Cricket, also called the Gentleman’s game, is a bat-and-ball team sport that is first documented as being played in southern England in the 16th century. The sport’s earliest definite mention was in a 1598 court case which referred to a sport called cricket being played by boys at the Royal Grammar School, Guildford around 1550. It is believed that it was originally a children’s game but references around 1610, indicate that adults had started playing it and the earliest reference to inter-parish or village cricket occurs soon afterwards. In 1624, a player called Jasper Vinall was killed when he was struck on the head during a match between two parish teams in Sussex.
During the 17th century, numerous references indicate the growth of cricket in the south-east of England and it is believed that the first professionals appeared in the years following the Restoration in 1660. A newspaper report survives of ‘a great cricket match’ with eleven players a side that was played for high stakes in Sussex in 1697 and this is the earliest known reference to a cricket match of such importance.
The game was prominent in London as early as 1707 and large crowds flocked to matches on the Artillery Ground in Finsbury. The single wicket form of the sport attracted huge crowds and wagers to match. Bowling evolved around 1760 when bowlers began to pitch the ball instead of rolling or skimming it towards the batsman. This caused a revolution in bat design because, to deal with the bouncing ball, it was necessary to introduce the modern straight bat in place of the old ‘hockey stick’ shape.
The Hambledon Club was founded in the 1760s and, for the next 20 years until the formation of Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and the opening of Lord’s Old Ground in 1787, Hambledon was both the game’s greatest club and its focal point.
MCC quickly became the sport’s premier club and the custodian of the rules of the game known as the Laws of Cricket. These are maintained by the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the MCC, which holds the copyright. New Laws introduced in the latter part of the 18th century included the three stump wicket and leg before wicket (lbw). By the end of the 18th century, cricket had become the national sport of England.
The 19th century saw underarm bowling replaced by first round-arm and then overarm bowling. Organisation of the game at county level led to the creation of the county clubs, starting with Sussex CCC in 1839, which ultimately formed the official County Championship in 1890. The expansion of the British Empire had been instrumental in spreading the game overseas and by the middle of the 19th century it had become well established in India, North America, the Caribbean, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
In 1844, the first international cricket match took place between the United States and Canada, although neither has ever been ranked as a Test-playing nation). Today, the game’s governing body, the ICC, has 104 member countries. With its greatest popularity in the Test playing countries, cricket is the world’s second most popular sport after Association football.
A cricket match is played on a cricket field at the centre of which is a pitch. The match is contested between two teams of eleven players each. One team bats, trying to score as many runs as possible without being dismissed or getting ‘out’ while the other team bowls and fields, trying to dismiss the other team’s batsmen and limit the runs being scored. When the batting team has used all its available overs or has no remaining batsmen, the roles become reversed and it is now the fielding team’s turn to bat and try to outscore the opposition.
There are several variations in the length of a game of cricket. In professional cricket this ranges from a limit of 20 overs per side (Twenty20) to a game played over 5 days (Test cricket). Depending on the form of the match being played, there are different rules that govern how a game is won, lost, drawn or tied. Generally, cricket can be divided between matches in which the teams have two innings apiece and those in which they have a single innings each.
The former, known as first- class cricket, has a duration of three to five days while the latter, known as limited overs cricket because each team bowls a limit of typically 50 overs, has a planned duration of one day only. Typically, two-innings matches have at least six hours of playing time each day. Limited overs match often last six hours or more. There are usually formal intervals on each day for lunch and tea with brief informal breaks for drinks. There is also a short interval between innings.
Test cricket is the highest standard of first-class cricket. A Test match is an international fixture between teams representing those countries that are Full Members of the ICC. Teams in Test cricket, first- class cricket and club cricket wear traditional white uniforms and use red cricket balls. Test matches between two teams are usually played in a group of matches called a “series”. Matches last up to five days and a series normally consists of three to five matches. Test matches that are not finished within the allotted time are drawn.
Test cricket is deemed to have begun with two matches between Australia and England in the 1876-77 Australian season. Subsequently, eight other national teams have achieved Test status: South Africa (1889), West Indies (1928), New Zealand (1929), India (1932), Pakistan (1952), Sri Lanka (1982), Zimbabwe (1992) and Bangladesh (2000). Zimbabwe subsequently suspended its Test status in 2006 due to its inability to compete against other Test teams and has yet to resume playing Test cricket. Welsh players are eligible to play for England, which is in effect an England and Wales team.
The West Indies team comprises players from numerous states in the Caribbean, most notably Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, the Leeward Islands and the Windward Islands.
In a one day match, each match is scheduled for completion in a single day. It is the most common form of limited overs cricket played on an international level. Each team plays one innings only and faces a limited number of overs, usually a maximum of 50. Standard limited overs cricket was introduced in England in the 1963 season in the form of a knockout cup contested by the first-class county clubs.
The concept was gradually introduced to the other major cricket countries and the first limited overs international was played in 1971. In 1975, the first Cricket World Cup took place in England. Limited overs cricket has seen various innovations including the use of multi-coloured kit and floodlit matches using a white ball.
Twenty20 is a new variant of limited overs itself with the purpose being to complete the match within about three hours, usually in an evening session. The original idea, when the concept was introduced in England in 2003, was to provide workers with an evening entertainment. It has been commercially successful and has been adopted internationally.
The inaugural Twenty20 World Championship was held in 2007 and won by India. Subsequently, many domestic Twenty20 leagues were born which include the Indian Cricket League, the Indian Premier League and the Twenty20 Champions League.
The International Cricket Council (ICC), which has its headquarters in Dubai, is the international governing body of cricket. It was founded as the Imperial Cricket Conference in 1909 by representatives from England, Australia and South Africa, renamed the International Cricket Conference in 1965, and took up its current name in 1989. The ICC has 104 members: 10 Full Members that play official Test matches, 34 Associate Members, and 60 Affiliate Members.
The Full Members are the governing bodies for cricket in a country or associated countries. All Full Member nations are automatically qualified to play ODIs and Twenty20 Internationals. They are Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Zimbabwe. The associate and affiliate teams who currently hold ODI and T20I status are Afghanistan, Canada, Ireland, Kenya, Netherlands, and Scotland.