Researched by Mistress Alarice Beatrix von Thal, and Master Richard de la Croix. The aim of this article was to enable a reasonable game of period cricket to be played at Rowany Festival in 1997, rather than provide an erudite research paper. Therefore, sources have not been listed, but mostly consisted of a combination of secondary and tertiary sources from Sydney University Library of variable quality.
Did cricket exist prior to 1600? The short answer is yes. There is some very good documentary evidence that a game called cricket existed prior to 1600. Probably the most concrete piece of evidence we have of cricket being played in a recognisable form is in the Borough Records of Guildford, Surrey in 1598. In a court proceeding over some disputed land, the statement relates the following:
John Denwick of Guldeford one of the Queenes Majesties Coroners of the County of Surrey, being of the age of fyfty and nyne yeares or there aboute saith upon his oath that hee hath known the parcell of land for the space of Fyfty years and more, and saith that hee being a schollar in the Free schoole of Guldeford, hee and several of his fellowes did runne and play there at Creckett and other plaies.
As the witness was 59 at the time of the statement, it is assumed that he refers to events perhaps fifty years before. Soon after our period the evidence begins to mount, and by the mid 1600s, there are numerous references to the game of cricket. When Oliver Cromwell went to London in 1617 at the age of 18, he was said to have gained himself the name of royster by playing football, cricket, cudgelling and wrestling
This is good evidence of a game called cricket (or creckett). It is probable that the game was being played well before it was called cricket. If one expands our search to those games which appear to come from the same root words, the evidence also expands. A number of words are considered by historians to be possible sources for the term cricket. From old French we have the word criquet, which means a kind of club (perhaps that used in a ball game?). This term probably gave its name to croquet, and some believe the origin of the two games are the same. Against this theory is the fact that the first appearance of the word croquet was in 1478, when it was used to describe an English sport; from Flemish we have krick(e) meaning stick, and from old English, cricc/crycc/crice/cryce - a crutch or staff.
To complicate matters, another theory suggests that the word comes not from the stick used to play the game, but the goal. The French criquet apparently comes from the Flemish/Dutch word krickstoel, which is a low, long, stool on which one kneels in church. The profile is reputed to be similar to the early long low wicket in cricket, or the early stool in stoolball, and there apparently exists a 1643 reference to cricket meaning a low stool. The word stool is old Sussex dialect for a tree stump. So the use of the term to describe the bat may have been a later development.
In 1598 an Italian-English dictionary by Giovanni Florio, tutor in the household of the Earl of Southampton, gives the meaning of sgrittare as to make a noise like a cricket, to play cricket-a-wicket and be merry. A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues of 1611 translates the French word crosse as A cricket, staffe, or crooked staffe, where-with bois play at cricket.
In the royal wardrobe accounts for 1288-89, Master John de Leek, chaplain to King Edward Is young son, was paid one hundred shillings expenses for organising the princes playing at creag and other sports at Westminster on March 10th. Since this is in the heartland of crickets history, many believe creag to be the earliest form of cricket, and no contradicting evidence has come to light on the matter.
There is no doubt that numerous bat and ball games existed in our period. Numerous documents exist which refer to bat and ball games, and a number of illuminations seem to clearly depict the same (although the monks may as easily be wielding scythes as bats, depending on how you look at it). One illumination from 1120-30 (which I have not seen) is said to show a young man wielding what looks like an early cricket bat (hockey stick shaped), with a two-handed grip, right shoulder pointing down, facing another player with a ball. The illumination appears on the page stating The boy St Cuthbert, too fond of playing games, was warned in a vision to be more serious. This was a bat and ball game of some sort, and apparently looks strikingly like cricket, but who knows?
These bat and ball games are known by many names and it is rare that any descriptions of the game play appear. Bandy bat, hands-in and hands-out, La soule, choule, paille maille, cambuca, stool ball, club-ball, cat-and-dog, bat-and-trap and stob-ball are just a few games prominently mentioned, and they are variously credited as being predecessors to baseball, cricket, hockey, hurling and la crosse, to name a few. The fact that the basic tenet of the game - strike at a target which is defended by someone else - is an obvious basis for a game. It has been said that if a group of children are given a ball and a bat, an hour later they will have developed a game which will look similar to one of the games mentioned above. The nature of the target, the method of scoring points, and the equipment used is really the difference between these games.
We have decided the best way to know what cricket looked like prior to 1600 is to consider the later developments, and the specifics of this will be considered below. But why is the information so scarce?
The subject of sport is an intriguing one during our period. For a large part of our period the playing of sport was ruled by two parties - the church and the state. It would appear that ball games developed naturally as a passtime, even if only tossing a ball around. After the sermon and sacraments in the morning, Sundays and religious holidays were available for idle and often festive pursuits, including ball games. There is evidence that the church actually adapted, and unintentionally popularized, ball sports between the 12th and 14th centuries, as a way of teaching about the battles of good over evil, while providing a festive atmosphere. Ball games were held on common lands, but in parishes where no commons were available, the churchyards and cloisters were used. Some sports became very strongly linked with certain religious holidays. La Soule, for instance, was a game played chiefly on the Christian holidays of Easter and Christmas. This game appears to have been an aggressive, sometimes violent village game, which involved needing to get a ball into the opponents goal, using hands, feet or sticks. It was not uncommon for participants to be injured, and broken limbs are often reported. The sport seems to have been a very important stress release for the common villagers.
From the 14th century onwards, there is increasing evidence that the church did not condone sports so much. The view arose that sports and games led to unruly behaviour or violence; or that the playing of games and sports, which would most likely occur on Sunday as the day of leisure, was unsuitable for the Sabbath. So the churchs support of games declines just as cricket is starting to develop, and this is one reason for the lack of documentation.
Also from around the 14th century onwards, we see the appearance of many statutes banning various games and sports, as the state began to disapprove of these leisurely pursuits. While originally sports were encouraged by the state as a safety valve against social unrest, the view changed, and sport was considered to have distract people from more practical pursuits, such as farming the land, military training and archery practice (although the aristocracy continued to play their own games under the guise of military training - tournaments, pas darmes, quintain and so on).. One historian notes that King Edward IV in 1477 made the playing of Hands In and Hands Out illegal, because it interfered with compulsory practice at archery. There was a fine of L50 and two years gaol for those who played the game, and L100 and three years gaol for anyone who allowed the game to played on his property. Not surprisingly, the game went underground after this.
In 1620 Oliver Cromwell was denounced because he had participated in the disreputable game of cricket, and Cromwell himself later outlawed the game. It was not until 1748 when the Court of the Kings Bench ruled that cricket was a legal sport, apparently at the request of a group of cricket enthusiasts. So clearly the disapproval by the state is a further reason for the lack of documentation.
Another influencing fact is that cricket was apparently only played by the lower, uneducated classes. Particularly from the second half of the 16th century to the second half of the 17th century, it appears that there was a distinction between games and sports considered suitable for gentlemen, courtiers and the upper class (hunting, falconry, real tennis) and those regarded only suitable for the common people (skittles, quoits and football). Cricket was generally considered in the second category, and there is no mention of any of the aristocracy approving of it until 1677, when the Earl of Sussex was reputed to have attended a crekitt match. So if the game was played during our period, it would seem it was only done by the lower classes, which also goes to explain the lack of documentation on the subject.
Since there is so little description of these variously named bat and ball games, it is difficult to know which is which. One point to note is that names seemed to vary according to geography. So many of the games may have been largely the same. It seems the most likely scenario is that the games developed in regions, where they remained isolated, and the rules developed there and were passed on through generations without ever needing to be written down. It would seem the rules were therefore very simple, and the equipment consisted of whatever was available. So can we make any assumptions about how cricket in particular was played? I believe we can make some educated guesses.
Firstly, the game is mentioned only in the regions of Surrey and Kent, and later Hampshire and London, all in southern England, until the 18th century, and in fact this area dominated the game for a long time after that (The Marleybone Cricket Club, established in 1787, was the governing body of the sport until quite recently.) Why this area? Well, it has been reasoned that counties of Kent and Sussex were the scene for the clearing of many forests (to provide building materials), and this would have left open ground for play, stumps of trees to aim at and defend, and branches from which to make bats and balls. But this theory is disputed by others.
Secondly, cricket in period does not appear to have been played competitively. That is, there was no prize money, no organised competitions between counties and parishes, no evidence at all that the games were played on other than an ad hoc basis, perhaps similarly to the games played in backyards and beaches throughout the modern world. The fact that there appears to have been no need for written rules supports this view. There is some evidence that games were played for the purpose of gambling (such as court-cases over the non-payment of a bet) during the 17th century, and this also suggests that particular players were becoming adequately skilled and reknowned to make betting worthwhile. And at the end of the 17th century spectators were fined for riot and battery, so by that stage the game had become a spectator sport. However, the first real record of a competitive game appears in 1700, when a newspaper advertisement speaks of a ten gentlemen asideCricket Match, the best of five games, to be played on Clapham Common on Easter Monday next for L10 a head a game and L20 the odd one.
This particular item leads to the third point to note. It would appear that, at least in 1700, it was expected that five games could be finished in a day. Presumably the games were single innings only, and the scores reasonably low. The multi-innings, five day games of test cricket appear to have been a much later development (and there is much other later evidence which supports this view).
Other evidence which supports the view that there were no definite rules in early cricket appears in 1706, in a poem which describes a cricket game. It refers to a heated discussion taking place as soon as the two teams meet, in which there is much argument about how the game is to be played. The poem goes on to describe a retired player stepping in to play the part of arbitrator, laying down some reasonable rules and thus ending the quarrel. A document from 11 July 1727 called Articles of Agreement lays down in writing the rules for two matches to be played between teams captained by the Duke of Richmond and Mr Broderick. So it is apparent that rules for the game were not standard even in 1727, and that exact rules for play were determined prior to each game. And it appears that there was an ever increasing pressure to publish rules, to avoid disputes. The first published code of general cricket rules appeared in The New Universal Magazine in 1752, with a statement that the rules were written 8 years earlier. These were apparently the result of a London meeting of representatives from Kent, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, Middlesex and London, and was one of the first actions by the newly formed MCC, apparently to set the standard by which the club members would play. So by this point, the counties seem to have been involved in competitive play. (The actual rules described in 1727 and 1744 are interesting in themselves and will be discussed further a little later.)
So to summarise what we have so far, the picture of the 16th century game becomes that of an informal game, played between children or the lower classes, mostly on Sundays and religious holidays, using equipment available to hand, and with rules made up game by game. Early mentions of the game are restricted entirely to the south west of England, so presumably the game was passed from generation to generation in that area. And since there is no mention of competitive play, it seems unlikely that there was much need for codified rules.
As already stated, some historians believe that cricket was first played in the cleared forests of Southern England, where tree stumps were an obvious target. They suggest this might be the origin of the cricket stump. It has also been suggested that shepherds originally defended the wicket gates, hence the term wicket. I believe, however, that this is a stretch. It is more likely that wickets, when they appeared, were named after the wicket gates, since wicket simply means a small gate, and this seems a reasonable description of the structure.
At any rate, other evidence suggests that stumps were a later innovation, and that earlier, rather than stumps, players cut two circular holes in the ground. One player defended the hole with a bat (the dog), while the other aimed a small piece of wood (the cat) at it. The batsman was out when the wooden ball was bowled into the hole. To score runs, the batsman had to ground his bat into the hole. To run him out, the fieldsman had to place the ball in the hole before the batsman got there. The suggestion is that stumps developed from the need to make the hole more conspicuous - initially by placing a stick in it. As players began to aim for the stick rather than the hole, so the rules were extended to have the batsman out if the stick was knocked down. This may also have developed from the fact that many broken bones resulted from the fieldsman and the batsman getting to the hole at the same time.
By 1700, as paintings show, there were two upright forked sticks, approximately 1 foot high and two feet apart, with a third stick stretching across and beyond them (the bail). At this time it was still usual for a hole to be dug in between the two stumps. In 1775, the third stick was added to the wicket because of the tendency for the ball to run between the two sticks, and the batsman remaining in despite the accuracy of the bowler.
That the ball was initially being aimed for a hole, and the fact that the bat is curved, suggests that bowling was done underarm. In fact, 18th pictures show only underarm bowling, and it appears that overarm bowling did not appear until quite recent times. The shape of the bat would still have allowed the ball to be swept up into the air, allowing the ball to be caught (and the rough terrain may also have enabled the ball to pop up).
Earliest descriptions of the game suggest that the ball was bowled alternately from one end to the other, and then back again from the other. Each bowler acted as wicket keeper when not bowling. There was, therefore, no overs. There appears to have been two wickets, and two bowlers.
The 1727 Articles of Agreement state the pitch to be twenty-three yards, wicket to wicket, and the 1744 rules state 22 yards, and these measurements appear consistently in similar games throughout Europe. It is unlikely that the pitch length was defined originally, but this remarkably consistent length suggests that this was common usage. The length does apparently equate to one chain, invented in the early 17th century, which itself derives from four rods, poles or perches each of 5.5 yards.
There is no evidence of a cricket ground being specifically prepared until at least the mid-18th century. It appears that available flat spaces were used - in churchgrounds or ploughed fields. In the early 17th century, it was the right of the bowlers to choose the pitch.
Descriptions and pictures of the earliest bats are akin to that of a modern hockey stick - with a curved end to allow the ball to be swept away. Bats are widely believed to have originally been slightly curved branches, although some suggest that early players used shepherds crooks. The bats seen in 1700 were certainly curved, and the word cricce has developed into a number of others, including crook, creek and crick, which all imply a curve or twist. In 1744 the bat width was set at a maximum of 4.5 inches, apparently in response to a player who used a bat wide enough to cover both stumps. There was, however, no mention of the construction or shape of the bat. This implies that, at least until this time, there was no restriction on the type of bat to be used. In fact that bat continued to change shape, probably as players looked for the ideal shape, over the next couple of centuries.
There is virtually no evidence at all of what the earliest balls consisted of. There are hypotheses about chunks of wood, later being shaped into a ball, and later still becoming leather around a filling of cork and other substances. And other guesses about tightly packed wool in a leather covering. In 1622 there is a description of six respectable parishioners of Boxgrove, Sussex, who were prosecuted for playing cricket on consecrated ground. The church authorities levelled three charges: they had offended the 7th article (relating to the sanctity of churchyards), threatening church windows and that a little childe had like to have her braynes beaten out with a cricket batt. The reference to endandering church windows suggests that the ball was reasonably hard at that time.
A poem, The Mysteries of Love, by Edward Phillips in 1658 referred to cricket balls. Would my eyes had been best out of my head with a cricket ball the day before I saw thee. This supports the view that at that time, specific cricket balls were being manufactured (and that they were quite hard). How long before this the balls were manufactured is apparently lost to the mists of time.
Regulations for the ball do not appear until 1774, when a maximum weight is determined. This is sometime after the original rules were written (in 1744), and still fail to mention the structure of the ball, so this may have been a matter of player choice. It is interesting that as far back as is recorded, the ball has been red. One writer suggested that original balls may have been balls of tightly bound wool, matted together with the reddle or ochre which was used to mark sheep, but this is purely hypothesis with no supporting evidence.
Since there are no written rules for the game prior to 1727, it must be assumed that rules were reasonably flexible. Furthermore, when rules did appear, they did not describe the game in detail, but only set out guidelines for areas of apparent dispute. So at that time a level of knowledge about how the game was played was assumed.
Nonetheless, we can make some guesses about the game by noting the rules that were introduced over time.
For instance, the 1727 rules expressly provide that a run is not scored if a batsman is caught whilst running - this implies that it sometimes was scored.
Note that the word run is not used until the 1744 rules, and prior to that scores are invariably called notches. This term comes from the person scoring the game marking notches into a tablet of some kind.
A copy of the 1744 rules is attached in Appendix A. There are a number of points to note from these rules. First I will consider each section.
As I have noted previously, the over is a later innovation. It is believed that in earlier games the balls were bowled from each end alternately. Note that the bowler may not step over the crease, which is an imaginery line somewhere in front of the wicket. If he does so, the bowl does not count - it is a no ball. (There is no penalty given for this, one run for a no ball was introduced much later.)
There is clearly a batsman at each end because the player at the bowlers end may be asked to step aside a reasonable distance, so as not to impede the bowler.
The 1744 rules state that if the wicket is knocked over with the ball, the batsman is out. We plan to play without a wicket, but instead use the hole in the ground concept. In this case, when the ball is placed in the hole, the batsman is out. These laws also provide for an out when the batsman knocks over the wicket himself - this does not apply to the hole (its unlikely hed accidently step in the hole).
The batsman must stay standing between the wicket and the crease when he strikes, or he is considered out of his ground, and out.
These rules provide that a batsman may not strike at the ball twice, but this clearly did occur in earlier times. In 1624, Jaspar Vinall was killed in Horsted Keynes, Sussex as a batsman swung at the ball a second time in an attempt to avoid being caught., and Henry Brand of Selsey died similarly in 1647. Presumably the rule was brought in to make the game less dangerous.
When players are running, and a wicket is struck, the runner closer to the wicket is out (ie. depends on whether they have crossed or not). Again, we will convert this to when the ball is put into the hole.
The rules give instructions on when a hit wicket is an out, depending on the bail. This is not relevent to our game, since we have no bail.
The batsman is not allowed to touch the ball until it is still. The fielding team is not allowed to expressly impede the runners. However, either of the batsmen are allowed to use their bodies (without touching the ball with their bats or hands) to stop a catch. That is, they can run and push the catcher away. It sounds rather roughhouse. We will allow this rule as well, but please use caution!
The wicket keeper cannot stand too close to the batsman, and must stay behind the wicket at all times. Further, in these rules, the wicket keeper may not by any noise incommode the batsman - no intimidating insults!. It should be kept in mind that these rules were designed for games which generally had wagers (often very sizeable) on them. I doubt the rule is relevant in the earlier forms of the game and thus we will not stop wicket keepers from name calling.
Again, we must bear in mind that these rules were written for games with a great deal of money riding on them, and no doubt there was a need for a strict and impartial judge. Whether there was much need for the same in our period is doubtful. The umpire was more likely someone who settled disputes and made judgement calls, but probably did not have as much power as these laws suggest.
Note that the umpire cannot call an out unless there is an appeal for one, a rule which survives to the current day. We shall play this rule.
It should be noted that throughout these rules, there is no mention of LBW (Leg Before Wicket). In fact this rule was introduced in 1774. Until this time, it appears that cricket pads were not used, and thus there was no incentive for batsman to defend the wicket using their legs! In our game, we will let the batsman defend the wicket with their legs if they wish.
There is also no mention of the number of players per side. The 1700 advertisement mentions 10 a side. I suspect that in our period the numbers depended on who wanted to play.
For cricket enthusiasts, the 1774 rules also included the following provisions:
Maximum ball weight 5.5 to 5.75 ounces.
Bowling crease to extend 3 feet either side of the wicket
Substitute fielders allowed
Leg before wicket introduced
Two stumps, 22 inches high, five inches apart and supporting a single bail.
Hit wicket removed as a method of dismissal (it was brought back in 1788).
And later changes include the following:
No longer allowed to charge down the opponent.
Stump height increased to 24 inches and stumps 7 inches apart.
Either side allowed to use a new ball at the start of each innings.
Toss of coin for the choice of innings.
Two bails introduced.
One run given for a wide
One run given for a no-ball.
Umpires prohibited from betting
Length of bat limited to 38 inches
Follow-on introduced (initially compulsory)
Ball circumference changed to 9-9.25 inches.
Current dimensions for stumps of 28 inches and 9 inches apart were set.
In short, this is how we will play the game on Saturday at Festival:
Two holes, 22 yards apart, will form the wickets.
To be out, the ball must be placed in the hole, either when bowling, or when a batsman is out of his ground (generally when running). The batsman can also be out if the ball is caught on the full. Either batsman can try to prevent a catch using his body (gently, please).
Balls will be bowled from each end alternately. There will be two bowlers who act as wicket-keepers when not bowling. Bowling is underarm.
We will use a modern cricket ball. We will use an Incrediball for safety reasons (this is a softer version of the ball designed for under 10 year olds. We have had bats made in the style of the earliest known bats.
To score notches, each of the batsmen must ground the end of the bat into the hole, before the ball is placed in the hole by the opposing side. Please take care that we dont get broken fingers - a period feature of the game but one which we dont want to copy.
We will play one innings. Sides swap when every player on the batting side is out (bar one). The team with the most notches at the end of the game wins. The number of players will be decided by the number of interested parties, but we anticipate perhaps between 8-15 per side.
Laws for Ye Bowlers 4 Balls and Over
Ye Bowler must deliver ye Ball with one foot behind ye Crease even with ye Wicket, and when he has bowled one ball or more shall bowl to ye number 4 before he changes Wickets, and he shall change but once in ye same Innings.
He may order ye Player that is in at his Wicket to stand on which side of it he pleases at a reasonable distance.
If he delivers ye Ball with his hinder foot over ye bowling Crease, ye Umpire shall call No Ball, though she be struck, or ye Player is bowled out, which he shall do without being asked, and no Person shall have any right to ask him.
If ye Wicket is Bowled down, its Out.
If he strikes, or treads down, or falls himself upon ye Wicket in striking, but not in over running, its Out.
A stroke or nip over or under his Batt, or upon his hands, but not arms, if ye Ball be held before she touches ye ground, though she be hugd to the body, its Out.
If in striking both his feet are over ye popping Crease and his Wicket put down, except his Batt is down within, its Out.
If he runs out of his Ground to hinder a catch, its Out.
If a ball is nippd up and he strikes her again, wilfully, before she comes to ye Wicket, its Out.
If ye Players have crossd each other, he that runs for ye Wicket that is put down is Out. If they are not crossd he that returns is Out.
If in running a notch ye Wicket is struck down by a throw, before his foot hand or Batt is over ye popping Crease, or a stump hit by ye Ball though ye Bail was down, its Out. But if ye Bail is down before, he that catches ye Ball must strike a Stump out of ye ground, Ball in hand, then its Out.
If ye Striker touches or takes up ye Ball before she is lain quite still unless asked by ye Bowler or Wicket-keeper, its Out.
When ye Ball has been in hand by one of ye Keepers or Stopers, and ye Player has been at home, He may go where he pleases till ye next ball is bowled.
If either of ye Strikers is crossd in his running ground designedly, which design must be determined by the Umpires, N.B. The Umpire(s) may order that Notch to be scored.
When ye Ball is hit up, either of ye Strikers may hinder ye catch in his running ground, or if shes hit directly accross ye whickets, ye other Player may place his body anywhere within the swing of his Batt, so as to hinder ye Bowler from catching her, but he must neither strike at her nor touch her with his hands.
If a Stiker nips a ball up just before him, he may fall before his Wicket, or pop down his Batt before she comes to it, to save it.
Ye Bail haning on one Stump, though ye Ball hit ye Wicket, its Not Out.
Ye Wicket Keepers shall stand at a reasonable distance behind ye Wicket, and shall not move till ye Ball is out of ye Bowlers hand, and shall not by any noice incommode ye Striker, and if his hands knees foot or head be over or before ye Wicket, though ye Ball hit it, it shall not be Out.
To allow 2 Minutes for each Man to come in when one is out, and 10 minutes between each Hand.
To mark ye Ball that it may not be changed.
They are sole judges of all Outs and Ins, of all fair and unfair play, of frivolous delays, of all hurts, whether real or pretended, and are discretionally to allow what time they think proper before ye Game goes on again.
In case of a real hurt to a Striker, they are to allow another to come in and ye Person hurt to come in again, but are not to allow a fresh Man to play, on either Side, on any Account.
They are sole judges of all hindrances, crossing ye Players in running, and standing unfair to strike, and in case of hindrance may order a Notch to be scored.
They are not to order any Man out unless appealed to by any one of ye Players.
(These Laws are to ye Umpires Jointly.)
Each Umpire is sole judge of all Nips and Catches, Ins and Outs, good or bad Runs, at his own Wicket, and his determination shall be absolute, and he shall not be changed for another Umpire without ye consent of both Sides.
When 4 Balls are bowled, he is to call Over.
(These Laws are Separately.)
When both Umpires shall call Play, 3 times, tis at ye peril of giving ye Game from them that refuse to Play.