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Cricket originated on the meadows of south-east England in the 11th or 12th century, when groups of shepherds amused themselves by pinning two sticks into the ground inches apart, and linked the two by placing a piece of wood on top. One of the shepherds stood in front of the sticks holding another, bigger piece of wood shaped like a hockey stick, while one of his mates rolled a 'ball' made of matted wool along the ground in his direction. The others surrounded him, waiting to clasp the 'ball' after he struck it.

Like the sport itself, the term 'cricket' evolved over the decades and centuries. Among its earlier names were ' creckett', 'krickett' and 'criquet'.

Curiously, it is not in England, the 'home of the game', but in neighbouring France that one of the first specific references to cricket can be traced. A passage in a document dating back to December 1478 alludes to a game of 'criquet'. The earliest acknowledged reference to the game in England can be traced back to 1598. John Derrick, 59 year-old coroner based in Guildford, Surrey, stated while appearing in a court case that "he had played at 'creckett' in the town as a boy".

Cricket enjoyed a tumultuous relationship with Sir Oliver Cromwell, Captain-General and Commander-in-chief of the armies of England in the middle years of the 17th century. In his youth, he was supposed to have been a decent cricketer and footballer, but in 1656, three years after he had dissolved the Parliament and taken over the government, he banned 'krickett' in Ireland and demanded the 'burning' of all 'sticks' and 'balls'. However, the game survived.

The enterprising British, then in the midst of their quest to conquer the world, ensured that cricket did not remain confined to the 'mother country'. They 'indulged' in it whenever and wherever they got the opportunity to do so. The first record of cricket being played overseas can be traced to 1676, when the 'Navy' played the 'British Residents' in Aleppo, Syria. 33 years later, the first recorded match on English soil was played between the counties of Surrey and Kent. Kent also figured in the earliest match of which the complete score still exists - against 'All-England' at the Artillery Ground in London in 1744. That match also provided among the earliest instances of spectators being charged an admission fee. 1744 was also the year in which the laws of the game were drafted and published for the first time.

A club established at Hambledon, a town in the county of Hampshire, in 1750, played a crucial role in the development of the sport. For three decades, the 'Hambledon Club' produced several outstanding cricketers who did a lot to bring the game closer to its modern version. The Hambledon era can be defined as a 'tale of two Nyrens'. The headquarters of the club housed the 'Bat and Ball Inn', which was run by Richard Nyren, the club secretary during its golden phase. The remarkable men who displayed their cricketing talents at the club were immortalized in the writings of John Nyren, whose books Young Cricketer's Tutor and The Cricketers of My Time are considered classics to this day.

The period witnessed three significant events in the evolution of the sport. In 1771, a Mr. 'Shock' White, a batsman representing Reigate against Hambledon, arrived at the wicket with a bat that was wider than the wickets. In no time, the Hambledon Committee amended the laws by fixing the width of the bat at 4.25 inches. Three years later, the weight of the ball was fixed at between 5.25 and 5.75 ounces, and in 1775, a 'middle stump' was added to the two sticks. A second bail was added in 1786. Interestingly, while the height of the 'wickets' or 'stumps' increased over the years, the width of the bat and weight of the ball have remained the same. Incidentally, the materials and process of manufacture of a cricket ball have remained unchanged for over two and a half centuries.

The bowling evolved from under-arm to round-arm by the early years of the 19th century. Initially, the round-arm exponents were ridiculed and no-balled, but the lawmakers gradually acquiesced.

120 years after 1744 came the next major turning point. The bowlers were by then allowed to extend their arm to shoulder-level, but some were trying to go one step ahead, or should we say, higher. The first few exponents of over-arm bowling were scoffed at, but the men-in-charge were quick to realize the pluses of permitting bowlers to bowl from over their shoulders. Over-arm bowling was legally accepted in 1864.

By then, cricket had spread to the distant corners of the British Empire, and the colonists apart, the 'colonized' had also started taking an active interest in the sport. Groups of England-based cricketers had started undertaking cricket 'tours' of other countries from the 1850s onwards. Among the countries they visited was the dominion of Australia, an erstwhile dumping-ground for British convicts, but rapidly developing into a proud nation that became a member of the British Commonwealth in 1931.

On 15th March 1877, an English team captained by James Lillywhite took on a Combined Melbourne-Sydney XI at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. This came to be recognized as the first-ever Test match between two national sides. Intended to be a 'timeless' Test to be played to a result, Australia stunned the England XI by 45 runs.

The birth of Test cricket was followed by the birth of the game's oldest rivalry five years later. England needed only 85 to beat Australia in a Test played at the Oval in London, in August 1882. But Fred 'Demon' Spofforth, Australia's fiery paceman, had other ideas. He took 7-44 to finish with 14-90 in the match, and England were bowled out seven runs short. The following day, an 'obituary' of English cricket appeared in the 'In Memoriam' section of the Sporting Times.

It read:

In Affectionate Remembrance of English cricket, which died at the Oval on 29th August 1882. Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances. The body will be cremated and the Ashes taken to Australia'.

The legend of the 'Ashes' had come into being.

When England toured Australia a few months later and won a three-Test series, a trio of ladies burnt a bail, put the Ashes into an urn and presented it to Hon. Ivo Bligh, the England captain. From then on, Test series between England and Australia have been played for the 'Ashes'.

The two old adversaries starred in the next great leap taken by the sport, coincidentally at the same Melbourne Cricket Ground that had witnessed the first-ever Test match. The third Test of the 1970-71 'Ashes' series was ruined by rain. The first four days were washed out, but the sun shone in all its glory on the fifth day, the 5th of January 1971. To entertain the spectators who had come to the ground to watch some cricket, the teams decided to play a 'limited-overs' 'one-day' match. Thus, an experiment that had been initiated in England in the early 1960s to bring back the crowds who were bored with an overdose of listless and negative cricket, made its international debut. The Melbourne crowd watched the first-ever 'limited-overs' game with more than passing interest. Four years later, the first-ever 'limited-overs' Cricket World Cup was organised in England. It involved all the countries that were part of the Test Cricket Fraternity - England, Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies (a group of countries), India and Pakistan. Apartheid-stricken South Africa were left out. Sri Lanka, a nation eager to gain membership of the Test club, was the eighth team. The tournament was a huge success.

The rest, as they say, is history.


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1 AustraliaAustralia 118
2 IndiaIndia 112
3 cricketPakistan 111
4 EnglandEngland 108
5 AustraliaNew Zealand 98
6 SouthSouth Africa 92
7 sri LankaSri Lanka 85
8 West IndiesWest Indies 65
9 BangladeshBangladesh 57
10 ZimbabweZimbabwe 48
1 AustraliaAustralia 123
2 new ZealandNew Zealand 113
3 ZimbabweIndia 110
4 South AfricaSouth Africa 110
5 EnglandEngland 106
6 sri LankaSri Lanka 102
7 BangladeshBangladesh 98
8 countryWest Indies 94
9 cricket Pakistan 87
10 AfghanistanAfghanistan 49
1 New ZealandNew Zealand 132
2 IndiaIndia 128
3 west IndiesWest Indies 122
4 AfricaSouth Africa 119
5 EnglandEngland 116
6 AustraliaAustralia 110
7 Pakistan Pakistan 104
8 sri LankaSri Lanka 96
9 AfghanistanAfghanistan 78
10 BangladeshBangladesh 74

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