The independent voice of cricket


What are cricket’s origins?

by Guest Post 5 minute read

A close cousin of baseball and loved by fans around the world, but also only played at the top level in a select few countries, cricket is a sport like no other. What is its origin?

Middle ages children’s game

One theory of cricket’s origin is that it was originally a children’s game played in south-eastern England. There is some evidence to back this up. In 1597, there was a court case in Guilford, and one of the witnesses, a 59-year-old man, stated that he and his friends used to play cricket during school years. Given his age, cricket must have been played by Surrey boys about 1550.

More evidence pointing towards cricket being a children’s game comes from an English-French dictionary from 1611 that claims the noun “crosse” as “the crooked staff wherewith boys play at cricket” and the verb form “crosser” as “to play at cricket.”

The name itself may originate from Old English “cryce”/”cricc” which means crutch or staff. From Saxon, we have “cryce”, meaning stick and from Old French, “criquet” also meaning club or stick. Moreover, these countries were strongly connected with Flanders where people used Middle Dutch, and in this language, we have “krick”, meaning stick or crook, and “krickstoel”, which is a long low stool for kneeling in the church. This resembles the wicket used in the early years of cricket.

There are mentions from experts that cricket may not have originated in England but in Flanders. Heiner Gillmeister, a European language expert from Bonn University, claims that “cricket” derives from the Middle Dutch phrase for hockey, “met de (krik ket) sen” (i.e., “with the stick chase”). He suggested that the name and the whole sport may be Flemish, not English.

The Beginning of amateur and professional cricket

The earliest documented mention of adults playing cricket came from 1611, when two men were fined 12d each for failing to attend church on Easter Sunday because they were playing cricket. Around the same time, there was the first organised cricket match played in Chevening, Kent. A few years later, in 1624, we can read about perhaps cricket’s first death, in Sussex. Jasper Vinall died because another player accidentally struck him on the head.

For all of the 17th century, cricket remained a local game played in England. It was proscribed during the Puritans or Commonwealth Era. The issue was that people used to play cricket on Sunday, and Puritans couldn’t stand entertainment, crowds and betting during the day of rest.

In 1664, Parliament passed the Gambling Act, and since in cricket people used to bet on which team was going to win, the sport was also included in regulations next to prizefighting and horse riding. Stakes were limited, and the game started to become exclusive. Rich people organised matches with much money betted on who would be a winner; they formed their teams and engaged professional players very much similar to what is happening today in casinos when you play slots.

At the end of the 17th century, cricket became a significant sport and spread throughout England and abroad thanks to mariners and colonisers. The first mention of cricket overseas is from 1676. A 1697 newspaper report tells about a great cricket match played in Sussex for fifty guineas apiece.

Patrons and players from a social class called ‘gentry’ classify themselves as amateurs of cricket. They established this term to distinguish their game from professional cricket players who often were part of the working class. They wanted to be separate to the point of having different changing and dining facilities while playing.

The gentry created their rule of honour code to claim leadership rights in any contest they enrolled in. It was even more essential for them when they needed to play with the working class. Many people started to see leading idols in amateurs successful in cricket.

Financially, professionals played for a wage or match fee under contract, and amateurs played only for expenses. In fact, they used to claim far more than they spent to participate in the game.

English cricket in 18th and 19th century

In the 18th century, the game was developed. In London, cricket was prominent from 1707. In the middle of the century, huge crowds spectated matches on the Artillery Ground in Finsbury. The technique of the game changed. Bowlers used to roll or skim the ball, and they started to pitch it towards the batsman. The shape of the bat needs to change due to those moderations in the game’s style.

In the 1760s’, the Hambledon Club was created. It was the centre of cricket and the greatest club in the sport until Marylebone Cricket Club was formed and Lord’s Old ground was opened in 1787. The new club became a premier club and the custodian of the Laws of Cricket.

The 19th century saw underarm bowling superseded, first by roundarm and then overarm bowling. Both developments were controversial. In Sussex, there were eight new clubs, and they created the first County Championship.

The most famous player of the 19th century was W. G. Grace, who started his long career in 1865. During his playing career, distinguishing between professional and amateur started to disappear. Grace was nominally an amateur, but financially he was paid as a professional, in fact, far more than any professional that days.

Cricket becoming international

In the middle of the 19th century, cricket established itself in Australia, the Caribbean, India, New Zealand, North America and South Africa, so in every corner of the world where the British Empire managed to reach.

In 1844, the first-ever international match took place between the United States and Canada. Fifteen years later, an English team travelled overseas to play in the USA tournament for the first time. Three years later, English players made a tour to Australia. In 1868, the Australian team of Aboriginal stockmen toured England.

In the 20th century, Test cricket expanded. The following countries joined: West Indies (1928), New Zealand (1930) and India (1932) before the Second World War and then Pakistan (1952), Sri Lanka (1982), Zimbabwe (1992), Bangladesh (2000), Ireland and Afghanistan (both 2018). South Africa was banned from international cricket from 1970 to 1992 due to the apartheid boycott.

Cricket’s modern contests

International competitions

Most international matches are played as parts of ‘tours’ when one nation travels to another for several weeks or months and plays many matches of various sorts against the host nation. After this series of games, sometimes the winner gets a trophy. The most popular is the Ashes.

The ICC also organises competitions such as the Cricket World Cup, the T20 World Cup and the Champions Trophy.

National competitions

First-class cricket in England is played for the most part by the 18 county clubs which contest the County Championship. The most successful club has been Yorkshire, which has won 32 titles.

Australia established its national first-class championship in 1892–93 when the Sheffield Shield was introduced. New South Wales has the highest number of titles. The tournament is played between states in Australia.

The other ICC Full Members have or have had national championship trophies called the Ahmad Shah Abdali 4-day Tournament (Afghanistan); the National Cricket League (Bangladesh); the Ranji Trophy Trophy (India); the Inter-Provincial Championship (Ireland); the Plunket Shield (New Zealand); the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy (Pakistan); the Currie Cup (South Africa); the Premier Trophy (Sri Lanka); the Shell Shield (West Indies); and the Logan Cup (Zimbabwe).

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