Evolution of stumps, bat and bowling

The progress of the early game towards the modern game is largely defined by the evolution of the bat, the stumps and bowling techniques and regulations. Yet these three are often the cause of great confusion, even among well informed cricket followers. I was recently informed by a cheerful greybearded local at Hambledon that the middle stump, the limitation on bat-width and overarm bowling were all developed to modern norms at Broadhalfpenny Down – in truth, none of them really were, though the Hambledon Club played a part in two of them at least. The Ladybird Story of Cricket offers a wonderful summary of the myths of the game but the table below seeks to offer a more sober and accurate version.

YearSource of informationBowlingThe Wicket (ie the stumps, bails and spaces in between) Bat Illustration
1700 – the start of our knowledgeJohn Nyren writing in 1833 about discussions with a Mr Ward who himself had a document which contained the recollections of an old cricketer who was playing around the turn of the Eighteenth Century.Bowling as in lawn bowls – all along the ground.Ward says the wicket was one foot high and two feet wide; Nyren disbelieves this and so do I. An informed guess (from illustrations) would be that one foot high might be accurate but 6 inches was more probably the width.Nyren describes the bat as that time as being like a dinner knife, curved at the back and sweeping on the form of a volute (i.e. a curved end). It would seem that we are talking about the hockey stick shaped bat of which at least three examples survive.
c1750Code of laws printed in 1755 which is believed to relate back to 1744 and illustrations generally.No evidence of development away from the along the ground model.Now defined as twenty two inches high and six inches wide. It should be noted, this is rarely reflected in illustrations.From illustrations it seems like the bat was developing into a club-like implement, somewhat straighter then earlier designs.
c17701774 code of Laws, John Nyren, Pycroft, illustrations, Fredrick GaleLumpy Stevens of Surrey is generally thought to have been the player who did most to introduce the pitched delivery, his career was 1756-1789. It was very effective and so was copied widely – David Harris of Hambledon was to develop it further. The modern bat shape had come in by now to combat the pitched delivery. John Small of Hambledon (career c1760-c1780) was the first to master batting with it and even made them for a living.
1771NyrenOversize bat incident (at Laleham Burway between Hambledon and Chertsey) gives rise to maximum width of 4.5 inches, included in 1774 Laws
1776NyrenBall passing through wicks three times in an innings (at Artillery Ground, between five of the Hambledon Club and five of All England) gives rise to introduction of the third stump.
1798LawsStill underarm bowling, pitching (not rolled) perhaps with topspin to induce bounce. Lobs (high, slow full pitchers) may or may not have been introduced but were not far away. Wicket extended to 24 inches high and 7 inches wide.The modern shape was by now well established. The bats were however still a one piece affair, no cane handles, no springing to ease vibrations on impact.
Later yearsLaws of cricketEvolution of overarm bowling: 1816, first definition of fair bowling – hand to be below the elbow (i.e underarm only); 1835, hand not to be above the shoulder (i.e. round-arm allowed); finally 1864 no limit as to height of hand.Around 1819, the wicket became 26 inches by 7 inches, around 1823 it became 27 inches by 8 inches and in 1931 it became 28 inches by 9 inches.

The object of this table is to give an overview and provide a quick check on how cricket was played at any particular time. More detail on these items can be found on pages dealing with:

  • Laws
  • Equipment
  • Techniques