The World of Cricket

The World of Cricket

History of cricket

The game of cricket has a known history spanning from the 16th century to the present day, with international matches played since 1844, although the official history of international Test cricket began in 1877. During this time, the game developed from its origins in England into a game which is now played professionally in most of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Early Cricket


No one knows when or where cricket began but there is a body of evidence, much of it circumstantial, that strongly suggests the game was devised during Saxon or Norman times by children living in the Weald, an area of dense woodlands and clearings in south-east England that lies across Kent and Sussex. It is generally believed that cricket survived as a children's game for many centuries before it was increasingly taken up by adults around the beginning of the 17th century.

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 (though the hard "k" sound suggests the North or Northeast midlands, rather than the Southeast, where cricket seems to have begun).


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.

First definite reference

Despite many prior suggested references, the first definite reference to the game is found in a 1597 court case concerning dispute over a school's ownership of a plot of land. A 59-year old coroner, John Derrick, testified that he and his school friends had played kreckett on the site fifty years earlier. The school was the Royal Grammar School, Guildford, and Mr Derrick's account proves beyond reasonable doubt that the game was being played in Surrey c.1550.

The first reference to it being played as an adult sport was in 1611, when two men in Sussex were prosecuted for playing cricket on Sunday instead of going to church. In the same year, a dictionary defines cricket as a boys' game and this suggests that adult participation was a recent development.

Early Seventeenth Century

A number of references occur up to the English Civil War and these indicate that it had become an adult game contested by parish teams, but there is no evidence of county strength teams at this time. Equally, there is little evidence of the rampant gambling that characterised the game throughout the 18th century. It is generally believed, therefore, that "village cricket" had developed by the middle of the 17th century but that county cricket had not and that investment in the game had not begun.

The Commonwealth

After the Civil War ended in 1648, the new Puritan government clamped down on "unlawful assemblies", in particular the more raucous sports such as football. Their laws also demanded a stricter observance of the Sabbath than there had been previously. As the Sabbath was the only free time available to the lower classes, cricket's popularity may have waned during the Commonwealth. Having said that, it did flourish in public fee-paying schools such as Winchester and St Paul's. There is no actual evidence that Cromwell's government banned cricket specifically and there are references to it during the interregnum that suggest it was acceptable to the authorities providing it did not cause any "breach of the Sabbath".

Gambling and press coverage

Cricket certainly thrived after the Restoration in 1660 and is believed to have first attracted gamblers making large bets at this time. In 1664, the "Cavalier" Parliament passed a Gambling Act which limited stakes to £100, although that was a fortune. Cricket had certainly become a significant gambling sport by the end of the 17th century. We know of a "great match" played in Sussex in 1697 which was 11-a-side and played for high stakes of 50 guineas a side. Our knowledge of this game came about because, for the first time, cricket could be reported in the newspapers with freedom of the press having been granted the previous year. But it was a long time before the newspapers adapted sufficiently to provide frequent, let alone comprehensive coverage of the game.

Eighteenth Century cricket

Patronage and players

Gambling introduced the first patrons because some of the gamblers decided to strengthen their bets by forming their own teams and it is believed the first "county teams" were formed in the aftermath of the Restoration. The first game we know of in which the teams use county names is in 1709 but there can be little doubt that these sort of fixtures were being arranged long before that.

The most notable of the early patrons were a group of aristocrats and businessmen who were active from about 1725, which is the time that press coverage became more regular, perhaps as a result of the patrons' influence. These men included Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond, Sir William Gage, Alan Brodrick and Edward Stead. For the first time, the press tells us something about individual players like Thomas Waymark.

Cricket moves out of England

Cricket was introduced to North America via the English colonies in the 17th century, probably before it had even reached the north of England. In the 18th century it arrived in other parts of the globe. It was introduced to the West Indies by colonists and to India by East India Company mariners in the first half of the century. It arrived in Australia almost as soon as colonisation began in 1788. New Zealand and South Africa followed in the early years of the 19th century.

Development of the Laws

The basic rules of cricket such as bat and ball, the wicket, pitch dimensions, overs, how out, etc. have existed since time immemorial. In 1727, we first hear of "Articles of Agreement" to determine the code of practice in a particular game and this became a common feature, especially around payment of stake money and distributing the winnings given the importance of gambling. In 1744, the Laws of Cricket were codified for the first time and then amended in 1774, when innovations such as lbw, middle stump and maximum bat width were added. These law stated that 'the principals shall choose from amongst the gentleman present two umpires who shall absolutely decide all disputes.' The codes were drawn up by the so-called "Star and Garter Club" whose members ultimately founded MCC at Lord's in 1787. MCC immediately became the custodian of the Laws and has made periodic revisions and recodifications subsequently.

Continued growth in England

The game continued to spread throughout England and, in 1751, Yorkshire is first mentioned as a venue. The original form of bowling (i.e., rolling the ball along the ground as in bowls) was superseded sometime after 1760 when bowlers began to pitch the ball and study variations in line, length and pace. Scorecards began to be kept on a regular basis from 1772 and since then we have an increasingly clear picture of the sport's development.

The first famous clubs were London and Dartford in the early 18th century. London played its matches on the famous Artillery Ground, which is still there. Others followed, particularly Slindon in Sussex which was backed by the Duke of Richmond and featured the star player Richard Newland. There were other prominent clubs at Maidenhead, Hornchurch, Maidstone, Sevenoaks, Bromley, Addington, Hadlow and Chertsey.

But far and away the most famous of the early clubs was Hambledon in Hampshire. It started as a parish organisation and first achieved prominence in 1756. The club itself was founded in the 1760s and was well patronised to the extent that it was the focal point of the game for about thirty years until the formation of MCC and the opening of Lord's in 1787. Hambledon produced several outstanding players including the master batsman John Small and the first great fast bowler Thomas Brett. Their most notable opponent was the Chertsey and Surrey bowler Edward "Lumpy" Stevens, who is believed to have been the main proponent of the flighted delivery.

It was in answer to the flighted, or pitched, delivery that the straight bat was introduced. The old "hockey stick" style of bat was only really effective against the ball being trundled or skimmed along the ground.

Nineteenth Century cricket

Cricket and crisis

Cricket faced its first real crisis at the beginning of the 19th century when major matches virtually ceased during the culminating period of the Napoleonic Wars. This was largely due to shortage of players and lack of investment. But the game survived and a slow recovery began in 1815. Then cricket faced a crisis of its own making as the campaign to allow roundarm bowling gathered pace.

The game also underwent a fundamental change of organisation with the formation for the first time of county clubs. All the modern county clubs, starting with Sussex, were founded during the 19th century.

No sooner had the county clubs established themselves than they faced what amounted to "player action" as William Clarke created the travelling All-England Eleven in 1846. Other similar teams were created and this vogue lasted for about thirty years. But the counties and MCC prevailed.

International cricket begins

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

In 1859, a team of leading English professionals set off to North America on the first-ever overseas tour.

In 1864, another bowling revolution resulted in the legalisation of overarm. The "Great Cricketer", W G Grace, made his debut the same year.

In 1877, an England touring team in Australia played two matches against full Australian XIs that are now regarded as the inaugural Test matches. The following year, the Australians toured England for the first time and were a spectacular success. No Tests were played on that tour but more soon followed and, at The Oval in 1882, arguably the most famous match of all time gave rise to The Ashes. South Africa became the third Test nation in 1889.

The County Championship

A major watershed occurred in 1890 when the County Cricket Championship was formally constituted for the first time to replace the ad hoc championship criteria that had been used hitherto. The period from 1890 to the outbreak of the First World War has become especially nostalgic, ostensibly because the teams played cricket according to "the spirit of the game". In reality, this nostalgia was due to the sense of loss brought about by the war. But the era has been called "The Golden Age of Cricket" and it featured numerous great names such as Wilfred Rhodes, C B Fry, K S Ranjitsinhji and Victor Trumper.

Balls per over

In 1889 the immemorial four ball over was replaced by a five ball over and then this was changed to the current six balls an over in 1900. Subsequently, some countries 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. In England, the eight ball over was adopted experimentally for the 1939 season; the intention was to continue the experiment in 1940, but first-class cricket was suspended for the Second World War and when it resumed, English cricket reverted to the six ball over. The 1947 Laws of Cricket 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 version of the Laws in 2000 only permits six ball overs.

Twentieth Century cricket

Growth of Test cricket

India, West Indies and New Zealand became Test nations before the Second World War and Pakistan soon afterwards. The international game grew with several "affiliate nations" getting involved and, in the closing years of the 20th century, three of those became Test nations also: Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

Test cricket remained the most popular form of the sport throughout the 20th century but it had its problems, never more so than in the infamous "Bodyline Series" of 1932/33 when Douglas Jardine's England used so-called "leg theory" to try and neutralise the run-scoring brilliance of Australia's Don Bradman.

Suspension of South Africa (1970-1991)

The greatest crisis to hit international cricket was brought about by apartheid, the South African policy of racial segregation. The situation began to crystallise after 1961 when South Africa left the Commonwealth of Nations and so, under the rules of the day, its cricket board had to leave the International Cricket Conference (ICC). Cricket's opposition to apartheid intensified in 1968 with the cancellation of England's tour to South Africa by the South African authorities, due to the inclusion of "coloured" cricketer Basil D'Oliveira in the England team. In 1970, the ICC members voted to suspend South Africa indefinitely from international cricket competition. Ironically, the South African team at that time was probably the strongest in the world.

Starved of top-level competition for its best players, the South African Cricket 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 poorly remunerated during the 1970s, several accepted the offer to tour South Africa, particularly players getting towards the end of their careers for whom a blacklisting would have little effect.

The rebel tours continued into the 1980s but then progress was made in South African politics and it became clear that apartheid was ending. South Africa, now a "Rainbow Nation" under Nelson Mandela, was welcomed back into international sport in 1991.

World Series Cricket

The money problems of top cricketers were also the root cause of another cricketing crisis that arose in 1977 when the Australian media magnate Kerry Packer fell out with the Australian Cricket Board over TV rights. Taking advantage of the low remuneration paid to players, Packer retaliated by signing several of the best players in the world to a privately run cricket league outside the structure of international cricket. World Series Cricket hired some of the banned South African players and allowed them to show off their skills in an international arena against other world-class players. The schism lasted only until 1979 and the "rebel" players were allowed back into established international cricket, though many found that their national teams had moved on without them. Long-term results of World Series Cricket have included the introduction of significantly higher player salaries and innovations such as coloured kit and night games.

Limited overs cricket

In the 1960s, English county teams began playing a version of cricket with games of only one innings each and a maximum number of overs per innings. Starting in 1963 as a knockout competition only, limited overs grew in popularity and in 1969 a national league was created which consequently caused a reduction in the number of matches in the County Championship.

Although many "traditional" cricket fans objected to the shorter form of the game, limited overs cricket did have the advantage of delivering a result to spectators within a single day; it did improve cricket's appeal to younger or busier people; and it did prove commercially successful.

The first limited overs international match took place at Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1971 as a time-filler after a Test match had been abandoned because of heavy rain on the opening days. It was tried simply as an experiment and to give the players some exercise, but turned out to be immensely popular. Limited overs internationals (LOIs or ODIs, after One-day Internationals) have since grown to become a massively popular form of the game, especially for busy people who want to be able to see a whole match. The International Cricket Council reacted to this development by organising the first Cricket World Cup in England in 1975, with all the Test playing nations taking part.

21st Century cricket

The story so far

In June 2001, the ICC introduced a "Test Championship Table" and, in October 2002 a "One-day International Championship Table". Australia has consistently topped both these tables since they were first published.

Cricket remains a major world sport and is the most popular spectator sport in the Indian subcontinent. The ICC has expanded its Development Program with the goal of producing more national teams capable of competing at Test level. Development efforts are focused on African and Asian nations; and on the United States. In 2004, the ICC Intercontinental Cup brought first class cricket to 12 nations, mostly for the first time.

Cricket's newest innovation is Twenty20, essentially an evening entertainment aimed at working people. It has so far enjoyed enormous popularity and has attracted large attendances at matches as well as good TV audience ratings.

The future

The USA has long been seen as a promising market for cricket, but it has been difficult to make any impression on a public largely ignorant of the sport. The establishment of the Pro Cricket professional league in America in 2004 did little to broach this last frontier, though the game continues to grow through immigrant groups. China may also be a source of future cricket development, with the Chinese government announcing plans in 2004 to develop the sport, which is almost unknown in China, with the ambitious goals of qualifying for the World Cup by 2019 and becoming a Test Nation in 2020.

Despite the disproportionate publicity (in the cricket press at least) given to developments in the USA, the next major cricket nation is likely to be from South Asia. The game is already very popular in Nepal and Afghanistan, and results in competitions such as the under 18 world cup and the ACC trophy suggest these teams are not short of natural talent. [citation needed]

Secondly, the ICC is conducting ongoing reviews of the interpretation of Law 24.3 of the Laws of Cricket: Definition of fair delivery – the arm, in the wake of biomechanical findings that Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan violates the guidelines for arm extension when bowling his doosra. The reporting of Muralitharan for a suspect arm action by match referee Chris Broad and the subsequent study has precipitated a crisis by finding that the current interpretive guidelines may be inadequate and ultimately unenforceable. What this means for the Laws of Cricket remains to be seen.

Finally, it remains to be seen how Twenty20 will develop. Already there are calls for it to be extended into a season-long competition as cricket's answer to American baseball, which is also essentially an evening entertainment.


  • A Social History of English Cricket by Derek Birley;
  • Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians - various publications;
  • At the Sign of the Wicket: Cricket 1742 – 1751 by F S Ashley-Cooper in Cricket Magazine (1900) (ASW);
  • Cricket: History of its Growth and Development by Rowland Bowen;
  • Cricket Scores 1730 - 1773 by H T Waghorn (WCS);
  • Chertsey Cricket Club website;
  • Dartford Cricket Club website (DCC);
  • Fresh Light on 18th Century Cricket by G B Buckley (FL18);
  • Fresh Light on Pre-Victorian Cricket by G B Buckley (FLPV);
  • From the Weald to the World by Peter Wynne-Thomas (PWT);
  • Hambledon Cricket Chronicle by F S Ashley-Cooper (HCC);
  • Hambledon: Men and Myths by John Goulstone (HMM);
  • Kent Cricket Matches by F S Ashley-Cooper (KCM);
  • Pre-Victorian Sussex Cricket by HF & AP Squire (PVSC);
  • Scores & Biographies, Volume 1 by Arthur Haygarth (SBnnn);
  • Start of Play by David Underdown;
  • Sussex Cricket in the Eighteenth Century by Timothy J McCann (TJM);
  • The Cricketer magazine (Cktr);
  • The Dawn of Cricket by H T Waghorn (WDC);
  • The Glory Days of Cricket by Ashley Mote;
  • John Nyren's "The Cricketers of my Time" by Ashley Mote;
  • Wisden Cricketers Almanack (annual): various issues

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