Cricket has been the game of the summer. England won the 2019 Cricket World Cup in a final dubbed the best cricket game of all time and we’re in the middle of an exciting Ashes contest against Australia. So, what’s the deal with England and cricket?
The History of Cricket
Cricket is believed to have been invented during Saxon or Norman times by children living in the Weald, an area located in today’s Kent, Surrey and Sussex. Cricket was primarily a child’s game; the earliest written reference of cricket being played by adults was in 1611. A common theory is that cricket is derived from bowls – a batsman who could hit the ball away was introduced to prevent the ball from reaching its target.
In 1787, Thomas Lord, a Yorkshire-born businessman and wine merchant, opened his first cricket ground; Marylebone Cricket Club opened at the ground the same year. The first Laws of Cricket were written the following year. Twenty-seven years and two ground moves later, Lord’s opened its third and current location in 1848. Whilst Lord’s is one of the best-known sporting grounds in the world, it is far from perfect. The field slopes dramatically, with the north end being some 2.5 meters higher than the south; skilful bowlers often use this feature to their advantage.
In 1864, Lord’s no longer needed to keep sheep to maintain the lawn as they purchased their first lawnmower. In 1884, Lord’s hosted its first test match, with Australia losing to England. However, in 1972, Australia reversed their fortune, beating England by 5 wickets in Lord’s first One Day International game. Lord’s hosted the first women’s One Day International four years later.
The Laws of Cricket
The laws (not rules, laws) of cricket were written in the 19th Century at Lord’s Ground in London. They state that the game must have a tea break in the middle and until 1999, The Queen was the only woman able to enter the pavilion at Lord’s during play. The basic laws of cricket today are as follows:
- Two teams of 11 players play each other on a field shaped like an oval, with a rectangular strip connecting two wickets.
- Each wicket has three vertical stumps connected by two bails resting on the top.
- Two batters stand at either end of the wicket and hit the ball delivered by the bowler into the field to score points or runs. Batters score runs by running between the wickets, or by hitting the ball so that it passes the oval boundary of the field. The bowler delivers the ball to the batter in sets of six; this grouping is called an over.
- The fielding team are trying to get the batters out. There are actually 10 ways for a player to ‘get out’, but the most common are: bowling so that the batter misses the ball and it hits the stumps, catching the ball hit by the batter before it hits the ground, or hitting the stumps before the running batter reaches the wicket. When a player is out, a new batter from the remaining 9 players comes into bat.
- As you’d expect in an English sport, cricket fielding positions have some odd names. Silly Mid-on, Silly Mid-Off, Gully, Long Leg or Short Backward Square Leg are common fielding positions.
- When 10 of the 11 batsmen are out, the innings is over and the fielding and batting teams switch. Each team bats and fields twice.
- In a test match, if the two innings are incomplete after 5 days, the teams draw – a very gentlemanly tradition. Other, shorter formats of the game also exist; in Twenty20 games, teams each play a single inning of 20 overs, and One Day Tests teams play to a maximum of 50 overs.
Cricket Goes Global
British soldiers played cricket in the British Empire’s colonies during the 18th and 19th centuries – unlike rugby, the game was much better suited to the hot climates of India, Australia and the West Indies. The locals took up the game themselves played against England in the first international test matches. The strong rivalry in international test cricket is born from the desire to beat the English colonisers at their own game.
In 1882, England lost to Australia at the Oval Ground in Surrey – their first ever defeat on home soil. The Sporting Times published an obituary for English Cricket, which ‘died’ on 29th August 1882. Deeply lamented, ‘English Cricket’ was to be cremated and sent to Australia. As the story goes, England’s captain, Ivo Bligh, promised he would win the ashes back when they played in Australia the following winter. After winning the test game in Australia, Florence Morphy presented Ivo with a perfume jar, supposedly filled with burned bails representing The Ashes of English Cricket. Apparently, Ivo Bligh returned to Australia a year later to marry Ms Morphy!
The Cricket World Cup
Established in 1975, the Cricket World Cup introduced the One Day Test which better suited a tournament format than a five-day test match. The West Indies won the first two World Cups. India and the West Indies played for gold in the third World Cup of 1983, beating England at their own game. Following their 1983 victory, India hosted the first Cricket World Cup outside of England. Until 2019, England had only ever reached the semi-finals of the World Cup (1975 and 1983). Australia has seen the greatest success at the World Cup with 5 wins.
Introduced across England in 2003, the Twenty20 (T20) format offered a more accessible and exciting atmosphere for spectators. The new format was a success in England but failed to gain traction internationally. However, after India beat Pakistan in the inaugural T20 World Cup final in 2007, T20 exploded in Asia.
Whilst Pakistan currently holds the lead in the T20 International Rankings, India paved the way for international T20 cricket. Established in 2008, their Indian Premier League demonstrated how popular, exciting and profitable the new format could be and similar T20 leagues sprung up across the world. The broadcasting rights for the Indian Premier League for 2018-2022 were sold at a price of US $2.55 billion, making it one of the world’s most lucrative sports leagues per match (The Guardian, Sept 2017). A T20 match is much more physically demanding than a 5-day test; it requires higher levels of strength and speed, improved agility and faster reaction times from all members of the team, be they Gully or Short Backward Square Leg!
British Cricket Brands
The UK is home to some of the best-known cricket brands in the world. Both Gunn & Moore and Gray-Nicolls produce all of their bats in the UK, using English willow. There are also many new brands emerging who use the expertise and passion of players and craftsmen across the UK to produce the highest quality equipment.
Many of these local brands sponsor local players and clubs, enabling the next generation to pursue a career in competitive sport. Based in Leeds, Kippax Cricket grow their own willow at woodland locations across Yorkshire and Durham and handcraft this material into the finest bats. They currently sponsor 14 players across the north of England, including Danielle Hazel of Durham and the England women’s team and Harry Brook of Yorkshire CCC and England U19s.
“All thought and spirit concentrated on a square of green, a subtle battle between a slice of willow and a round of leather.”
Sir Ralph Richardson, 1951
Cricket is undeniably a British Classic; it is one of the UK’s major sporting exports and retains many quirky, quintessentially British traditions. However, until this year England has failed to dominate in its own sport, with Pakistan, India, the West Indies and Australia taking the lead. Once perceived as an inaccessible sport for wealthy gentlemen, international influence has changed the game. Today, cricket is an exciting and accessible sport and even if you don’t understand the rules, it’s still great fun to watch a match with a G&T in hand on a sunny day!