As Google celebrates the 140th anniversary of Test cricket – called so because of the endurance required to play the sport over five days – we discover a brief history of the Gentleman’s Game.
At the Beginning
The first official mention of cricket, then possibly known as creckett, was documented in a court case in 1597, when a witness testified in court to playing the game on a plot of land in Surrey. Cricket was considered a children’s game, played in sheep-grazing fields, with a tree or hurdle gate used as a wicket.
The first 11-a-side match was played in 1697, in Sussex; and the (then) very princely sum of 50 guineas was wagered during the game. While we’d love to assume that the English fell in love with the game, its popularity can be credited to the heavy betting that took place on the side-lines, especially among the nobility.
This rise in popularity – and betting – meant rules had to be put in places, and they were. In 1744, the earliest known version of cricketing rules was inscribed on, of all things, a handkerchief. Fans of the game can examine this important document at the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) Museum at Lord’s in London.
The MCC rose to prominence in the late 1700s; it moved to Lord’s Cricket Ground in St Marylebone in 1787 and published its first revised set of cricket rules then. The club moved to the current grounds, in London’s St John’s Wood, in 1814, and became the centre for world cricket.
The longest-running fixture on the cricket calendar is the Harrow vs Eto game, which has been played between the two very prestigious boys’ school in the United Kingdom since 1805. Score cards indicate that Lord Byron, the romantic poet, played for Harrow at the very first match, held at Lord’s.
Kent vs Lancashire at Canterbury in 1906
An Underhanded Game
Cricket was a batsman’s game; with bowling restricted to underhand delivery, where most bowlers were restricted to lobbing the ball at the batsman. We wonder what Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh and the likes would have said then.
A first protest occurred in 1835, with the “round arm revolution”. The MCC updated its laws to allow for the hand to be raised as high as the shoulder while bowling. But it wasn’t till 1864 that bowlers were allowed to make overhand deliveries.
The game entered its golden age in the early 20th century, with greats like WG Grace, John Berry Hobbs and KS Ranjitsinhji (after whom the Ranji Trophy is named).
The original Imperial Cricket Conference was played by England, Australia and South Africa, and the West Indies, New Zealand and Indian were introduced to the council in 1928, 1930 and 1932. Pakistan joined in 1952, Sri Lanka in 1982, Zimbabwe in 1992 and Bangladesh in 2000.
Milestones include an epic India victory on this day (March 15) 17 years ago, when the Test team beat Australia in an historic match at Eden Gardens in Kolkata.
Also, Bangladesh, is playing its 100th Test match versus Sri Lanka today.
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Cover Image Courtesy: Google; Image via By Albert Chevallier Tayler (oil on canvas – 41cm x 81cm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons