Conventional wisdom dictates that cricket derives from the ancient game of ‘club-ball’, although it is unclear whether the latter was a specific game, or a generic term used to describe a variety of folk-games – all of which involved hitting a ball with a stick – which were popular in Medieval England. Similarly, the name ‘cricket’ is believed to derive from the Middle French word ‘criquet’, meaning ‘goal post’, and came into usage during the Norman Period.
What is better known is the history of cricket from the mid-fifteenth century onwards. During the reign of Elizabeth I, in 1598, Surrey county coroner John Derrick testified in court to playing a game known as ‘creckett’ on a plot of common land in Guildford while a pupil at the Royal Grammar School, formerly the Free School, fifty years earlier. Certainly, by the early sixteenth century, cricket was well established throughout the home counties of England, including Kent, Surrey and Sussex. The first reference to a ‘great match’, an eleven-a-side affair for fifty guineas, was recorded in Sussex in 1697 and, just over a decade later, in 1709, the first recorded inter-county match, between Kent and Surrey, was staged.
Other landmark dates in the history of cricket include 1744, when the Laws of Cricket were first issued by the London Club, and 1788, when the Laws of Cricket were revised by the newly-formed Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). For the record, the first Test match took place between Australia and England in Melbourne in 1877, with the home team winning by 45 runs.
The size of the field on which cricket is played varies from ground to ground. The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), or ‘The G’ for short, is the largest cricket ground in the world with a total capacity of over 100,000. Situated in Yarra Park, Melbourne, Victoria, The G has a playing area with an area of over six acres with the better part of a hundred yards to the nearest boundary.
Nevertheless, the dimensions of the cricket pitch in Melbourne are exactly the same as they are anywhere else in the world. According to the Laws of Cricket, owned and maintained by the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), the pitch is always a rectangular area measuring 22 yards in length by 10 feet in width. A bowling crease – that is, the line from behind which a bowler delivers the ball – marks each end of the pitch and the wicket at each end, which measures 28 inches high by nine inches wide, is set along the bowling crease. The batting, or popping, crease is marked four feet in front to the wicket each end and the return creases, between which the bowler must deliver the ball, are marked four feet and four inches either side of the middle stump at each end, at 90° to the bowling crease.
Generally speaking, the maximum number of runs that can be scored off a single delivery is six, achieved by hitting the ball over the boundary on the full. However, legend has it that in a match between Western Australia and Victoria in 1894 the ball became lodged in a tree, in sight, but out of reach, and the batsmen completed 286 runs while it was being recovered. More plausible, perhaps, is the 17 runs scored off a single ball by Garry Chapman for Banyule against Macleod in a Grade cricket match at Windsor Park, Victoria, in 1989, when the ball was lost in long grass in the outfield.
Chapman is recognised by Guinness World Records, but in first-class cricket, even Test cricket, instances of eight, nine or ten runs off a single legal delivery are not unknown. In the Test match between Australia and New Zealand in Brisbane in 2008, for example, Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds scored four off the bat, all run, plus four overthrows for a total of eight runs. In 1842, in a first-class match between Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and Cambridge University, the Hon. Frederick George Brabazon ‘Fred’ Ponsonby scored nine, all run, off a single delivery on the vast expanse of Parker’s Piece, Cambridge. Ten runs off a single delivery has happened a couple of times in first-class cricket and was recorded most recently by Samuel Hill-Wood for Derbyshire against MCC at Lord’s in 1900.
In 2003, Yorkshire fast bowler Ryan Sidebottom did, effectively, concede 11 runs off a single legal delivery in a first-class match against Glamorgan, but bowled five consecutive wides before being hit for six and retiring hurt.
The ‘Mankad’ is a perfectly legal, but contentious, method of running out the non-striking batsman in a cricket match. If the non-striker is backing up or, in other words, advancing down the wicket in preparation for a quick run, the bowler may, according to the Laws of Cricket, attempt to run him/her out up to the point when he/she ‘would normally have been expected to release the ball’. According to the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), the law regarding the Mankad dismissal is essential to prevent the non-striker from advancing, unrestricted, down the wicket and, in so doing, gain a huge advantage by leaving his/her ground early
Nevertheless, the dismissal – named after Indian bowler Mulvantrai Himmatlal ‘Vinoo’ Mankad, who twice ran out Australian opening batsman William ‘Bill’ Brown during a tour of Australia in 1947/48 – has always been controversial. Some, but not all, batsmen consider the Mankad unsporting conduct on the part of the bowler and not within the spirit of the game. Others contend that, although there is no legal requirement to do so, a bowler should at least warn a batsman that he/she is in danger of dismissal if he/she persists in leaving his/her ground early – as Mankad originally did to Brown – before dismissing him/her.