Cricket through the ages

It’s not clear exactly how long cricket has been around. In the British Isles, early versions of the game were probably played as far back as the Saxon and Norman periods, but the first clear reference is in a Guildford court record from 1598 (1597 in the old Julian calendar which was used at the time), which notes that a man called John Derrick used to play “creckett” with his friends on local common land as a boy.

It may have originated as a children’s game, but by the 17th century adults had taken to the sport with gusto. It was increasingly reported and bet upon, and gradually became professionalised with formalised rules (the first official Laws of Cricket were drafted in 1744), county teams, and no shortage of rivalries and disputes. As an example, the first known match played on White Conduit Fields in Islington in 1718 transformed into a legal battle when Rochester Punch Club walked off the pitch in an effort to save their wager. They were eventually ordered to play out the match, with London scoring a 21-run victory. The first picture in the gallery below, by Robert Dighton, shows a rather more amiable game being played at the venue, which was lost some time ago to urban development.

When the first British settlers made their way to North America, they took cricket with them, as did colonialists and merchants who travelled to the West Indies, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Caribbean. In the 19th century, the first overseas tours took place, the first test matches were played, and in 1882 the growing rivalry between Australia and England was cemented in the form of The Ashes.

The sport’s popularity endured throughout the 20th century as various countries became Test nations and new tournaments and variations of the game were developed. The World Series was set up in 1977, and the first Cricket World Cup took place in 1975 in response to the growing popularity of limited-overs cricket. Twenty20 cricket, a quickfire version of the game, was first played in the early 2000s and has since become a popular international contest. Today, cricket is undoubtedly one of the most popular sports in the world. As the watercolours here reveal, this is nothing new.