Richard Cashman. Berkshire Encyclopedia of World Sport. Editor: Karen Christensen & David Levinson. Volume 1, Berkshire Publishing, 2005.

Cricket, a bat-and-ball game, has long been regarded as the archetypal English game that became popular in British Commonwealth countries. The core rules of the game were formulated in the eighteenth century by wealthy landowners. By that time cricket had been established as a game between two sides of eleven that took turns batting. An inning was completed when ten of the eleven players had been dismissed—caught, bowled, stumped, run out, and leg before wicket being the chief means of dismissal. Play focuses on wickets in the center of an oval or field that consist of three stumps at each end of a 22-yard (20-meter) prepared grass pitch. An over (six balls) is bowled from one end to either one or the other batsmen, followed by an over at the other end. A batsman can hit the ball (on the full—or “fly”—or after it bounces) to any part of the field and a run or runs are scored when both batsmen safely reach the other end. If the ball reaches the boundary, four runs are scored; if the ball crosses the boundary on the full, six runs. Batsmen do not have to run when they hit the ball; they can continue to bat for hours and, in international cricket, for days on end.

Underarm bowling was the norm initially, but the laws were altered in the nineteenth century to allow round arm (1835) and eventually over-arm bowling (1864). The laws of cricket dictate that the ball should be bowled (with a straight arm) and not thrown. New traditions developed in the nineteenth century: The English three-day county game was instituted in 1864, and international contests known as test matches, which came to be played over five days, began in 1877. An abbreviated form of one-day cricket, limited overs, was introduced in 1963 and quickly became popular.

Cricket boasts a rich language with fielding positions such as “fine leg,” “gully,” “silly mid on,” as well as bowling terms that include “bouncer,” “yorker,” “googly,” and “wrong-un.” Phrases such as “sticky wicket” and “it’s not cricket” have assumed many broader meanings outside cricket. Cricket is one of the most literary of sports.

Origins of Cricket

The origins of cricket are obscure. The first authentic reference to cricket dates to 1598, and cricket was played in the south of England in the sixteenth century and increased in popularity in the next century. The involvement of wealthy landowners helped transform an informal intervillage pastime to a more organized sport in the eighteenth century. Aristocrats with abundant time and money helped codify the rules of the game to safeguard their substantial bets (up to £10,000) placed on matches. From 1711 articles of agreement, which set out the core rules, were drawn up for individual matches. These articles were later incorporated into the “laws” of the game of 1744, 1771, 1774, and 1788. By the end of the eighteenth century, rules covered the bat, ball, stumps, and bails; the size of the wicket; methods of batting and bowling; and ways of dismissal.

Development of the Game

Cricket appealed to English aristocrats because it was a complex and leisurely game amenable to class distinctions. The aristocrat could lead the side and bat, leaving the more physically taxing fast bowling to the estate laborer. Cricket paintings that adorn the walls of many a country house from this century suggest that at a time when England was undergoing rapid urban and industrial change, cricket conjured up an appealing vision of “Englishness”: bucolic bliss and class cooperation on rustic swards during sunlit afternoons.

Eighteenth Century

With the number of cricket clubs expanding, matches were played between teams representing counties by the 1740s. Teams designated as “All England” also took the field. The Hambledon Cricket Club, which existed from 1756 to 1791 at Broadhalfpenny Down, Hampshire, was the most famous club of the eighteenth century.

From the 1730s to the 1770s, cricket found a London home at the Artillery Ground, Finsbury. The London Club was a forerunner of the powerful Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), which was founded in 1787 and became cricket’s governing authority. It was based at Lord’s cricket ground, which took its name from a shrewd businessman, Thomas Lord. Lord’s became the spiritual mecca of world cricket.

From the 1740s there were intervillage cricket games for women, particularly in the counties of Surrey and Sussex. Some of the games were robust and boisterous and involved gambling. There are many suggestions that women cricketers achieved greater acceptance in the eighteenth century than in later centuries. Their matches were advertised, gate-entry was charged, and large crowds attended.

Nineteenth Century

Cricket continued to grow in popularity in the nineteenth century. Matches between Eton and Harrow were first introduced to Lord’s in 1805, contests between the Gentlemen and Players (that is, amateurs and professionals) in 1806, and Oxford and Cambridge universities in 1827. Star players, such as Alfred Mynn (1807-1861) and Fuller Pilch (1804-1870), who fired the public imagination, emerged.

The spread of the game throughout England and abroad and its growth into a highly profitable massspectator sport owed much to working-class professionals. William Clarke, a bricklayer from Nottingham, formed a lucrative All England XI in 1846. It became a successful professional troupe that traveled around England. The professionals helped take the game overseas to Canada and the United States in 1859, to Australia in 1862, and New Zealand in 1864. Their tours overseas proved immensely profitable and stimulated interest in overseas cricket. The professional John Wisden (1826-1884) published his annual cricket almanac for first time in 1864; it soon became the bible of cricket collectors. The professionals also played an important role in establishing international cricket. The first test match was played in 1877 at Melbourne between an English professional team and an Australian eleven.

Class distinctions were incorporated into the game: The amateur was segregated from the professional in terms of accommodation and dining, and he even entered the field from a different gate. The amateur had his name and initials recorded in the scorebook, the professional was identified by surname only. It was also thought proper that England should be captained by an amateur; not until 1953, when the Yorkshireman Len Hutton became captain, was England captained by a professional.

Professional tours inspired colonial sides to tour England. The success of the Australians, who performed very creditably against the best English sides in 1878, helped install cricket as an international game. The Australian defeat of the cream of English cricketers at the 1882 test at the Oval gave rise to the “Ashes” mythology. An advertisement in the press a few days later declared that English cricket died on that day, that its body would be cremated, and that the ashes would be taken to Australia. Tests between England and Australia became known as the Ashes.

By the nineteenth century, cricket was elevated to become a manly and character-building game. Women who took up the game in the late nineteenth century were viewed with suspicion as trespassers on male territory. Women formed cricket clubs from the 1880s but battled to gain public acceptance—they were ignored or ridiculed.

Twentieth Century

The twentieth century saw significant growth in international cricket competition and an ever-expanding program of international tours and contests. Many new competitors were accorded test status, including South Africa (1889), West Indies (1928), New Zealand (1930), India (1932), Pakistan (1952), Sri Lanka (1981), Zimbabwe (1992), and Bangladesh (2000). Many other nations have acquired associate status, including the Netherlands, Canada, Kenya, and the United Arab Emirates. The expansion of international competition led to the creation of a world cricket authority, the Imperial Cricket Conference (later the International Cricket Conference) in 1909.

International cricket for women dates from the 1930s, when England toured Australia in 1934-1935 and played three tests. Since then, a number of other women’s teams have played test cricket, including New Zealand, India, and teams from the West Indies. For much of the twentieth century, women’s cricket struggled to gain acceptance though the staging of a World Cup for women’s cricket in 1973, two years before the men, was an inspired idea. Since cricket is still regarded as a man’s game, there remains an onus on women who play cricket to prove their femininity. While women in some countries, such as Australia and England, play in a culotte (a divided skirt) to present a suitable feminine image, women in India and the West Indies compete in pants.

The infamous Bodyline series of 1932-1933 aroused great passion. To curb Don Bradman, the Australian run-machine, the English captain Douglas Jardine instructed his chief bowler, Harold Larwood, to bowl bodyline, a form of bowling which restricted scoring and provided greater opportunity for the batsmen to be hit. Australians regarded such tactics as intimidatory and unsporting. The series strained relations between Australia and England and led to a change in the laws which sought to discourage bodyline bowling. The tour aroused great interest because it was the first to have ball-to-ball radio commentary in Australia.

With dwindling interest in three-day domestic cricket, limited overs cricket was introduced to English domestic cricket in 1963. The abbreviated format, with matches completed in a day, encouraged innovative play and proved an instant success. Limited overs internationals were played starting in 1971 and were featured in the 1975 World Cup in England. An epic final between the West Indies and Australia was watched by a substantial worldwide audience.

Television greatly extended the popularity of cricket in the 1970s. The game translated well on television and slow-motion replays helped unravel the intricacies of the game. This television-related boom in cricket made the game attractive to Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer, who virtually hijacked world cricket after he was denied exclusive Australian television rights. Packer signed up the majority of the world’s best cricketers by offering players more generous payment. For two seasons establishment cricket and the World Series were locked in deadly combat before there was a truce in May 1979. Packer’s great innovation in this period of crisis was to popularize day-night limited overs cricket, which proved commercially attractive.

The issue of South Africa and its apartheid regime dogged world cricket from the 1970s to the 1990s, and tours to the area were suspended during this period. The boycott of South Africa spawned a succession of “rebel” tours from various countries and resulted in suspensions for players who had accepted “blood money.” Although many South Africans worked for multiracial cricket, progress was slow. South Africa reentered world cricket in the 1990s with the ending of apartheid.

The question of gambling and match fixing was widely debated in the 1990s when it was alleged that Pakistani, Indian, and Australian cricketers had accepted money from bookmakers from the subcontient. South African captain Hanse Cronje received a life ban in 2000 after he admitted that he had accepted approximately $180,000 and offered some of his players money to underperform. Cronje was killed in a plane crash in 2002 before he had a chance to exonerate himself.

Spread of the Game

While the game became popular in England, it attracted less support in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. Although cricket appealed to the working classes of Lancashire and Yorkshire, cricket was more of a middle-class game than soccer—the “people’s game.” English middle-class administrators of cricket considered the game to be the privileged preserve of the comfortable classes.

The British took cricket with them to all parts of their empire, though they made very limited attempts to encourage the indigenes of Asia and Africa to play the game. Indian teams were not formed until the mid-nineteenth century and did not play against European teams until later in the century. In the twentieth century, however, cricket became the most popular sport on the four countries of the subcontinent, where it became far more popular than it ever was in England. The support of cricket by comprador communities, such as the Parsis of Bombay, and by many Indian princes endowed the game with glamor and status. Cricket on the subcontinent was able to reinvent itself to fit in with local culture and society and features passionate and noisy crowds and wickets that have encouraged slow bowling.

In the West Indies, too, cricket was initially a white man’s game. C. L. R. James, in the cricket classic Beyond a Boundary, shows how West Indian cricket, although part of colonial oppression, was domesticated and transformed into a vehicle for the liberation struggle. Creolized West Indian cricket developed its own rich traditions, including “cricket as carnival,” and produced outstanding teams that dominated world cricket from the mid-1970s to the 1990s.

Cricket clubs were established at an early stage in Australia and New Zealand, where playing cricket was a way to maintain their culture in remote and exotic locations. Cricket received a further boost in the late nineteenth century when test matches gave colonial teams a prized opportunity to thrash the motherland. Cricket comes close to being the national game of Australia, and it is also popular in New Zealand and South Africa, where it ranks second to rugby. Each of these countries transformed cricket to suit its particular climate, culture, and society. The hard and firm wickets of Australia, for instance, encouraged fast and leg spin bowling and confident shot making.

Although cricket was exported at an earlier period than soccer, it spread far less, remaining confined to the former British Empire. Allen Guttmann has claimed that this limited spread was probably due not to intrinsic factors, such as the greater complexity of the rules, but to the fact that by the time soccer was exported, in the later period of the empire, Manchester’s economic influence was paramount and soccer was the favorite sport of Manchester. It is likely that cricket’s failure to spread, for example, from local elites of Philadelphia and other social bastions to the broader population in North America was because these elites preferred to maintain cricket as an exclusive game.

The Future

Cricket as a sport has been a great survivor in that it has been able to reinvent itself many times over. It has evolved from the era of gentlemen who loved to gamble, to the time of the professional, to the amateur era, to the more commercial and professional era following World Series Cricket. In the 1980s and 1990s the balance of cricket has shifted away from England. It is ironic that the game is now more genuinely popular on the subcontinent and in Australia, than it is in England.

Cricket was played at the 1900 Paris Olympic Games, though it has not been recognized as an Olympic sport, and at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games. While it is unlikely to become a global sport in the foreseeable future, its global future seems secure because it is so dominant on the subcontinent, has a growing base in Africa (South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Kenya), and remains popular in Australia and New Zealand as well as England.