Cricket is played with a bat and ball and involves two competing sides (teams) of 11 players. The field is oval with a rectangular area in the middle, known as the pitch, that is 22 yards (20.12 metres) by 10 feet (3.04 metres) wide. Two sets of three sticks, called wickets, are set in the ground at each end of the pitch. Across the top of each wicket lie horizontal pieces called bails.
The sides take turns at batting and bowling (pitching); each turn is called an “innings” (always plural). Sides have one or two innings each, depending on the prearranged duration of the match, the object being to score the most runs. The bowlers, delivering the ball with a straight arm, try to break (hit) the wicket with the ball so that the bails fall. This is one of several ways that the batsman is dismissed, or put out.
A bowler delivers six balls at one wicket (thus completing an “over”), then a different player from his side bowls six balls to the opposite wicket. The batting side defends its wicket.
There are two batsman up at a time, and the batsman being bowled to (the striker) tries to hit the ball away from the wicket. A hit may be defensive or offensive. A defensive hit may protect the wicket but leave the batsmen no time to run to the opposite wicket. In that case the batsmen need not run, and play will resume with another bowl. If the batsman can make an offensive hit, he and the second batsman (the nonstriker) at the other wicket change places.
Each time both batsmen can reach the opposite wicket, one run is scored. Providing they have enough time without being caught out and dismissed, the batsmen may continue to cross back and forth between the wickets, earning an additional run for each time both reach the opposite side. There is an outside boundary around the cricket field.
Cricket is believed to have begun possibly as early as the 13th century as a game in which country boys bowled at a tree stump or at the hurdle gate into a sheep pen. This gate consisted of two uprights and a crossbar resting on the slotted tops; the crossbar was called a bail and the entire gate a wicket. The fact that the bail could be dislodged when the wicket was struck made this preferable to the stump, which name was later applied to the hurdle uprights.
Early manuscripts differ about the size of the wicket, which acquired a third stump in the 1770s, but by 1706 the pitch—the area between the wickets—was 22 yards long.
The early years
The earliest reference to an 11-a-side match, played in Sussex for a stake of 50 guineas, dates from 1697. In 1709 Kent met Surrey in the first recorded intercounty match at Dartford, and it is probable that about this time a code of laws (rules) existed for the conduct of the game, although the earliest known version of such rules is dated 1744.
Sources suggest that cricket was limited to the southern counties of England during the early 18th century, but its popularity grew and eventually spread to London, notably to the Artillery Ground, Finsbury, which saw a famous match between Kent and All-England in 1744. Heavy betting and disorderly crowds were common at matches.
Until early in the 19th century all bowling was underhand, and most bowlers favoured the high-tossed lob. Next came “the round-arm revolution,” in which many bowlers began raising the point at which they released the ball. Controversy raged furiously, and in 1835 the MCC rephrased the law to allow the hand to be raised as high as the shoulder.
The new style led to a great increase in pace, or bowling speed. Gradually bowlers raised the hand higher and higher in defiance of the law. Matters were brought to a head in 1862 when an England team playing against Surrey left the field at London’s Kennington Oval in protest over a “no ball” call (i.e., an umpire’s decision that the bowler has thrown an illegal pitch).
The argument centred on whether the bowler should be allowed to raise his arm above the shoulder. As a result of this controversy, the bowler was in 1864 officially accorded liberty to bowl overhand (but not to cock and straighten the arm).
Organization of sport and types of competition
County and university cricket
Some of the earliest organized cricket matches were between amateur and professional players. From 1806 (annually from 1819) to 1962, the Gentlemen-versus-Players match pitted the best amateurs against the best professionals.
The series was ended in 1962 when the MCC and the counties abandoned the distinction between amateurs and professionals.
Other early cricket matches took place between British universities. The Oxford-versus-Cambridge match, for example, has been played mainly at Lord’s since 1827 and became a high point of the summer season in London.
The Cricket Council and the ECB.
A reorganization of English cricket took place in 1969, resulting in the end of the MCC’s long reign as the controlling body of the game, though the organization still retains responsibility for the laws. With the establishment of the Sports Council (a government agency charged with control of sports in Great Britain) and with the possibility of obtaining government aid for cricket, the MCC was asked to create a governing body for the game along the lines generally accepted by other sports in Great Britain.
The Cricket Council, comprising the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB), the National Cricket Association (NCA), and the MCC, was the result of these efforts. The TCCB, which amalgamated the Advisory County Cricket Committee and the Board of Control of Test Matches at Home, had responsibility for all first-class and minor-counties cricket in England and for overseas tours.
The NCA consisted of representatives from clubs, schools, armed services cricket, umpires, and the Women’s Cricket Association. In 1997 there was another reorganization, and the TCCB, the NCA, and the Cricket Council were all subsumed under the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).
• Gridiron football
• Horse racing
• Ice hockey
International cricket in the early part of the 20th century was dominated by the original members of the Imperial Cricket Conference, England, Australia, and South Africa. Later renamed the International Cricket Conference and then the International Cricket Council, the ICC gradually took over more responsibility for the administration of the game and shifted its power base from west to east.
When in 2005 the ICC moved its offices from Lord’s in London—home of the MCC, the game’s original rulers and still its lawmakers—to Dubai, the shift away from the old ways of governance was complete. The priorities of the game changed too.