Turning Points

The origins of cricket

From creag to kreckett to the real thing

Steven Lynch
Steven Lynch
This is a series to celebrate how much cricket has changed over about 400 years and has yet retained its basic character. It does not attempt to capture the history of the game, but instead tries to trace the contours of the game and mark the points of evolution.
The 1600s
It must have started with one bored shepherd boy lobbing a pebble or a pine-cone at another, who idly batted it back with a handy piece of wood. Cricket's bucolic origins are given away by words like "wicket", which was originally a type of countryside gate. Idle stone-hitting took some time to develop into an organised game, though, and we'll never know exactly when that happened.
There has been endless research on the subject, much of it collated by Rowland Bowen, an eccentric cricket historian who once tried to saw off his own leg to prove a point. His learned 1960s journal Cricket Quarterly, and his 1970 book Cricket: A History of its Growth and Development, are recommended reading.
We do know that Edward, an English prince, had an amount of £6 in his Wardrobe Accounts for the year 1300 for playing at "creag" and other games with his friends. The jury's out on whether creag was actually cricket, but the geographical area (the Kent-Sussex border) is about right. Not far from there, at Guildford in Surrey in 1598, John Derrick wrote that he had played at "kreckett" in the town as a lad (he was 59 at the time, which dates the krecketting to around 1550). Oliver Cromwell's republican government banned "krickett" in Ireland in 1656, ruling that all sticks and balls would be burned by the hangman, which must have made a change from lopping the heads off noblemen.
So it does seem that cricket is an English game, even if there was mention of "croquet" in France in 1478. Certainly organised cricket began in the south of England. By 1629 it was being played in Kent by "persons of repute and fashion", and in 1640 some Kentish cricketers in Maidstone were found guilty of playing it on a Sunday. Kent and Surrey contested the first recorded county match in Dartford in 1709, and the first match from which the full score survives (Kent v All England) was in 1744. Eight years later saw the first mention of a Marylebone Club, whose players revised the laws and finally founded MCC in London in 1787. The rest is... history.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Cricinfo Guide to International Cricket. The Turning Points series of articles was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine in 2003