St George's Park History
Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Origins of Cricket St George's Park - The Shepherd's Game
The Shepherd's Game

During the reign of Edward IV, in the second half of the fifteenth century, an Englishman could be thrown into prison for two years and heavily fined for playing cricket. The punishment for anyone who allowed cricket to be played on his property was even stiffer - three years plus fines.

Click image to enlarge
Cricket in 1750 on the Artillery Ground.

The game the king wanted to kill was not called cricket then. It was known as "Hand In and Hand Out".

But since it included bowlers, batsmen and fielders, it is regarded as one of present-day cricket's direct ancestors.

Cricket by name appears in the 1597-98 records of Guildford Corporation. In a dispute over land one witness went on record as saying that "when he was a scholar in the free school of Guildford, he and several of his fellows did run and play there at cricket and other plays."

Attempts to pinpoint the origins of cricket through its name, however, have not been successful. Some authorities believe it stems from "crice", the Anglo-Saxon word for a Stick.

Others just as confidently claim that it is an Anglicised version of the French "criquet," the target stick in a bowls game.

But if you leave aside the name "cricket," the game can be traced back much further.

A mid-thirteenth century illustration shows two men playing with a bat and ball. A century later fielders had been introduced according to another picture showing a match between two teams of monks.

Click image to enlarge
A Game of Cricket - circa 1300.

In the Royal Household accounts of King Edward I is an entry saying that the Prince of Wales spent time and money amusing himself by playing "creag." Some historians say that this is the origin of cricket.

Like so many other sports, cricket was persecuted by the English rulers during the Middle Ages because it took the people's minds off the more serious pastimes like archery.

And it was one of what Edward III called "vain plays which have no profit in them."

But enforcing such prohibitive and unpopular laws was difficult, and cricket, like golf and football, .. survived the kingly displeasure.

It was not, however, the gentlemanly game it was later to become.

Historian John Stow is believed to have been referring to cricket when he wrote: "The ball is used by noblemen and gentlemen in tennis courts, and by people of the meaner sort in the open fields and streets."

And cricket was used by another chronicler to instance the "dissolute and disorderly" early life of puritanical Oliver Cromwell.

It was also a popular game with gamblers and that did it no good with the authorities.

Cricket, however, won its reprieve when in 1748 the government of the day decided to do something about the tangle of ancient, largely unobserved laws banning sports.

Learned judges then ruled that cricket was "a manly game, not bad in itself, but only in the ill-use made of it by betting more than ten pounds on it."

Armed with its certificate of respectability, cricket began to develop into something like the game played today.

Before then it had been a fairly makeshift affair. The ball was bowled along rough ground, bats looked more like hockey-sticks and the "wicket" was often a hole in the ground.

Now, as the game had a chance to develop openly, improvements were made. Stumps were introduced. First one. Then two, a foot high and two feet apart. Then bails were added. Finally the third wicket.

The introduction of wickets in the eighteenth century played a big part in the evolution of modern cricket. It concentrated attention on bowling.

And this in turn led to smoother pitches.

Pitches, incidentally, have always apparently been the same length, 22 yards or an agricultural chain. A strong suggestion here that rustics, not townsmen, devised the game.

The new pitch-style bowling forced a new design in bats to combat it, and they were given wider shoulders.

Eventually wickets were raised to, 28 inches and narrowed to nine inches.

By the latter half of the eighteenth century, cricket was not only respectable. It was becoming gentlemanly. The game was on its way to being synonymous with sportsmanship and fairplay.

And as gentlemen of means and influence took it up, so the game began to acquire uniformity.

The old rules drawn up in 1744 by an organisation called the London Club were hopelessly tangled as a result of all the sudden changes in the game.

The moment was ripe for a truly authoritative body to codify the game and set it on its feet.

This body sprang from a club of cricketers who called themselves the White Conduits.

When internal squabbling split the White Conduits, one of its members, a hook-nosed Yorkshire Jacobite named Thomas Lord, decided to form a new club. His supporters included Lords Darnley and Winchilsea, Sir Horace Mann and the Duke of Dorset.

They set up their headquarters in Lord's property and called themselves the Marylebone Cricket Club. That was in 1787.

Lord died in 1832, but although the Club has moved several times since it was first established on the site of the present Dorset Square, his name remains linked with cricket's headquarters to this day.

Canny as only a Yorkshireman can be, Lord was concerned about making a profit from his ground. But for all that, cricket thrived on his encouragement. And it was his management that preserved the unity of the club.

The MCC had been established on its present site for 12 years when cricket entered another important stage of its development.

This came with the introduction of round-arm bowling in 1826. It took nearly 20 years for the new style bowling to gain acceptance.

Finally, in 1844, the now established MCC Committee ruled that it should be permitted - and the game continued in this form until 1862.

The final major development was set in motion by the renowned Edgar Willsher.

It happened when he was no-balled seven times at Kennington Oval by umpire John Lillywhite for bowling with his arm over the shoulder in August, 1862.

Willsher angrily stormed off the pitch, and there was almost a riot among the keen fans watching the match.

But the incident brought to a head a controversy which had prevailed in cricket for some months. And in 1864 a new rule was passed permitting bowlers to deliver with the hand at any height - provided the ball was not thrown or jerked.

Evening Post Magazine
October 1, I960.

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