A Potted History of Cricket in England

There are full-blown books at one end of the reading spectrum and small articles or blogs, usually on the Internet, at the other end. This potted history sits somewhere in the middle. The sole objective is to give the reader a taste for the subject. Hopefully, there are sufficient links within the text and information in the bibliography section to allow the reader to delve further if he or she is interested.

Comments and feedback are welcome via the contact me page.

Bypass the Abstract


Investigations by historians into the origins of cricket occasionally go back as far as Saxon times. However, despite various speculations they are all agreed on one point, that the first definite reference occurs in 1597 during a court case involving a land dispute in Guildford when a witness indicated that children were playing “creckett” on this space around 1550.

The first half of the 17th century brought several mentions of schoolboys and adults playing the game, including Oliver Cromwell playing cricket at 18 years of age, plus a number of references to adults being fined for missing church on the Sabbath to play cricket. It is a game which was predominately being played in counties to the south of London, and eventually in the capital itself.

The Restoration (of the monarchy) in 1660 saw members of the nobility and the landed gentry becoming interested in the game, although it was borne more of the gambling opportunities that it offered, rather than cricket itself. They eventually became patrons of the game, retaining players who had learned their trade playing in village matches. These “employees” were the game’s first professionals.

The first recorded games in and around London appear in the early 1700s, but it is only around the middle of that century that we begin to hear of individual players, most of the publicity before that time being limited to the noble patrons and to the large amounts of money that was being wagered on matches. It is around the same period that the first written laws of cricket appear.

Hambledon in East Hampshire was the first celebrated club to appear outside London. It was effectively a social club whose membership included the nobility, clergymen and gentlemen. The club funded the cricket team whose players were recruited from surrounding villages and towns. It was the most famous club in the land from around 1770 up to the mid-1790s.

Meanwhile, patrons and players in London who had used the Artillery Ground in Finsbury gravitated to the White Conduit Club in Islington for a brief period before moving to Thomas Lord’s new ground in 1787, and forming the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) which issued a revised version of the laws of cricket in the following year.

Cricket subsequently went into the doldrums in the early 19th century, due principally to the Napoleonic Wars, and heavy betting on matches gradually began to subside. The emphasis on betting was largely replaced by the appeal of the amateur ethos which appeared in public schools and universities towards the middle of the century. It encompassed other sports such as football (what was to become both rugby and soccer), athletics, rowing and boxing.

On the field of play, the major change in the middle decades of the 19th century was in the area of bowling. Roundarm bowling (releasing the ball at shoulder level) was legalised in the 1830s, and this was followed by overarm bowling in the 1860s.

Meanwhile, the first county clubs were being formed, starting with Sussex in 1839. It was closely followed by Kent, Cambridgeshire, Nottinghamshire and Surrey, with other counties gradually appearing in the 1860s and 1870s. However, it was to be 1890 before the official county championship was instigated, Surrey being the winners in each of the first three seasons.

The lack of competitive cricket around the middle of the 19th century led to the setting up of two professionally-based circuits which toured round the country initially, before going on overseas tours, principally to Australia where cricket had already been established, the first recorded match there dating back to 1803.

Although the first official Test match between England and Australia took place in 1877, the sides could not be described as truly representative. For example, anybody who could raise a side to tour Australia could call it England (or an England XI). A mixture of professionally-led and amateur-led sides toured until MCC eventually agreed to take responsibility for the team in 1903-04.

The most celebrated English player around this period, and some would argue the most celebrated ever, was W.G. Grace who played first-class cricket from 1865 to 1904. Theoretically an amateur, he actually made more money from the game than any professional.

South Africa lobbied for an international governing body, and the ICC (Imperial Cricket Conference – nowadays the International Cricket Council) was set up in 1909 with just 3 members: England, Australia and South Africa. By 2018 there were 12 full members and 93 associate members.

Surrey was the most successful side in the early years of the county championship, winning it 6 times in the 1890s. However, they were overtaken by Yorkshire who triumphed on 9 occasions before World War I, and added a further 12 titles in the years between the two World Wars when Northern counties dominated the competition.

Local club cricket in the North originally received more publicity than its Southern counterpart for the simple reason that Northern clubs quickly embraced the concept of leagues, many of which were formed in the early 1890s, around the same period as the county championship. It was to be the late 1960s and early 1970s before the South followed suit.

The first recorded women’s game dates back to the 1740s, but it was 1926 before the Women’s Cricket Association was formed. England’s women subsequently played their first Test matches on a tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1934-35.

The most publicised Ashes Test series in the period between the two wars was the acrimonious Bodyline tour of Australia in 1932-33 when England sought to nullify the success of Bradman and co. by bowling short pitched balls which were aimed at the body to a packed legside field. England won the series 4-1 but their strategy had diplomatic and political repercussions.

Apart from a spell in the 1950s Australia dominated the Ashes Tests in the post-war period, right through to the end of the 1960s. Meanwhile, England invited the West Indies, India and Pakistan in the early 1950s to play Test matches in this country.

On the county scene, a post-war boom in attendances was quickly followed by an inexorable slump. Attempts to make the game more attractive had always been resisted by the purists, but 1963 saw the inaugural limited overs competition, the Gillette Cup. Its success led to further competitions such as the John Player Sunday league and the Benson & Hedges Cup. An even shorter form of the game Twenty 20 cricket eventually followed in England in 2003.

1963 saw the abolition of amateurs and professionals. All were subsequently known simply as players.

In 1970, South Africa’s apartheid policy saw its cricket team banned from international competition, a ban which lasted 22 years. Later in the same decade, Kerry Packer’s conflict with the Australian Board of Control resulted in the formation of World Series Cricket for a short period.

The attraction of limited over games spread to the international scene in 1971, leading to the first ICC World Cup in 1975. It was followed by the ICC Knock Out Tournament in 1988 (now known as the ICC Champions Trophy). The ICC also established world rankings across the various forms of cricket and among players. 

From the late 1970s to the early 1990s the West Indies totally dominated the international test scene with its formidable batting and bowling sides.

After a reorganisation the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) was set up in 1997 as the governing body of cricket in this counry. It is involved in all aspects of the game, including the direction of the national side, the county game, women’s cricket and the top echelons of club cricket.

England’s overall Test record has been patchy since World War II, with the occasional purple patch to keep the fans happy. Its overall world ranking over the years across all forms of cricket averages out at third or fourth.


Speculation on the Origins of Cricket
First Definite References
Nobles and Gentry Take an Interest
Early Clubs and Venues
Some Early Recorded Matches
The Early Laws of Cricket
Notable Patrons of the Game
Early Local Cricket
Notable Early Players
Hambledon Cricket Club
Two Key Events Involving Hambledon
To The White Conduit Club and onward to Lord’s
The Early 19th Century
Roundarm Bowling
The Rise of the Amateur Ethos
The Emergence of County Clubs
Professional-based Teams
Overarm Bowling
Suspect Bowling Actions
W.G. Grace .. and Family
Towards Competitive County Cricket
The Start of the Ashes Series
Test Matches against South Africa
The England Captaincy
Lord Hawke and Yorkshire
Cricketer Journalists
Club Cricket in the North
The End of the Golden Age of Cricket
Northern Supremacy in the County Game of the Inter-war Years
The Bodyline Series
The Beginning of Radio and Television Coverage
Women’s Cricket I
Cricket During World War II
Cricket in the Aftermath of World War II
The Death of the Amateur
Shortened Forms of Cricket
Club Cricket in the South
Events off the Field in the 1970s
Organisational Changes
International Cricket from the 1970s onwards
County Cricket from the 1970s onwards
Women’s Cricket II
Odds and Sods
Bibliography & Further Reading
Version History

Speculation on the Origins of Cricket

The inevitable starting point for historians who tackle sports is to look for the origins of the game in question. This is frequently something of a fruitless task, and cricket probably falls into that category. However, let us briefly summarise the investigations by various academics and writers into this area. They typically follow two main paths: the name of the game itself; and its possible association with other games.

There is mention of the future Edward II playing “creag” and other games in 1300. It is suggested by some that the word “creag” may have been an early form of cricket, but others consider that it may simply be an early spelling of the Irish word “craic”, meaning general fun or entertainment.

Given England’s strong trading relationships with Flanders, particularly the wool trade, the word cricket may have come from the Middle Dutch word “kricke”, meaning stick. Alternatively, Samuel Johnson suggested the Saxon word “cryce”, also meaning stick, while another possible source is “krickestoel”, a Middle Dutch word for a low stool used for kneeling in church which resembled the early two stump wicket. Finally, according to Heiner Gillmeister, a European language expert at the University of Bonn, “cricket” is derived from the Middle Dutch phrase for hockey, met de (krik ket)sen (i.e. with the stick chase).

There have been many games where a stick was used to hit a ball. Stoolball was a unisex game where one team tried to hit the wicket while the other team tried to stop it. Club-Ball (pila baculorea) which Edward III banned in 1369 may have been an early form of cricket, but there appears to be no information on the rules of this game which might add weight to the theory. It may just have been a generic form of a game where a stick was used to hit a ball. Another theory is that cricket may have come from bowls, although it is difficult to be sure that it actually predates cricket. Bowls appears to date back to the 13th century, possibly the 12th, but some do suggest that cricket may go back further, even as far as Saxon times.

The bottom line is .. who really knows!

First Definite References

Early references to individual sports may be found in orders which banned them, e.g. rowdy games such as mob football, or in the records of commercial interests such as those of innkeepers where mention of bowls and tennis can be found. Cricket cannot be found in these sources.

The lack of definite references to cricket in earlier times probably adds weight to the conviction that it was a game that had originally been devised by children, possibly using a lump of matted sheep’s wool for a ball, a stick or some cultivating tool for a bat, and a stool or tree stump for the wicket.

It is agreed that the first definite reference to “creckett” appears in a land dispute case in Guildford in 1597. John Derrick, a coroner, gave witness that when he was a scholar at the Free School in Guildford fifty years earlier, “hee and diverse of his fellows did runne and play [on the common land] at creckett and other plaies”, confirming that the sport was played there by schoolboys circa. 1550.

The first mention of an adult game comes in another court case involving a land dispute in 1640 that talks of a game at Chevening in Kent between teams representing the Downs and the Weald which had been played back in 1611.

There is a subsequent reference to Oliver Cromwell playing both football and cricket in London in 1617 at the age of 18.

Various other references in the first half of the 17th century relate to the proceedings of ecclesiastical courts in Sussex where individuals were fined one shilling for missing church on Sunday while playing cricket. Indeed, in 1654 at the height of Puritan influence during the Protectorate, three men were fined two shillings, double the normal amount, for breaking the Sabbath at Eltham in Kent to play cricket.

There are also a number of references to the schoolboy and student game around this period: a poem referring to cricket being played at Winchester School in 1647; John Churchill (1st Duke of Marlborough) playing the game at St. Paul’s School in 1663; while the first reference at Oxford University crops up in 1673.

Nobles and Gentry Take an Interest

The Restoration (of the monarchy when Charles II came to the throne in 1660) coincided with members of the nobility and the gentry developing an interest in cricket, although they were probably more interested in gambling on the outcome of matches rather than in the game itself.

There is little recorded evidence of games in the second half of the 17th century, in part because of press censorship (Licensing of the Press Act 1662). This was eventually relaxed in 1695 when the Act was not renewed. Even then, there was still little coverage, and what there was tended to focus on the betting aspects rather than on the game itself. One example appeared in the Foreign Post in 1697. “The middle of last week a great match at cricket was played in Sussex; there were eleven of a side, and they played for fifty guineas apiece”. It is almost certain that the 1st Duke of Richmond was involved in this match. He became a patron of cricket, as indeed did two of his heirs.

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18th century cricket match

There is probably more literature on cricket than any other sport. The first offering appeared at the start of the 18th century with In Certamen Pilae (On a Match at Ball), a Latin poem of 95 lines on a rural cricket match that was written by William Goldwin and published in his Musae Juveniles in March 1706. He was a scholar at Eton and Cambridge, subsequently becoming Master of Bristol Grammar School and then Vicar of Saint Nicholas, Bristol.

Early Clubs and Venues

Some of the earliest recorded clubs include Mitcham Cricket Club (believed to be the world’s oldest cricket club as there is no evidence of any club being founded before 1685), as well as Croydon, Dartford and London CroydonDartford and London, although their dates of origin have been lost.

London Cricket Club (there were probably several teams that went under that name over the course of the 18th century) was to become chiefly associated with the Artillery Ground in Finsbury. This venue was first mentioned in 1725 when the minutes of the Honourable Artillery Company referred to it being used for cricket. It subsequently became the feature venue for cricket in London until the late 1770s.

White Conduit House – Robert Chambers (1832)

There are several other grounds worthy of mention around London during the 18th century. Islington, a rural village in Middlesex at the time, boasted the Angel Inn, a “field-keeper” for cricket and the unspoilt White Conduit Fields. Lamb’s Conduit Field in Holborn, partly situated on what is now Coram’s Field, was used for cricket until Thomas Coram built his Foundling Hospital in 1739. In addition, Kennington Common was a popular venue, particularly in the 1720s and 1730s.

Some Early Recorded Matches

Here is a selection of early recorded games:

  • On 26 June 1707, there was a London vs Mitcham match at Lamb’s Conduit Field, Holborn.
  • On 1 and 8 July 1707, Croydon played London twice, the first game being played in Croydon, and the second at Lamb’s Conduit Field in Holborn. Both matches were advertised by The Post Man as “two great matches at cricket (to be) plaid, between London and Croydon”
  • On 29 June 1709, the earliest known match that definitely involved county teams, or at least teams using the names of counties, was Kent v Surrey at Dartford Brent  This was advertised in the Post Man as a game to be played for a stake of £50
  • On 1 September 1718, the Saturday Post reported a famous game of cricket “by eleven London gamesters against eleven Kentish gamesters who call themselves the Punch Club Society, for half a guinea a man”. This match is (in)famous because three of the Kent side, fearful that they were going to lose the match and their money, ran off, resulting in a court case. The judge ordered the match to be resumed, and in the following August, London duly won the game and the wager
  • On 9 July 1720, London v Kent at White Conduit Fields was won by London.

The Early Laws of Cricket

What did the game look like in those relatively early days?

In brief, the informal rules included:

  • the wicket (6 inches wide) comprised two stumps with a bail across the top;
  • the ball was made of leather;
  • it was bowled underarm along the ground (or skimming across it);
  • the bat was typically curled, resembling a hockey stick;
  • there were 4 balls per over;
  • there could be a variable number of players in each side, although typically no more than 12;
  • umpires and scorers were in existence;
  • and runs were called notches, as they were made by the scorer on a stick.
History of the cricket bat – Unknown

Individual articles of agreement were beginning to be drawn up before those matches where significant wagers were involved. They effectively laid down the rules which were to apply to the game in question. One example was a game in 1727 between teams representing the 2nd Duke of Richmond and Mr. Alan Brodrick.

The first codification of the laws of cricket was drawn up in 1744 by members of the London Cricket Club and several other clubs who met at The Star and Garter Inn in Pall Mall, a popular meeting place for noblemen and gentlemen. The initial meetings of the Jockey Club were also held at this establishment. These laws may have been an update of a previous version. It is thought that they were not actually printed until 1755.

Notable Patrons of the Game

Patrons would employ good players to help them win their bets. They were effectively the first professional cricketers. Notable patrons in the 18th century included:

Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond. The family seat was Goodwood House near Chichester in Sussex, not in Richmond (either of them). In 1731, he was involved in a controversial match when his Sussex team played a Middlesex XI backed by Thomas Chambers at Richmond Green (South West London) for 20 guineas. The unfinished game ended at the agreed time although Chambers’ team with “four or five more to have come in” and needing only “about 8 to 10 notches” clearly had the upper hand. The end result caused a fracas among the crowd, who were incensed by the prompt finish because the Duke of Richmond had arrived late and delayed the start of the game. The riot resulted in some of the Sussex players “having the shirts torn off their backs” and it was said “a law suit would commence about the play”. One guesses that the loss of money on side-bets may have been behind the incident?

Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond in the late 18th century was a keen cricketer, being an accomplished batsman and a reasonable wicketkeeper.

John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset was a fine cricketer and a contemporary of the 4th Duke of Richmond. It is said that it cost him over £1,000 per annum to run his team. He gave the Vine Cricket Ground in SevenOaks to the town at a peppercorn rent. It is one of the oldest grounds in the country.

George Finch, 9th Earl of Winchilsea was mad keen on the game, although he was only an average sort of player.

Early Local Cricket

Cricket was originally established in Surrey, Sussex, Kent and parts of Hampshire, and a regular circuit of inter-parish matches existed in these counties. The diaries of Thomas Marchant, a small farmer, record matches between his village of Hurst in Sussex and neighbouring parishes.

Inevitably, the game reached London before too long. Beneath the level of the “great matches” involving teams representing the nobility and gentry there was plenty of other activity around the capital, involving teams such as Blackheath, Fulham, Chelsea, Brentford & Sunbury and Ealing & Acton.

The game had started to spread beyond the south-east by the middle of the 18th century, reaching as far north as Yorkshire and Durham. Schools, universities, clergymen and schoolmasters were the sorts of organisations and individuals who were usually responsible for introducing cricket to other parts of the country.

Notable Early Players

Publicity was initially reserved for the game’s patrons. However, we gradually get to know some of the professional players who were retained by “the great and the good”:

  • Thomas Waymark played mainly in the 1720s and 1730s. He was an all-rounder who excelled in single-wicket contests. His patron was the 2nd Duke of Richmond. One game was cancelled because “the Duke’s man (Waymark) was not available”
  • Robert Colchin who played in the 1730s and 1740s also excelled at single wicket, and he often played with Waymark
  • Richard Newland’s patron was also the 2nd Duke of Richmond. He was an all-rounder, left-hand bat who played for Slindon in Sussex in the 1740s, and he was described as the best player in England at the time.

Hambledon Cricket Club

Hambledon Cricket Club – The Cradle of Cricket

Little cricket was played during the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). The Hambledon club, situated in Hampshire, north of Portsmouth, was founded just afterwards, circa. 1765. It was arguably in the right place at the right time, and by the late 1770s it had come to be regarded as the premier club in England, despite its somewhat remote location.

In essence, it was a gentlemen’s social club that supported a cricket team. Richard Nyren, a nephew of Richard Newland, was the captain and secretary, as well as being the innkeeper at the local Bat and Ball Inn. He acted as the conduit between the members and the players. There were a total of 157 subscription-paying members over the period of the club’s existence, including 5 noblemen (or closely related to the peerage) and 21 clergymen. Players were recruited from surrounding villages and towns, and included Billy Beldam (batsman), David Harris  (fast bowler) and John Small, reputedly the best batsman in England in the late 18th century.

While matches were played against local villages such as Henfield, Titchfield, Alresford and Odiham, Hambledon was better known for games against various England XIs, MCC, Surrey and Kent. Membership declined in the 1790s and the last meeting was held in 1796 when the minutes recorded that “no gentlemen were present”.

John Nyren, Richard’s son, subsequently wrote the famous “The Cricketers of My Time”, detailing the Hambledon players.

Two Key Events involving Hambledon

Lumpy Stevens was among the first bowlers to pitch the ball up to the batsman rather than trundle it along the ground. This led to the use of straight bats rather than the curved variety. In 1771, Chertsey’s Thomas White used a bat that was 6 inches wide in a game against Hambledon, i.e. as wide as the wicket itself. Hambledon’s subsequent complaint led to the width of a bat being limited to 4.25 inches in the laws of 1774.

In 1775, Lumpy, playing for Kent, managed to beat Hambledon’s John Small three times in one innings, and on each occasion the ball passed between the two stumps without dislodging the bail! This led to a call for the addition of a third (middle) stump. It was initially considered optional, but one source indicates that by 1785 it had been generally adopted.

To the White Conduit Club and onwards to Lord’s

The Artillery Ground in Finsbury gradually fell from favour as the pre-eminent London venue, and the White Conduit Club was formed in 1782. During its short existence, members included the 9th Earl of Winchilsea, the 4th Duke of Richmond and the 3rd Duke of Dorset. Winchilsea led a team which played gentlemen from Kent in 1785 for the eye-watering sum of 1,000 guineas (worth circa. 150,000 guineas in 2018).

However, the members were unhappy that the ground on White Conduit Fields in Islington was an open area where members of the public, often the rowdier sort, could stand, watch and voice their opinions. Thomas Lord, a professional bowler at the club, saw a business opportunity. Winchilsea and Richmond asked him to find a new ground, offering him a guarantee against any losses he may suffer in the venture. So, Lord took a lease from the Portman Estate on some land at Dorset Fields, where Dorset Square is now situated. He put a high fence around it, erected a storage shed, did a bit of ground preparation and opened for business in 1787. It was named Lord’s cricket ground and, since it was in Marylebone, the White Conduit Club members who relocated there decided to call themselves the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC).

This was actually the first of three Lord’s grounds. Increases in rent persuaded Lord to look for another ground. He found one in nearby Lisson Grove in 1811. Unfortunately, it was a failed venture, as none of the members of the MCC wanted to play there. Fortunately, Lord was in luck. The Lisson Grove Ground was partially on the site of the future Regent Canal, and the compensation which he received paid for a move to the present Lord’s Cricket Ground in St. John’s Wood in 1813 where he built a pavilion, tavern and various outbuildings.

The Lord’s pitches were poor; they were undrained and quite bumpy. We should not be surprised; prepared pitches and manicured outfields were features of the future. The fact that the ground was occasionally let out for non-cricketing events did not help. The lawn mower was not invented until 1830 by Edwin Budding in Gloucestershire. Before this time grassed areas might be maintained by scything or by letting sheep graze. In fact, Lord’s Cricket Ground only gave up on sheep in 1864 when a mower was acquired and a groundsman appointed.

The usual noble crew of the period, Winchilsea, Richmond, Dorset, Tankerville et al, became members of MCC, and the position of the club, near the centre of London, attracted others, which in turn lessened the need for individual large stake gamblers, and so betting syndicates emerged.

The laws of the game had been revised in 1774 following another meeting at the Star and Garter Inn, the main alteration being the introduction of the first leg before wicket (lbw) law. I should mention in passing that professionals did not frequent the Star and Garter, not being gentlemen. Their preferred London watering hole was The Green Man and Still on Oxford Street.

Almost immediately after its formation, the MCC produced a revised version of the laws in 1788. It was more detailed than the 1774 version, but it was effectively the same, except for a change in the wording of the lbw law. Although some people might say that the MCC immediately took responsibility for the laws at this point, the club was in fact much more laid back at the time. It was a private club and the laws were for its own use. If anybody else wanted to use them then that was fine.

The Early 19th Century

The main attraction in the early years of the MCC was games against Hambledon. However, Lord’s gradually became a venue for various other prestigious games:

  • The first being Eton vs Harrow games which were held from 1805 (Lord Byron was involved in the first game).
  • The following year saw the initial Gentlemen vs Players match which was subsequently held twice a year, occasionally more often, until its demise in 1962 when the difference between amateurs and professionals was abolished
  • The first Oxbridge match took place at Lord’s in 1827. It was the idea of Charles Wordsworth who was also behind the first Boat Race in 1829. Lord’s eventually became the sole venue for this encounter in 1851
  • Lord’s also became the venue for North vs South games, the first match being held in 1836 when the North won, much to the surprise of many southerners!  It proved a popular attraction and also became a regular fixture.

Cricket experienced a period in the doldrums during the early years of the 19th century, principally due to the Napoleonic Wars which affected the availability of patrons (and their investments) and players.

The MCC was at the centre of controversy in the Regency period, largely on account of the ongoing enmity between two members, The Rev. Lord Frederick Beauclerk and George Osbaldeston (known as the Squire). They first locked horns in 1810 when the Squire challenged Beauclerk to a double wicket match for 50 guineas, each to play with a professional. Unfortunately, Osbaldeston was ill at the time of the match, but Beauclerk insisted that the game proceed “play or pay”. Lambert, the Squire’s professional was forced to play on his own, managing to win by 15 runs. He did this by bowling many wide balls which Beauclerk could not score off. Beauclerk, seemingly a very bad-tempered chap, unsurprisingly complained and the upshot was that the laws were changed in 1811, prohibiting wide balls. In 1817, their intrigues and jealousies exploded into a match-fixing scandal with the Squire’s player William Lambert being banned from playing at Lord’s Cricket Ground for life. Gambling scandals in cricket were not new; they had been going on since the 17th century.

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A Match at Lord’s circa. 1865

Roundarm Bowling

Bowling had been solely underarm until the advent of roundarm bowling. This technique involved releasing the ball with the arm at right angles to the body, i.e. at shoulder level. It is said that Tom Walker was the first person to try it out in the 1790s, but he was no-balled when he used it in important matches. John Willes, a Kent cricketer, was next to try to get it accepted, but he was also no-balled when he attempted it in an MCC vs Kent match in 1822. He immediately left the ground, and indeed refused to play in any subsequent important matches. Meanwhile, William Lillywhite (who eventually set up a sports shop in London with his two sons) and Jem Broadbridge, bowlers in the successful Sussex side of the period, used roundarm whenever they could get away with it.

The MCC, with the pressure mounting to allow roundarm bowling, made a half-hearted and ultimately unsuccessful change to the laws in 1828 which allowed the bowler’s hand to be raised up to the level of his elbow. Lillywhite and Co. continued to use roundarm and the MCC eventually admitted defeat when roundarm was enshrined in the laws in 1835.

One consequence of allowing roundarm bowling was that the game became a tad more dangerous. Some form of protection was thought necessary for the batsman, a thought that was pooh-poohed by those who considered that it would be unmanly to wear any form of protection. Whatever, some players started to put some padding surreptitiously under their clothes. In 1841 Thomas Nixon, a Nottingham professional, patented cork pads. Fairly soon, a range of products began to appear after the American, Charles Goodyear, discovered vulcanised rubber.

The Rise of the Amateur Ethos

With the gradual demise of cricket’s archetypal noble patrons, gambling on the game started to wane, and in its place came the attraction of amateurism.

The word “amateur” appeared in the late 18th century. It has French and Italian origins, meaning “lover of”. The amateur ethos in sport arose in public schools, and subsequently spread to universities and beyond. Games were to be played purely for the love of it, and “fair play” was expected from participants who should not get over-excited in victory or downhearted in defeat. In addition, these amateurs tended to frown on training and even on watching games (when you should be playing).

As well as cricket, rowing, athletics and football (both rugby and association) became bastions of the amateur ethos in the second half of the 19th century.

I Zingari (from the dialectalised Italian meaning “the Gypsies”) was the name used by a cricket club that was formed by a group of Old Harrovians in 1845. It was a nomadic amateur side, having no ground, which is still in existence today. It was arguably the most celebrated amateur cricket club in the 19th century. It was followed by an Australian cricket club which adopted the same name in 1888, I Zingari Australia.

The Reverend James Pycroft, a cricketer with strong amateur inclinations, wrote The Cricket Field in 1851. He saw cricket as a noble, manly and mainly British activity, and he strongly criticised the betting which had been prevalent in previous generations. It is thought that he was the first person to use the phrase “it’s not cricket” which subsequently became a general term for describing something that is unfair.

Before leaving this section, so as not to leave the impression that all amateurs were as pure as the driven snow, we should introduce the shamateur. This was a theoretical amateur who received payments from the game. It was a term that was introduced by journalists.

The Emergence of County Clubs

There had been no set procedure for picking teams to represent a county; any set of players could call themselves “the gentlemen of a county”. However, county clubs eventually began to appear, starting with Sussex in 1839. They were followed by Nottinghamshire in 1841, Kent (1842), Cambridgeshire (1844) and Surrey in 1845. Surrey’s ground at the Oval was formerly an area of market gardens on the edge of Kennington Common.

The Yorkshire county name had been used for the first time in 1833, although the team contained 11 players from Sheffield, a club which had been in existence since around 1751. In 1849 “Yorkshire” played “Lancashire” in what was called the first Roses match, although it was effectively Sheffield vs Manchester. The Yorkshire county club was eventually officially formed in 1863. Manchester who had been in existence since 1817 were the forerunners of the Lancashire County Club which was formed in 1864.

In the west, Gloucestershire CC was formed in 1870, effectively coming from the West Gloucestershire Cricket Club which had itself been a merging of the two Bristol clubs the Mangotsfield CC and Coalpit Heath CC in 1846.

Professional-based teams

As Nottinghamshire was not proving to be successful in its early days, William Clarke, a Notts professional player, set up an All-England side in 1846 to play three games in the North: against 22 of Sheffield, 18 of Manchester and 18 of Yorkshire. This was a successful financial venture for Clarke who unsurprisingly continued with his All-England professional side, sometimes called a circus. In 1852 it was joined by the “United All-England Eleven” which set up a rival but complementary circuit. 

Their successes ultimately led to the first overseas cricket tour by an English side. The team, consisting of twelve professionals led by George Parr, played games in the US and Canada in 1859.

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George Parr

A tour of New Zealand and Australia subsequently took place in 1876/77. The English team, all professionals, was led by James Lillywhite. It was considered a weak side because it did not include any of the leading amateur players of the day. It played two games against a Combined Australian XI which are recognised as the first two Test matches between the countries.

The last professional circus tour was organised by Arthur Shrewsbury and funded by the Earl of Sheffield. Sheffield lost £2,000 on the venture. A proposed second tour in 1891 was cancelled and the money went instead on helping to establish Australia’s Sheffield Shield competition.

Overarm Bowling

It was not too long after roundarm bowling was legitimised that some players started to experiment by releasing the ball from the hand when it was above shoulder level. Although this was outlawed there was pressure to allow overarm bowling. Similar to the John Willes walk out during the roundarm bowling controversy, Edgar Willsher walked off the Oval ground in 1862 after he was no-balled six times for (deliberately) bowling overarm, only on this occasion he was accompanied off the field by eight fellow professionals.  This pressure ultimately led to Law 10 being rewritten in 1864 to allow a bowler to bring his arm through at any height, providing he kept it straight and did not throw the ball.

Suspect Bowling Actions

There were two periods when this topic came to the fore in the late Victorian period. In the early 1880s a number of bowlers were thought to have suspect actions, i.e. they effectively threw the ball. Crossland and Nash, both Lancashire bowlers, came into this category. Lord Harris, captain of Kent and England, after facing them, persuaded the Kent committee to cancel the return game with Lancashire on the grounds of their suspect actions. Crossland was subsequently discovered to have broken his residential qualifications by living in Nottinghamshire, while Nash dropped out of the side. Matches between the two counties were thus able to resume in the following seasons.

Around the turn of the century the Australian umpire, Jim Phillips, no-balled Ernest Jones, an Australian fast bowler, the celebrated C.B. Fry and Arthur Mold, all for throwing.

W.G. Grace … and Family

W.G. Grace – By George Beldam (1902)

W.G. Grace came from a cricketing family. His parents were strong advocates of the game, and his two brothers, E.M. and Fred, both played. In fact, the three brothers played in the same England team in 1880. W.G. played first-class cricket from 1864 through to 1904 and was widely recognised as the outstanding cricketer of the age. He was an all-rounder but was best known for his batting. A member of the MCC, he was regarded as an amateur. An amateur in name only; his fame and popularity allowed him to make significantly more money out of the game than any professional. He was the ultimate shamateur. Aided by his fame and fortune, he excelled at gamesmanship, which he called “teasing”.

Towards Competitive County Cricket

The county game became popular in the 1860s and 1870s as more clubs came into existence, and the concept of an “unofficial” county championship came into being, promoted by newspapers. Different journalists employed different criteria, but it largely came down to the club with the fewest defeats being crowned champions. This was slightly bizarre on several counts. Firstly, each club decided who they would play and how many times they would play them. And secondly, in 1883 Notts (played 12, won 4, lost 1) were judged to be superior to Yorkshire (played 16, won 9 lost 2).

The formation of the Football League in 1888 was like switching a light on in the world of sport. It was instantly realised that the concept of leagues was the way to go. It was no different in cricket, and the official county championship came into being in 1890. The criterion in that first season was the number of wins minus the number of losses. A points system was eventually implemented, although it has since been altered at various times. Surrey were the official champions in the first three years of its existence.

The Start of the Ashes Series

Between 1877 and September 1882 England and Australia played 9 times, Australia winning 5, England 2 and 2 were drawn. After the 9th match at the Oval in 1882, which was won by Australia, a mock obituary was famously inserted in the Sporting Times, which read:

“In Affectionate Remembrance of ENGLISH CRICKET, which died at the Oval on 29 August 1882, Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances R.I.P.

N.B. – The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.”

Thus, the concept of the Ashes was born, and the first Test series under that name began in December 1882. Prior to World War I, England won 15 series and Australia 7.

Test Matches against South Africa

The first Test match against South Africa took place in 1889 in Port Elizabeth, and England subsequently made two further visits before the turn of the century, typically playing two or three Tests each time. England dominated these early exchanges.

The Second Boer War (1899 – 1902) halted matches between the two countries, and it was to be 1907 before South Africa was invited to tour England. A Triangular Series with Australia was subsequently held in England in 1912, but with the advent of World War I it was to be the early 1920s before regular Test matches between England and South Africa became the norm.

The England Captaincy .. surely the job has to be done by an amateur?

The captaincy of England XIs in the early years of international cricket varied; some were amateurs, and some professionals. However, after Arthur Shrewsbury, a professional and one of the best batsmen of the age, it became traditional to appoint an amateur as captain. From 1888 until 1952 all England captains were amateur. It was Len Hutton who finally interrupted the tradition. The difference between amateurs and professionals was subsequently abolished in 1962 when everybody became a player.

Lord Hawke and Yorkshire

Lord Hawke – By Unknown – Public Domain

Yorkshire finally fulfilled their potential in 1893 when they won the championship for the first time. This was largely due to the captaincy of Lord Hawke. He was a paternalistic leader, albeit a strong disciplinarian, and a pragmatist whose sole aim was to win, i.e. the team was more important than the individual. He went on to oversee a total of 9 championship wins in the period between 1893 and 1912.

Hawke saw himself as something of a cricketing missionary, going on 9 overseas tours, including trips to South Africa, India and Ceylon, West Indies, North America and Argentina.

In addition, he became a leading administrator in the game. His roles included the presidency of Yorkshire, the presidency of the MCC, treasurer of the MCC and the first ever chairman of the board of selectors. On the last point, it had been traditional in home Test matches for the ground authority of the county hosting the game to pick the England side. It was Lord Hawke who criticised this system in 1898, proposing the formation of a central selection committee. The MCC agreed with him, and in fact made him the first chairman of this committee in 1899, a role which he held for 10 years.

Cricketer Journalists

Gibert Jessop, an amateur and fast-scoring batsman, turned to journalism after a failed business venture. Star players were well paid as hacks and usually did not have to do any writing themselves. The MCC frowned on the practice, having declared back in 1878 that “no gentleman ought to make a profit by his service in the cricket field”. And as for commenting on a game which one was taking part in, that was definitely “not cricket”. However, there was not a lot that they could do about it, except not select Jessop which was a non-starter. Besides, other players were at it: including the sporting polymath C.B. Fry, P.F. Warner and others. A satirical cartoon appeared in Punch in 1904, showing all the players on the field busy scribbling. Warner turned out to be the supreme cricketer journalist, even talking about himself in the third person.

Club Cricket in the North

It was Northern and Midlands clubs who embraced the concept of leagues in the late 19th century. It is probably for this reason that they tended to receive more publicity than their southern counterparts.

The following sections mention just two of them: the Liverpool Competition which hailed originally from a gentlemen’s club; and the Lancashire League which grew out of the Industrial Revolution. The choice betrays my birthplace and the availability of information. I watched Sefton (formed in 1860) in the Liverpool Competition for several seasons in my youth. Note – I would gratefully receive information on any other leagues across the country.

Liverpool Competition

Liverpool’s commercial success as a port brought with it a growing class of gentry. The sons of the gentry subsequently found cricket in public schools, while businessmen would have come across it in London. All this resulted in the birth of Liverpool Cricket Club in 1807.

It was most definitely a club for gentlemen, and remained so for very many years. In the beginning, games were played purely within the club, e.g. Married vs Single, Public School vs The Rest. The first known external game was against Manchester in 1824, and an established fixture list gradually appeared, where the opposition principally consisted of public schools and other gentlemen clubs in the North. By 1859 it had managed to attract I Zingari, and it had hosted a Gentlemen of the South vs Gentlemen of the North game.

Liverpool CC played at grounds in the Crown Street, Falkner Street / Abercromby Square and Edge Hill areas of the city before purchasing their own ground in Aigburth in 1880, where they promptly built the imposing pavilion which still stands today. It has been used for first-class games since 1881 when Lancashire played Cambridge University.

Clubs and Railway Network – PN Walker

Other clubs, albeit not as grand as Liverpool, began to appear across the Merseyside area, starting with Ormskirk and Bootle in the 1830s. The advent of the railway around the area from 1848 through to 1888 undoubtedly helped the spread of the game, as various new residential dormitories sprouted cricket clubs (see the map). Liverpool CC granted some of these local clubs a fixture, although they may only have been Second XI fixtures in the early days.

Professional players were employed during the summer months, sometimes in a player / groundsman role. Needless to say, Liverpool CC had more professionals than any other club in the late 19th century. However, the use of professionals almost totally disappeared after 1939, as the majority of clubs simply could not afford them.

In 1892 the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo started to publish the scorecards from these local games and christened it the Liverpool & District Competition.

Lancashire League Cricket

The Industrial Revolution brought cotton mills to the county, and in so doing provided the basis for the foundation of many cricket clubs in central and east Lancashire.

Colne CC was the first club to be formed in 1830, while many others followed in the 1850s and 1860s. The attraction of leagues in sport brought The Lancashire League which was formed in 1892, consisting of teams from small to medium-sized mill towns.

Up until 1899 clubs were allowed to have two professionals, but this was reduced to one in 1900. It is a rule of the league that each club must field a professional. Indeed, clubs can be fined if they do not.

Games attracted large crowds which helped to pay for these professionals. Initially, we are talking about English professionals. A contract with a league club could well be more lucrative to a player than one with a county. Players included: Sydney Barnes and Fred Root.

Ultimately, many star players were attracted to play in the league, possibly just for a single season. Nelson CC started the trend to employ overseas stars, signing Ted McDougall, the Australian fast bowler, in 1921. The first super-star was arguably Sir Learie Constantine, the celebrated West Indian player, who spent an amazing 9 seasons at Nelson CC, a fact which was publicised in CLR James’ Beyond a Boundary. His contract with Nelson arguably made him the highest paid sportsman in England in the 1930s.

There are too many star players to mention, but here are a few from the last 50 years who have played in the Lancashire League: Wes Hall, Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Michael Holding, Kapil Dev, Dennis Lillee and Shane Warne.

The End of the Golden Age of Cricket

Many writers talk nostalgically about the Golden Age of Cricket (1890 to 1914). By this they mean an era littered with gifted amateurs, headed by W.G. but including the likes of C.B. Fry, K.S. Ranjitsinhji and G.L. Jessop. 1914 brought World War I. Arguably, it also signalled the imminent demise of the true gentleman amateur in sports such as cricket and soccer. After World War I a more pragmatic amateur tended to appear, more working middle-class than leisurely upper-class if you like.

It was of course inevitable that a war which resulted in the deaths of 850,000+ (mostly) young men would reduce the number of available players and the level of talent to be found within that pool for some years to come. The inter-war years could not (and did not) produce a golden era in any sport in England. There were exceptions of course. Hobbs, who played both before and after the conflict, amassed 199 centuries in his career, and along with first Rhodes and then Sutcliffe formed effective opening partnerships for England.

Northern Supremacy in the County Game of the Inter-war Years

Middlesex were county champions in 1920 and 1921, but no southern side was to win it again until Middlesex triumphed once more in 1947. Yorkshire chalked up 13 titles in that period and Lancashire 6.

Birley relates a number of tales which highlight the hard, no-nonsense Northern professional approach.

Emmott Robinson, a right-arm fast-medium bowler, was playing against one of the universities. An elegant young man came in, elaborately took guard, surveyed the field and carefully adjusted gloves, cravat and gaily coloured cap. Emmott shuffled up to the wicket and clean bowled him. As he passed Emmott on his way out the young man said “Jolly good ball, sir!” and Emmott replied “Aye, lad: it were wasted on thee”.

Several other tales concern amateur captains and Wilfred Rhodes’ propensity for acting as the de facto captain. Emmott, encountering the current incumbent taking a stroll round the ground during the lunch interval, quietly said to him “You’d better come in now, sir. Wilfred has declared”. Finally, Bill Bowes revealed that he once asked Rhodes whether a famous England captain was any good. Rhodes replied, “Yes, Bill, very good. He allus did as he wor told”.

The Bodyline Series

Bert Oldfield hit by ball, fracturing his skull – Unknown

Bradman, Australia’s supreme batsman, had a very successful tour of England in 1930, scoring 974 runs in the five tests, including one triple century and two double centuries, in a series that Australia won.

Douglas Jardine was appointed captain of England for the subsequent tour of Australia in 1932/33. Fenton, the Surrey captain and a friend of Jardine, had noted that if Bradman had a weakness it was on the legside. The English captain developed a strategy to curb Bradman by using four fast bowlers, dishing up short pitched deliveries aimed at the body to a packed leg-side field.

The plan was tried out before the Test series in a game against an Australian XI in which Bradman played. Media coverage would have you believe that all the Test matches consisted of wall-to-wall bodyline bowling, as it was called, by England. This was true of the crucial third Test, the score being one each at the time, when several Australians were felled by short deliveries. However, a mixture of injuries and unresponsive pitches led to reduced use of the strategy in the other matches. England won the series 4-1.

The events of the third Test led to a full-scale row, with the Australian Board of Control making an official complaint to the MCC, and diplomats and politicians being dragged into the row. Long after the tour, Harold Larwood, the English fast bowler, was cast in the role of villain. His defence was that he was simply carrying out Jardine’s orders. It ultimately turned out to be the end of his Test career. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jardine, the architect, and Warner (the England Manager who was well aware of the strategy) both came out of it relatively unscathed in the first instance, Jardine arriving home to a hero’s reception. However, the MCC gradually realised that there was more than an element of truth in the complaints of the Australians, and twelve months later Jardine was eased out .. which just left Warner to toddle on and eventually collect his knighthood in 1937.

The Beginning of Radio and Television Coverage

Outside broadcasting of sport by the BBC started in 1927 when Rugby Union, Soccer, the Grand National, the Boat Race and Cricket were all covered on the radio. The New Zealanders game against Essex at Leyton in May was the first cricket match to be broadcast, with a number of short broadcasts over the course of a day’s play. It was deemed a success and coverage was soon extended.

Experiments with television coverage of sport commenced in 1938. The Boat Race and the England vs Scotland soccer international at Wembley were followed by Wimbledon and the England vs Australia Test Match at Lord’s. Transmissions were limited to the London area due to a lack of transmitters in other parts of the country.

Uninterrupted ball-by-ball coverage of Test matches on the radio eventually started in 1957 on the Third Programme with Test Match Special. Previously, coverage had been shared by the Light Programme and the Third Programme.

Women’s Cricket I

The first reported women’s game was back in 1745 between eleven maids of Bramley and eleven maids of Hambledon, closely followed in 1747 by one at the Artillery Ground in London between Charlton and the parish of West Dean and Chilgrove in Sussex. Other ad hoc games are mentioned around the same period, e.g. Single versus Married Women.

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Ladies playing cricket 1869

The first known club was The White Heather at Nun Appleton in Yorkshire which was formed in 1887, while a team called the Original English Lady Cricketers toured the country in 1890, playing to large crowds.

Fortunately, unlike soccer where the FA was against the idea of women playing football, the ladies encountered no such problems in cricket, and The Women’s Cricket Association was eventually formed in 1926, remaining responsible for the game until 1998. Under its guise, county associations were formed in 1931, and the first Test matches were played against Australia and New Zealand when an England team toured the Antipodes in the winter of 1934/35.

The International Women’s Cricket Council was formed in February 1958 by the Women’s Cricket Associations of Australia, England, the Netherlands, New Zealand and South Africa to govern international matches. It went on to organise the first World Cup limited overs competition in 1973, two years before the men’s inaugural event.

Cricket during World War II

Old Trafford was bombed in December 1940, putting it out of action for the duration of conflict. Lord’s was also bombed although the damage in this case was slight. County cricket was not really possible, and in its place a series of charity and inter-services’ games were organised. Meanwhile, in the North the leagues tended to continue, although rules requiring the use of a professional were usually relaxed.

Finally, at the end of the war a number of “Victory Tests” were arranged between a combined Australian Services XI and an England national team, the first taking place only two weeks after VE Day.

Cricket in the Aftermath of World War II

People were naturally drawn to all forms of entertainment to help them get over the horror of war, and large crowds were the order of the day for the remainder of the 1940s, particularly at cricket and soccer matches.

On the Test front, England suffered at the hands of Australia, being soundly beaten in each of their next three series. Australia had a strong side with the bowling duo of Lindwall and Miller.

India, West Indies and New Zealand were allowed at the top table of internationals when they were accorded invitations to tour England from 1950 onwards. West Indies immediately made England wonder if this had been a wise move when they won the 1950 series 3-1 with the batting of the three Ws (Worrell, Weekes and Walcott) and the bowling duo of Ramadhin and Valentine.

England, with the batting of Compton, Cowdrey and May and the bowling of Laker, Tyson and Statham, eventually experienced a period of success around the mid-1950s, beating Australia twice and the West Indies once. The most memorable event was when Laker took a record haul of 19 wickets in the 4th Test match against Australia at Old Trafford in 1956.

However, the 1960s heralded an inauspicious period for England in Test matches, as Australia retained the Ashes throughout the entire decade while the West Indies, with Sobers, Hall and Griffiths, inflicted several series defeats.

County fare was not wonderful although the dry summer of 1947 produced lots of runs, Compton amassing 3,816 runs and Edrich managing 3,539. Attendances subsequently began to decline at county games in the 1950s when Surrey totally dominated the competition, winning the championship 8 times in 9 years.

Attendances continued to nosedive when the 1960s arrived, much to the consternation of the county clubs, while Yorkshire dominated the championship throughout that decade.

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Fred Trueman

The Death of the Amateur

Despite the misgivings of various members of the MCC, Len Hutton, a professional, had been appointed captain of England in 1952. He was the first professional captain since Arthur Shrewsbury back in the 1880s. His reign was relatively successful, but when he retired in 1956 the MCC was joyfully able to revert to an amateur, Peter May.

However, it was acutely aware that there was mounting pressure on the whole system of amateurs and professionals. as there was in other sports. Notwithstanding such arcane practices as separate changing rooms for amateurs, and sometimes separate gates onto the field, shamateurism was the real elephant in the room.

A committee was set up under the Duke of Norfolk to look into the problem in 1959. The county clubs were not in favour of any changes, and even the professionals, somewhat bizarrely, did not publicly favour any change. And so, the committee recommended a status quo. However, it was gradually dawning on them that the current arrangements were indefensible. Despite some subsequent shilly-shallying, the MCC’s Advisory County Cricket Committee ruled in November 1962 that amateurs and professionals would be abolished with effect from the start of the 1963 season; all would subsequently be known as players.

Needless to say, many were against the move. The editor of Wisden opined that cricket was “in danger of losing the spirit of freedom and gaiety which the best amateur cricketers brought to the game”.

Shortened Forms of Cricket

The traditionalists were dealt another blow in 1963 with the introduction of a knockout cup competition. The idea of such a competition was not new. It had been mooted back as far as the 1870s when the FA introduced its Challenge Cup in soccer, and at various times in the intervening period, but the purists had always resisted.

However, it was considered that the issue of falling attendances at county games needed to be tackled, and somehow the product had to be made more attractive to the public. Needless to say, there were many who were against the idea, but the availability of a sponsor who could underwrite any losses helped to placate some of them. Gillette was the initial sponsor of these 65 overs per side, one innings games. It was an immediate success, particularly with the punters, and Sussex won the cup in the first two seasons.

The counties’ requirements for additional revenue saw them look at other options, and in 1966 Rothman’s sponsored a team called the International Cavaliers who played a 40 overs per side game against a different county every Sunday afternoon, usually for a cricketer’s benefit. The games were shown on TV, and the counties quickly saw the opportunities that this format could bring. Having found a sponsor in John Player, they started a 40 overs per side Sunday league in 1969, with Lancashire triumphing in its first two seasons. Attendances totalled 280,000 for these Sunday afternoon games in 1969, compared to 327,000 paying at the gate for the 6 day a week county game.

The Sunday League was soon followed by the Benson and Hedges Cup which ran from 1972 to 2002. The format here was four regional groups where each county played every other team in the group. These matches, 55 overs per side (subsequently reduced to 50), were played at the start of the season. The top two sides in each group went forward to the knockout stages, leading to the final which was played at Lord’s in the middle of July.

The original 65 over competition, shortened to 60 overs, continued through to 2009 with various sponsors. It was replaced by the ECB40 (40 overs), which was itself superseded by the One Day Cup which is currently sponsored by the Royal London.

An even shorter form of the game was introduced in 2003, the Twenty20 League (20 overs per side as the name implies). It is currently known as the t20 Blast, and is organised by the ECB.

Club Cricket in the South

I have mentioned club cricket in the North and its ready adoption of leagues in the late 19th century. But what of the South?

The Club Cricketers Charity Fund was founded in 1910 by a group of men who represented the archetypal Edwardian gentlemen amateur. They were generally against competitive games, leagues and even paying spectators.

These men and their values were to prove highly influential over those who formed an organisation called the (London) Cricket Club Conference (CCC) in 1915, whose original purpose was to fight the threat of sports fields being dug up to grow crops and thereby assist the war effort. It also acted as a hub whereby clubs could find fixtures with other teams.

At the Conference’s first committee meeting the following rule was agreed, ‘It shall be an indispensable condition that this London Club Cricket Conference shall neither recognise, approve of, nor promote any cup or league system’. After the war the CCC continued to argue that no member club could embrace league or knockout cricket because of this ‘condition of membership’. This became something of a badge of honour, particularly among old boy and well-established clubs.

While society had moved on after World War II, the CCC continued to stick rigidly to its golden rule. There were some half-hearted attempts to introduce competitive cricket but the would-be proponents of such moves were scared off by the threat of excommunication from the CCC, which was now well entrenched within the English cricketing hierarchy.

However, in 1966 four Surrey clubs, Beddington, Malden Wanderers, Old Whitgiftians and Spencer made a concerted attempt to introduce a league, and a meeting of various clubs decided to go ahead with the scheme. Needless to say, the CCC opposed it .. “over my dead body” reputedly said the secretary of the CCC at a meeting with the “rebels”. The scheme did go ahead, being known as the Surrey Cricket Clubs Championship. The CCC backed down, and the championship started in 1968.

The floodgates were opened and by 1973 there were 23 leagues in and around London, and 10 years later there were 50. The CCC is still in existence. It realised the error of its ways, and it currently has over 1,000 affiliated clubs. It continues with its fixture bureau service (which helps clubs find games against other teams) and assists the ECB to develop the adult game.

Around the same time (the late 1960s) national club knockout competitions started to appear, organised by the Cricketer magazine: the National Club Knockout (1969) which is now known as the ECB National Club Championship (45 overs per side); and the National Village Cup (1972), now The Cricketer National Village Cup. The finals of both popular competitions take place at Lord’s in September.

Events off the Field in the 1970s

Basil D’Oliveira was a coloured South African who had become eligible to play for England. He was belatedly selected for the England team to tour South Africa in late 1969. However, Vorster, the South African Prime Minister, said that his country was not prepared to receive a team selected for political reasons, “The MCC team is not the team of the MCC but of the anti-apartheid movement.” The tour was cancelled. South Africa had been invited to tour England in 1970 but, under pressure from Jim Callaghan, the Home Secretary, (there was a General Election pending) it was cancelled. South Africa’s apartheid stance subsequently resulted in no Test-playing nation agreeing to play them, a situation that lasted for 22 years.

The other major talking point of the 1970s was the appearance of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket (WSC) from 1977 to 1979 when he signed up many of the world’s leading players after failing to get exclusive television rights to Test matches in Australia. These cricketers were banned from Test cricket – Australia suffering more than other countries through the ineligibility of players. A deal was eventually hammered out between the Australian Cricket Board and Packer, giving his television station, Channel Nine, the rights to screen matches, and WSC disappeared.

Several of the innovations that were introduced by WSC eventually found their way into the mainstream game. They include matches held at night under floodlights (or part day / part night), team strips (as opposed to whites), cricket helmets and the use of different coloured balls.

Organisational Changes

When viewed across the piece, organisational changes had been relatively rare, but from around the 1960s the pace of change went up several gears.


The Imperial Cricket Conference had actually been set up in 1909 after much lobbying by South Africa for an international governing body. In fact, they were really looking for a Triangular Test series with England and Australia, an event which took place in 1912. The West Indies, New Zealand and India were subsequently admitted as full members in 1926, to be followed by Pakistan in 1952.

It was from the 1970s that the power of the ICC grew, arguably starting with the establishment of the World Cup Limited Overs competition which was first held in 1975 when the West Indies triumphed. It has since organised other One Day and Twenty20 tournaments. It also set up and maintains national team rankings in the Test, ODI and Twenty20 arenas, as well as a player ranking.

Additional full members, i.e. Test-playing nations, have been gradually admitted: Sri Lanka (1981), Zimbabwe (1992), Bangladesh (2000) and Afghanistan & Ireland (2017). By 2018 there were also 93 associate members.

The name of the organisation was changed to the International Cricket Conference in 1964, and again in 1989 to the International Cricket Council. It was at the latter date that the tradition of the MCC president automatically becoming the president of the ICC was terminated.

When technology, such as video replay, started to appear, the ICC introduced the third umpire in 1993 who had access to these facilities.


The MCC’s long reign as the controlling body of the game ended in 1969, though it still retains responsibility for the laws. The Sports Council, dangling the carrot of possible government aid for cricket, asked the MCC to create a governing body for the game along the lines that had been adopted by other sports in the UK. 

The Cricket Council, consisting of the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB), the National Cricket Association (NCA) and the MCC, was the result. The TCCB, which amalgamated the Advisory County Cricket Committee and the Board of Control of Test Matches at Home, had responsibility for all first-class and minor-counties cricket in England and for overseas tours. The NCA consisted of representatives from clubs, schools, armed services cricket, umpires, and the Women’s Cricket Association.

In 1997 there was a further reorganization when the TCCB, the NCA, and the Cricket Council were all made part of the new England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).

International Cricket from the 1970s onwards

Overall, England’s record since World War II could best be described as patchy, alternating losing periods with the occasional purple winning stretch. Its ICC Test ranking from 1952 to 2003 was 3rd, and from 2003 to 2018 it was 4th. Its record in limited overs cricket is not dissimilar: 4th in ICC ODI rankings (1981-2018); and 4th in the ICC Twenty20 rankings (2011-2018).

England were soundly beaten 4-1 on their 1974/75 tour of Australia, primarily by the pace of Lillee and Thomson, although they subsequently gained a 5-1 victory over a weakened Australian side during the Packer saga.

England’s most memorable event in the 1980s was the victory over the Australians at Headingley in 1981 after they had been forced to follow-on. Botham’s memorable knock of 149 not out in the second innings and Willis’s 8-43 brought an unexpected victory by 14 runs. England went on to win the series 3-1.

Apart from this, Test matches in the 1980s were totally dominated by the all-star West Indies side with its glittering array of batsmen and virtually unplayable set of fast bowlers. England were twice whitewashed, and were probably lucky to get nil on both occasions.

With the retirement from Test cricket of Richards, Greenidge and Marshall in 1991 the West Indies were not quite so all-conquering although the introduction of Lara and Ambrose ensured that they remained a strong side.  England eventually managed to beat them in a series in 2000, a full 32 years since their last series victory.

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Michael Holding

England had a period of success in the middle years of the 2000s, defeating both the West Indies and Australia in establishing themselves as no. 2 in the world rankings for  a spell. Unfortunately, this was followed by losing 5-0 to Australia in 2006-7.

County Cricket from the 1970s Onwards

Essex were the most successful county side from the late 1970s through to the early 1990s. Since that time, no county can be said to have dominated the championship.

Four day matches started to appear in 1988 when each county played 6 four day games and 16 three day games. After a period of experimentation, it was decided in 1993 to make all games four day affairs.

In a further attempt to liven up the game, the championship was split into two divisions in 2000, while the number of teams to be promoted / relegated each season has been subject to change; in 2018 it was two up and two down.

Women’s Cricket II

England vs Australia Women’s Test Match – Unknown

The Women’s Cricket Association disbanded in 1997 and the ECB became responsible for Women’s cricket. The Women’s County Championship was formed in 1997 although it has been known since 2014 as the Royal London One-Day Cup, operating as a 50 overs per side game. It operates alongside the Women’s Twenty20 Cup, established in 2009, and the Women’s Cricket Super League, a franchise league with six teams initially playing Twenty20 cricket.

At a global level the International Women’s Cricket Council (IWCC) was formed in 1958 to co-ordinate women’s cricket around the world, taking over from the English Women’s Cricket Association, which had been doing the same job on a de facto basis since its inception back in 1926. In 2005, the IWCC was merged with the ICC.

Odds and Sods

The wicket in the laws of 1744 consisted of two stumps, each 22 inches high with a 6 inch bail across the top. A third (middle) stump appeared in 1775. The dimensions subsequently changed several times with the current set of 28 inch high stumps and nine inches across being agreed in 1931.

Cricket bat. The width of a cricket bat was set at 4.25 inches in 1771 and the current length of 38 inches in 1835. When bowling was underarm and the ball was “trundled” or skimmed over the ground then bats looked similar to hockey sticks. From the late 18th century they gradually started to take the shape that we would recognise today. They were made out of a single piece of wood, but the advent of faster bowling (Roundarm and Overarm) brought the need for stronger bats that reduced the amount of shock that was experienced when bat met ball. Makers started to splice handles into bats in the 1830s, and in the following decade springs were inserted into the handle by using whalebone, and subsequently Indian rubber. In 1853, Thomas Nixon provided bats with further “give” by making the handles out of cane, while the blade continued to be made of white willow.

Cricket pads. Thomas Nixon, the Nottinghamshire professional who patented cork pads in 1841, experimented with the use of Malayan rubber and cane rattan in the 1850s.

Batting gloves. The first practical batting gloves were invented around 1845 by Nicholas “Felix” Wanostracht, an amateur cricketer. They consisted of tubular rubber strips. He sold the patent in 1848 to Dukes or was it Robert Dark?! .. both are mentioned in different sources.

Wicketkeeper’s gloves appeared around the same time, circa. 1850.

Cricket helmets. Patsy Hendren used a self-designed protective hat in the 1930s. It was made of rubber and had three peaks, two of which covered the sides of his head. Graham Yallop, the Australian player, was the first batsman to wear a protective helmet in 1978. Dennis Amiss subsequently popularised it in Test matches. They quickly became standard equipment. Viv Richards was the last Test player not to wear a helmet. He retired from Test cricket in 1991.

Cricket balls have a cork core, layered with tightly wound string and with a leather covering. Dukes, the brand used in England, first started to manufacture balls in 1760 in Kent.

Balls per over. The original 4-ball over was increased to 5 balls in 1889, and then to 6 balls in 1900. 8 ball overs were used during World War II in England. Other countries have also periodically adopted 8 ball overs, most noticeably Australia from 1936/1937 to 1978/1979 and South Africa from 1938/1939 to 1957/1958

The length of a cricket pitch has always been 22 yards, as first indicated in the 1744 laws.

The minimum size of a cricket field was defined in 2014 as 150 yards or 137.16 metres from boundary to boundary (square of the wicket), while the shortest boundary from the wicket should be no less than 65 yards or 59.43 metres. There are no rules with respect to the shape of a cricket field.

The toss is mentioned in the first laws of 1744. Whichever team won the toss had the choice of pitch as well as the decision on whether to bat or field. This was changed in 1774 when there was to be no toss, the visiting side made both decisions. Around 1809 the current system was adopted, whereby the umpires chose the pitch and the winner of the toss decided whether to bat or field.

Length of matches. Early matches were one-day affairs. As they were played on relatively poor pitches large scores were unusual, and it was considered that 40 notches (runs) was a good innings.

The term “first-class cricket” came into being in 1895, replacing the loose terms such as great match or important match which had previously been used. First-class came to mean a game of two innings per side which was scheduled to last at least three days.

Test matches are games with two innings per side which are scheduled to last for five days. Before World War II there were 99 timeless tests. In fact, all Test matches in Australia from 1877 to 1939 were timeless. The occasional timeless Test match that ended in a draw typically occurred in the last match of a series when the visiting team had to leave. The last timeless match was between South Africa and England at Durban in 1939. It was abandoned as a draw after nine days of play because England had to catch their boat home.

Umpires are mentioned in the poem In Certamen pilae in 1706 where it says that he leaned on his stave. In these early days the batsman had to tap the umpire’s stave with his bat to signify the completion of a run. The Articles of Agreement for the 1727 match between teams representing the 2nd Duke of Richmond and Mr. Alan Brodrick mentioned two officials, “one umpire of each side”.

Umpires in Test matches were citizens of the home country. It was 1994 before the first neutral umpire (from a third country) appeared. From 2002 both Test umpires in a match were neutral.

The third umpire (off the field) came into existence in 1992. His job was to use the available technology to assist the umpires, and eventually players, in making decisions where there appeared to be room for doubt.

Technology. Cricket has arguably a more complete set of technology than any other sport, commencing with video replays in 1992 which were used by the third umpire to assist with decisions on run outs and catches. This was followed by Hawkeye technology in 2001 to help with lbw decisions. Subsequent inventions have included the Hot Spot (shows where the ball has been in contact with the bat or pad) and the Snickometer (uses directional microphones to detect small sounds where the ball hits the bat or pad).

It’s not cricket. Gamesmanship has been endemic in all forms of sport since time immemorial, and cricket is no different. Sledging and ball tampering are merely the forms that currently occupy our thoughts, while cricket enthusiasts will be aware of the bodyline controversy back in the 1930s. Older examples which led to changes in the laws include: the use of a bat that was as wide as the stumps; and deliberately bowling wide in attempts to stop the batsmen scoring. Finally, it should be noted that WG Grace was as adept at gamesmanship as he was in the cricketing arts.

Bibliography & Further Reading

Birley, D., A Social History of English Cricket, Aurum Press, London, 1999
Howat, G.M.D., Village Cricket, David & Charles, Newton Abbot, 1980
Major, J., More Than A Game: The Story of Cricket’s Early Years, HarperPress, London, 2007
Walker, P.N., The Liverpool Competition, Countyvise, Birkenhead, 1988

Here are a number of additional website links which hopefully point to further useful information.

History of British newspapers
Lapse of the Press Licensing Act
History of cricket to 1725
The Laws of Cricket
History of cricket
Cricket Bat History
History of cricket bats
Wikipedia – pads
Wikipedia – Cricket helmet
London Cricket Club
Wikipedia – Lord’s
Marylebone Cricket Club
Wikipedia – Bowling History
England’s first Test Tour by Simon Burnton
County Championship
ECB Premier Leagues
Village cricket
Wikipedia – History of English amateur cricket
1744 English cricket season
Laws of Cricket
espn – the evolution of bowling
Deconstructing the gentleman amateur


I would like to thank Nihal Gunesekera and Peter Jackson for reading and commenting on the draft version.

The majority of the images that are used in this document are embedded Getty images and Wikimedia/Commons. Anybody who considers that I have infringed copyright should contact me.

All errors are mine.

Version History

Version 0.1 (January 7th, 2019) – very drafty.
Version 0.2 (January 10th, 2019) – slightly less drafty.
Version 1.0 (January 20th, 2019)
Version 1.1 (February 5th, 2019) – expanded Odds and Sods section
Version 1.2 (February 25th, 2019) – the gentleman amateur and the Cricket Club Conference
Version 1.3 (June 11th, 2019) – added items on the toss, balls per over and gamesmanship to the Odds and Sods section.