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Somewhere between 1700 and 1800, after nearly a thousand years of development, the game that we know as "modern cricket" finally emerged as a fully-defined team sport.

This did not happen overnight, even in England.

From the twelfth to the seventeenth centuries, the bat-and-ball field sport that was developing there was changing gradually...branching out into different forms and variations, but in the end looking more and more like modern cricket.

The 12th century version of the game described by Joseph of Exeter in 1182 looks today like a combination of modern cricket and baseball. But by the end of the seventeenth century, as will be clear from the rules published in 1704, the cricket being played in England looked very much like the sport that was eventually formalized under the Laws of Cricket in 1789.

1789 is the year when the sport was first formalized under a set of Laws... that,with modifications, continue to the present day. Cricket, in fact, is the only sport that is played under Laws, not Rules; meaning, basic principles which are to be embodied in any and all rules ever used to play the game.

The only document that compares with the Laws of Cricket is the Constitution of the United States of America, which came out in 1788, i.e. a year earlier. The US Constitution, too, embodies Laws, not is about the same length as the 1789 Laws of Cricket...and both have profoundly influenced humankind over 200-plus years. Posterity will be the judge as to which impact will be more lasting...or, more beneficial !



How did modern cricket become a world, rather than only an English, sport?
By the 1700s, "modern" cricket was being played in the USA and Canada. The Laws of 1789 came after the sport had already spread outside Englandís borders.
At first, "modern" cricket developed in England and Eastern North America along similar lines...and there was little in the way of similar activity elsewhere in the world. "Modern" cricket outside England and North America was played in isolated enclaves where British officers were stationed to stand guard for the Empire, but there is little evidence of communities (non-military) in such places taking up the sport in those early years.
This cricket, of the 1700s, was essentially a sport of gentlemen who had the means to finance their sport...and this meant not only equipment and venues, but prize money and associated gambling. In England, the sport gradually became "professionalized" as more and more "players" who played full-time cricket got recruited and bankrolled by the"gentlemen" who played for fun and profit. Nothing like that occurred in the remained the province of the "gentleman amateur"....and does, to this day.



Between 1800 and 1900, "modern" cricket took its contemporary form in England. The 2-stump wickets of the 1789 Laws gave way to 3, the over went from 4 balls to 5 and then 6, fields were enclosed, manicured and mowed...even rolled smooth to provide more consistent "bounces",so batters could develop consistent strokeplay, and score more runs !
This style of cricket spread through the major territories of the British Empire.
In India, cricket was introduced as a device for entertaining the princely houses and encouraging their love of things British. The princes ended up subsidizing cricket "professionals" and cricket teams, and so laid the groundwork for quality cricket on the entire subcontinent. In the West Indies, as described eloquently by C.L.R. James in his book "Beyond a Boundary", cricket gradually took hold as a way to "self-emancipation" of the former slaves on the cricket field. In South Africa and Australasia, the growing immigrant populations began to play serious cricket... and Australia was the first nation to challenge British hegemony in a series of mutual tours and international matches that became known as "the Ashes".
The Americas, too, produced competitive cricket all through the nineteenth century. The first international cricket took place in the Americas, not in England....The USA vs Canada annual cricket match, started in 1844, is the oldest international sporting fixture in the world....the "Ashes" series between Australia and England did not start for another 25 years ! In the 1860s and 1870s, there were cricketing tours between USA, Canada and the West Indies, and England also sent visiting teams. In 1888, The USA toured the West Indies and even defeated the all-West Indies side by 9 wickets in Guyana, possibly the high-water mark of US cricket.



By 1900, the tide was turning against the amateur style of play in cricket.
Encouraged by the newly formed Imperial Cricket Conference, which sought to develop and contain cricket within the boundaries of the British Empire, Australia and India developed their own"cadres" of full-time professional cricketers, and staged local tournaments (the Sheffield Shield in Australia, and the Pentangular in India) to sustain and promote indigenous cricket talent. Other British colonies followed suit, not long after.
By "sponsoring" players from the Empire in its own "professional" County championships, the ICC further cemented the Imperial connection in cricket....and left other countries out in the cold. The "Ashes", begun in the 1870s, took over center stage in world cricket, and was followed by England vs South Africa, India vs England, The West Indies vs the others, and so on. Finally, by the 1920s, The British Commonwealth had taken over the dominant role in world cricket, and North America had been relegated to the backwaters.



In the last 20 years, a sea change has taken place in cricket.
With the break-up of the British Empire, the old ICC hegemony was bound to crumble...and it did.
Some former colonies developed their own cricket capabilities, and challenged the "traditional" cricketing powers on their own turfs. As a result, he number of "major" countries playing cricket has doubled in the fifty years since 1948, with Pakistan, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe joining the ranks. Even more significantly, the non-white "majors" now outnumber the "white" ones on the International Cricket Council, the successor to the old ICC, with the same initials but a very different agenda.
Cricket also grew in popularity among "minor" countries (i.e. those without a professional cadre and cricket facilities), which now have their own world tournament.
Altogether, some 100 cricket-playing countries are now listed on the rosters of the new ICC. And regional tournaments in Europe, Asia and Africa have also begun to be played...meaning, there are enough participants to make such tournaments feasible.



No longer is cricket the bat-and-ball recreation of the countrysides of 7th century India, Pakistan or Persia; or even the community recreation of 10th century Europe, the hearty free-for-all of 16th century England, or even the sport of the 18th century "gentleman amateur".

This is 1998. Cricket is a major sport, the second-most popular sport in the world after soccer...with all that is implied in terms of money, TV coverage, politics and chicanery.

Some of the fun-and-games, and even the mayhem, of early cricket has survived into the late 20th century. And the codes of behavior instilled by the patriarchs of the modern sport in the 1780s can still be found in the style and nuances of todayís cricket. "It is not whether you win or lose, it is how you play the game"; ""It's not cricket";"The Umpire's word is final, not to be questioned"...phrases like these convey something of modern cricket's perennial spirit, and have survived more than two centuries of change.

Much has been gained...although something may also have been lost in the protracted transition. What does endure is the character of a game that has survived the pressures of a millenium of change, and the demands of a dozen different cultures.

And now, the mystery. On every continent, it is the nations which have the strongest legacies of democracy and freedom that also play cricket ! And, especially outside Europe, it is the non-cricket-playing countries which are typically totalitarian in character, and have little room in their politics for democracy, let alone true freedom !

This can be dismissed as coincidence only by the most myopic of observers. Instead, this strange fact should tell us what cricket may mean to the world. It is something that we, as cricketers, need to understand....and explain.