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
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
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
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.
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.