Welcome to Cricket History

The history of cricket to 1725 traces the sport's development from its perceived origins to the stage where it had become a major sport in England and had been introduced to other countries.

The earliest definite reference to cricket occurs in 1598 and makes clear that the sport was being played c.1550, but its true origin is a mystery. All that can be said with a fair degree of certainty is that its beginning was earlier than 1550, somewhere in south-east England within the counties of Kent, Sussex and Surrey, most probably in the region known as the Weald. Unlike other games with batsmen, bowlers and fielders, such as stoolball and rounders, cricket can only be played on relatively short grass, especially as the ball was delivered along the ground until the 1760s. Therefore, forest clearings and land where sheep had grazed would have been suitable places to play.

The sparse information available about cricket's early years suggests that it was originally a children's game. Then, at the beginning of the 17th century, it was taken up by working men. During the reign of Charles I, the gentry took an increased interest as patrons and occasionally as players. A big attraction for them was the opportunity that the game offered for gambling and this escalated in the years following the Restoration. By the time of the Hanoverian succession, investment in cricket had created the professional player and the first major clubs, thus establishing the sport as a popular social activity in London and the south of England. Meanwhile, English colonists had introduced cricket to North America and the West Indies; and the sailors and traders of the East India Company had taken it to the Indian subcontinent.

Origins of cricket as a children's game

The most widely accepted theory about the origin of cricket is that it developed in early medieval times among the farming and metalworking communities of the Weald, which lies across part of Kent and Sussex.

 These counties and neighbouring Surrey were the earliest centres of excellence and that it was from there that the game quickly reached London,where its lasting popularity was ensured, and other southern counties like Berkshire, Essex, Hampshire

A number of words in common use at the time are thought to be possible sources for the name "cricket". In the earliest known reference to the sport in 1598, it is called creckett. Given the strong medieval trade connections between south-east England and the County of Flanders when the latter belonged to the Duchy of Burgundy, the name may have been derived from the Middle Dutch , meaning a stick; or the Olde English cricc or cryce meaning a crutch or staff. In Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language (1755), he derived cricket from "cryce, Saxon, a stick".

In Old French, the word criquet seems to have meant a kind of club or stick, though this may have been the origin of croquet. Another possible source is the Middle Dutch word krickstoel, meaning a long low stool used for kneeling in hurch, the shape of which resembled the two stump wicket used in early cricket. According to Heiner Gillmeister, a European language expert of Bonn University, "cricket" derives from the Middle Dutch phrase for hockey, met de (krik ket)sen (i.e., "with the stick chase"). Gillmeister believes the sport itself had a Flemish origin but "the jury is still out" on the matter.

Cricket was probably devised by children and survived for many generations as essentially a children's game. Possibly it was derived from bowls, assuming bowls is the older sport, by the intervention of a batsman trying to stop the ball reaching its target by hitting it away. Playing on sheep-grazed land or in clearings, the original implements may have been a matted lump of sheep's wool (or even a stone or a small lump of wood) as the ball; a stick or a crook or another farm tool as the bat; and a gate (e.g., a wicket gate), a stool or a tree stump as the wicket. The invention of the game could have happened in Norman or Plantagenet times anytime before 1300; or even in Saxon times before 1066.
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