When and Where Was Cricket First Played?
Pictures belonging to the middle of the 13th Century show a simple team game with bat and ball which bears a marked resemblance to cricket, the national game of England. The first written evidence about the game is possibly to be found in an extract from the accounts of King Edward I of England in 1300. This refers to some money which was spent by the young prince Edward on a game called “creag”. Cricket was being played by boys of the free school of Guildford, Surrey, in 1550.
Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, was said to have played both cricket and football in his youth, and a kind of cricket club at St. Albans, Hertfordshire, was mentioned in 1666. The first regular cricket club was formed in the Hampshire village of Hambledon in 1750. The game has been played under recognized rules at least since the beginning of the 18th Century.
The first definite match recorded was played in 1697 in Sussex-11 a side and for a stake of 50 guineas. In 1719 the “Londoners” met the “Kentish men” in what must have been the first match at country level. At first the greatest enthusiasm for the game was in the southern countries.
The most famous cricket centre was the Artillery Ground, Finsbury. Here was played on June 18, 1744, the famous match between Kent and All England. This was the first game to be recorded in A. Haygarth’s Scores and Biographies 1744-1878. The Marylebone Cricket Club, which eventually became the game’s ruling authority, was established in 1787. In 1814 it purchased its present ground at St. John’s Wood, London, named after the club’s founder, Thomas Lord.
Cricket is now widely played in the English-speaking and non-speaking lands. Although the main object of the game has always been to score the most runs, the early form of cricket differed from the modern game in certain key technical aspects. The ball was bowled underarm by the bowler and all along the ground towards a batsman armed with a batthat, in shape, resembled a hockey stick; the batsman defended a low, two-stump wicket; and runs were called “notches” because the scorers recorded them by notching tally sticks.
In 1611, the year Cotgrave’s dictionary was published, ecclesiastical court records at Sidlesham in Sussex state that two parishioners, Bartholomew Wyatt and Richard Latter, failed to attend church on Easter Sunday because they were playing cricket. They were fined 12d each and ordered to do penance. This is the earliest mention of adult participation in cricket and it was around the same time that the earliest known organised inter-parish or village match was played – at Chevening, Kent. In 1624, a player called Jasper Vinall died after he was accidentally struck on the head during a match between two parish teams in Sussex.
Cricket remained a low-key local pursuit for much of the century. It is known, through numerous references found in the records of ecclesiastical court cases, to have been proscribed at times by the Puritans before and during the Commonwealth. The problem was nearly always the issue of Sunday play as the Puritans considered cricket to be “profane” if played on the Sabbath, especially if large crowds and/or gambling were involved.
According to the social historian Derek Birley, there was a “great upsurge of sport after the Restoration” in 1660. Gambling on sport became a problem significant enough for Parliament to pass the 1664 Gambling Act, limiting stakes to £100 which was in any case a colossal sum exceeding the annual income of 99% of the population. Along with prizefighting, horse racing and blood sports, cricket was perceived to be a gambling sport.
Rich patrons made matches for high stakes, forming teams in which they engaged the first professional players. By the end of the century, cricket had developed into a major sport which was spreading throughout England and was already being taken abroad by English mariners and colonisers – the earliest reference to cricket overseas is dated 1676. A 1697 newspaper report survives of “a great cricket match” played in Sussex “for fifty guineas apiece” – this is the earliest known reference to an important match.
The patrons, and other players from the social class known as the “gentry”, began to classify themselves as “amateurs” to establish a clear distinction vis-à-vis the professionals, who were invariably members of the working class, even to the point of having separate changing and dining facilities. The gentry, including such high-ranking nobles as the Dukes of Richmond, exerted their honour code of noblesse oblige to claim rights of leadership in any sporting contests they took part in, especially as it was necessary for them to play alongside their “social inferiors” if they were to win their bets.
In time, a perception took hold that the typical amateur who played in first-class cricket, until 1962 when amateurism was abolished, was someone with a public school education who had then gone to one of Cambridge or Oxford University – society insisted that such people were “officers and gentlemen” whose destiny was to provide leadership. In a purely financial sense, the cricketing amateur would theoretically claim expenses for playing while his professional counterpart played under contract and was paid a wage or match fee; in practice, many amateurs claimed somewhat more than actual expenditure and the derisive term “shamateur” was coined to describe the syndrome.