwide and the most recent, 2000, code only permits six ball overs.

One-day cricket

In the 1960s, English county teams began playing a version of cricket with modified rules. Instead of allowing each team two innings and requiring the team to be dismissed in each one, they set up games of only one innings each, and decreed that the innings would be completed when a maximum number of overs had been bowled if they hadn't ended earlier.

This change to the rules allowed a game to be completed within one day. This did not supplant the traditional long format of the game, which continued to be played. Indeed, many cricket fans considered the shorter form of the game to be a corruption of the sport. One-day cricket did however have the advantage of delivering a result to spectators within a single day, thus improving cricket's appeal to younger or busier people.

International cricket

Nineteenth century

The first ever cricket game played between teams representing their nations was between the USA and Canada in 1844. The match was played at Elysian Field in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Meanwhile, in England, county cricket was growing in popularity. In the 1870s, the MCC decided that the next step was to establish international relations with the British colonies, where cricket was becoming more popular as well.

In 1877 James Lillywhite put together a team and set off by ship for a tour of Australia. His team, representing England on foreign soil, played the first Test match against Australia on March 15, 1877, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Australia won by 45 runs.

On a tour of England in 1882, Australia narrowly beat England by 7 runs in a tense and exciting match, which prompted the Sporting Times to run an obituary lamenting "The Death of English Cricket", with the footnote "N.B. The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia". The following Australian summer, England played a series in Australia which the media played up as a quest to "regain the ashes". A small trophy was created, containing some ashes, and presented to the English captain. Except in times of war, regular series of Test matches between these two countries have continued until this day, playing for the right to hold the Ashes.

On March 12, 1888, England played South Africa for the first time in a Test match. The match occurred at St. George's Park, Port Elizabeth, South Africa and established South Africa as the third Test nation.

In 1900, cricket made its first and only appearance in the Olympics. Two teams competed, France and Britain. The French team consisted of mostly players from the British Embassy. The British team won. However, the players were not aware of the game's Olympic status until some time later: the Olympic organisers decided to expand the appeal of the Games by declaring that all the sports played in Paris that year were part of the 1900 Summer Olympics and awarding medals to the winners.

Pre-first world war era

On June 15th 1909 representatives from England, Australia and South Africa met at Lord's cricket ground in London, England and founded the Imperial Cricket Conference. Membership was confined to teams within the British Commonwealth who played test cricket.

In 1912, a "Triangular Tournament" was organised in England, involving South Africa, Australia, and the host nation. It was the first Test series in which more than two countries took part. Though not helped by the weather, the enterprise was an utter disaster and was not repeated.

International cricket was suspended for the duration of World War I, although domestic first-class cricket was still played.

Between the wars

Between the World Wars, three new teams acquired test status. On June 23, 1928, the West Indies played England at Lord's Cricket Ground in London. Then, England played against New Zealand in Lancaster Park, Christchurch, New Zealand on January 10, 1930. Finally, England matched up against one of its own colonies, India, on June 23, 1932, at Lord's.

One of the most controversial and antagonistic episodes in cricket history occurred during the 1932-33 tour of Australia by England. The so-called Bodyline tour saw England adopt the deliberate tactic of bowling fast, short-pitched balls at the bodies of the Australian batsmen, with the goal of intimidating them into losing their wickets. England won the test series, but at the expense of a lot of ill feeling between the two countries. After this tour, the Laws of Cricket were changed to prevent any recurrence of such tactics.

The best-known and also most controversial of these changes was an amendment of the lbw rule, which was later to be blamed by eminent players like Bob Wyatt and Jack Fingleton for encouraging negative tactics based on a packed leg-side field during the 1950s.

With the outbreak of World War II, international cricket was again suspended until after the war.

Post-war era

After India and Pakistan gained independence in 1947, the new Pakistani cricket team played their first Test against their Indian counterparts at Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi, India, on October 16, 1952. This was the first inaugural Test in which England did not play. No new Test teams were to be seen until the 1980s. At that time Pakistan included current day Bangladesh, which did not become independent until 1971.

Suspension of South Africa (1970-1991)

In 1961 South Africa left the Commonwealth and so had to leave the ICC. Then throughout the 1960s the world was becoming increasingly concerned about the policy of racial segregation, or 'apartheid', adopted by the South African government.

This started to come to a head in 1968 with the D'Oliveira affair. Basil D'Oliveira was a Cape Coloured cricketer. He had moved to England to further his career and taken British citizenship. He was widely tipped to be selected for the English team to tour South Africa in the winter of 1968/69, especially after scoring 158 in the final test against Australia. But he was first omitted from the team, apparently because his race would upset the South Africans. This caused an outcry in the English media, and when a selected player had to pull out through injury, D'Oliveira was selected to take his place. When John Vorster, the South African prime minister, refused D'Oliveira a visa to enter South Africa, England called off the tour.

Then in 1970, the member nations of the International Cricket Conference, as the ICC was then known, voted to suspend indefinitely South Africa from international cricket competition. South Africa had played its last Test against Australia on March 5 to March 10, 1970, at Port Elizabeth, and they were regarded by many as the strongest team in the world. South Africa had been due to tour England over the English summer. So that the English did not miss out on international cricket, the ICC hastily arranged a five match England v Rest of World series. This series was later stripped of test match status as it was not between two separate countries.

South Africa's suspension resulted in the Test careers of several fine players being cut short, most notably Barry Richards and Graeme Pollock. South Africa continued playing domestic cricket within the country, and its players remained strong. In 1974, the South African Cricket Board of Control applied for re-admission to international cricket, and was refused by the ICC.

Starved of top-level competition for its best players, the board began funding so-called rebel tours, offering large sums of money for international players to form teams and tour South Africa. The ICC's response was to blacklist any rebel players who agreed to tour South Africa, banning them from officially sanctioned international cricket. As players were remunerated poorly during the 1970s, several accepted the offer to tour South Africa, particularly players towards the end of their careers, where a blacklisting would have little effect.

The rebel tours were widely condemned by the cricket establishment as offering support and succour to South Africa's apartheid regime, and some members of the press supported this view. Others claimed that the old maxim that "sport and politics do not mix" applied and saw no harm in having a sporting contest with citizens of an oppressive government.

Rebel tours continued into the 1980s, including a high profile English teams led by Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting and West Indian and Australian sides.

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