Cricket probably began with the Celts in south-eastern England. The curious numbering system used in cricket, based on eleven (eleven players in a side, a 22 yard pitch and so on), was used in northern France and parts of England.
The first known use of the word cricket (“criquet”) occurs in the “Archives de France” dated 1479. The French word criquet comes from the Flemish krikstoel, a long, low stool for kneeling in church, which is similar in appearance to the wicket used in the game at the time. Alternatively, the word cricket may have derived from the Anglo-Saxon cricce for a shepherd’s crook, which may have been the original cricket bat.
By the early seventeenth century cricket was popular in England, being played on Sundays after Mass. During the Reformation, the Puritans banned all games. Cricket was a particular target because it was regarded as profaning the Sabbath by its association with Sunday Mass. The Restoration of the Monarchy also saw the restoration of cricket as a popular and fashionable game.
Originally, the wicket used in cricket was wide (up to six feet) and only a few inches high. The bat was curved like a hockey stick and the ball was bowled underarm, as in lawn bowls.
Cricket in its modern form, with an upright wicket and straight bat of specified width (4.5 inches), was well established by the 19th century. The British spread cricket throughout their Empire and it became popular in many countries.
The legalisation of overarm bowling in the 1860s ushered in a golden age of cricket and its first great hero, W.G. Grace, who in 1868 recorded the then amazing feat of scoring two centuries in a single match.
The first test match between England and Australia was played in 1880. In 1882, Australia’s splendid victory caused a journalist to declare that English cricket was dead and that, following its cremation, its ashes would be sent to Australia. In a return match, England soundly beat Australia and some Melbourne ladies burned the bails and presented the ashes to the English team. Ever since, test matches between England and Australia have been contested for the Ashes.