No one knows when or where cricket began but there is a body of evidence, much of it circumstantial, that strongly suggests the game was devised during Saxon or Norman times by children living in the Weald, an area of dense woodlands and clearings in south-east England that lies across Kent and Sussex. It is generally believed that cricket survived as a children's game for many generations before it was increasingly taken up by adults around the beginning of the 17th century. Possibly cricket was derived from bowls, assuming bowls is the older sport, by the intervention of a batsman trying to stop the ball from reaching its target by hitting it away. Playing on sheep-grazed land or in clearings, the original implements may have been a matted lump of sheep’s wool (or even a stone or a small lump of wood) as the ball; a stick or a crook or another farm tool as the bat; and a stool or a tree stump or a gate (e.g., a wicket gate) as the wicket. The first reference to cricket being played as an adult sport was in 1611, when two men in Sussex were prosecuted for playing cricket on Sunday instead of going to church. In the same year, a dictionary defined cricket as a boys' game and this suggests that adult participation was a recent development.
Cricket was introduced to North America via the English colonies in the 17th century, probably before it had even reached the north of England. In the 18th century it arrived in other parts of the globe. It was introduced to the West Indies by colonists and to India by British East India Company mariners in the first half of the century. It arrived in Australia almost as soon as colonisation began in 1788. New Zealand and South Africa followed in the early years of the 19th century.
Cricket never caught on in Canada, despite efforts by an imperial-minded elite to promote the game as a way of identifying with the British Empire. Canada, unlike Australia and the West Indies, witnessed a continual decline in the popularity of the game during 1860–1960. Linked to upper class British-Canadian elites, the game never became popular with the general public. In the summer season it had to compete with baseball. During the First World War, Canadian units stationed in Britain played baseball, not cricket. The first ever international cricket game was between the USA and Canada in 1844. The match was played at the grounds of the St George's Cricket Club in New York. In 1859, a team of leading English professionals set off to North America on the first-ever overseas tour and, in 1862, the first English team toured Australia. Between May and October 1868, a team of Australian Aborigines toured England in what was the first Australian cricket team to travel overseas.
In 1877, an England touring team in Australia played two matches against full Australian XIs that are now regarded as the inaugural Test matches. The following year, the Australians toured England for the first time and were a spectacular success. No Tests were played on that tour but more soon followed and, at The Oval in 1882, arguably the most famous match of all time gave rise to The Ashes. South Africa became the third Test nation in 1889.
When the Imperial Cricket Conference (as it was originally called) was founded in 1909, only England, Australia and South Africa were members. India,West Indies and New Zealand became Test nations before the Second World War and Pakistan soon afterwards. The international game grew with several "affiliate nations" getting involved and, in the closing years of the 20th century, three of those became Test nations also: Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.
Test cricket remained the sport's highest level of standard throughout the 20th century but it had its problems, notably in the infamous "Bodyline Series" of 1932–33 when Douglas Jardine's England used so-called "leg theory" to try and neutralise the run-scoring brilliance of Australia's Don Bradman.
In the 1960s, English county teams began playing a version of cricket with games of only one innings each and a maximum number of overs per innings. Starting in 1963 as a knockout competition only, limited overs grew in popularity and in 1969 a national league was created which consequently caused a reduction in the number of matches in the County Championship.
Although many "traditional" cricket fans objected to the shorter form of the game, limited overs cricket did have the advantage of delivering a result to spectators within a single day; it did improve cricket's appeal to younger or busier people; and it did prove commercially successful.
The first limited overs international match took place at Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1971 as a time-filler after a Test match had been abandoned because of heavy rain on the opening days. It was tried simply as an experiment and to give the players some exercise, but turned out to be immensely popular. Limited overs internationals (LOIs or ODIs, after one-day Internationals) have since grown to become a massively popular form of the game, especially for busy people who want to be able to see a whole match. The International Cricket Council reacted to this development by organising the first Cricket World Cup in England in 1975, with all the Test playing nations taking part. Cricket remains a major world sport in terms of participants, spectators and media interest.
The ICC has expanded its development programme with the goal of producing more national teams capable of competing at Test level. Development efforts are focused on African and Asian nations; and on the United States. In 2004, the ICC Intercontinental Cup brought first-class cricket to 12 nations, mostly for the first time. In June 2001, the ICC introduced a "Test Championship Table" and, in October 2002, a "One-day International Championship Table". Australia has consistently topped both these tables in the 2000s.
Cricket's newest innovation is Twenty20, essentially an evening entertainment. It has so far enjoyed enormous popularity and has attracted large attendances at matches as well as good TV audience ratings. The inaugural ICC Twenty20 World Cup tournament was held in 2007 with a follow-up event in 2009. The formation of Twenty20 leagues in India – the unofficial Indian Cricket League, which started in 2007, and the official Indian Premier League, starting in 2008 – raised much speculation in the cricketing press about their effect on the future of cricket.
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