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.
Unique Nature of Cricket
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.
Tools of Cricket:
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.
Size of Ground:
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.
Evolution of Laws of Cricket:
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:
1.The rule about wide balls was applied.
2.Exact circumference of the ball was specified.
3.Protective gears; like pad and helmets became available.
4.Boundaries (fours and sixes) were introduced.
5.Over-arm bowling became legal.
6.Cricket and Victorian England
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.
Gentlemen and Players:
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.
A Game of Colonies:
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.
CRICKET IN INDIA
Cricket, Race and Religion
In the colonial India, cricket was organized on the principle of race and religion. The first recorded instance of cricket being played in India is from 1721 when it was played by English sailors in Cambay.
Calcutta Cricket Club was the first Indian club which was established in 1792. Through the eighteenth century, cricket in India was exclusively played by British officials in all-white clubs and gymkhanas.
The Parsis were the first Indian community to ape the western lifestyle and they were the first to establish an Indian cricket club. They founded the Oriental Cricket Club in Bombay in 1848. Parsi businessmen like the Tatas and the Wadias used to sponsor the Parsi clubs. The Parsis made their own gymkhana and finally defeated the Bombay Gymkhana in a match in 1889.
Following in the footsteps of the Parsi Gymkhana, the Hindus and the Muslims also made their own gymkhanas in the 1890s. The British also considered India as a group of different nations; like the Hindu nation and the Islamic nation. In order to maintain this difference on communal lines, they easily gave permission for land for these gymkhanas.
After the formation of cricket clubs on communal lines; the Quadrangular tournament was being organized. It was played by four teams, viz. the Europeans, the Parsis, the Hindus and the Muslims and hence was given then name Quadrangular. Later, addition of a fifth team changed its name to Pentagular. The fifth team was composed of people from other communities; like the Christians. Vijay Hazare; who was a Christian played for the Rest.
Origin of Ranji Trophy:
By the late 1930s and early 1940s, journalists, cricketers and political leaders began to criticize the racial and communal foundations of the Pentagular tournament. Even Mahatma Gandhi was critical of such a division on communal lines. To counter this division, a rival tournament called National Cricket Championship was started. This Championship had teams made along regional divisions. This Championship is now known as the Ranji Trophy.
During the colonial period, cricketing contests were being organized between different colonies of the British Empire. India played the first Test match in 1932.
De-colonisation and Sport
The ICC was called the Imperial Cricket Council even many years after the end of the colonial period. It was renamed as the International Cricket Conference in 1965. It was still dominated by England and Australia and they retained the veto power over its proceedings. This situation was maintained till 1989 when other cricket playing teams asked for equal membership. The name was changed to International Cricket Council in 1989. During the 1950s and 1960s, the white commonwealth countries; like England, Australia and New Zealand continued to play Test cricket with South Africa; in spite of apartheid policy being followed in that country. Other Test playing nations at that time, India, Pakistan and West Indies boycotted South Africa during this period. The non-white cricket playing nations could finally force the English cricket authorities to cancel a South African tour in 1970.
Innovations in Cricket:
Cricket was radically transformed in the 1970s. The first one-day international was played between England and Australia in Melbourne in 1971. The shorter version of the game became immensely popular and the first World Cup was organized in 1975.
Centenary of Test matches was celebrated in 1977. This was also the year in which Kerry Packer (an Australian businessman), signed up fifty one of the world’s leading cricketers against the wishes of the national cricket boards. He saw a huge opportunity in televised cricket. He staged the World Series Cricket for about two years. Test matches and one-day internationals were played in this series. Many critics scoffed at it as ‘Packer’s Circus’.
But the innovations brought by him made cricket more attractive to the television audience and changed the game forever. Coloured dress, protective helmets, field restrictions, day & night matches, etc. became part of cricket.
Cricket became a marketable game which could generate huge revenues. Cricket boards became richer by selling television rights to television companies. The TV channels made money by selling advertising slots. For companies, cricket provided opportunity to advertise their products and services to a large and captive audience.
Cricketers became celebrities because of continuous television coverage. Apart from getting better pay from their cricket boards, the cricketers also began to earn huge sums of money by appearing in commercials.
Television coverage resulted in expansion of audience base for the game. People from small towns and villages could see and experience the joy of cricket. Many children from the small towns could dream of becoming cricketers, by emulating their idols.
Growing influence of India:
India, by virtue of its huge population, turned into the largest market for cricket. India became the major contributor to the finances of the ICC. This resulted in India’s growing influence in the world cricket body. This shift in power equations can also be gauged from the symbolic fact that the HQ of the ICC was shifted from London to Dubai in August 2005.
The shifting of power centre in cricket is also manifested in some of the new rules which were made to suit the playing conditions in the Indian subcontinent. For example; the ‘doosra’ and ‘reverse swing’ were made legal. These are finer nuances of bowling, discovered and suitable for the sub-continental pitches. It was accepted by all that the cricket laws could no longer be framed only for British or Australian conditions.