In the second half of the 18th century, cricket evolved greatly both in the way that it was played as well as in popularity. This period is of particular interest to us because cricket was going to make its presence felt in two other continents, namely America and South Asia while the rules of the game were being framed in London.
Gambling, which was the main reason for cricket enjoying patronage over the previous century was assisted by the print media now. The spectators too started betting among themselves. Teams were mostly sponsored by noblemen and prominent businessmen. Cricket matches were widely reported in the newspapers and those on the anvil were well advertised many of the patrons kept popular cricketers on their payroll. The game also took a firm hold in London during this time and started spreading to the surrounding places. The matches played during this time were between teams mostly regarded as representative of the county that they came from.
All this led to a lot of money being infused into the game and enhancing the status of the more powerful teams. Although cricket was now well established in Londen and other places, the teams from ‘home counties’ like Kent, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex were still giving the urban clubs a tough time. With the game getting more commercialised, in the 1730s enclosures were constructed around the grounds and entry tickets were charged. Though there was some slack in the money infused into the game during 1756-1763, the Seven Years’ War’, the game was back on track immediately afterwards.
The code adopted in 1744 and called ‘The articles of the Laws of Cricket”, asked the umpires not to give a batsman out if none of the fielders appealed. And wicketkeepers could not distract the batsmen before the ball was considered bowled. There was no mention however of whether the ball could be pitched or not but bowlers were told that they will be penalised for if their hind foot crossed the bowling crease when bowling a ball. That penalty was to be later changed to the front foot crossing the popping crease. The height of the stumps and the various creases and their distances were defined.
It also defined the time that an Umpire should allow between a new batsman to arrive at the crease as well as between the change of innings. The code stated that the ball should at least weigh five and a six ounces in weight. Hitting the ball twice was not allowed as also obstructing a fielder from taking a catch or in collecting the ball. Batsmen were not allowed to stick their foot out in order to prevent the ball from hitting the stumps laying the seeds for the leg before wicket (lbw) dismissal of batsmen. Beside specific changes, all the other rules adopted in the Articles of Agreement were valid.
In 1777 the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) was founded. Because of the money power, the nobility and the gentry were still making the rules. Others were indeed needed two constitute two teams but were not consider of sufficient knowledge to make important decisions. The MCC whose members constituted mostly of these higher strata of society immediate took over the custody of the law and in 1788 issued a version called “The Laws of the Noble Game of Cricket.” Even now there was no mention about the third stump to prevent the ball going through between the two stumps.
There were not too many changes in these laws than from those adopted in 1744 other than elaborating on the lbw law and on the treatment of the pitch during the conduct of the game. In the case of the rule, they specified that the batsman will only be deemed out if the ball was stopped by the batsmen, was pitched straight and was likely to hit them. The pitch could be mown, covered rolled, watered and sawdust could be used upon the mutual consent of the two opposing captains. These laws were a lot more detailed than those written in the Code adopted before.
The MCC has published the code since then and has taken the ownership of the laws. Since then the laws have been amended several times when the needs arose. Among the reasons which necessitated these changes some are quite funny and others are certainly not. For example, the width of the height of the cricket bat was stipulated only after a batsman came to the crease with a bat as wide as the wicket itself. We will discuss all of them in the posts to follow. The cricket bats would become straighter when the bowlers started pitching the ball and the spliced handle bat would come in to cushion the jarring.
The Hambledon cricket club was firmly entrenched but most of the important matches around London were played at the Artillery Ground at Finsbury. By now cricket was the foremost sport in England and was considered a professional sport.