Cricket is one of the most popular sports among the Commonwealth of Nations, which essentially comprises the countries that were earlier under the British rule. The popularity of cricket is even more in India, where it is often referred to as a religion. Cricket is popular among the kids, the youth and the old. Most of us have played cricket at some point of time in our lives, something that naturally creates a liking for the game. However, if you ask about the history of cricket, many people would just draw a blank. The craze about cricket relates to the live matches and very few people would care to know about its history. Nonetheless, cricket has a rich history straddling across more than four centuries, which is worth exploring. Let’s take a look at the history of cricket and try to ascertain its origins and understand its evolution over the years.
Origin of cricket
Cricket is widely popular today, but there is very little evidence that can conclusively validate the origin of the game. However, there is a generalized consensus among cricket historians and experts that cricket originated in Britain in the 16th century. There are references that a different form of present day cricket was played even earlier in the 14th century, but it could not be supported with tangible evidence. Historians believe that the game of cricket was derived from the game of Bowls or Lawn Bowls and it was played largely among children. It was only in the 17th century that the game of cricket was taken up by adults. In the 16th century, the modern day cricket ball was nonexistent and it is assumed that the ball used could have been a spherical lump of sheep’s wool or a round wooden object. For the bat, any wooden stick may have been used. The stumps were probably just some piece of wood or a stool could also have been used.
Written evidence regarding the origin of cricket is available via a court case hearing in England in 1597. The court case relates to a land dispute and one of the landowners had said that they had played cricket at the site some 50 years back when they were kids. This shows that cricket must have been in existence since at least 1550. There is another written record from 1611, wherein it has been mentioned that two men from Sussex faced charges after they played cricket on Sunday. They were prosecuted because Sundays were reserved for attending church.
Origin of the term ‘cricket’
There are many theories about how the term ‘cricket’ came into existence. Earlier references used the term ‘creckett’ to describe the game. It is possible that the term may have been associated with the Middle Dutch word krick (-e), which essentially means a stick. It could also be derived from the Old English word cricc or cryce, which translates into a crutch or staff. Some experts say that the French word criquet, which means a wooden post, can also be the inspiration for the term cricket. There are other contenders as well such as the Middle Dutch word krickstoel and Middle Dutch phrase for hockey, met de (krik ket) sen.
Cricket in 17th century
A lot of references to the game of cricket are available from the 17th century, which proves that the game was being played among adults during this time. However, the exact rules that were followed and other details are not available from the 17th century. It is believed that cricket in the 17th century was largely being played as Village Cricket. It suggests that County Cricket was not yet established. The popularity of cricket seems to have waned after the end of Civil War in 1648. The ruling government had put restrictions on public assembly of people, which may have hurt the game of cricket. However, cricket’s popularity zoomed after 1660, which was the time of the Restoration. At this time, cricket became a gambling sport, which made it quite popular among people. A lot of gamblers were attracted to the game and hundreds of bets were placed for cricket matches. Cricket’s rising popularity also ensured that news and opinions about the game found mention in newspapers and magazines.
Cricket in 18th century
The 18th century marked the beginning of county cricket in Britain. It was also the time when gamblers started taking active participation in team selection, as they wanted to improve their bets. Many gamblers formed their own cricket teams in the 18th century. The game of cricket had started attracting a lot of aristocrats and businessmen. It led to increased investments in the game and improved press coverage. The most significant development was the introduction of cricket in other countries such as North America, West Indies, India, and Australia. Cricket was introduced in Canada also in the 18th century, but it failed to gain popularity in that country. Another prominent development that took place was that the various rules of the game of cricket were properly defied during this period. The Laws of Cricket was documented in 1744 and later amended in 1774, wherein new rules such as lbw (leg before wicket), maximum bat width, etc. were added.
Cricket in 19th century
The 19th century witnessed the emergence of county clubs in England. The game gained popularity with improved rail network, as people from faraway places could also come to see the matches. In 1864, overarm bowling was given legitimate status and it became a part of the game. The 19th century witnessed the first international cricket match, which was held between USA and Canada in 1844. The match was organized in New York on the premises of St George’s Cricket Club. In later years, other international cricket matches were also organized involving teams from Britain and Australia. The first of the Ashes trophy between England and Australia was held in 1882. In the 19th century, cricket had moved to newer countries such as New Zealand and South Africa. The four balls per over rule was replaced with five balls per over in 1889 and further increased to six balls per over in 1900.
Cricket in 20th century
This can be called as the golden period of cricket since the game flourished significantly during this period, especially in the last quarter of the 20th century. This was the time when other countries started playing cricket such as Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, and Bangladesh. This was also the time when cricket legends were created such as Don Bradman, Sachin Tendulkar, etc. The most prominent development was the introduction of limited overs cricket, which is now popular as ODI (One Day Internationals). The first ODI match was held in Australia in 1971 between Australia and England at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The Cricket World Cup was launched for the first time in 1975 in England. During the 20th century, the game of cricket embraced significant technological improvements such as advanced analytics, high-speed photography, computer graphics, third umpire, etc.
Cricket continues to grow in the 21st century, as more entertaining and fast-paced versions of the game have been introduced. These include new game formats such as 20:20 limited overs cricket and the IPL series. There are also talks to include cricket in the Olympics, starting from the 2024 Olympics. In recent times, cricket has been attracting plentiful investments and sponsorships, which bodes well for the future of the game. It is expected that cricket will continue to attract more countries, players and fans in the coming years.