There is a consensus of expert opinion that cricket may have been invented during Saxon or Norman times by children living in the Weald, an area of dense woodlands and clearings in south-east England. The Weald was a densely forested area covered with bushes, brambles and scrub, but clearings would have been created when trees were felled for firewood. It is believed the Saxons called the game crioc, which literally translates as “hook”. This is thought to be derived from the Old English word criol or cricc, meaning “crooked”. The word was applied to a ball because its flight resembled the curved flight of a bird of prey.
It is believed that the earliest games of cricket were played by young boys at church festivals, where hand-held stumps known as “stobsticks” were set up. Much later, Tudor records of parish cricket match scores suggest the age of play was around 10 to 12 years of age. At some point during the 16th century, the game took on the characteristics which are taught today. It is difficult to ascertain these origins precisely because of difficult records on certain aspects of early cricket.
The first definite mention of cricket is found in Thomas Ravenscroft’s compilation “An Alphabetical Collection of the Best and Most Approved Songs, Psalms and Sonnets for the Use of Musicall Instruments” (London, 1674). In it, he states, “We have been entertained with all maner of feates of Leaping, Wrestling, Cursing, Playing at Leggs [leg-ball], Footeball [football], crioc [cricket] and shuch like to Uses.”
Although the Tudors had a great sporting passion for football and wrestling, cricketers were not supported in their efforts by the Puritans. Oliver Cromwell, however, did enjoy cricket. The earliest definite reference to cricket being played in London comes from later in the 17th century. There are reports of two elevens playing on the Artillery Ground in 1697 and on Wednesday, 18 June 1707 it was recorded that “the Duke of Beaufort’s XI defeated one of the Earl of Stradbroke’s XI by an innings and 5 runs”. It is believed that the earliest county teams were Sussex and Kent, which played each other at Dartford Brent in 1709.
The earliest known reference to cricket being played as an adult sport rather than a child’s game is in the “Daily Post” dated Monday, 6 September 1709. The matches were played in Guildford and Bognor Regis. The article said that eight matches had been played between eleven players who belonged to the “Artillery Ground in London”. It also stated that for the previous five days there were matches every day, which suggests regular play over at least four seasons. The reporter, a Mr. Brodrick, described the cricket as being “infinitely superior” to the football which was being played in his time.
In 1727, a combined Surrey and Sussex team played against the London Cricket Club at the Artillery Ground in London. In 1744, Surrey played against an Accrington team for a £50 stake which is now worth around £2,500 according to inflation rates on Wikipedia. The match extended over three days and was drawn. The whole game was played in front of around 400 spectators. The game was reported to be “good and fair” although the weather was considered to be uncooperative.
At the 1754 Rose Bowl, in which Vauxhall Cricket Club played in white silk stockings, Foulke (the umpire) called out “three runs” to conclude the game against an unnamed London Cricket Club side when they were three runs short of winning. This was at a time when there were no team names or numbers. The report noted that no Muscovites or Russians were present.
In 1757, a match was played at the Artillery Ground in London between “Englishmen” and “Pipers”. The inning consisted of two innings of 35 runs per innings. The score on the first day was drawn (apart from one stroke on which one of the captains had taken three wickets). On the second day, after rain had fallen throughout the day, the score was 60-1 when play was stopped by darkness. The umpires’ report showed that the pitch was in good order and the ground in fair condition.
During 1759, George Ayshford’s XI is mentioned as having played against a team from Old Aberdeen. The match was not reported in the newspapers except for one reference when it was said to have been “very warm” in the middle of the day and players were “exceeding hot”. The match is believed to be part of a series of matches between London and regional sides which took place regularly up until 1815. On 6 July, Ayshford’s XI defeated Kent at Woolwich Common for £100, but interestingly the match was reported in the newspapers under the title “Kentish v London”.
Monday, 6 July is regarded as the date that county cricket was founded because of the matches that took place between Middlesex and Surrey at Dartford Brent in 1709. It is believed that this game started when a former apprentice of Robert Colchin (the owner of Dartford Brent) called George Valentin organised a game between Surrey and Middlesex.