History of Cricket
As with most of the major team sports that are popular in Britain, the origins of the game of cricket are largely shrouded in mystery. This is due to the fact that, again like other popular team sports such as the various types of football, the game grew into its current form over a very long period of time. From humble origins as a street game played to loose and varied rules, each of these sports has eventually developed into a highly professional game with very clearly defined sets of rules.
There is enough evidence left over the centuries to enable us to piece together an idea of how this development occurred in the early days, even though there is very little in the way of actual historical records directly relating to the early origins of the game of cricket. Much of this evidence comes in the form of newspaper articles, not necessarily reports of games themselves, but from reports of court proceedings relating to accidental damages caused by players and of persons being reprimanded for missing church whilst playing the game of ‘creckett’ (as it was referred to in the 17th century). The earliest definitive reference to the game comes from a court case in 1598, where a Guildford school disputes the ownership of a piece of land. Coroner John Derrick (who was 59 at the time of the court case), gave evidence in his testimony that they had played ‘creckett’ on the land some 50 years earlier.
The game is known to have grown up mainly in the area known as The Weald . The Weald is an area in southern England between the North Downs and South Downs , which are chalk escarpments that run roughly parallel to each other. It is believed that cricket originated as a children’s game. It was played for many centuries before the adult population began to take the game more seriously in the 16th century and beyond.
The game continued to develop in the counties of Kent , Sussex , Surrey and Hampshire , before spreading to other parts of Britain. The strong tradition of the game has continued in these counties that took up the game early in its development. Many other counties in other parts of the country have also developed close ties to the game of cricket and this led to the development of the structure which is at the heart of the modern game in Britain, The County Championship.
Representative teams from the cricket playing counties had been playing regular fixtures for some time before the County Championship structure was put in place. The title of Champion County was originally awarded by newspapers on a very unofficial basis. The process was not aided by the fact that the various newspapers did not always agree on who should be champions in any given year. In 1889 the major cricket playing counties sent their secretaries to a historic meeting held at Lord’s Cricket Ground on December 16th. They decided upon a coherent structure of fixtures for the following year that would lead to the first official County Championship. The early days of the County Championship were dominated by Surrey and Yorkshire. The two teams won twelve out of the first thirteen county championships, with only Lancashire managing to sneak one in between the two big hitters.
In the decades prior to the creation of the official County Championship, WG Grace had been carving out one of the most famous cricket careers of all time. Grace was a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) who were founded in 1787 and based at Lord’s Cricket Ground. In 1788 the club created the rules of the game of cricket as it is known today and still hold the copyright on the ‘Laws of Cricket’. W G Grace starred for his county of Gloucestershire for 29 years from 1870-1899, and for 19 years between 1880 and 1899 he represented England. He even captained the side, but had the unfortunate honour of being captain of the England side that lost the game to the Australians in 1882, which gave rise to the series now known as The Ashes.
It happened at The Oval in August 1882, when England lost to the Australians in England for the first time ever. It was said to be the death of English cricket and that the ashes from the cremated ‘body’ were to be taken back to Australia. The English team went out to Australia a few weeks later vowing to bring back ‘The Ashes’, and thus the concept of the regular competition for The Ashes was born. The urn symbolic of the ashes was originally a gift given to the captain of the England team in Australia on the original tour to regain the ashes. It was bequeathed to the MCC, at his request, by his widow upon her death.
The series has produced many an epic test series over the years, featuring many of the most famous names in cricket from both England and Australia. For most of the history of the series honours have been fairly even, although it starts with a period of early English dominance. This is replaced by a long stretch of Australian domination which includes a 16 year period from 1989 to 2005 where England failed to win a single Ashes series.
In the 1930 Ashes saw Don Bradman, who had made his Ashes debut a couple of years earlier, really come of age. In the Headingley test from this series, Bradman managed to reach over 300 not out on the first day, finally going for 334 and scoring close to a thousand runs in the series with an incredible average of over 139. Some of the records Bradman set during the 1930 series remain unbroken to this day, and Bradman still enjoys legendary status in batting lore. Despite this and some impressive bowling figures for Percy Hornibrook on the Australian side, England fought bravely to stay in contention in the series; eventually losing 2-1. This match broke the run of success England had enjoyed in the series in the late 1920s and set up one of the most infamous episodes in the history of cricket, involving the ‘Bodyline’ tactic. This was employed with great success when the English team toured Australia and enabled them to win back the Ashes; whilst making enemies of the Australian sporting public and causing a huge degree of ill feeling between the teams.
The mid 50s saw one of the most amazing performances by an individual in the history of the game. England had enjoyed Ashes success in 1954-55 series with the pace bowling of Frank Tyson and Brian Statham. The return series saw Jim Laker take an amazing 19 out of 20 Australian wickets in the game at Old Trafford to tip the balance in a closely fought series.
England had enjoyed a successful period in the mid 80s in the Ashes series, firstly under David Gower in 1985 and secondly under Mike Gatting in 1986-87. The 16 year drought from 1989 to 2005 ended with a series that marks a high spot in England’s recent cricket history. Years of disappointment had begun to finally turn into success as Michael Vaughan guided the English test side to their most recent spell in recent Test Match history. Following on from some encouraging form under the captaincy of Nasser Hussain, the new generation of players like Flintoff , Harmison, Hoggard, Giles and Trescothick continued to perform under Vaughan’s captaincy. The lead up to the 2005 Ashes series had seen England produce a record run of Test victories and an away series victory in South Africa. England had risen to second place in the official world rankings and talk was that the series would be a close one, unlike most had been in recent times.
Nevertheless, as the Australian team’s arrival approached, England supporters must have feared the worst. The Australians were number one in the world, full of class, and well used to beating England! The England team had a number of players who had earned world class reputations. Now they had to put these reputations to the test against well established world class stars like Ricky Ponting, Justin Langer, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.
England had a new rising star amongst their ranks in Kevin Pietersen, however, and he proved to be a significant factor. South African born but converted to the England cause, Hampshire’s Kevin Pietersen was the top scoring batsmen in the series with 473, followed by two other English batsmen, Marcus Trescothick (431) and Andrew Flinoff (402). Justin Langer topped the Australian batting charts with 394 runs.
Australia started in fine form by winning comfortably in the first Test. The Australian victory at Lord’s by 239 runs must have had most England fans thinking that it was back to business as usual against the Australians. It was not to be, however, and the second Test match at Edgbaston proved to be the turning point. Andrew Flintoff took seven wickets, scored a second innings total of 73 and won the Man of the Match award as England won the match by only two runs, the smallest winning margin in the history of the Ashes.
Steve Harmison took the final wicket of Kasprowicz after a brave batting display by Brett Lee had brought the Australians to the brink of victory with only one wicket remaining. Following the fall of the last wicket, Flintoff did not begin to celebrate the victory until first going over to shake Brett Lee’s hand in recognition of his magnificent effort. Following a stubborn rearguard action from Ricky Ponting, who scored 156; Lee and McGrath managed to fend off the England bowlers and protect the last wicket in what had seemed certain to be another England victory at Old Trafford in the third Test. The draw left the series 1-1 and the teams headed off to Trent Bridge in Nottingham for the fourth Test.
England built a magnificent first innings of 477 around the batting of Flintoff (102). Simon Jones then led the England bowling attack with 5 wickets, as the Australians fell for only 218 and were forced to follow on. A strong second innings led by Justin Langer helped the Australians to recover, but still only left England needing 129 to win. This proved to be much more difficult than England would have hoped, thanks to some inspired bowling from Shane Warne. Flintoff and Pietersen did just enough with a partnership of 46 to allow Giles and Hoggard to bring the team home with seven wickets down.
With a 2-1 lead going into the last match at The Oval , England only needed a draw to take the series. Any hopes of an England batting collapse were thwarted by a solid first innings century by Strauss, anchoring a total of 373 for England. Australia managed 369 in reply, with Flintoff taking five wickets and Hoggard taking four to help ensure Australia did not get a first innings lead. The England second innings wickets began to tumble going into the final day and England had only built a modest lead with five wickets remaining. Then came Kevin Pietersen’s fine innings of 158 to leave the Australians too far behind with too little time remaining to have any chance of victory. Time ran out on the Australians and the draw meant that England’s Ashes drought was finally over. Flintoff and Pietersen quickly found they had become overnight national heroes!
Another significant event in the history of cricket occurred in Britain in 1975 when England hosted the first ever Cricket World Cup. Based on the one day (limited over) variant of the game, this competition is held every four years. Despite hosting the first competition, England could not progress beyond the semi-finals leaving the final to be contested between the West Indies and Australia. It is fitting that Lord’s was chosen to host the final of the first ever World Cup, and on June 21st 1975, Sir Clive Lloyd became the first winning captain at Cricket World Cup when he led his West Indian side to a 17 run victory over the Australians.
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