The Story of Cricket
Sports are essential for a healthy life. They help us in entertaining ourselves, allow us to compete with our friends, and also help us in staying fit. Cricket is definitely the most ‘popular’ sport in India. Let’s dig deep into the history of cricket.
Cricket is said to have evolved from the several stick-and-ball games played in England 500 years ago. The word ‘bat’ is an old English word which means stick. It was only in the 17th century that cricket transformed itself to be recognisable as a distinct game. Until the mid-18th century, bats looked more like hockey sticks, curving outwards at the bottom. The simple reason for this was that the ball was bowled underarm, along the ground, during those days. The curve at the end of the bat provided the batsman the best chance of making contact.
Unlike other sports, cricket can be a very lengthy game! For example, a test match can go on for five days and still end in a draw! No other modern sport is known to take even half as much as time to complete! We all know that a football match mostly gets over in an hour-and-a half! Even a game of baseball gets completed faster than a limited overs cricket match!
While the length of the pitch is specified (22 yards), the size or shape of the ground is not. On the other hand, most of the other team sports including hockey and football clearly mention the dimensions of the playing area. Grounds can be oval like the Adelaide Oval or circular like Chepauk in Chennai. i.e, a six at the Melbourne Cricket Ground will have to clear much more ground than it does at Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi.
Cricket has the distinction of being the earliest modern team sport to be codified. The first written ‘Laws of Cricket’ were drafted in 1744. While the world’s first cricket club was formed in Hambledon in the 1760s, the Marylebone Cricket Club was founded in 1787. Between 1760-1770, bowlers started pitching the ball through the air rather than rolling it along the ground. Ever since then, the bowlers have had the option of length, deception through the air, plus increased pace. There were possibilities for spin and swing as well. With sweeping changes in the game, batters had to master timing and shot selection. The curved bat was immediately replaced with a straight one. While the weight of the ball was limited to between 5 to 5.5 ounces, the width of the bat was adjusted to four inches. The first leg-before law was drafted in 1774. Even a third stump had started becoming common by then. The 1780s witnessed the creation of the first six-seam cricket ball and by then three days had become the length of a major match.
Cricket evolved drastically over the years, however it remained true to its origin in rural England. Vital tools of cricket are all made of natural, pre industrial materials. The ball is made using leather, twine and cork. Even the modern bats and balls are mostly handmade, and not industrially manufactured. The materials used for making bats have changed slightly over time. While earlier it was cut out of a single piece of wood, off late, it consists of two pieces. While the blade is made out of the wood of the willow tree, the handle is made out of cane. Thanks to the European colonialists and trading companies which established themselves in Asia!Cricket has refused to remake its tools with industrial or manmade materials unlike golf and tennis. Use of plastic, fiberglass and metals are limited!
However the game has relied on technology for developing protective equipment. With the invention of vulcanized rubber, pads were introduced in 1848, followed by protective gloves. For the matter of fact, the modern game would be unimaginable without helmets made out of metals and other synthetic lightweight materials!
The origins of Indian cricket can be traced back to Bombay. The first Indians to play the game were the small communities of Zoroastrians and the Parsis. Owing to their interest in trade, the Parsis had contacts among the British, they were the first Indian community to westernize as well. The Oriental Cricket Club, the first Indian cricket club was founded by Parsis in Bombay in the year 1848. Parsi businessmen like the Tatas and the Wadias sponsored the Parsi clubs. Meanwhile, the white cricket elite in India never offered any help to the enthusiastic parsis. To recall, there was once an argument between the Bombay Gymkhana (a whites-only club), and Parsi cricketers over the use of a public park. The incident goes like this, the Parsis had complained that the park was left unfit for cricket as the polo ponies of the Bombay Gymkhana dug up the surface. After realizing that the colonial authorities were prejudiced in favor of their white compatriots, the Parsis built their own gymkhana for playing cricket. The ‘rivalry’ became fierce over the years. However the pioneers of Indian cricket – the Parsis had the last laugh! The Bombay Gymkhana suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of a Parsi team in 1889.
Modern cricket is dominated by t20s, tests and ODIs, which are played between national teams. The players who excel in cricket tend to be national heroes. Players like C.K. Nayudu who were fortunate enough to play test cricket are still celebrated among Indian cricket fans. He led the Indian team in their first ever test match against England in 1932. This was possible because test cricket which had its origin in 1877 was conducted as a contest between several parts of the British empire, not sovereign nations. The first test was played between England and Australia, remember Australia was still a white-settler colony. Even the small countries of the Caribbean, which together constitute the West Indies team were part of the British colonies till well after the second world war.
Television coverage transformed cricket. It widened the audience for the game by bringing cricket into small towns and villages. It also helped in broadening cricket’s social base. Now even children who were living outside big cities had the opportunity to watch international cricket. They could watch their cricketing heroes in action on the television screens!
The technology of satellite television and the world-wide reach of multinational television companies helped in creating a global market for cricket. Matches in Melbourne could now be watched live in Indore. Ever since then, India has had the largest viewership for the game amongst the cricket-playing nations and evolved as the ‘largest market’ in the cricketing world. ‘As the game’s center of gravity shifted to South Asia, the ICC headquarters was shifted from London to tax-free Dubai!’
Approximately one hundred and fifty years ago – the parsis – the first Indian cricketers had to struggle to find a space to play in. But things aren’t the same anymore, nowadays the Indian cricketers are the best paid, they enjoy immense popularity! Several changes led to this rapid transformation! Gone are those days where cricketers used to be these gentlemanly amateurs, in the present world they are heavily paid professional sports personalities! T20 internationals have literally overshadowed ODIs and test cricket in terms of popularity, changes in global commerce and technology have also helped in expanding the reach of the game.
Hambledon club in rural Hampshire.