History of cricket

From Academic Kids

The sport of cricket has a long and rich history.



The precise origins of cricket, and even of its name, remain unclear. Some manuscripts from the 12th and 13th centuries show diagrams of early forms of cricket. The Royal Wardrobe accounts for 1299-1300 report that £6 was paid out for the 15-year old Prince Edward to play creag and other games, though there is no evidence that this creag was a form of cricket. Certainly little was heard of the game for the next 300 years. Nor is there any record of any commercial interest in the game from innkeepers or other entrepreneurs. Cricket, if it was played at all, was not of sufficient popularity or disruptive enough to be subject to a specific prohibition, although some club and ball games were banned in England. For example, a statute of King Edward IV in 1477–8 (17 Edw. IV. c. 3) made the playing of Hands in and hands out illegal because it interfered with the compulsory practice of archery.

In 1598 there was a dispute over a school's ownership of a plot of land in which a 59-year old coroner, John Derrick, testified that he and his school friend had played "creckett" at the site fifty years earlier. This is generally considered to be the first mention of cricket in the English language - the school was the Royal Grammar School, Guildford. In the same year John Florio, in his Italian-English dictionary defined the verb sgillare as "to make a noise as a cricket, to play cricket-a-wicket, and be merry".

The game was mostly a child's game. The first reference to it being played as an adult sport was in 1611, when two men were prosecuted for playing cricket instead of going to church. There are other mentions of cricket prosecutions in the years that followed, as cricket slowly emerged from just being played by children to being played by adults for money. In 1646 an organised game for a bet of a dozen candles gave rise to a lawsuit.

After the English Civil War, which ended in 1648, the new Puritan government clamped down on unlawful assemblies, in particular the more raucous sports such as football. Also, laws meant there needed to be a stricter observance of the Sabbath than there previously was. As the Sabbath was the only time the lower classes had, cricket's popularity waned. However, it did flourish in the public fee-paying school such as Winchester and St Paul's.

Cricket gained in popularity as a betting game, with the only problems arising as a result of gaming laws that declared made bets greater than £100, and later £10 illegal. In 1748, a London magistrate accepted that cricket is a "manly game" that was not bad in itself, but condemned its "ill use" by betting above the £10 legal limit. All the law did, however, was to force the bets to be for "eleven pairs of gloves" or "eleven velvet caps". These sound innocuous enough, but in reality would be very valuable items.

First-class cricket is said to have started in 1815, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

Derivation of the name of "cricket"

A number of words are thought to be possible sources for the term cricket, which could refer to the bat or the wicket. In old French, the word criquet meant a kind of club which probably gave its name to croquet. Some believe that cricket and croquet have a common origin. In Flemish, krick(e) means a stick, and, in old English, cricc or cryce means a crutch or staff.

Alternatively, the French criquet apparently comes from the Flemish word krickstoel, which is a long low stool on which one kneels in church which may appear similar to the long low wicket with two stumps used in early cricket, or the early stool in stoolball. The word stool is old Sussex dialect for a tree stump, and stool ball is a sport similar to cricket played by the Dutch.

Codification of rules

On September 23, 1771, Shock White of Ryegate used a bat fully as wide as a wicket against the Hambledon Club. This prompted the Hambledon Club to record a minute to the effect that the maximum width of a cricket bat be set at four and a quarter inches. Other clubs quickly adopted this standard, using metal gauges to check the size of bats before allowing their use.

The first recorded codification of the rules of cricket is the Code of 1744. This specified that:

  • the pitch be 22 yards long,
  • the distance between the bowling crease and popping crease be 46 inches,
  • the wickets be 22 inches tall and 6 inches wide,
  • and the ball weigh between 5 and 6 ounces.

The first printed version of the rules printed by W Read in 1775. Then in 1788, the Marylebone Cricket Club published a set of Laws of Cricket, which contained the first complete codification of the rules of the game and the dimensions of the pitch and equipment. Other cricket clubs across England quickly adopted the MCC's Laws and cricket became standardised for the first time. The MCC remains the custodian of the Laws of Cricket to the present day. The laws were recodified in 1947, 1980 and 2000.

Development of rules

In 1821, the distance between the bowling and popping creases was increased from 46 to 48 inches. On May 10, 1838, the size of a cricket ball was codified for the first time, being a circumference between 9 and 9 1/4 inches.

By 1853, the cricket bat had been developed into roughly its modern form, being carved from a single piece of willow and attached to a cane handle.

In 1864, overarm bowling was allowed for the first time. Prior to this, only underarm bowling had been legal.

In 1865, creases were painted with whitewash for the first time. Prior to this, the creases were cut into the turf, forming small ditches an inch in width and depth.

In 1889 a bowler may change ends as often as he likes in an innings (subject to not bowling two consecutive overs) (previously he could only change ends once or twice); a side could declare its innings closed for the first time.

Balls per over

The number of balls in each over has changed throughout cricket’s history. The earliest rules of cricket specified that four balls were bowled in each over.

In 1889 four ball overs were replaced by five ball overs, and then this was changed to the current six balls an over in 1900. Since then, many countries have experimented with eight balls an over. In 1922 the number of balls per over was changed from six to eight in Australia only. In 1924 the eight ball over was extended to New Zealand and in 1937 to South Africa. The 1947 code allowed six or eight balls depending on the conditions of play.

Since the 1979/80 Australian and New Zealand seasons, the six ball over has been used worldwide and the most recent, 2000, code only permits six ball overs.

One-day cricket

In the 1960s, English county teams began playing a version of cricket with modified rules. Instead of allowing each team two innings and requiring the team to be dismissed in each one, they set up games of only one innings each, and decreed that the innings would be completed when a maximum number of overs had been bowled if they hadn‘t ended earlier.

This change to the rules allowed a game to be completed within one day. This did not supplant the traditional long format of the game, which continued to be played. Indeed, many cricket fans considered the shorter form of the game to be a corruption of the sport. One-day cricket did however have the advantage of delivering a result to spectators within a single day, thus improving cricket's appeal to younger or busier people.

International cricket

Nineteenth century

Main articles: History of Test cricket (to 1883)

History of Test cricket (1884 to 1889)
History of Test cricket (1890 to 1900)

The first ever cricket game played between teams representing their nations was between the USA and Canada in 1844. The match was played at Elysian Field in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Meanwhile, in England, county cricket was growing in popularity. In the 1870s, the MCC decided that the next step was to establish international relations with the British colonies, where cricket was becoming more popular as well.

In 1877 James Lillywhite put together a team and set off by ship for a tour of Australia. His team, representing England on foreign soil, played the first Test match against Australia on March 15, 1877, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Australia won by 45 runs.

On a tour of England in 1882, Australia narrowly beat England by 7 runs in a tense and exciting match, which prompted the Sporting Times to run an obituary lamenting "The Death of English Cricket", with the footnote "N.B. The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia". The following Australian summer, England played a series in Australia which the media played up as a quest to "regain the ashes". A small trophy was created, containing some ashes, and presented to the English captain. Except in times of war, regular series of Test matches between these two countries have continued until this day, playing for the right to hold the Ashes.

On March 12, 1888, England played South Africa for the first time in a Test match. The match occurred at St. George's Park, Port Elizabeth, South Africa and established South Africa as the third Test nation.

In 1900, cricket made its first and only appearance in the Olympics. Two teams competed, France and Britain. The French team consisted of mostly players from the British Embassy. The British team won. However, the players were not aware of the game's Olympic status until some time later: the Olympic organisers decided to expand the appeal of the Games by declaring that all the sports played in Paris that year were part of the 1900 Summer Olympics and awarding medals to the winners.

Pre-first world war era

On June 15th 1909 representatives from England, Australia and South Africa met at Lord’s cricket ground in London, England and founded the Imperial Cricket Conference. Membership was confined to teams within the British Commonwealth who played test cricket.

In 1912, a "Triangular Tournament" was organised in England, involving South Africa, Australia, and the host nation. It was the first Test series in which more than two countries took part. Though not helped by the weather, the enterprise was an utter disaster and was not repeated.

International cricket was suspended for the duration of World War I, although domestic first-class cricket was still played.

Between the wars

Between the World Wars, three new teams acquired test status. On June 23, 1928, the West Indies played England at Lord's Cricket Ground in London. Then, England played against New Zealand in Lancaster Park, Christchurch, New Zealand on January 10, 1930. Finally, England matched up against one of its own colonies, India, on June 23, 1932, at Lord's.

One of the most controversial and antagonistic episodes in cricket history occurred during the 1932–33 tour of Australia by England. The so-called Bodyline tour saw England adopt the deliberate tactic of bowling fast, short-pitched balls at the bodies of the Australian batsmen, with the goal of intimidating them into losing their wickets. England won the test series, but at the expense of a lot of ill feeling between the two countries. After this tour, the Laws of Cricket were changed to prevent any recurrence of such tactics.

With the outbreak of World War II, international cricket was again suspended until after the war.

Post-war era

After India and Pakistan gained independence in 1947, the new Pakistani cricket team played their first Test against their Indian counterparts at Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi, India, on October 16, 1952. This was the first inaugural Test in which England did not play. No new Test teams were to be seen until the 1980s. At that time Pakistan included current day Bangladesh, which did not become independent until 1971.

Suspension of South Africa (1970-1991)

Main article: International cricket in South Africa (1971 to 1981)

In 1961 South Africa left the Commonwealth and so had to leave the ICC. Then throughout the 1960s the world was becoming increasingly concerned about the policy of racial segregation, or ‘apartheid’, adopted by the South African government.

This started to come to a head in 1968 with the D’Oliveira affair. Basil D’Oliveira was a Cape Coloured cricketer. He had moved to England to further his career and taken British citizenship. He was widely tipped to be selected for the English team to tour South Africa in the winter of 1968/69, especially after scoring 158 in the final test against Australia. But he was first omitted from the team, apparently because his race would upset the South Africans. This caused an outcry in the English media, and when a selected player had to pull out through injury, D’Oliveira was selected to take his place. When John Vorster, the South African prime minister, refused D’Oliveira a visa to enter South Africa, England called off the tour.

Then in 1970, the member nations of the International Cricket Conference, as the ICC was then known, voted to suspend indefinitely South Africa from international cricket competition. South Africa had played its last Test against Australia on March 5 to March 10, 1970, at Port Elizabeth, and they were regarded by many as the strongest team in the world. South Africa had been due to tour England over the English summer. So that the English did not miss out on international cricket, the ICC hastily arranged a five match England v Rest of World series. This series was later stripped of test match status as it was not between two separate countries.

South Africa’s suspension resulted in the Test careers of several fine players being cut short, most notably Barry Richards and Graeme Pollock. South Africa continued playing domestic cricket within the country, and its players remained strong. In 1974, the South African Cricket Board of Control applied for re-admission to international cricket, and was refused by the ICC.

Starved of top-level competition for its best players, the board began funding so-called rebel tours, offering large sums of money for international players to form teams and tour South Africa. The ICC's response was to blacklist any rebel players who agreed to tour South Africa, banning them from officially sanctioned international cricket. As players were remunerated poorly during the 1970s, several accepted the offer to tour South Africa, particularly players towards the end of their careers, where a blacklisting would have little effect.

The rebel tours were widely condemned by the cricket establishment as offering support and succour to South Africa's apartheid regime, and some members of the press supported this view. Others claimed that the old maxim that "sport and politics do not mix" applied and saw no harm in having a sporting contest with citizens of an oppressive government.

Rebel tours continued into the 1980s, including a high profile English teams led by Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting and West Indian and Australian sides.

One-day matches and the World Cup

The first one-day international match took place in Melbourne in 1971, as a time-filler after a Test match had been abandoned because of heavy rain on the opening days. It was tried simply as an experiment and to give the players some exercise, but turned out to be immensely popular. One-day internationals have since grown to become the most popular form of the game.

One-day internationals proved so popular so quickly that the International Cricket Council organised the first Cricket World Cup in 1975, pitting all the Test nations against one another in a series of one-day games, hosted in England. The West Indies beat Australia in a thrilling final that cemented the popularity of the short form of cricket and led to World Cups being held every four years.

World Series Cricket

The cricket world underwent a major upheaval in the years 19771979, precipitated by a single man, Kerry Packer. The conditions of poor player working conditions and remuneration were ripe for Packer to sign some of the best players in the world to a privately run cricket league, outside the structure of international cricket.

For full details, see World Series Cricket.

World Series Cricket hired some of the banned South African players and allowed them to show off their skills in an international forum, against other world-class players. Both rebel test matches (known as ‘Supertests’) and one-day international matches were played. Barry Richards performed particularly impressively, and cricket fans began to realise just what they were missing out on with South Africa banned from officially sanctioned cricket.

By 1979, the schism in world cricket had been removed and the "rebel" players were allowed back into the establishment of international cricket, though the Supertests and one-day matches have never been granted official status. The fallout of World Series Cricket included the introduction of significantly higher player salaries, as well as bringing the innovations of coloured uniforms and night games into the mainstream.

The 1970s and 1980s

See also: International cricket in South Africa (1971 to 1981)

In the late 1970s and 1980s the West Indies were universally feared and respected thanks to a fine combination of terrifying fast bowlers (such as Michael Holding, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Malcolm Marshall) and powerful batsmen (such as Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd and Gordon Greenidge). Although there was no official test championship at the time, they were widely regarded as being ‘world champions’ and famously ‘blackwashed’ England by beating them 5-0 in two five match series.

New test nations

On February 17, 1982, Sri Lanka played England in its first Test at P. Saravanamuttu Stadium, Colombo, in Sri Lanka. On October 18, 1992, Zimbabwe played its first Test match against India at the Harare Sports Club, Harare, Zimbabwe. Bangladesh played India in its first Test on 10 November, 2000.

Twenty-first century

In June 2001 the ICC introduced a ‘test championship table’, and in October 2002 a ‘one-day international championship table’. Australia has topped both these tables since they were published, apart from January to May 2003 when it was topped by South Africa, but this was only because South Africa had gained maximum points from playing the weakest two nations, whereas Australia had not played them.

Cricket remains a major world sport and is the most popular spectator sport in the Indian subcontinent, which gives the Asian cricketing nations a lot of political clout in the ICC. The ICC has expanded its Development Program with the goal of producing more national teams capable of competing at Test level. Development efforts are focused on African and Asian nations, and the United States. In 2004, the ICC Intercontinental Cup brought first class cricket to 12 nations, mostly for the first time.

The future

The U.S. has long been seen as a promising market for cricket, but it has been difficult to make any impression on a public largely ignorant of the sport. The establishment of the Pro Cricket professional league in the U.S. in 2004 may be the beginning of broaching this last frontier. China may also be a source of future cricket development, with the Chinese government announcing plans in 2004 to develop the sport—almost unknown in China—with the goal of qualifying for the World Cup by 2019.

Secondly, the ICC is conducting ongoing reviews of the interpretation of Law 24.3 of the Laws of Cricket: Definition of fair delivery – the arm, in the wake of biomechanical findings that Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan violates the guidelines for arm extension when bowling his doosra. The reporting of Muralitharan for a suspect arm action by match referee Chris Broad and the subsequent study has precipitated a crisis by finding that the current interpretive guidelines may be inadequate and ultimately unenforceable. What this means for the Laws of Cricket remains to be seen.

As of May 2005, the strongest test team in the world according to the official rankings is Australia, with England in second place.

The India vs. Pakistan rivalry

India and Pakistan have been long-time rivals. This is probably due to the racial (religious) segregation brought into existence near India's independence in which a percentage of India's Islamic population moved to Pakistan. It also most likely caused by the nations' dispute over Kashmir, a region or state located between Pakistan and India. This feud affected both the diplomatic and political relations and their gaming rivalries.

In recent years however, some bitterness is oft diffused with a one day series between the nations played in Australia in the 99/00 season. Furthermore in the 03/04 season, India finally completed a tour of Pakistan, in which there were rare scenes of Indian and Pakistani supporters in unison, followed in early 2005 by a reciprocal tour by Pakistan in India to complete 3 tests and 6 ODIs. Indian and Pakistani fans joined together in what was described as "cricket diplomacy".


Betting controversies

Cricket has always been a popular betting game. With betting games come betting scandals, with players being approached by bookmakers and bribed to throw matches, aspects of matches (e.g. the toss) or provide other information.

Before the late 1990s and 2000s, betting scandals were not taken too seriously. In 1981 the Australian fast bowler Dennis Lillee bet on England to beat Australia at Headingley at odds of 500-1 (England were well behind with seven wickets down following-on, still behind, and had checked out of their hotel that morning not believing they would make it to the final day when he placed the bet). England went on to win the match, and Lillee's bet, but no action was ever taken against him.

Lack of sanction for earlier betting scandals, the cricketers low pay compared to the amounts being received by the national cricket boards, and the size of bets placed on cricket in the subcontinent all combined to tempt many players to get involved with betting rings.

Probably the greatest cricketing crook was Salim Malik, the former Pakistan captain. He should have been remembered as the greatest Pakistani batsman of all time, but is instead remembered as a man who accepted thousands of dollars of bribes, threw many games and whose captaincy was entirely corrupt. He, along with Mohammed Azharuddin, the former Indian captain, are now banned from cricket for life.

The other main country to be rocked by betting scandals was South Africa. Their then captain Hansie Cronje broke down after admitting accepting bribes, though he always denied actually throwing the games he accepted bribes to throw.

Criminal enquiries took place in all three countries. Players from other teams have also been implicated, though usually without there being any significant evidence that would stand up in a court of law. However, Shane Warne did receive a fine from the Australian Cricket Board for offering information about the weather to bookmakers.

The ICC was slow to react, but did eventually in 2000 set up an Anti-Corruption and Security Unit headed by Sir Paul Condon, former head of the London Metropolitan Police. It claims to have reduced corruption in cricket to a 'reducible minimum'.

Ball tampering



Many people allege that administration of the game in Zimbabwe is corrupted by the influence of Robert Mugabe's government, who are accused of following racist, in particular anti-white, policies.

This matter first came to prominence before the 2003 World Cup, when both the British prime minister Tony Blair and the Australian prime minister John Howard said they would prefer it if their teams did not travel to Zimbabwe, but did not ban them from doing so. In the event, only England refused to travel to Harare to play Zimbabwe as they considered it morally wrong to do so, thereby forfeiting the match. In Zimbabwe's first match, two players, one white, one black (Andy Flower and Henry Olonga) wore black armbands in protest against "the death of democracy in Zimbabwe". Both players subsequently retired and emigrated from Zimbabwe, under intense political pressure, with the black Olonga being denounced as not really Zimbabwean as he was born in Zambia.

In 2004, the Zimbabwe Cricket Union sacked their white captain, Heath Streak, replacing him with the young, untested Tatenda Taibu. Fifteen senior players were involved in a stand-off over this and other selection issues, resulting in their dismissal from Zimbabwean cricket. Following poor performances by a second-string (and almost all black) Zimbabwe team against Sri Lanka, the ZCU and ICC agreed that Zimbabwe would play no Test cricket in 2004, and this self-imposed suspension remained in force from June 10, 2004, to 6 January, 2005. It remains to be seen if the time away from Test cricket has allowed the side to settle and improve: in the first match after the suspension, Bangladesh (generally considered the worst side in Test cricket by a distance) beat Zimbabwe to record their first ever Test victory.

Issues of racism and selection in Zimbabwe cricket remain unresolved.


  • A Social History of English Cricket by Derek Birley ISBN-1-85410-941-3

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