Cricket can definitely be traced back to Tudor times in early 16th-century England though there have been a number of claims, many of them spurious and/or lacking evidence, supporting earlier dates from 1301. The earliest definite reference to cricket being played comes from evidence given at a 1598 court case which mentions that “creckett” (sic) was played on common land in Guildford around 1550. The court in Guildford heard on Monday, 17 January 1597 (Julian date, equating to the year 1598 in the Gregorian calendar) from a 59-year-old coroner, John Derrick, who gave witness that when he was a scholar at the “Free School at Guildford”, fifty years earlier, “hee and diverse of his fellows did runne and play [on the common land] at creckett and other plaies.”
It is believed that cricket was originally a children’s game but references in 1611 indicate that adults had started playing it and the earliest known organised inter-parish or village cricket match was played around that time. In 1624, a player called Jasper Vinall died after he was struck on the head during a match between two parish teams in Sussex. During the 17th century, numerous references indicate the growth of cricket in the south-east of England. By the end of the 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 eleven 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. Betting played a key part in that development with rich patrons forming their own “select XIs”. Cricket was prominent in London as early as 1707 and, in the middle years of the century, large crowds flocked to matches on the Artillery Ground in Finsbury. The single wicket form of the sport attracted huge crowds and wagers to match, its popularity peaking in the 1748 season. Bowling underwent an evolution around 1760 when bowlers began to pitch the ball instead of rolling or skimming it towards the batsman. This caused a revolution in bat design because, to deal with the bouncing ball, it was necessary to introduce the modern straight bat in place of the old “hockey stick” shape. The Hambledon Club was founded in the 1760s and, for the next twenty years until the formation of Marylebone Cricket Club (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).