History of cricket
The cricket season is well underway, and now arguably the second most popular sport in the world. The origins of cricket are obscure and lie somewhere in the Dark Ages probably after the Roman Empire, almost certainly before the Normans invaded England and believed to be played by children living in the Weald, an area of dense woodlands and clearings in south-east England that lies across Kent and Sussex.
All research concedes that the game derived from a very old, widespread and uncomplicated pastime by which one player served up an object, be it a small piece of wood or a ball, and another hit it with a suitably fashioned club. How and when this club ball game developed into one where the hitter defended a target against the thrower is simply not known. Nor is there any evidence as to when points were awarded dependent upon how far the hitter was able to despatch the missile; nor when helpers joined the two-player contest, thus beginning the evolution into a team game; nor when the defining concept of placing wickets at either end of the pitch was adopted.
However, what is agreed is that by Tudor times cricket had evolved far enough from clubball to be recognisable as the game played today; that it was well established in many parts of Kent, Sussex and Surrey. Within a few years it had become a feature of leisure time at a significant number of schools; and a sure sign of the wide acceptance of any game and that it had become popular enough among young men to earn the disapproval of local magistrates.
In 1844 the first ever international cricket game was played at Elysian Fields, Hoboken, New Jersey between the USA and Canada. And in 1859, a team of leading English professionals set off to North America on the firstever overseas tour. In 1864, another bowling revolution resulted in the legalisation of overarm. The “Great Cricketer”, W G Grace, also made his debut the same year. In 1877, an England touring team in Australia played two matches against full Australian XIs and these are now regarded as the inaugural Test matches. The following year, the Australians toured England for the first time and were a spectacular success. No Tests were played on that tour but more soon followed and, at The Oval in 1882, arguably the most famous match of all time gave rise to The Ashes. Whilst in 1889 South Africa became the third Test nation.
A major watershed occurred in 1890 when the County Cricket Championship was formally constituted for the first time to replace the ad hoc championship criteria that had been used up till then. The period from 1890 to the outbreak of the First World War has become especially nostalgic, seemingly because the teams played cricket according to “the spirit of the game”. In reality, this nostalgia was due to the sense of loss brought about by the war. The era, however, has been called “The Golden Age of Cricket” and it featured numerous great names such as Wilfred Rhodes, C B Fry, K S Ranjitsinhji and Victor Trumper.
India, West Indies and New Zealand became Test nations before the Second World War and Pakistan soon afterwards. The international game grew with several “affiliate nations” getting involved and, in the closing years of the 20th century, three of those became Test nations also: Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.
In June 2001, the ICC introduced a “Test Championship Table” and, in October 2002 a “One-day International Championship Table”, with Australia consistently topping both these tables since they were first published. Cricket remains a major world sport and is the most popular spectator sport in the Indian subcontinent. 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 on the United States. In 2004, the ICC Intercontinental Cup brought first class cricket to 12 nations, mostly for the first time.
Cricket’s newest innovation is Twenty20, essentially an evening entertainment. It has so far enjoyed enormous popularity and has attracted large attendances at matches as well as good TV audience ratings, with the inaugural ICC Twenty20 World Cup tournament taking place in South Africa in September this year.