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The First Laws of Cricket

Updated: Mar 21, 2022

In the second of his six-part series, Stephen Saunders outlines the development and formalisation of the laws of cricket.

The origins of cricket are unknown. During the early eighteenth century it was a rustic game mainly played by children that slowly advanced to a sport patronised by the aristocracy. The patronage of the aristocracy was for their own benefit in that they placed significant amounts on the outcome of matches. The game that we are celebrating this year was played for 500 guineas (£83,000 in today’s money). With such sums involved there had to be some rules.

There was a version of such rules that appeared in the November 1752 issue of New Universal Magazine as a code of rules under the title “The game at Cricket, as settled by the Cricket-Club in 1744, and play’d at the Artillery Ground, London”. The first published laws of the game were produced on 15 May, 1755 when a booklet was advertised for sale by the Fleet Street bookseller W. Reeve entitled “The Articles of The Game at Cricket, as settled by the several Cricket-Clubs, particularly at the Star and Garter in Pall Mall”. It contains a complete set of rules that regulate every aspect of game and is basically the same as the earlier publication. Possibly a formalisation of “The Laws of Cricket”.

The Articles are set out in six sections, paraphrased below:

  • The pitching of the wicket. Determined by the toss of a piece of money. Popping crease three feet ten inches from the wicket. The other wicket directly opposite at twenty-two yards difference. Popping crease three feet ten inches before it. The bowling creases must be cut in direct line from each stump. Stumps twenty-two inches long and the bail six inches. The ball must weigh between five and six ounces.

  • Laws for the bowlers. Four balls per over. No-ball if the bowler’s hinder foot is over the bowling crease.

  • Laws for the strikers. If the wicket is bowled down it’s out. Covers hit wicket, stumped, hindering a catch, run outs, handled ball. All very similar to the present.

  • Bat, foot or hand over the crease. Dead ball rule. Stop ball hitting wicket. If the bail does not fall, not out.

  • Laws for the Wicket-keepers. Shall not move till ball is out of the bowler’s hand. Shall not by any noise, incommode the striker and if his hands, knees, foot or head be over or before the wicket, though the ball hit it shall not be out. No sledging in those days!

  • Laws for the umpires. To allow two minutes for each man to come in and ten minutes between each hand. To mark the ball that it may not be changed. Allow retired hurt striker to return. Sole judges of all decisions. When both umpires call Play three times they that refuse to play forfeit the game. (Pakistan in 2006!)

It is these Laws under which the original First Class crickety match was played at Broadhalfpenny Down in 1772.

Cricket bats at that time were curved rather like a hockey stick. This required the batsman to stand to the side of the wicket in order to hit the ball. John Small, the eminent batsman of the age, who was a bat maker designed a straight bat. However, this bat required the batter to stand in front of the stumps in order to hit the ball.

In a match between Chertsey and Hambledon in September 1771 Thomas White of Chertsey appeared at the crease with a bat as wide as the wicket. Thomas Brett, the Hambledon bowler, objected and supported by his captain Richard Nyren and John Small a protest was raised.

These two developments led to a meeting on 25th February 1774 at the Star and Garter in Pall Mall of Noblemen and Gentlemen of Kent, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, Middlesex and London and they produced the 1774 Laws of Cricket. Interestingly of the twelve members of the committee six were members of the Hambledon Club.

The last three “laws” concerned betting. These laws brought in the leg before wicket rule and fixed the width of the bat at four and quarter inches. That it is still the case today. The weight of the ball was stipulated at not less than five and a half ounces, nor more than five and three-quarter ounces. Also the case today.

The following year, 1775, playing in a match between five of Kent and five of Hambledon, John Small came in last for Hambledon when they required fourteen runs to win. Lumpy Stevens beat Small’s bat but the ball went through the wicket without dislodging it. This happened twice more before Small scored the runs to win the match. As a result of this the third (middle) stump was added.

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