History of cricket to 1725

It has been suggested that the origin of cricket can be traced back to Flemish emigrants residing in the south of England since the medieval period. The game was first played in the sheep-rearing country of the south-east, where the short grass of the fields made it possible to bowl a ball of wool at a target. That target was usually the wicket-gate of the sheep pasture, which was defended with a bat in the form of a shepherd’s crooked staff.[1]

The origin of the word cricket could derive from the Flemish word kricke or krickje, which means a low chair or stool. A cric, crick, cricke in Old Flemish meant a piece of wood shaped in a T or a small chair. To hit a ball with a crooked piece of would be called met de krikke ketsen, which could indeed have been a shepherd’s staff.[2]

The earliest definite reference to cricket is dated Monday, 17 January 1597[3] (i.e., an "Old Style" Julian date which is 27 January 1598 by modern reckoning under the Gregorian calendar). It is a deposition in the records of a legal case at Guildford, Surrey, regarding usage of a parcel of land. John Derrick, a coroner, testified that he had played cricket on the land when he was a boy in about 1550. Derrick's testimony is confirmation that the sport was being played by the middle of the 16th century, but its true origin is unknown. All that can be said with a fair degree of certainty is that its beginning was earlier than 1550, probably somewhere in south-east England within the counties of Kent, Sussex and Surrey. 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. Forest clearings and land where sheep had grazed would have been suitable places to play.

The sparse information available about the early years suggests that it may have been a children's game in the 16th century but, by 1611, it had become an adult pastime. The earliest known organised match was played in about 1611, a year in which other significant references to the sport are dated. From 1611 to 1725, fewer than thirty matches are known to have been organised between recognised teams. Similarly, only a limited number of players, teams and venues of the period have been recorded. The earliest matches played by English parish teams are examples of village cricket. Although village matches are now considered minor in status, the early matches are significant in cricket's history simply because they are known. There were no newspaper reports of matches until the end of the seventeenth century and so the primary sources are court records and private diaries, hence games were rarely recorded.

Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond was a leading patron of early cricket.

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 when cricket in London and the south-eastern counties of England evolved into a popular social activity. The patrons staged lucrative eleven-a-side matches featuring the earliest professional players. 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.

In the first quarter of the 18th century, more information about cricket became available as the growing newspaper industry took an interest. The sport noticeably began to spread throughout England as the century went on. By 1725, significant patrons—such as Edwin Stead; Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond; and Sir William Gage—were forming teams of county strength in Kent and Sussex. The earliest-known great players, including William Bedle and Thomas Waymark, were active. Cricket was attracting large, vociferous crowds and the matches were social occasions at which gambling and alcoholic drinks were additional attractions.

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