Sports have had a very special place in human history, culture and society. Since the earliest communities, humans have engaged in sports and competitions of stamina, strength, speed and skill. Many historians believe that combat sports, such as wrestling and boxing, predate human civilization, and can be traced back to the prehistoric era.
In the Ancient Era, in countries like Greece, Egypt, China, etc. humans gathered from all over to compete in various tournaments and sporting events, the most popular of which today, are of course the Olympic Games. Certain sporting events of that era still survive today, most popular among which are horse racing, track and field, and various throwing events.
Over the years, various sports have developed in different regions of the world, most of which have been forgotten by time. Some, however, have stood the test of time. One sport, that is hugely popular today, more than 500 years after its invention, is cricket.
Cricket is one of the most popular sports today, with over 2 billion fans across the globe. The game is enjoyed by fans and punters from countries all over the world. While the sport is not hugely popular in Europe, according to this website, the popularity of the sport is rising thanks to events like the European Cricket League.
But, what we want to look at in this article, is the history of the sport. Where and how did it develop, and how did it become so popular around the world today? So, let’s take a look at the history of one of the most popular sports today.
Most historians are unclear as to the origins of the sport. Cricket falls in the sphere of “club ball” games. As the name suggests, these games involve players hitting a ball with some kind of club. The best comparison would be baseball, which according to HISTORY.com has a rather interesting history in its own right. Other games that fall under the same umbrella as cricket include golf, tennis, badminton, squash, and pretty much any game where some kind of ball is being hit with some kind of club.
But where did cricket come from? Well, most historians would agree that cricket’s history can be dated to the mid-to-late 1500s. During these years, English children played a game involving hitting a ball with sticks. Soon the game became adopted by older children, until eventually adults began playing it among themselves.
There are two different beliefs on the etymology of the game’s name. The first is that the name comes from the Old English word “cricc” which means crutch (or in this case staff/stick). The other belief is that the name comes from the Middle Dutch word krick, which also means stick.
An interesting story, regarding the popularization of cricket among an adult audience comes from the early 17th century. In 1611, two residents of Sussex were punished by the law for failing to attend Sunday mass. The reason for their tardiness was given as a game of cricket.
While cricket fans today might be familiar with a certain version of the game, in the 400+ years that the game has been played, the rules and standards have drastically changed. For example, in the earliest recorded rules for the game, the ball was bowled underarm, rather than over and the bats resembled hockey sticks, rather than the cricket paddles that we are familiar with today.
The first cricket games were played among local county teams, and were largely an amateur affair, played for fun and for sport. While this era was a turbulent time in English politics, most people kept up an interest in the game, and after the Restoration in 1660, cricket saw a resurgence in popularity. This is where the sport truly got a spot light, as it was adopted by members of King Charles II’s court. This meant that, soon enough, cricket teams began to be formed, sponsored by local lords, dukes, and even high-ranking members of the nobility. This was the start of cricket as a professional sport, as many of these lords would organize inter-county matches between their teams. This is also the time when cricket betting got its start, as often times these lords would put up money on their own teams.
Throughout the centuries, the popularity of cricket kept growing in England, and the United Kingdom. In the 18th century, the sport was named England’s national sport, an honor that the game retains to this day.
The Spreading of Cricket
Today, cricket is still widely played in England and the United Kingdom. However, the popularity of the sport mainly comes from places and regions outside the country. While the English still retain a love and affection for cricket, it pales in comparison to the British love for football. However, the same can’t be said for India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, etc. These countries are the driving force behind the popularity of football, and if you were to take a look at ICC’s National Team Rankings here, you would see that the Indian, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka team are all in the top 10 best ranked teams in the world. Other countries with a deep love for the sport include Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, etc.
So how did Cricket reach these countries? To answer that, we must take a look at the spreading of cricket throughout the world during the 18th and 19th centuries. Often referred to as the era of Colonialism, this was the time when the British Empire was achieving a peak in power. They had established colonies all throughout Asia, Africa and Oceania, and many British nobles, merchants as well as commoners, would travel to these regions for business or fun. The British would bring their love of cricket with them, and the game soon spread among the locals. While often times the local population was barred from participating in official matches, they would play the game on their own.
Today, the sport remains popular in many of England’s former colonies, most notably India and South Africa. The Indian national team is one of the most successful and most accomplished teams on the international scene, and often considered the best.