CRICKET: History, Evolution and Way of Life

Cricket… is one of the most popular sports in the world…and for me definitely, the best one ever created, my First Love. I have regularly been saying that Cricket is not just a sport, but a way of life as well. Now, why I am saying this, you will come to understand, in the next few minutes. So, here I am decoding the whole journey of Cricket from the time of its origin till today.

Origins of Cricket

Cricket was started by the British to make the men more disciplined and ‘gentleman’ as it is called. Mainly, it helped and still does in building the habits of fitness, competitiveness and social interaction. Britain tried to propagate the ‘sports culture’ in its youth to make them strong and competitive to contribute to the country. A famous saying goes “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing field of Etton”. Very interestingly, cricket started becoming so popular that people started skipping Churches on Sundays. Eventually, the church had to impose fines on those skipping church for cricket.

Basically, cricket at that time, was started just as a ball and stick game. At that time ‘bat’ basically meant a stick or club, which looked like a hockey stick. Now, it was done for the simple reason that cricket was played ‘underarm’ at that time (lots of Greg and Trevor Chappell…IYKYK). In the absence of pads then, quick deliveries at shins were considered dangerous. It is believed that around 40 runs were a big score at that time.


Remember, I said the game was propagated among men because initially women weren’t allowed. Actually, sports was considered too ‘vigorous’ and ‘competitive’ for women. The conservatives believed that if women participated, they will lose their feminine characteristics So for them, a slow-paced and ‘elegant’ game was designed named CROQUET. In this game, women with hats and frocks used to hit the ball into cabinets separated at small distances. But, even this was restricted only to the higher class women. So, by the end of the 19th century, the game remained restricted.


The Game of Croquet for women (Photo: Illustration Art)

Cricket and its Uniqueness

If we look at the characteristics of the game, there is no doubt that Cricket is the most UNIQUE game in the world. Firstly, it is one of the few games with multiple formats (T20, ODI and Test). Surprisingly, even the shortest format takes twice the time than a football game. Even nine innings of baseball (a game with ‘some’ resemblance to Cricket) takes half the time of one innings in Cricket. Another striking peculiarity of the game is that although we have a definite size for the cricket pitch (22 yards), there is no fixed dimension of the ground. At times, it can vary in shape; from oval in Adelaide Oval, to completely circular in Rose Bowl. Also, while it can be as small as teh ground of Kotla and as long as that of Melbourne (where King Kohli hit that epic shot).

The Rule Book of Cricket

After the game came into being, rules were codified for the game to make it uniform and standardized. The first account of laws being framed in the game was in 1744 under the ‘Laws of Cricket’. The very idea of ‘umpire’ in the game is found in the laws stating “The principal shall choose from amongst the gentleman present two umpired who shall absolutely decide all disputes.” The laws further defined the height of the stump as 22 inches, the length of the bails as 6 inches, the weight of the ball as 5-6 ounces in weight, and the two sets of stumps as ’22 yards apart’.

The first ever cricket club in the world was formed in Hambledon in the 1760s, and the famous and prestigious Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC) was formed in 1787. Slowly, it started becoming the ‘guardian’ of the game and published the first series of revisions of laws in the game. tIt led to a series of changes in the second half of the 18th century.

Original Laws of Cricket - 1744

The First Laws of Cricket in 1744 (Photo: Original Laws of Cricket)

One of the major changes was throwing the ball through the air rather than rolling it down the ground. This opened the options of swing, pace and variations for the bowlers. As a response to that, the batsman had to master ‘shot selection’ and ‘timing’. Now, with this, the shape of the bat also evolved and became straighter instead of the curved hockey stick it used to be earlier. Now, cricket was not just limited to brute force, but also depended heavily on skills. Incidentally, the laws also kept ‘betting’ legal.

To prevent batsmen from using their bodies in order to save their wickets, the Leg Before Laws were brought in 1774. By 1780, the maximum duration of a cricket match was fixed at 3 days, and the third stump (middle) was introduced. (before that ball used to pass between the stumps without the batsman being out). As the balls got heavier, equipment like pads and gloves were introduced, and overarm bowling became legal. Interestingly, at this time, the concept of boundaries was defined, as before that there were no rules of 4s and 6s, and all runs had to be scored by ‘running’ (if the ball is stuck in a bush, batsmen kept running 15-20 or even 100 runs).

Cricket and Industrial Revolution

Here, there is a big and rather interesting connection between the evolution of Cricket and the Industrial Revolution. Since initially the game was played mostly by rural people, there were no time limits and the game went on till both teams have been dismissed. This very well suited to the rural lifestyle. On the other hand, the games that came up after the Industrial Revolution had time constraints attached, as people were paid wages as per their work. The evolution of Cricket also worked on this aspect.

The other vagueness of the game regarding the size of the field also comes from its rural origins. Since, it was played in unfenced fields, which varied from village to village, there never was any concept of proper field, and uniquely this has carried till now. Even when the ball went into the crowd, the fielder had to go out and bring it, and the batsmen kept running (gully cricket vibes), and the crowd made way for them. The first cricket law also stated, “The umpire shall agree with both the captains on the boundaries of the playing area”.

International Cricket Council

Cricket during the early days (Photo: ICC)

Interestingly, cricket’s main equipment is still made of natural and pre-industrial materials, such as a bat, stumps and bails are made of wood, and ball is made of leather, cork and twine. While the main face or blade of the bat is made of wood from the willow tree, the handle was made of cane. Notably, this cane came into availability after the European colonialists established their industries in Asia.

Appreciably, cricket never let post-industrialisation impact its equipment, Mateirals like fibre, glass and plastics have been ‘rejected’. But, this impact can be seen in the introduction of other protective equipment The introduction of vulcanised rubber led to the introduction of pads and gloves, afterwards. Also, the helmet that came much later used metals along with other materials.

WG Grace: The Imperfect Man Who Transformed The Game | Wisden

WG Grace a legendary batsman who played for Gentlemen against the Players (Photo: Wisden

The Rich and Poor Divide

There were two main ‘classes’ that used to play cricket at that time. The rich who used to play it for pleasure were called ‘Amateurs’ and the poor people who played it just for a living were called ‘Professionals’. Playing just for leisure and not for money, not just symbolised ‘eliteness’ but also stated the fact that there was not much money in the game at that time. The professionals used to earn from the patronage given by rich supporters and subscriptions collected through tickets.

While the Gentlemen (rich) used to play the game leisurely only on their off days or weekends, the players (poor) played it as a seasonal sport and worked as miners and other workers on other days. The two types of players had separate entry and exit points in the ground. Not just that, the gentlemen enjoyed batting, and the players were left with the job of fast bowling and fielding. This is another reason why several rules have been in favour of batsmen (like benefit of doubt) because they were rich gentlemen. Also, the very reason behind a batsman being the captain is not just because they are better leaders but again…because they were rich gentlemen.

The Spread of Cricket

Now, other games started by Britain spread internationally like Hockey and Football. But, Cricket was restricted only to the British colonies, which Britain conquered and ruled. Actually, Britain itself ‘exported’ the game to all its colonies. Now, disparity remained a force here as well, as only the upper classes were allowed to play Cricket initially. Notably, Test Cricket which started in 1877, was played not between countries but between different parts of the British empire only, Australia too was just a white-settler colony at that time. Three dominant white nations Australia, England and New Zealand played with South Africa (another super racist country then).

West Indies - Colonialism | Britannica

A Picture of the Slavery in Caribbean islands (Photo: Britannica

The Mighty Caribbeans

In the Caribbean, the game was dominated by white plantation owners and their servants. The first non-white club was established at the end of the 19th century where also the members were light-skinned Mulattos (People of mixed African and European descent). Despite that, amongst the blacks, the game’s popularity increased rapidly. They started playing at parks and back alleys and soon the game became a phenomenon that one day produced stalwarts like Vivian Richards and Chris Gayle.

Just like in India, in WI too, political leaders like Forbes Burnham and Eric Williams saw an opportunity of regaining self-respect through Cricket. As a result, when WI defeated England in a Test series, it was celebrated as a national achievement. But, this victory also came under a white captain, and WI had to wait till 1960 for being led by a non-white captain (Frank Worrell). One more important point that most of you must be knowing is that West Indies represented not one country but a group of dominions (Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, etc), which later became independent countries.

India and Cricket: A Love Story

The first account of cricket being played in India goes back to 1721 when some English sailors played cricket in Cambay. The account of the first cricket club established in India goes back to 1792 in Calcutta. Now, although the game started becoming increasingly popular, it remained restricted to whites, military men, and civil servants. The first time, ‘Indians’ started playing Cricket, was in Bombay, and it was started by a small community of Zoroastrians, the Parsis. The reason was, being close to trade and business, and hence also the British made them westernise first.

The Parsee Pioneers Of 1886 | Parsee 1886 Trophy | Wisden Cricket

The first PARSI team that toured England in 1886 (Photo: Wisden

The PARSI connection

The first Indian cricket club namely Oriental Cricket Club was founded by the Parsis in 1848. Several Parisi clubs were supported and funded by big businessmen like Tatas and Wadias. However, the white elites didn’t like this much and started creating obstructions for the Indians to play in the Bombay Gymkhana. The Parsis complained that polo ponies had dug up the grounds making it unfit for cricket.

Left angry with this racist mindset, the Parsis built their own Gymkhanas to play in. The establishment of Parsi Gymkhana set a big precedent for the rest of the country. Especially, after the Parsi team beat the Bombay Gymkhana in 1889. Riding on this success, the Hindus and Muslims also started gathering funds for starting a Hindu Gymkhana and a Muslim Gymkhana.

‘Divide and Rule’ in Cricket

Now, the Britishers, as we know have been the pioneers of racism, and even in a noble and gentle game like cricket, they got the idea of bringing in their ‘colonial agenda’. They anyways didn’t consider India as a country but as a collection of castes, races and religions. So they tried dividing the cricket teams on these identities only. The ‘Gymkhana’ culture started the trend of First Class cricket in India on racial lines.

How eager the Britishers were to divide Indian cricket into racial lines, we can find in one excerpt. The Governor of Bombay Presidency says that “We would love to sign the applications of Hindu and Muslim Gymkhanas, but won’t sign any further application for grants.”

In cricket crazy Bombay - The Hindu

A rare old picture of Bombay Gymkhana ground (Photo: The Hindu

In the first cricket tournament, known as Quadrangular Tournament, the teams were Hindus, Muslims, Parsis and Europeans. Later, a fifth team namely the ‘Rest’ was added which included communities like Indian Christians. The tournament was also renamed Pentangular Tournament. For trivia, the cricketing legend Vijay Hazare also played from the ‘Rest’ being a Christian.

By the time of late 1930s and 1940s, journalists, cricketers and politicians had started criticising this tournament for spreading racism. A big name among these critics included that of Mahatma Gandhi. As a result, another tournament named National Cricket Championships was started. It later became the Ranji Trophy. But it replaced the Pentangular tournament only after independence. And…that Pentangular Tournament…just like the imperialistic era died on the very Indian soil.

The tale of BALOO family

Palwankar Baloo was a very good cricketer of his time who played from the Hindu side. But, being a Dalit, the upper caste selectors never let him become the captain. However, his younger brother Vithal Baloo did go on to become the captain and lead his team to a historic win against the Europeans. Incidentally, by the time this victory came, Gandhiji was leading the movement against untouchability. Well…we can’t find a better correlation between destiny, justice and noble cause.

T20 World Cup - Novelist and cricket fanatic Nishant Kaushik describes his experience of watching India beat Pakistan at the MCG in the ICC T20 World Cup - Telegraph India

A view of the Modern Day Cricket (Photo: The Telegraph)

Money, Fame and Modern-day Game

A famous Australian tycoon named Kerry Pecker was perhaps the first person to visualise the money-making potential of the cricketing business. He signed 51 of the world’s leading cricketers despite their board’s wishes. He organised many unrecognised ODIs and Tests under the name of World Series Cricket. Although this cycle (interestingly called Circus then) wrapped up within two years, but the world had already witnessed by then, the enormous ‘money and glamour’ potential this ‘Gentlemen’s game’ possesses. The episode gave rise to concepts like coloured jerseys, floodlights and television rights, which slowly went on to become a standard part of the game.

After the colonial era, although British dominance started wading, the British and Australian boards continued to dominate the Imperial Cricket Conference which later became the International Cricket Conference (ICC) the newly formed body. Now, this was a huge shift not just for bringing transformation in the game, but also for ending British dominance. With the largest cricketing audience being in India, the gravity of the power also started shifting towards South Asia. The ICC headquarters shifted from London to Dubai, and several cricketing legends and innovations started coming from South Asia now.

Cricket is a Way of Life

Well…didn’t I say at the start of the article that Cricket is a way of life. We started from the 17th century and ended up in modern times, meanwhile studying the concepts like Colonial history, the industrial revolution, and even a Mahatma Gandhi connection. Cricket is a prism through which we can study and understand history. There is a reason for this chapter being in the NCERT curriculum. For me, it is just one of the many reasons for loving this game. I would like to end this article with three cheers for the best game ever made, my first love, CRICKET.

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