Ladybird Story of Cricket

First published in 1964, The Ladybird children’s book, The Story of Cricket, was, as it would be for many boys of my age, my first exposure to the history of the game. The Ladybird format was well established and very successful; a page of text would be faced by an illustration bringing the theme of the page to life. The pictures were lively and cheerful, and left the reader with a powerful visual memory. Impressively, out of twenty three pairs of pages, no less than ten are devoted to the very early history of the game. Women’s cricket also gets a feature in relation to the modern game.

The stories told reflects the traditional understanding of the game’s history, however many of the episodes described have since been partially debunked and are sometimes regarded as popular myths. That however should not detract too much from an overall appreciation of an appealing and uniquely influential contribution to the literature of cricket.

Comments: this page (and the next one, on stoolball) reflects the information from The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England by Joseph Strutt (1801)
Comments: The view that shepherds started cricket is not commonly held these days. Generally, shepherding is a lonely life, they wouldn’t ordinarily get together with other shepherds for general recreation. I love the illustration though, especially the way the sheep are corralled while the bosses play. Not sure that the leg slip is a good idea though – I think a deep mid-wicket may be more useful.
Comments: The hole in the ground rule seems very strange – the possibility of injuries which the text mentions is so obvious that it is hard to imagine anyone organising the game in this way. As it happens, the sole source for the existence if the rule is John Nyren’s Cricketer’s of My Time, in the same same paragraph of his which he which he states that the stumps were an implausible foot apart. Peter Wynne-Thomas questions the hole-in-the-ground rule, speculating that Nyren may be thinking of another game, Cat and Dog. The rule could however have been used some localities as laws would not have been uniform throughout the game.
Comments: This method of judging run-outs is the one that is mentioned in the rules of 1744, neither Nyren, nor anyone else, suggests it replaced a hole in the rule – it certainly seems safer.
Comments: 1750 may not be the right date. Never mind.
Comments: another slightly dubious story I’m afraid. The first player to bowl round-arm was John Willes in 1806. The source of this story is Willes’s nephew Richard, who, in his old age, recounted a story in a letter that his mother, Christiana, inspired John to try round-arm bowling by the way she bowled when they practiced together. Fair enough perhaps – but – Richard never actually mentioned the dresses, that detail was added later, and the story has become part of cricket’s folklore. Sadly, the dress story is not plausible – women weren’t wearing hooped Crinoline in the early years of the nineteenth century.
Comments: The text is rather misleading, though the illustration is magnificent. Round-arm bowling, the predecessor to over-arm bowling was not until the nineteenth century. The wide-bar incident however occurred in 1777.

The error is however, understandable. The change that that happened was that bowlers has started to bounce the ball before the batsmen and make it lift towards them while still bowling underarm, rather than roll it along the ground – David Harris of Hambledon was the main exponent of this new type of bowling, which started to emerge when the height of the stumps was increased from xx to xx in 1744. That is when bats changed from being shaped like a hockey stick or Flintstones’ club to the shape that is now familiar.

The incident illustrated comes from Nyren and the player is identified as White of Reigate. This was once though be someone called Shock White but scholarly opinion now believes it to be Thomas White

Note that the wide bat bat is shown with a cane handle, rather than a onesie – not quite right, as the spliced bat did not appear until well into the nineteenth century. Overall, the illustration seems to be of a later period than when it actually took place. But love the headgear and the side-whiskers, not to mention the bow-ties.

I can’t resist this little aside. On 8 July 1976, John Edrich and Brian Close, both survivors from another age, opened the batting against the West Indies at Old Trafford and, to say the least, struggled against extremely fast short-pitched bowling. In the second innings, Close (wearing what looked like an office shirt) made 20 off 108 balls and got hit about 20 times.

A not-so-kindly spectator ran out onto the field and gave Edrich a wider bat, perhaps inspired by the Ladybird illustration.

Neither Close not Edrich ever played for England again. Two fine players, among the best cricketers of their era. My father was a great fan of John Edrich – and they died on the same day – 23 December 2020. RIP.

Comments: the text isn’t quite right; for many years before the Hambledon Club was formed, the main team in England was the London Club who played at the Honourable Artillery Company ground in Finsbury, just north of the City. So the emerging prominence of the MCC toward the end of the eighteenth Century was a return to the old City-based order.

On another point = look at the flat-based implement being used on the edge of the grassed area; implements like this are still seen in action at cricket grounds to-day, used to flatten out bowlers’ foot-marks. Wonderful.

Strange though, that a pavilion is in place before the grass was laid…

The book’s importance was recognised by MCC in 2015 when it was the subject of an exhibition on the Lord’s Museum.