Friday, July 16, 2010

Don't Overlook Cricket!

We Regency lovers talk and write about horse racing and prize fighting and fox hunting, with occasional sidetrips into bear-baiting and cock-fighting, but we rarely speak of cricket. Even croquet, which may or may not be anachronistic depending on your sources, receives more attention than cricket. Yet cricket has been played since the 1600's in the villages and schools of England.

Any cricket matters to which I refer in this blog are subject to, and open to, correction. My own understanding of the game is imperfect, to say the least. I make no attempt at all to outline the rules of the game; my own appreciation is for the ambience of the game--green fields, sunny days, a glass of something cool, a parasol in hand, a deck chair to hand, and an afternoon to spend in blissful inactivity--watching!

Above is the cricket ground at Darnell, Sheffield in about 1813.

The Regency era was a particularly important one in the development of cricket. It was during the mid-1700s that adults began to take up the game, and as soon as they did serious gambling on the results of games followed. It was in 1774 that the first laws of cricket were written and in 1787 that the Marylebone Cricket Club was founded.

The early years of the 1800s were even more significant for cricket. County teams were beginning to be formed. The first Eton vs. Harrow school match was held in 1805. In 1806 the first match between the Gentlemen and the Players was held at the first Lord's cricket ground in Dorset Square. As I understand it, the Gentlemen were talented amateurs and the Players were professional athletes of the game.

The new Lord's Cricket Ground in St. John's Wood was officially opened in May 1811 and famous players of the Regency era are still remembered. There were 'gentlemen' amateurs like George Osbaldeston, Lord Frederick Beauclerk, and E. H. Budd who hit the first 'century' on the new Lord's ground. A 'century' is 100 or more runs in a single innings. The 'players' included famous names like William Lambert, Tom Walker, and William 'Silver Billy' Beldham.

The Napoleonic Wars created challenges for the game in terms of funding shortfalls and lack of players, but with the cessation of hostilities cricket resumed with the enthusiasm of its fans unabated. It has since spread all over the world, spawned a literature of its own, created heroes and villains, and become an obsession with many. Below is a cricket match held in Geneva in 1817 at the Plaine de Plainpalais:

Jo Beverley is one Regency romance author who has not neglected cricket. Her book "The Stolen Bride" written in 1990 begins the second chapter with a family cricket match which advances the plot and enhances the characterization. At the end of the book (at least in my Avon edition) she includes a succinct description of the game play and rules. In her 1991 release "The Fortune Hunter" she includes one of the most sensual cricket games probably ever written. The book is a delight (I've been re-reading early Beverleys!) but it's worth reading just for that cricket match.

It would be a mistake to ignore in any genre, set in any country or culture, a game so integral to the history and nature of its people. Do investigate cricket--its intricacies are well worth the study.

'Til next time,



Charles Bazalgette said...

As a cricketer in my younger days I should point out that it is the 'Laws' of Cricket rather then the 'Rules'. However, it is a small point. The laws, as published for the edification of our transatlantic cousins, can be seen for instance HERE:

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Thank you so much for noting this, Charles. I overlooked that fact in the reading I did. 'Laws of Cricket'--it sounds so dignified and official. I like it!