It Really Is Cricket!

Not everyone finds the game of cricket a quiet, peaceful, relaxing game to watch. But, as with so many things, the more you delve into it, the more you find that its history is quite interesting. So I shall try to share just a little of it here without boring you! The game is played between two teams of eleven players each, on a field at the centre of which is a 22-yard, or 20-metre, pitch. (This length is the equivalent to a chain, an Imperial measurement which comes from the ‘Surveyors’ Chain’ invented by the mathematician Edmund Gunter (1581-1626), hence it is also known as ‘Gunter’s Chain’.) There is a wicket at each end of the pitch, each wicket comprising of two horizontal bails balanced on three vertical stumps. The game proceeds when a player on the fielding team, the bowler, bowls the ball from one end of the pitch towards the wicket at the other end in an over-the shoulder throw, with an ‘over’ being completed once they have legally done this six times. The batting side has one player at each end of the pitch, with the player at the opposite end of the pitch from the bowler aiming to strike the bowled ball with a bat. The batting side scores runs when the two batters physically run and swap ends of the pitch one or more times, each swap of ends counting as a run. But if the ball reaches the boundary of the field, that scores four runs and if the ball is hit by the batter so the ball goes over the boundary without touching the ground, that scores six runs. If the bowler bowls the ball to the batter unfairly, this results in one run. The fielding side’s aim is to prevent run-scoring and dismiss each batter so they are ‘out’, and are said to have ‘lost their wicket’. Means of dismissal include being bowled, when the bowled ball hits the stumps and dislodges the bails, and by the fielding side either catching a hit ball before it touches the ground, or hitting a wicket with the ball before a batter can cross the crease line in front of the wicket to complete a run. When ten batters have been dismissed, the innings ends and the teams swap roles. The result in the game may be a win for one of the two teams playing, or a tie. In the case of a limited overs game, it can also end with no result if the game cannot be finished on time (usually due to weather or bad light), and in other forms of cricket, a draw may be possible. Whichever of these results applies, and how the result is expressed, is governed by Law 16 of the laws of cricket. The game is adjudicated by two umpires, aided by a third umpire, as well as a match referee in international matches.

Typical play in ‘limited overs’ game.

In cricket the highest governing body is the International Cricket Council, or ICC. It is a no-contact sport, although being hit with a cricket ball can be painful if it lands in a ‘sensitive’ place, so appropriate padding is almost always worn! There are eleven players per side, with substitutes permitted in some circumstances. The sport is not a mixed-sex, there are separate competitions. There is a huge glossary of cricket terms which would be far too much to include here, I recommend that following the link Glossary of cricket terms would be ideal if wanted. The game itself is known worldwide, but is most popular in the Commonwealth, British territories and in South Asia. Forms of cricket range from Twenty20, with each team batting for a single innings of twenty overs and the game generally lasting three hours, to Test matches which are played over five days. Traditionally cricketers play in all-white kit, but in Twenty20 cricket they wear club or team colours. The ball is a hard, solid spheroid made of compressed leather with a slightly raised sewn seam enclosing a cork core layered with tightly wound string. The governing body of the game has over 100 members, twelve of whom are full members who play Test matches. The game’s rules, the Laws of Cricket, are maintained by Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) in London. Women’s cricket, which is organised and played separately, has also achieved international standard. Overall, the most successful side playing International cricket to date is Australia who have won seven One Day International trophies, including five World Cups, more than any other country and has been the top-rated Test side more than any other country.

Cricket has quite a long history dating back to 1598. There is a deposition in the records of a legal case at Guildford, Surrey regarding usage of a parcel of land where a coroner testified that he had played cricket on the land when he was a boy in about 1550. His testimony is confirmation that the sport was being played by the middle of the 16th century, but its true origin is unknown. All that can be said with a fair degree of certainty is that its beginning was earlier than 1550, probably somewhere in south-east England within the counties of Kent, Sussex and Surrey. Cricket can only be played on relatively short grass, especially as the ball was delivered along the ground until the 1760s, so forest clearings and land where sheep had grazed would have been suitable places to play. The sparse information available about the early years suggests that it may have been a children’s game in the 16th century, but by 1611 it had become an adult pastime. The earliest known organised match was played in that year, when other significant references to the sport are dated. From 1611 to 1725, fewer than thirty matches are known to have been organised between recognised teams. Similarly, only a limited number of players, teams and venues of the period have been recorded. The earliest matches played by English parish teams are examples of village cricket and although village matches are now considered minor in status, the early matches are significant in cricket’s history simply because they are known. There were no newspaper reports of matches until the end of the seventeenth century and so the primary sources are court records and private diaries, hence games were rarely recorded. During the reign of Charles I, the gentry took an increased interest as patrons and occasionally as players. A big attraction for them was the opportunity that the game offered for gambling and this escalated in the years following the Restoration when cricket in London and the south-eastern counties of England evolved into a popular social activity. English colonists introduced cricket to the West Indies, also North America but in the United States it is a sport played at the amateur, club, intercollegiate and international competition levels with little popularity, with 200,000 players (less than 1% of the population) across the country. Meanwhile the sailors and traders of the East India Company had taken it to the Indian subcontinent and in the early 18th century more information about cricket became available as the growing newspaper industry took an interest. The sport began to spread throughout England as the century went on and by 1725, significant patrons were forming teams of county strength in Kent and Sussex. Cricket was attracting large crowds and the matches were social occasions at which gambling and alcoholic drinks were additional attractions. The first definite mention of cricket in Kent is deduced from a 1640 court case which recorded a ‘cricketing’ of the Weald and the Upland versus the Chalk Hill at Chevening “about thirty years since”, around 1610. This is the earliest known village cricket match and the earliest known organised match in Kent, in England and in the world. In 1624, a fatality occurred following a match on Saturday, 28 August, at Horsted Keynes in Sussex when a fielder was struck on the head by the batsman who was trying to hit the ball a second time to avoid being caught. The fielder, who died thirteen days later at home is thus the earliest recorded cricketing fatality. The matter was recorded in a coroner’s court which returned a verdict of death by misadventure. When the first Laws of Cricket were encoded in 1744, it was illegal to hit the ball twice and a batsman breaking the rule was to be given out. Interestingly the first definite mention of cricket in Sussex was in 1611 and relates to some ecclesiastical court records stating that two parishioners of Sidlesham had failed to attend church on Easter Sunday because they were playing cricket. They were fined twelve old pennies, a shilling, each (which was quite a bit of money in those days!) and made to do penance and it also meant confessing their guilt to the whole church congregation the following Sunday. This case is the first of several 17th century cricket references until the Restoration in 1660, arising from Puritan disapproval of recreational activity, especially on Sundays. Puritan interference had become enough of a problem by 1617 for King James I to issue the Declaration of Sports which listed the sports and recreations that were permitted on Sundays. Cricket is not mentioned. Initially the declaration was effective in Lancashire only, partly as a reaction to the Puritan suppression there of certain activities which were pursued by the Roman Catholic gentry. In 1618, the declaration was issued nationally and then reissued by King Charles I in 1633. The declaration had limited success until the Civil War began in 1642. The Puritans were by then in control of Parliament which closed the theatres and issued sanctions against other recreational activities but there was no mention of cricket except when individual players were accused of ‘breaking the Sabbath’. The ‘Declaration of Sports’ manuscript was publicly burned by order of the Puritan Parliament in 1643. In 1622, several parishioners of Boxgrove, near Chichester, were prosecuted for playing cricket in a churchyard one Sunday. There were three reasons for the prosecution. One was that it contravened a local bye-law, another reflected concern about church windows which may or may not have been broken and the third was that “a little childe had like to have her braines beaten out with a cricket batt”! The latter reason was because the rules at the time allowed the batsman to hit the ball twice and so fielding near the batsman was very hazardous, as the incidents involving two people would drastically confirm. Years later, in 1628, an ecclesiastical case related to a game near Chichester being played on a Sunday. One of the defendants argued that he had not played during evening prayer time but only before and after. It did him no good as he was fined the statutory shilling and ordered to do penance. There are further references before the Civil War as in a 1636 court case concerning a tithe dispute, a witness testified that he played cricket “in the Parke” at West Horsley in Surrey. Another ecclesiastical case recorded parishioners of Midhurst, Sussex, playing cricket during evening prayer on a Sunday and in 1640, Puritan clerics at both Maidstone and Harbledown, near Canterbury, denounced cricket as “profane”, especially if played on Sunday. Despite stating that players must not “break the Sabbath”, references to the game of cricket at that time suggest that it was approved and that Cromwell himself had been a player as a young man. As the Puritans were now firmly in power, Cromwell’s Protectorate having been established the previous year, the penalty was doubled to two shillings. The defendants were charged with “breaking the Sabbath”, not with playing cricket. Similarly, when Cromwell’s commissioners banned sport in Ireland two years later on the grounds of “unlawful assembly”, there is no evidence that the ban included cricket, which had probably not reached Ireland by that time. Puritan prejudice did not survive the Restoration. In 1671, a man was charged with playing cricket on the Sabbath and was exonerated. This was clear evidence that attitudes had changed.

Around this time there were the beginnings of cricket’s social division between amateurs and professionals, from which the annual Gentlemen v Players contest ultimately evolved and this can be traced to the reign of King Charles I. In 1629, a curate in Kent was prosecuted by an archdeacon’s court for playing cricket on Sunday evening after prayers. He claimed that several of his fellow players were ‘persons of repute and fashion’. This statement is the first evidence of cricket achieving popularity among the gentry, who introduced large-scale gambling into cricket and some of these gamblers subsequently became patrons by forming select teams that would improve their chances of winning. The game had long been recognised as a sport that bridged the class divide but, in time, the cricketing gentlemen came to be called ‘amateurs’, to emphasise the distinction between themselves and the professionals who belonged to the lower social classes, mostly to the working class. So ‘amateur’ status had a special meaning in English cricket and the amateur in this context was not merely someone who played cricket in his spare time but a particular type of first-class cricketer who existed officially until 1962, when the distinction between amateurs and professionals was abolished and all first-class players became nominally professional. In terms of remuneration, amateurs claimed expenses for playing, whilst professionals were paid a salary or fee. Amateur cricket was an extension of the game played in schools, universities and other centres of education, both as a curricular and extracurricular activity. The schools and universities formed the ‘production line’ that created nearly all the top-class amateur players. The earliest reference to cricket at Oxford University is dated 1673 where the author of a pamphlet concerning music tuition had a criticism of a rival who had boasted of being a graduate of Trinity College, Oxford, saying “He shews but a slender sign of his University education, where he seems to have spent his time rather in the more laudable Exercises of Trap and Cricket, than in any sound Reading”. But research seems to show that cricket was a normal activity at Oxford for some time before that author had written his pamphlet. The earliest reference to cricket being played at Cambridge University is dated 1710. It has been a little difficult to determine more of this period due to the Licensing of the Press Act 1662 which imposed stringent controls on the newspaper industry meaning that sports, including cricket, were not reported. The few surviving references have been found in official records, such as court cases, or in private letters and diaries. The Restoration of the monarchy in England in 1660 was immediately followed by the reopening of the theatres and sanctions imposed by the Puritans on sports were also lifted and it is likely that the Restoration was the crucial factor in leading to the social acceptance of the game. Although there are only scattered references to the game in the time of King Charles II, it is clear that its popularity was increasing and that the game was expanding. The Restoration was effectively completed during the spring of 1660 and, in the general euphoria which both accompanied and followed these historic events, gambling on cricket and other sports was freely pursued. The nobility adopted cricket as one of their main sports along with horse racing and prize-fighting. Under their patronage, the first teams representing several parishes and even whole counties were formed and the period saw the first ‘great matches’ as cricket evolved into a major sport. A significant aspect of this evolution was the introduction of professionalism, as the nobility returned to London after the Restoration. They were keen to develop cricket and brought with them some of the local experts from village cricket whom they now employed as professional players. However, the Gaming Act 1664 was passed by the Cavalier Parliament to try to curb some of the post-Restoration excesses, including gambling on cricket, and it limited stakes to £100. That was equivalent to about £16,000 in present-day terms. It is known that cricket could attract stakes of fifty guineas by 1697 and it was funded by gambling throughout the following century. There was a significant development at Maidstone in 1668 when the quarter sessions made a ruling that Customs and Excise could not claim excise duty on alcoholic drinks sold at a ‘kricketing’. It was further ruled that a match promoter had the right to sell ale to spectators, presumably after obtaining the necessary licence. This dealt a massive blow to Puritan morality and it could have been the beginnings of the long-term relationship between sport and alcohol.

Censorship had already been relaxed following the Bill of Rights 1689 and in 1695, Parliament decided against a renewal of the 1662 Licensing Act and so cleared the way for a free press on the Act’s expiry in 1696. It was from this time that cricket matters could be reported in the newspapers, but it would be a very long time before the newspaper industry adapted sufficiently to provide frequent, let alone comprehensive, reports. After the decision of the English government in 1695 to allow freedom of the press by deciding not to renew the Licensing of the Press Act which had inhibited the scope of publications, it was possible for sporting events to be reported. But these were sparse in the early newspapers, although trivia tended to make good copy and large wagers between rival patrons were given coverage. Cricket was becoming well and truly established, with certain dedicated grounds becoming synonymous with the game, the main ones for men’s international cricket being ‘Old Trafford’ in Stretford, near Manchester, ‘Trent Bridge’ in West Bridgford, near Nottingham, ‘Headingley’ in Leeds, ‘Edgbaston’ in Birmingham, ‘The Oval’ in Kennington, London and ‘Lord’s’ in St John’s Wood, London.

The Artillery Ground.

One site I would also like to mention is The Artillery Ground in Finsbury, as it is an open space originally set aside for archery and later known also as a cricket venue. Today it is used for military exercises, rugby and football matches. It belongs to the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC), whose headquarters overlook the grounds in Armoury House. The London Cricket Club was to become chiefly associated with the Artillery Ground and the sport was first mentioned at this venue was first mentioned in 1725, when the minutes of the HAC referred to a note concerning “the abuse done to the herbage of the ground by the cricket players”. The Artillery Ground became the feature venue for cricket in the mid-18th century.

There is much that can be written about the rules and equipment of cricket, from its earliest times to the present day but I shall not share them here. In fact I could also go on about the laws and gameplay, our culture and influence of the game on everyday life, especially the English language, with various phrases such as “that’s not cricket” (that’s unfair), “had a good innings“ (lived a long life) and “sticky wicket” a metaphor used to describe a difficult circumstance. That one originated as a term for difficult batting conditions in cricket, caused by a damp and soft pitch. Also in England, a number of association football clubs owe their origins to cricketers who sought to play football as a means of keeping fit during the winter months. The history of the game and its links to modern life are intriguing.

This week…
Earlier this week I saw a ‘sponsored’ item on Facebook about a person having a conversation “in broken/pigeon English”… I am utterly speechless. I guess in some places, proof-reading simply isn’t done any more.

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