IT SOMEHOW seemed appropriate that I spoke to author Adam Powley about his book When Cricket Was Cricket the morning after England thrashed Sri Lanka in the First Test.
A couple of months back it was Sri Lanka who walloped England in the limited overs World Cup semi final. In the longer Test format – the one that really counts, according to some traditionalists – England got its revenge, as it should, being the birth place of the game. Not that in the lexicon of cricket in years gone by ugly words like ‘revenge’ would have been used. It was a gentleman’s game, quaint, genteel and to some, the embodiment of all that was good about being British. Hence the phrase ‘Just Not Cricket’ applying to something that is unjust or just plain wrong done to someone or something.
Former Prime Minister and cricket-lover John Major, in about his only half-way memorable speech, summed up his take on British-ness like this: “Fifty years on from now, Britain will still be the country of long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers.”
For the cynical, cricket, particularly in the past, appeared to be an elitist game played by ex public schoolboys. However Adam’s book reminds us that you didn’t need flannels, a hyphen in your surname and a silver spoon in your mouth to play.
Tracing the game from its origins to 1990, he has ample photographs to illustrate it was indeed the people’s game. Even in the North East, where football is king, there’s a snapshot of kids playing a makeshift game of cricket in Scotswood, Newcastle.
So was the motivation for it a book- long lament to falling values? Not a bit of it. Adam explained: “The whole point is nostalgia for sport in years gone by. Not that we’re denigrating the modern version of the sport, we’re just saying there is something special about the game in decades gone past.
“Cricket has such a wonderful rich history and lineage. We use Daily Mirror archive pictures from a century past which has provided some wonderful material from the end of the 19th century to 1990.”
The book pays tribute to memorable performances and unmistakable personalities along the way. Legends such as W G Grace, Donald Bradman and Jack Hobbs. Greats of the post-war era, including Gary Sobers, Keith Miller and Fred Trueman, and more recent heroes such as Ian Botham, Shane Warne, Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara, are all profiled in this tour through the decades of cricketing history.
But more than being simply a roll-call of the sport’s great and the good, the book also celebrates its grass roots, paying attention to the rich heritage and unique traditions that make it so popular with fans across the globe.
“It’s a great picture of the kids playing in Scotswood Road,” said Adam. “It shows how intrinsically important the game was for the nation. It’s playing wherever you could play.”
Northern league cricket games are featured, not to mention reference to Colin Milburn, described as “a gust of North East fresh air” for the game by commentator John Arlott.
Milburn was born in Burnopfield, County Durham, in October 1941. He played in nine Test matches for England, recording a very respectable average of 46, before an accident led to the loss of much of his sight. A picture of a smiling Milburn in hospital is included in the book. Cricket writer Colin Bateman commented, “he was a clean, natural hitter of the ball who had an infectious zest for the game and life”. Bateman added, “he hit the ball with the strength of a lumberjack and he had the courage of a lion, but he was no neanderthal clubber”.
Milburn, as big hearted as he was powerfully built, tried to return to cricket after his 1969 accident, but not surprisingly, was a pale shadow of his former self. In February 1990, he collapsed with a heart attack in Newton Aycliffe and died on the way to hospital. His funeral was attended by hundreds, including ex-players and fans, with Ian Botham one of the pall bearers.
Cricket dates back to medieval times and was believed to have started as a children’s game. Thanks to the British Empire, the game was exported worldwide and curiously, the first ever international cricket match held in 1844 took place between the United States and Canada, although neither has ever been ranked as a Test-playing nation.
Its popularity was revolutionised by W. G. Grace, whose first-class playing career lasted 44 seasons, from 1865 to 1908.
Adam said: “The book was a real pleasure to do just because of the insights the pictures provide. The limited over games, 20/20 and the Indian Premier League have all got their place.
“This is just harking back to a different era when the game was slightly less hyped and hysterical.
“We should not set the game in aspic – it’s developed and has never seemed to be in better health. However with the changes, there were some things that were lost, things we cherished, it’s lost a bit of its character.”
When Cricket Was Cricket, published by the Haynes Publishing Group at £18.99, is available in all good book shops.
CRICKET can definitely be traced back to Tudor times in early 16th Century England. In Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, he derived cricket from ‘cryce, Saxon, a stick’.
A number of other words have been suggested as sources for the term ‘cricket’. In the earliest definite reference to the sport in 1598, it is called creckett. Given the strong medieval trade connections between South East England and the County of Flanders when the latter belonged to the Duchy of Burgundy, the name may have been derived from the Middle Dutch krick(-e), meaning a stick (crook), or the Old English cricc or cryce meaning a crutch or staff.
It is believed that it was originally a children’s game but references around 1610 indicate adults had started playing it and the earliest reference to inter-parish or village cricket occurs soon afterwards.
By the end of the 17th Century it had become an organised activity being played for high stakes and it is believed that the first professionals appeared in the years following the Restoration in 1660. A newspaper report survives of ‘a great cricket match’ with 11 players-a-side that was played for high stakes in Sussex in 1697 and this is the earliest known reference to a cricket match of such importance.
The game underwent major development in the 18th Century and became the national sport of England. Betting played a major part in that development with rich patrons forming their own ‘select XIs’.
The Hambledon Club was founded in the 1760s and, for the next 20 years until the formation of the MCC and the opening of Lord’s Old Ground in 1787, Hambledon was both the game’s greatest club and its focal point.
MCC quickly became the sport’s premier club and the custodian of the laws of cricket. New laws introduced in the latter part of the 18th Century included the three stump wicket and leg before wicket (lbw).
The 19th Century saw underarm bowling replaced by first roundarm and then overarm bowling. Meanwhile, the British Empire had been instrumental in spreading the game overseas and by the middle of the 19th Century it had become well established in India, North America, the Caribbean, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. In 1844, the first international cricket match took place between the United States and Canada (although neither has ever been ranked as a Test-playing nation).
In 1859, a team of England players went on the first overseas tour (to North America). The first Australian team to tour overseas was made up of Aboriginal stockmen who travelled to England in 1868 to play matches against county teams. In 1862, an English team made the first tour of Australia and in 1876–77 an England team took part in the first-ever Test match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground against Australia.
WG Grace started his long career in 1865. His career is often said to have revolutionised the sport. The rivalry between England and Australia gave birth to The Ashes in 1882 and this has remained Test cricket’s most famous contest.