Hall of Fame Member
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Mumbai India
Okay here goes . . . this will take some time . . . lots of time . . .
Cricket - A Brief History
The Origins - Prehistory
The instinct to throw and hit is the basis of man’s primitive armoury. Nature, of her bounty, has supplied him with an endless variety of missiles, of means of striking, and, in her wisdom, has provided that what the man must do for life, the boy should attempt for fun. That is the genesis of cricket.Its difficult to latch onto a very precise time for the game’s origins. It is even more difficult to do so without the next person, and we are talking only eminent writers on the game’s history here, coming around and demolishing the idea. Almost all early views on the subject matter have been later modified or outright rejected. Although, as we have moved along time, the amount of research on the subject has clearly improved, both in quantum and in quality, but to get a precise handle on dates is still not bereft of the dangers faced by all attempts at ‘prehistory’ in all spheres of human activity. Unfortunately, although cricket’s pre-historic period is not in some ice age or stone age (we are talking something like the middle of the second millennium), we still do not have written word to establish a more accurate timeline on the game’s date of birth. Hence there is a considerable period of pre-history before we come to history or the written word.
~ Harry S Altham in his seminal work A History of Cricket
I guess, for most modern fans this is ‘no big deal’ so I will not dwell too long over what is, otherwise, a fascinating subject and quickly move to the periods where we have written records. Lets, however, agree that the game clearly started in continental Europe, at least at the same time, probably earlier, than in the British Isles and it has more French connection than we (the modern lay fans) would have ever imagined.
There is also little doubt that the game started, as is true for most basic games, in a haphazard manner with no set rules. The only common threads between how it was played in different places were those that differentiated it from the other ‘basic’ games. Thus unlike the ball-kicking, or ball-throwing (or any combination/variation of the two) which were the precursors of the football, rugby and handball type of games ‘our’ game, even in its earliest avatars, always involved the hitting of a ‘ball’ away with a stick/staff like implement.
The game involved two people at the minimum, the thrower of the ‘ball’ and the person hitting it away. Thus at the root it was a contest between a bowler (as we understand the term today) and a batter or batsman – irrespective of what they were called till we stuck on the modern terms. It is interesting how this, contest between individuals differentiates cricket from other outdoor games (Golf and variations of hitting the ball away accepted) which were more team of games.
Note :- Some very interesting stuff has been written about how, this aspect of cricket, where an individual contest, where in two individuals are assisted (where bowlers are concerned) by others who do jobs ‘assigned’ basically to help him achieve his objective, is so different from anything else in any sport. And how this, happening as it did mainly on the British Isles where the game took root (besides places where they ruled), affected British society and shaped the ‘English personality’ (for want of a better word). To write on this subject will mean a major deviation but I will see if I can come back to this at another time.The batsman (I shall use the modern terms most of the time for ease of understanding/continuity and for my own convenience) were often, not always, defending some type of a ‘citadel’ which the bowler was trying to hit. This could be a stool, a circle drawn on the ground or, the precursor of our ‘wicket’, a wooden door – to a sheep’s’ pen.
The connection to the sheep – the shepherds really - is very strong and irrespective of how much is hinted by some to try and find other connections, we should accept that most of our basic implements and their terminology takes its roots from the humble shepherds and their lives. Thus we have a picture of a shepherd boy throwing a stone in the direction of another shepherd boy who stood in front of the entrance to their hurdle sheep-pen which “took the form of a smaller hurdle, two uprights and a smaller cross-bar” The cross bar was called ‘bail’ and the whole contrivance the ‘wicket’ from the Saxon verb ‘wican’ meaning to yield or allow a way through. The use of the horizontal upright was important in the latter adaptation as well since it allowed to settle the dispute whether the ball had actually hit the wicket. The verticals continued to be called the stumps from the stumps of the trees which, in all probability, were the first ‘citadel’ the batting shepherds defended before they moved to their sheep-pen – and stumps is what they have remained.
As the game moved from the shepherds to the other folk and away from the sheep-pen, the wicket took the shape we know today with changes over time (will discuss later) with other interesting variations like the placing of a stool as a wicket which gave the name to a variation of the game ‘stool-ball’.
The bat was the staff of the shepherd boy to start with and modified over time (discuss later) very much by a process of evolution that is more like ‘natural selection’ than random or even intelligent design, imposed on us by some ghostly/Godly figure from his/her imagination. The changes in the implements, the pitch and the laws governing the game make for a very interesting reading and although I understand that history is not everyone’s cup of tea, we need to acknowledge the influences of change on sport (as on everything else) before we pontificate on relative merits and demerits of the protagonists from that humble shepherd boy to the Tendulkars and Laras of our times.
The attempt being made her is not to write some scholarly work but to give to the modern fan at least a whiff of how the game has evolved so that he can better appreciate the conditions including opposition (batsmen versus bowlers and both versus the conditions) that faced different sets of players over different eras. This is as much to appreciate how much the game has changed and, much more importantly, how little it has really in the last hundred years or so, as to help us appreciate our ancestry – those who played the game in eras gone by.
A word about ancestors and how we treat them and their lives - I am in my sixties, old by most standards, but not a conservative in any sense of the word. I infuriate conservatives by my radical views (their choice of words not mine) on all subjects but I stick to being an Aquarian with an open and highly curious mind, willing to learn every day. But being 63, this Tuesday, I hope I have learnt at least something already. And one of the things I have learnt is that while our ancestors did things very differently from us, and while we have, over time, learnt to do most things in a more efficient way, the tendency to run down everything old is our loss not of those who are beyond caring any way. An effort to understand how things were in earlier times, gives us not just an appreciation of what they went through and under what handicaps which we cant imagine since we take so much as given, but also a better nuanced appreciation of all that is modern for only through understanding where we have come from can we appreciate the long journey that has been made.
The modern cricketing great (and here I use the term in the restricted way it was always meant to be used not liberally conferred like confetti) is as great as that in any other era – he is just different because he is at one end of the journey. He has, as of date, come farthest from those humble origins outside the sheep-pen which is why he is unrecognizable from that shepherd boy but, at the heart, a Sachin or a Viv Richards remains that boy with his shepherd’s staff while the boy with the round stone or wooden orb in hand is no different from the Shoaib Akhtar or even the boy in a street in Karachi.
The game will continue to produce greats long after all of us are gone and it will produce many more modest and just good players. In 2023, when you and I are long gone, our great grand children will be running down our Tendulkars and Laras exactly as we do those who graced the game a hundred years ago. They too will be armed with a battery of statistics, in all probability much more ‘sophisticated’ and much better researched and available at a click, perhaps at a glance.
It will as wrong then as it is today.
If I am able to get that message through then this whole exercise would have been worthwhile . . .
. . . to be continued
PS : I am not doing any editing here (except where prompted by my laptop) and writing just freely so I am likely to make plenty of typos that will go uncorrected. Please feel free to point out any major language errors that make the reading/understanding cumbersome other wise please ignore. Further, since I am writing freely - this piece as I sit on the ‘throne’ in the loo ☺ - I am quite likely to miss some important things or break the chain of events. I will come back to them later and will also try and put them back where they should have been originally to make this one continuous piece of writing for anyone reading it later.
Last edited by SJS; 01-02-2013 at 10:00 PM.