About 500 years ago, varieties of stick-and-ball games were played in England. Cricket has evolved from those games. The word ‘bat’ is an old English word which means stick or club. Cricket evolved to be recognized as a distinct game by the seventeenth century.
Till the middle of the eighteenth century, bats were more or less similar to hockey sticks in shape. In those days, the ball was bowled underarm, and a bent end of the bad provided the best chance to hit the ball.
Sport is a major aspect of contemporary life. It is one of the ways by which we amuse ourselves and compete with each other. We also express our social loyalties through a sport. From this perspective, it is important to understand the history of cricket; especially in the context of colonialism.
The unique nature of cricket has been shaped by the social and economic history of England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Most Lengthy Game: Compared to other modern sports, a typical game of cricket takes a longer time to finish. A Test Match is played for five days and it still ends in a draw. A one-day match takes a whole day to finish. Even the shortest version; the Twenty-Twenty; takes about four hours to finish. Most of the modern sports take around ninety minutes to finish. The lengthy nature of cricket is because of its origin in the pre-industrialization days when the economy was purely agrarian. During off seasons for farming; people had plenty of time to watch a cricket match for several days.
Initially, there was no time limit for a cricket match. A Test Match lasted as long as it took a team to bowl out the opponent team twice. People in those days had plenty of time and hence this aspect of the game was appreciated.
Even the tools of cricket tell about its association with the rural life in England. The bat is made of willow which was plenty in England. Earlier, the bat was made with a single piece of wood. Now, the blade is made of willow and its handle is made of cane. Cane was available in plenty in the colonies. The stumps and bails are also made of wood. The ball is made of cork and leather. This is quite different than the tools of most of the modern sports.
While the length of the pitch is specified (22 yards), the size or shape of the ground is not specified. Cricket grounds can be of different shapes and sizes in different parts of the world. Cricket was the earliest modern team sport to be codified. The rules and regulations of cricket evolved on their own over a period of time. During its early years, cricket was played on the commons. The size of the commons land was variable and no boundary was present. The length of the boundary line was decided by the umpires after taking the consensus of the captains of the two teams.
The first written ‘Laws of Cricket’ were drawn up in 1744. The umpires were to be selected from amongst the present gentlemen. Umpires were given the power to decide on all disputes. The height of the stumps, length of the bails, weight of the ball and the length of the pitch were mentioned in those laws.
The first cricket club was formed in Hambledon in the 1760s. The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) was founded in 1787. The MCC published its first revision of the laws in 1788 and became the guardian of cricket’s regulations.
Pitching the balls through air became common during the 1760s and 1770s. A departure from underarm bowling allowed the bowlers the options of length, deception through the air and increased pace. This also opened the possibilities for spin and swing bowling. Curved bat was replaced with the straight bats. Arrival of straight bat also meant that instead of realizing on brute force, the batsman had to hone his batting skills.
Once, a batsman appeared with a bat as wide as the wicket. This resulted in a law which limited the width of the bat to four inches. The weight of the ball was limited to between 5.5 to 5.75 ounces. The third stump became common around this period. By 1780, most of major matches lasted for three days. The first six-seam ball was also created in 1780.
Many important changes in cricket occurred during the nineteenth century. Some of such changes are as follows:
Cricket is usually popular for being a batsman’s game and most of the celebrity cricketers are batsmen. This mindset has also come from the English society of the Victorian era. The rich people could afford to play cricket for pleasure and they were called the amateurs. The poor people played cricket for a living and were called the professionals. To play for the pleasure of playing and not for money was considered an aristocratic value. The professionals were paid by patronage or subscription or gate money. The game of cricket was like a part time employment for the professionals during off seasons.
The amateurs were called the Gentlemen while the professionals were called the Players. There were separate entrances to the ground for the Gentlemen and the Players. Batting was done by the Gentlemen, while bowling and fielding were done by the Players. Even today, most of the cricket laws are in favour of batsman. It is the batsman who is given the benefit of doubt by the umpire. The captain of the team used to be a batsman, i.e. an amateur. It was in the 1930s that a professional became the captain of the English team for the first time; when Len Hutton became the captain.
While some English team games like hockey and football are now being played all over the world, cricket still remains a colonial game. It is limited to those countries which were once part of the British Empire. In the colonies, cricket remained a popular sport of the white settlers, e.g. in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies and Kenya. It also became popular among the local elites as they wanted to copy their colonial masters, e.g. in India.
Playing and excelling in cricket became a sign of self-respect and international standing among the natives of the colonies. When the West Indies won its first Test Series against England in 1950, it was celebrated as a national achievement.
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