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How Cricket Became an Internationally Popular Sport

Commonwealth Games 2022
Commonwealth Games 2022
©Reuters
 

Cricket is one of the oldest sports and the second most popular game in the world after soccer. 

Cricket is particularly popular in India, Australia, England, its birthplace, Bangladesh, South Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and New Zealand. 

There is also growing popularity in the West Indies, Netherlands, United Arab Emirates, Zimbabwe, and many other parts of the world.

But how did cricket become such an internationally popular sport? That is what we will explore in this article.

The Early Days Of Cricket

Cricket is believed to have first started, possibly as early as the Saxon times, on woodland fields in the Weald area, southeast of England. However, it wasn't until 1611 that there was a record of adults engaging in the sport. 

A decade later, in 1709, the first village cricket teams were formed and were given county names. The game slowly gained popularity in England, and in 1744, the first laws of the game were drawn up. 

The laws were later amended in 1774 by "Star and Garter Club" following the LBW and the introduction of the maximum bat width and the third stump. 

The Star and Garter Club and club members are the founders of the famous Marylebone Cricket Club, who are the current custodians of the cricket laws. 

The MCC was formed in 1787 and has since made numerous revisions to the cricket codes.

Throughout the 18th century, cricket became very popular in England. The village teams graduated to county teams playing organized matches against each other. These matches attracted significantly larger crowds.

The Spread Of Cricket To The Rest Of The World

Cricket was introduced to the rest of the world as early as the 17th century by English colonists, sailors, traders, soldiers, settlers, and missionaries. North America was the first to be introduced to the game in the late 17th century.

In the 18th century, cricket spread to the West Indies, India, New Zealand, and Australia also because of the colonization that was taking place at the time. The Caribbean and South Africa, and other parts of the world were introduced to the game in the 19th century.

The first record of cricket being played in the USA was in 1709, but the first international match was in September 1844 between Canada and the US. By mid of the civil war, cricket had been played in nearly 22 states. 

It is also believed that international tours by cricket professionals also popularised the game in different parts of the world. 

There were several tours, notably, the English tour to Canada and the US in 1859, the tour to Australia in 1861-1862, and the famous Australia tour to England in 1877 for the first-ever Test match between the two, which resulted in the oldest cricket rivalry of all times.

Similar tours led by Lord Hawke and his team of amateurs headed to South Africa, India, New Zealand, Australia, and West India between 1892 to 1903 also played a huge role in making cricket popular. 

The Birth Of Women's Cricket

The first reference of women's cricket was in 1745, a match between Bramley and Hambledon villages in Surrey, and in 1811, the first county match was played between the maids of Hampshire and Surrey.

Because of how popular women's cricket grew, it necessitated the need for a governing body, and in 1887, the Women's Cricket Club was formed in Yorkshire. A few decades later, the Women's Cricket Association was then formed in 1926.

Shortly thereafter, in 1934, the first international Test match for women was set. The match was between England and Australia in which England emerged as the winner. Since then, there have been countless women's test matches. 

Surprising to many, women's cricket was quickly adopted around the world. By 1958, the International Women's Cricket Council was formed to promote international tours and provide a liaison between countries on matters pertaining to the game. 

The founding nations were, of course, England and Australia, Holland, New Zealand, and South Africa. More members joined over the years, and more associations set base in West Indies (1973), India (1973), Ireland (1982), Pakistan and Sri Lanka (1979), and Denmark (1983).

The Women's World Cup was thereafter introduced in 1973 in England following a conversation between millionaire businessman Jack Hayward and the then England captain Rachael Heyhoe-Flint. 

Hayward agreed to fund the match, which was played at the Lords. England won the historic ODI match by eight wickets against Australia.

Due to a lack of resources and money, women's cricket had to be merged with men's cricket in the 1990s, and in 2005, the International Women's Cricket Council (IWCC) agreed to officially surrender control of the women's games to the ICC. 

This meant more funds and resources could flow into women's cricket. And with better facilities and more money, more financial opportunities opened up. It wasn't long before the results of the merger were seen. 

In 2014, professional contracts for women cricket players were awarded for the first time. 

Why Is Cricket Not At The Olympic Games?

Even though cricket is the second most played in the world, it has only made one appearance at the Olympic games. That was in 1900 when England scored against France. 

Several things can be attributed to its absence, but the major contention has always been the suitable format. Is it the ODI, T10, or T20? Discussions are, however, underway on the format to be adopted for the Olympics.

There are hopes that the game will feature in the 2028 Olympics set to be held in Los Angeles. The ICC has so far set up a committee to see to it. Crickets at the Olympics will be a major boost to the game's popularity.

What Makes Cricket Popular?

It's no secret that cricket is one of the world's most popular games. It has an insanely passionate fan base that keeps growing by the day. It is watched and played by basically everyone - rich or poor, young and older. It's no wonder it has a very diverse fanbase.

The sport has a healthy presence globally but a stronger dominance in England, India, Australia, South Africa, Bangladesh, West Indies, and Pakistan. In India, for instance, the game is watched by 93% of sports viewers. Matches in India often attract hundreds of millions of viewers.

You wouldn't believe how adored cricket players are. Players like Steve Smith, Sunil Gavaskar, Ben Stokes, AB de Villers, Rahul Dravid, and others have caught the attention of an immensely wide audience. These cricketers are treated as demigods and are an inspiration to many young players.

One of the main reasons why cricket is popular is that it's such an engaging game both to watch and play. 

Cricket betting sites have also provided another boost to the game's popularity, especially in India, where cricket is beyond popular. It's almost fanaticism. In addition, it has enabled cricket fans to earn huge amounts of money just by supporting their favorite teams.

The Future of Cricket

First off, it looks like cricket may be featured in the 2028 Olympic games set to be held in Los Angeles. If not, there will be another chance for cricket again in 2032.

Women's cricket is also much more likely to flourish. The first-ever Women's IPL set for 2023 will establish the future for women's cricket as the best cricketers worldwide will gather to compete.

It also looks like there will be two IPLs in the future. According to Ravi Shastri, the former Indian coach, two IPLs every year might be inevitable. 

As the T10 continues to grow, there is fear that the popularity of ODI’s is decreasing and may even vanish in the next decade. Players like Moeeb Ali, Usman Khawaja, and others have spoken of the impending threat that may face the ODIs.

Conclusion

First played in the late 16th century in southeast England, cricket has steadily risen over the centuries to become the world's second most popular game after soccer. 

It hasn't been all rosy, but the love of the game has made it possible. So many advancements to the game's formats and codes have been made, in an effort to keep cricket updated according to our present time. 

The future of cricket around the world is bright, but uncertain. Cricket is the most popular sport in many fast-growing countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. 

Will cricket make it to the Olympics and reach a wider audience than ever before? It remains to be seen, but no matter what happens, there is no doubt that cricket has a bright future ahead.