The History of Cricket: A British Cultural Export
Cricket is one of the most popular sports in the world today. The game has come a long way from humble roots in the English countryside to the professional, international games we see today. This article explores cricket’s history to discover when the game was invented and how it has developed into the modern sport loved by fans across the globe.
When was cricket invented?
Before cricket, as it is now called, people played a game called ‘club-ball.’ This English pastime involved a wooden club, with which one player would hit an object such as a stone or ball of wool to another player. It is widely believed that cricket is derived from this game, but this is debated amongst cricket historians.
There is a consensus amongst experts that cricket was invented in England many centuries ago during either the Saxon times or the proceeding Norman period. Many believed that the game was invented in the Weald, in South-East England, by children.
However, another theory states that the term ‘cricket’ was derived from the French word ‘criquet,’ used to refer to the game of club-ball following the Norman Conquest of 1066.
The first reference of cricket, as an adult sport, is dated 1611. A dictionary definition of cricket was made in the same year, describing it as a boy’s game. Around this time, cricket was played across England in just about all places, from farm communities to grammar schools.
Some have suggested that cricket was a derivative of the game of bowls. Whereas bowls are not played with a bat, perhaps cricket was born of the addition of a batsman attempting to hit the ball away to prevent it from reaching its target.
When did cricket become an organized sport?
The first official cricket match was in 1697 in Sussex, England. There were 11 players on each side, and the match was played for 50 guineas, which was a substantial sum of money back then. After that, there are many records of other official cricket matches as the sport grew in popularity.
The first-ever inter-county match was played between Surrey and Kent in 1709. The following year saw the first recorded cricket team at Cambridge University. The majority of the earliest official cricket games were played in North London or around Hambledon, Hampshire. As such, Lords in North London is now considered cricket’s spiritual home. Hambledon is often cited as the birthplace of cricket for this reason also.
In the 18th century, the popularity of cricket soared as people began to see it as an opportunity for betting. Nobles would wager sky high stakes, and, as a result, it was decided that it was necessary to create an agreed set of cricket rules.
The oldest known set of cricket laws are printed on a handkerchief and date back to 1744. This relic from the early days of formalized cricket is on display at Lord’s MCC Museum in London, England. These Laws of Cricket were published by the London Club and included the rule that a cricket pitch should be 22 yards long.
Other cricket laws were established over the proceeding decades. The rules limited the width of a cricket bat to four and a quarter inches in 1771. The LBW law was introduced in 1774. In 1788, the newly formed Marylebone Cricket Club undertook a major revision of cricket’s early laws, publishing their own updated Cricket Laws.
In the late 18th century, developments occurred that began to move cricket more towards the game we know today. For example, straight bats were widely adopted, and overarm bowling became the norm.
When did cricket become an international sport?
Cricket began to be exported worldwide during Britain’s imperialist era, such as during the Victorian period and the preceding decades. It is believed that cricket was first introduced in North America, for example, around this time. The game quickly became popular in British colonies such as Australia and India. The first international cricket match took place in 1844 between the USA and Canada.
The first official test match between Australia and England took place in 1877. In 1882, Australia beat England at cricket for the first time. As a result of this, a mock obituary was written for English cricket and thus was the birth of the famous Ashes contest between the two nations, which is still played today.
Cricket, as we know it today, has its roots in the late 19th century. The first County Championship was held in 1890. In 1900, the previous five-ball overs version of the game was replaced with six-ball overs.
In 1909, a governing body for international cricket was formed and called the Imperial Cricket Conference. There were very few members in the early days, with just Australia, South Africa, and England. This organization went on to become the modern ICC (International Cricket Council).
Before the Second World War, the ICC had grown to include New Zealand, India, and the West Indies. After the war, Pakistan became a member also. In the late 20th century, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, and Sri Lanka gained full membership and, since then, Afghanistan has also joined.
In recent decades, cricket has evolved to include different versions of the game. Limited overs, single innings matches became popular in England in the 1960s. The first major competition for this version of cricket was the 1963 Gillette Cup. The first One Day International (ODI) was held in 1971 between Australia and England.
The most recent cricket version came around in 2003 with the creation of Twenty 20, which is a twenty overs per side game. This format has rapidly gained popularity around the world.
Cricket had developed significantly as a sport since its humble beginnings many centuries ago. What began in the English countryside as a pastime has become Britain’s most famous cultural exports. The game is now played at all levels, from grassroots to professional, and loved by people in countries worldwide.