Cricket is a sport of English origin, which has become increasingly influenced by international interest. As commercial opportunities have arisen, the sport has made itself more appealing to its followers.
There is evidence to suggest cricket was played, in some form as long ago as the 11th century, but it was not until 1646 when the first organised game took place for a bet of twelve candles.
Cricket continued to develop for another hundred years or so without any standard written rules. The earliest laws of the game were formally composed in 1744. Although it would be another 43 years before any central governing body existed. In 1787 Marylebone Cricket Club (more commonly known as the MCC) was set up at Lord’s Cricket Ground to protect the standard laws of cricket. The MCC was to be the international guardian of cricket for another two hundred years and it is still to this day, the copyright holder of the “Laws of Cricket”.
Despite its previously strong English history, the first international cricket game was between the USA and Canada in New Jersey in 1844. The MCC later adopted a policy to encourage the global development of cricket - particularly in British colonies, where the sport was becoming increasingly popular.
The first international game played by England was not until 1877, when James Lillywhite captained a side that travelled to Australia and lost at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The event was a tremendous success and arrangements were hurriedly made for a rematch, which was won by England. This lengthy format of match (typically lasting five days) was to become “test cricket”.
Australia played a return match in 1882 and defeated England at the Oval. It was seen as a national shame and a mock obituary appeared in The Sporting Times the following day. It announced the death of English cricket, infamously stating “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”. This later spawned an ongoing battle between the nations for ownership of these fabled Ashes.
Regardless of the national team’s failure at that time, domestic cricket in England continued to thrive. And eventually, in 1890 the inaugural County Championship took place, comprising eight regional teams. It had expanded to fifteen teams by 1900 and with the addition of Northamptonshire (1905) and Glamorgan (1921); the competition was attracting interest across England and Wales. The county championship had no fixed setup until after the Second World War. In 1968 a format was agreed that stayed in place until the 1990s. By this time county cricket was in disarray; teams were getting into debt as crowds sharply declined. After the addition of an eighteenth county, a two division championship was set up to remedy the problem of diminished interest, but this did little to help the crumbling county game, which still struggles greatly as gate revenue fails to compensate for overheads.
However the tale of the international game is very different. England and Australia began to play against other countries. South Africa became an official test cricket nation in 1888. West Indies, New Zealand and India followed in the years after World War One. Pakistan became a test nation when they split from India in 1947.
From then on no major changes occurred in international cricket, until 1970 when South Africa were suspended for their government’s policy of apartheid.
The following year, a one day match was trialled between Australia and England. This form proved to be more attractive than test cricket, since then one-day-international series have regularly accompanied headlining test series between all nations. A regular World Cup now takes place every four years as a one-day-international tournament.
In 1993 came the biggest sign of the shift in world cricket - the MCC handed over global authority to the International Cricket Council, whilst allowing the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board) to handle domestic affairs. Regardless of its decline, it still holds the copyright to the Laws of Cricket.
Today the ICC fully controls world cricket and the game's new power base is arguably India; a country of one billion inhabitants where cricket is the sole national sport, but growth is global; Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh have all gained test status in the past quarter of a century and South Africa were reinstated in 1991. Cricket is continuing to flourish in more and more countries and with the teams choosing to employ more attractive tactics; the sport's future has never looked more prosperous than it does now.
Oldham Cricket Club play in the Central Lancashire League.
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