There’s a lot that divides us as a country, but one thing that brings us all together is cricket. Correctly termed India’s biggest religion, cricket has captured our minds and hearts over the years. But where did cricket come from? How did we become so obsessed (and good) with it?
Historians believe that the modern game of cricket originated during the Saxon or Norman times in England, around 1000 AD. It was a game invented by children in a region called Weald. However, the first written reference to cricket dates back to 1611. The original game was believed to have been played using a small wooden ball or a stone and a stick usually shaped like a hockey stick. Some shorter sticks were plunged into the ground, and the batsman had to protect them from being hit by the ball that was rolled towards them. So they would hit the ball with the hockey stick to manoeuvre it.
It was mainly a children’s game for a long time before adults took over around the start of the 17th century. Cricket became England’s favourite sport only in the 18th century, with tournaments where teams from different English counties and regions participated. By this time, the hockey stick-like bat was replaced by a straight bat, allowing bowlers to pitch the ball instead of rolling it on the ground.
As the English began to travel and establish colonies in other countries, so did their beloved gentleman’s game. It was first introduced to North America in the 17th century and subsequently to the West Indies. The Australians learnt of it in 1788, while New Zealand and South Africa discerned it in the early 19th century.
Just as it did with its other colonies, England brought cricket to India via the East India Company when it landed in Surat in 1721. As traders, they spent some time establishing their contacts with local Indians. In their free time, they played cricket and, thus, introduced it to the locals as well.
The British formed the Calcutta Cricket Club in 1792, making it the second-oldest cricket club in the world after the Marylebone Cricket Club, formed in 1787 in London. The club even held a match against another English club called the Old Etonians, and the match saw the first century in India.
The first Indians to pick up the game were the soldiers or ‘sepoys’ of the British Army, who would play matches with their British superiors. Whereas the first Indian civilians to play cricket belonged to the Parsi community in Mumbai, who set up the first Indian club called the Oriental Cricket Club in 1848. Although the club shut down quite quickly, the game started spreading like wildfire across India.
In the late 1800s, gymkhanas for playing cricket were popping up in cities like Mumbai and Kolkata. A few Indians were included in the England cricket team – Ranjitsinhji and KS Duleepsinhji. At the start of the 1900s, England began sending local cricket teams to tour India, although they would play against Englishmen more than Indians.
In 1911, the first ever all-India cricket team was formed and funded by the Maharaja of Patiala, who was also its captain and expert cricketer. In 1924-25, England decided to send a team captained by Arthur Gilligan. He was so impressed by the Indian team’s performance that he started a campaign to get them included in the Test Cricket tournament, which was usually reserved only for the British.
Team India played its first Test Cricket match at Lord’s in England in 1932, after years of fighting for inclusion. While they may have lost that match, Team India caught up to the British over the next few years by defeating them in 1952 in a tournament held in Chennai. A year later, Team India signed up for its first international series against its favourite opponent – Pakistan.
The history of cricket in India is not just about how Indians found a passion that they all loved, but it is also a story about grit, skill and perseverance in the face of adversity.
Who is your favourite cricketer? What’s your cherished moment in cricket history? Let us know in the comments below.
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