History of Cricket

Origins of Cricket

The precise origins of cricket are unknown, though there are a few different theories. Even the origin of the name "cricket" is obscure. The game is most commonly thought to have begun as a diversion played by shepherds on sheep-grazing fields. One shepherd would defend one of the wicket-gates in a paddock fence (the reference to a "wicket" being suggestive here) from being hit by stones thrown by another shepherd, using his crook to try to hit the stones away.

Some theories place its origins as early as the 8th century with bat and ball games played in the Punjab region of southern Asia. Like the other great recreational import of the time, chess, these sports are believed to have migrated via Persia and through Constantinople into Europe. There are 8th and 9th century accounts of bat and ball games being played in the Mediterranean region, sometimes as church-sponsored events to promote community. The speculations that these activities are direct precursors of cricket then rely on the Normans bringing them into England during or after the 1066 conquest of the Saxons.

There are references in writing and pictures of several stick and stone games with some resemblance to cricket being played as early as 1183.

The first conclusive records for a game recognisable as cricket describe a match played in Kent in 1646.

The first match between English counties was played between Surrey and Kent at Dartford Brent on 29 June, 1709.

At this time there were no rules governing the width of a cricket bat. On 23 September, 1741, 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 breadth 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 size of the ball was not set until 1838.)

Early Days

In the later half of the 18th century, cricket was played by gentleman of the aristocracy, who considered it a manly sport akin to shooting or fox hunting, and a good activity to place a wager on. In London, the gentry played at White Conduit Fields in Islington. In these days, cricket was seen as a chance for the gentlemen to hit the ball, and bowlers were restricted to bowling relatively gentle underarm lobs. In some cases, gentlemen hired lower class men to bowl to them so they could simply bat and hit the ball.

By 1787, the nobility had become annoyed with the crowds of commoners who gathered around the field to watch them play. Thomas Lord, a bowler with the White Conduit Cricket Club, leased some land on Dorset Fields in Marylebone and established a private cricket ground, so gentleman could play without commoners gathering to observe. Lord founded the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), which staged its first match between Middlesex and Essex on 31 May, 1787.

In 1788, the MCC 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, updating them with new or changed rules from time to time.

In 1811, the MCC moved to a new ground at Marylebone Bank in Regents Park. Three years later, it moved for the final time to its present location in St John's Wood. The cricket ground there was namd Lord's after Thomas Lord died in 1825, and is still the premier cricket venue in the world today.

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

In 1844, the first international cricket match was played. Surprisingly to modern fans, it was played at the St George's Club in New York, between sides representing the USA and Canada. The match was for a wager of $1,000. The Cricketer's Guide of 1858 noted that the 1844 match was originally considered to be between the Toronto and St George's clubs, and not until 1853 regarded as a game between two nations.

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, perhaps the most far-reaching change to the game was made. Up to this point, bowling had been allowed only underarm. A few people had tried bowling overarm, but the action had been banned. Finally, in 1864, the rules were changed to allow overarm bowling actions. This revolutionised the game and paved the way for the much more even contests between bat and ball that have prevailed for the rest of cricket's history.

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.

County cricket - matches played between sides representing the English counties - grew in popularity throughout the 19th century. By the 1870s, the MCC decided that the next step was to establish international relations with the colonies, where cricket was becoming more popular as well. In 1877 James Lillywhite organised a side and set off by ship for a tour of Australia.

Next: The First Test Matches

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