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1300 YEARS of Cricket: 700 to 2000 AD
by Deb K. Das

Deb K. Das is an artist, poet, writer, photojournalist, editor, Artificial Intelligence researcher, and econometrician. He graduated from Cambridge University in England, and served as Managing Editor of CRICKETER INTERNATIONAL'S North American Edition for three years.
He has translated documents from Vedic, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Avestan and Cuneiform; lectured and written on "Ancient Cuisines of Europe, Asia and Africa", and "Impacts of Industrial Energy Efficiency on the Global Economy"; and researched "History of Cricket from 700 to 1700 AD", "Cricket in America" and "Cricket for Baseball Players". A former Chairman of the Seattle Cricket Club, he was a co-organizer of the First North American Tournament in 1995.

Table of Contents

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Origins of Cricket--- 700 to 1000 AD

The latest speculation on the origins of cricket is that it could have developed out of ancient bat-and-ball games that we know to have existed in the Greater Punjab ("Doab") region of the Indian subcontinent straddling North India and Pakistan. If so, it could have travelled through Persia into Europe by the 8th century or earlier. In this, cricket could have behaved like two other imports into Europe from the Indian subcontinent provably did, at about the same time--- Chess, the board game of the Indian warriors which became the Persian "shatranj" from the Indian "chaturanga", and travelled via Constantinople into Europe...and the nomadic Gypsies who wandered away from the Indian deserts through Turkey into Eastern Europe, arriving there by the 10th century...

Team sports were, of course, not new to Europe. Team "ball" games had developed there since ancient times. The Greeks even played a kind of field hockey which they had learned from Egypt, and a throwing/fielding game called ephedrismos which used a wicket, or stick, as a target for a cricket-ball-sized ball.

The Romans, too, played a number of ball games....their sports looked like today's rugby, soccer and handball. But they had also developed a "ballista", or "ball", for gymnastic exercises among their Legions--a few of these, excavated near Hadrian's Wall in England, look remarkably like modern cricket balls.

What came in from the East was the "bat", i.e. a stick designed to hit an object like a ball or similar projectile, so it could be fielded.

It is the Bat, the old "danda" of South Asia, that marks the beginning of early cricket.

In any case, in the 8th century, the monk Eustatius Cardonius was demonstrating a new bat-and-ball sport he had picked up from further east, to a conclave of cardinals in Florence, Italy. By the 9th century, bat-and-ball games looking somewhat like cricket were being played in Italy, and also in Spain and Portugal. The Church in Europe seems to have taken the lead in sponsoring these bat-and-ball sporting activities on their monastery lands, as part of community-wide celebrations following church services....perhaps the beginning of "Sunday afternoon cricket" !

As the Church expanded into the British Isles, these sporting activities entered Ireland and then Britain. They were soon integrated into these rural communities, becoming part of Christian life in those places by about 1000 AD.(The Irish have long claimed they played cricket before the English did--their claims may not have been unfounded!)


CRICKET IN ENGLAND : 1000 to 1300 AD

When the Normans conquered England in 1066, they adapted the Saxon bat-and-ball sport into their own feudal recreations....and, in the process, created a new kind of sport, which they apparently called "creagh" or "cricke".

Joseph of Exeter, in 1183, gives the first complete description of this co-ed community activity. A ball is thrown at (and hit by) a batter wielding a staff which looks like today's baseball bat...the batter protects a piece of wood, perhaps a log or tree-stump, resting on a gate-like stand(could this be the origin of the term "stumps" in modern cricket?)...fielders are positioned all around, squires in front of the "wicket" and serfs behind...... This sport has clearly been going on for some time, and Joseph of Exeter calls it a "merrye" weekend recreation.

Geoffrey Chaucer, in his Canterbury Tales, also mentions "cricke" being played in the 12th and 13th centuries...and King Edward II's household budget even refers to payments made for a "cricke" coach!



The 14th and 15th centuries were bad for "creagh", or "cricke". It was banned, and severe penalties were imposed on anyone owning equipment or sponsoring matches.

Evidently the British barons and monarchs of the time took a dim view of a sport that occupied summer weekends. They preferred that yeomen spend that time practicing archery...because it was that assiduous practice every weekend with the fabled longbow that had brought victory to to the English in their European forays, and this was a military advantage the English were loth to relinquish. Richard II, in fact, seems to have banned all ball games in favor of archery practice. It was only after gunpowder eclipsed the legendary skills of the longbowmen that the restrictions on cricket began to be relaxed.

Not until the 16th century do we again hear of cricket....but the sport must have existed through that time, if only as a clandestine activity.

Indeed, it is rumored that the "outlaws" of the day made the best cricketers, and one Robert Locksley (better known to us as Robin Hood) may have also been a fine cricketer of this era! If so, the feudal lords would have had a very good reason to ban "cricke"...and the story, although perhaps apocryphal, may tell us something of why it did survive.



The 16th and 17th centuries saw cricket being described, played and mentioned....indeed, the modern name of the game, i.e. crickett or crickette, is dated from those times. No longer is there talk of fines, imprisonments or confiscation of lands, or equipment.....those penalties, if they had ever been enforced, are no longer mentioned.
The nature of the game had also changed a bit by 1500 AD.
The 12th century baseball-type bat was replaced by crooked bats, shaped like oversized hockey sticks. And now there were TWO two-stick wickets, each topped by a single oversized "bail", twenty-two yards apart from each other...a distance that is to prevail for 500 years! Each set of "wickets" was constructed over a hole into which the bat had to be "popped" by a runner before a fielder could "pop" the ball in it...from this comes the modern expression, "popping crease".
From the 1500s to the late 1800s,The pitcher/bowler typically threw under-arm, although round- and even over-arm throwing was employed. In the 1500s, there were no "boundaries"; runs (called "notches" then) were scored by running--- between the bases.
Fielding formations, through the 1600s and even the 1700s, were "elongated" compared to today's cricket. There were fewer square fielders like midwicket or cover, more "long" ones like long stop, long on or long off(including "backstops" to cover for wicket-keepers who were not as well-protected as today!)
Scoring rates were low in the 1500s, because pitchers/bowlers were able to use the uneven grounds of those days to devastating effect---trick bounces, called "shooters", were a common feature. In fact, "pitching the wickets" (from where we get today's term "pitch" to describe the ground beween the sticks) was considered quite an have the right bumps and soft spots to throw at could be a key to pitching/bowling success in those days!
All this would suggest a popular game, with considerable room for entertainment and strategy. However, "crickett(e)" was considered such a disreputable activity that only idlers, gamblers and dissolute characters would be seen as playing it....Moral tomes were issued, dire threats of damnation were circulated, and church pulpits echoed with vitriolic denunciations of the sport. Indeed, the years during which cricket had been an "illegal" activity had left its mark on the pastime, and many of those who had continued playing in secret did have less than impeccable moral antecendents. Still, more and more people were playing "crickett" every year, and the Church's protests increasingly fell on deaf years.



When Oliver Cromwell was accused in the 1650s of being a "secret cricketter", the Father of the English Republic indignantly denied any connection with the sport. His supporters, the Puritans, were especially opposed to cricket, and thundered against it from their pulpits.
Cricket continued to be played, of course, but not in London or the main was exiled to the countryside, where it drew the attention of those other exiles, the royalist Cavaliers, the "gentlemen" who had suported the monarchy and were biding their time until the Puritan experiment with a non-monarchical Republic had failed.

This happened when the Restoration of 1688 brought the monarchy back to England, swept the Puritans away, and brought back the Cavaliers into power. Cricket came back with them from exile, and at last acquired a metropolitan respectability of sorts. The Cavaliers were now cricket's official patrons, and publicly supported and sponsored the game. Certainly, after this time, more and more cricket is heard of; the protests of the Church grow increasingly plaintive, and finally cease altogether. It appears that, by 1700, cricket is finally there to stay.



Cricket, however, still had a long way to go, after 1700.
It is, at this time, a very rowdy sport...riots and mayhem following cricket matches are not uncommon, and a great deal of money was being squandered in side bets, win-or-lose prizes, and the like.

Unfortunately, the "sponsors" of cricket, the post-Cavaliers, are aiding and abetting the mayhem by their profligacy in throwing money and liquor around cricket venues.

The Church of those times may very well have had a point.

It took another 80 years for the "gentlemen" of the day to agree on a set of rules and finally, in 1789, publish the Laws of Cricket which marks the dawn of "modern cricket"...the cricket that we know, play and are used to...which still govern the sport today.

By 1700, however chaotic and rowdy the cricket matches of the day might have been, the sport is beginning to look like modern cricket.



Somewhere between 1700 and 1800, after nearly a thousand years of development, the game that we know as "modern cricket" finally emerged as a fully-defined team sport.

This did not happen overnight, even in England.

From the twelfth to the seventeenth centuries, the bat-and-ball field sport that was developing there was changing gradually...branching out into different forms and variations, but in the end looking more and more like modern cricket.

The 12th century version of the game described by Joseph of Exeter in 1182 looks today like a combination of modern cricket and baseball. But by the end of the seventeenth century, the cricket being played in England looked very much like the sport that was eventually formalized under the Laws of Cricket in 1789.

1789 is the year when the sport was first formalized under a set of Laws... that,with modifications, continue to the present day. Cricket, in fact, is the only sport that is played under Laws, not Rules; meaning, basic principles which are to be embodied in any and all rules ever used to play the game.

The only document that compares with the Laws of Cricket is the Constitution of the United States of America, which came out in 1788, i.e. a year earlier. The US Constitution, too, embodies Laws, not is about the same length as the 1789 Laws of Cricket...and both have profoundly influenced humankind over 200-plus years. Posterity will be the judge as to which impact will be more lasting...or, more beneficial !



How did modern cricket become a world, rather than only an English, sport?
By the 1700s, "modern" cricket was being played in the USA and Canada. The Laws of 1789 came after the sport had already spread outside Englandís borders.
At first, "modern" cricket developed in England and Eastern North America along similar lines...and there was little in the way of similar activity elsewhere in the world. "Modern" cricket outside England and North America was played in isolated enclaves where British officers were stationed to stand guard for the Empire, but there is little evidence of communities (non-military) in such places taking up the sport in those early years.
This cricket, of the 1700s, was essentially a sport of gentlemen who had the means to finance their sport...and this meant not only equipment and venues, but prize money and associated gambling. In England, the sport gradually became "professionalized" as more and more "players" who played full-time cricket got recruited and bankrolled by the"gentlemen" who played for fun and profit. Nothing like that occurred in the remained the province of the "gentleman amateur"....and does, to this day.



Between 1800 and 1900, "modern" cricket took its contemporary form in England. The 2-stump wickets of the 1789 Laws gave way to 3, the over went from 4 balls to 5 and then 6, fields were enclosed, manicured and mowed...even rolled smooth to provide more consistent "bounces", so batters could develop consistent strokeplay, and score more runs !
This style of cricket spread through the major territories of the British Empire.
In India, cricket was introduced as a device for entertaining the princely houses and encouraging their love of things British. The princes ended up subsidizing cricket "professionals" and cricket teams, and so laid the groundwork for quality cricket on the entire subcontinent. In the West Indies, as described eloquently by C.L.R. James in his book "Beyond a Boundary", cricket gradually took hold as a way to "self-emancipation" of the former slaves on the cricket field. In South Africa and Australasia, the growing immigrant populations began to play serious cricket... and Australia was the first nation to challenge British hegemony in a series of mutual tours and international matches that became known as "the Ashes".
The Americas, too, produced competitive cricket all through the nineteenth century. The first international cricket took place in the Americas, not in England....The USA vs Canada annual cricket match, started in 1844, is the oldest international sporting fixture in the world....the "Ashes" series between Australia and England did not start for another 25 years ! In the 1860s and 1870s, there were cricketing tours between USA, Canada and the West Indies, and England also sent visiting teams. In 1888, The USA toured the West Indies and even defeated the all-West Indies side by 9 wickets in Guyana, possibly the high-water mark of US cricket.



By 1900, the tide was turning against the amateur style of play in cricket.
Encouraged by the newly formed Imperial Cricket Conference, which sought to develop and contain cricket within the boundaries of the British Empire, Australia and India developed their own"cadres" of full-time professional cricketers, and staged local tournaments (the Sheffield Shield in Australia, and the Pentangular in India) to sustain and promote indigenous cricket talent. Other British colonies followed suit, not long after.
By "sponsoring" players from the Empire in its own "professional" County championships, the ICC further cemented the Imperial connection in cricket....and left other countries out in the cold. The "Ashes", begun in the 1870s, took over center stage in world cricket, and was followed by England vs South Africa, India vs England, The West Indies vs the others, and so on. Finally, by the 1920s, The British Commonwealth had taken over the dominant role in world cricket, and North America had been relegated to the backwaters.



In the last 20 years, a sea change has taken place in cricket.
With the break-up of the British Empire, the old ICC hegemony was bound to crumble...and it did.
Some former colonies developed their own cricket capabilities, and challenged the "traditional" cricketing powers on their own turfs. As a result, he number of "major" countries playing cricket has doubled in the fifty years since 1948, with Pakistan, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe joining the ranks. Even more significantly, the non-white "majors" now outnumber the "white" ones on the International Cricket Council, the successor to the old ICC, with the same initials but a very different agenda.
Cricket also grew in popularity among "minor" countries (i.e. those without a professional cadre and cricket facilities), which now have their own world tournament.
Altogether, some 100 cricket-playing countries are now listed on the rosters of the new ICC. And regional tournaments in Europe, Asia and Africa have also begun to be played...meaning, there are enough participants to make such tournaments feasible.



No longer is cricket the bat-and-ball recreation of the countrysides of 7th century India, Pakistan or Persia; or even the community recreation of 10th century Europe, the hearty free-for-all of 16th century England, or even the sport of the 18th century "gentleman amateur".

This is 1998. Cricket is a major sport, the second-most popular sport in the world after soccer...with all that is implied in terms of money, TV coverage, politics and chicanery.

Some of the fun-and-games, and even the mayhem, of early cricket has survived into the late 20th century. And the codes of behavior instilled by the patriarchs of the modern sport in the 1780s can still be found in the style and nuances of todayís cricket. "It is not whether you win or lose, it is how you play the game"; ""It's not cricket";"The Umpire's word is final, not to be questioned"...phrases like these convey something of modern cricket's perennial spirit, and have survived more than two centuries of change.

Much has been gained...although something may also have been lost in the protracted transition. What does endure is the character of a game that has survived the pressures of a millenium of change, and the demands of a dozen different cultures.

And now, the mystery. On every continent, it is the nations which have the strongest legacies of democracy and freedom that also play cricket ! And, especially outside Europe, it is the non-cricket-playing countries which are typically totalitarian in character, and have little room in their politics for democracy, let alone true freedom !

This can be dismissed as coincidence only by the most myopic of observers. Instead, this strange fact should tell us what cricket may mean to the world. It is something that we, as cricketers, need to understand....and explain.


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Date-stamped : 22 Nov 2000 - 09:10