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Cricket in America by Albert A. Outerbridge

 

Cricket is the "national game" of England, where the sport has a venerable antiquity. Occasional references to the game are found in old books, which would place its origin some centuries back. The most ancient mention of the game is found in the Constitution Book of Guildford, by which it appears that in some legal proceedings in 1598 a witness, then aged fifty-nine, gave evidence that "when he was a scholar in the free schoole at Guldeford he and several of his fellowes did runne and plaie there at crickett and other plaies." The author of Echoes from Old Cricket Fields cites the biography of Bishop Ken to show that he played cricket at Winchester College in 1650, one of his scores, cut on the chapel-cloister wall, being still extant; and the same writer reproduces as a frontispiece to his "opusculum" an old engraving bearing date 1743, in which the wicket appears as a skeleton hurdle about two feet wide by one foot high, while the bat is the Saxon crec or crooked stick, with which the game was originally played, and from which the name cricket was doubtless derived.

In England the game is universally played: all classes take equal interest in it, and it is a curious fact that on the cricket-ground the lord and the laborer meet on equal terms, the zest of the game outweighing the prejudice of caste. The government encourages it as a physical discipline for the troops, and provides all barracks with cricket-grounds. Every regiment has its club, and, what is odd, the navy furnishes many crack players. It is the favorite par excellence at all schools, colleges and universities; every county, every town and every village has its local club; while the I Zingari and its host of rivals serve to focus the ubiquitous talent of All England. The public enjoy it, merely as spectators, to such a degree that a grand match-day at Lord's is only second in point of enthusiasm to the Derby Day. Special trains carry thousands, and the field presents a gay picture framed in a quadrangle of equipages. It is sometimes difficult, even by charging large admission-fees, to keep the number of spectators within convenient limits. Notwithstanding the motley assemblage which a match always attracts, so unobjectionable are the associations of the cricket-field that clergymen do not feel it unbecoming to participate in the diversion, either as players, umpires or spectators.

In this country, while cricket is known in a few localities, it has never been generally adopted. In New York a few English residents have for years formed the nucleus of a somewhat numerous fraternity, and the announcement that an American Cricketer's Manual will be published in that city during the present season indicates that home interest in the sport is on the increase. But the chief thriving-place of native American cricket is conceded to be Philadelphia, and it will be interesting, perhaps, to take a retrospect of the progress of the game in this city.

Tradition carries us back as far as the year 1831 or 1832, when cricket was first played on the ground of George Ticknor, Esq., west of the old bridge below Fairmount, by a few Englishmen, who shortly afterward organized themselves under the name of the Union Club. Some of our older native cricketers remember taking their first lessons from the three brothers, George, Prior and John Ticknor, who, with Joseph Nicholls, William Richardson, John M. Fisher, John Herrod, George Parker, Samuel Dingworth, Jonathan Ainsworth, John Kenworthy and George Daffin, met on Saturday afternoons and holidays. In subsequent years a few enthusiastic spirits practiced with home-made bats on the Camden common, and thence we trace the feeble but growing interest in the game, until in 1854 the Philadelphia Cricket Club was organized, with J. Dickinson Sergeant (who still fills the office) as president, William Rotch Wister as secretary, and Hartman Kuhn (third), James B. England, Morton P. Henry, Thomas Hall, Thomas Facon, Dr. Samuel Lewis, William M. Bradshaw, Henry M. Barlow, R. Darrell Stewart, S. Weir Mitchell and (last, but not least) Tom Senior among its founders. Then came the Germantown Club, of native American boys, organized in 1855, whose highest ambition, for many years, was to play the Philadelphia Club, "barring Tom Senior," then the only fast round-arm bowler in the country. Next came the Olympian, the Delphian, the Keystone Cricket Clubs, and a host of lesser lights, whose head-quarters were at West Philadelphia; and soon after the now famous Young America Cricket Club was formed by the lamented Walter S. Newhall, partly as a training-club for the Germantown. Well did it fulfill its purpose until the breaking out of the war, when the members of the Germantown Club changed the bat for the sabre almost in a body, and the club went out of existence.

With calmer times the old love of cricket came back, and through the energy of Mr. Charles E. Cadwalader the Germantown Club was reorganized, and the esprit de corps was such that before the club had taken the field the roll showed more than twice its former numbers. Through the spirit of its patrons, and especially by the kindness of H. Pratt McKean, Esq. (part of whose country-seat was tendered for a cricket-ground), the new life of the Germantown Cricket Club was successfully inaugurated on the 17th of October, 1866, by a victory in its opening match with the St. George Club of New York. That was a red-letter day, when Major-General Meade, on behalf of the ladies of Germantown, and amid the huzzas of thousands of its friends, presented to the club a handsome set of colors, and, hoisting them to the breeze, alluded in his own graceful style to the memories of the past, and the achievements which he predicted the future would witness on this magnificent cricket-field.

But what is cricket? Descriptions of lively things are apt to be dull, and it is indeed no easy task to render a detailed description of cricket intelligible, much less entertaining, to the uninitiated. The veriest enthusiast never thought the forty-seven "laws of cricket" light reading, and, resembling as they do certain other statutes whose only apparent design is to perplex the inquiring layman, they would, if cited here, be "caviare to the general."

But come with us, in imagination, on a bright May-day to a great match—say on the Germantown cricket-ground. You will find a glorious stretch of velvet turf, seven acres of living carpet, level and green as a huge billard-table, skirted on the one hand by a rolling landscape, and hedged on the other by a row of primeval oaks. Flags flaunt from the flag-staffs, and the play-ground is guarded by guidons. The pavilion is appropriated to the players, and perchance the band: the grand stand is already filling with spectators. Old men and children, young men and maidens, are there—the latter "fair to see," and each predicting victory for her favorite club. For it must be known that on the Germantown ground party spirit always runs high among the belles, many of whom are good theoretical cricketers, and a few of whom always come prepared with blanks on which to keep the neatest of private scores. During the delay which seems inseparable from the commencement of a cricket-match some of the players, ready costumed in cricket apparel, "take care," if they do not "beware," of the aforesaid maidens; others, impatient for the call of "time," like jockeys cantering before the race, disport themselves over the field, practicing bowling, batting, and, in ball-players' parlance, "catching flies." The whole picture is one of beauty and animation, and that spirit must indeed be dull which does not yield to the exhilarating influences of such a scene.

Cricket is usually played by eleven players on each side, the tactics of each party being directed by a captain. Two umpires are appointed, whose decrees, if sometimes inscrutable, are always irreversible, and whose first duty it is to "pitch the wickets." Having selected the ground, they proceed to measure accurately a distance of twenty-two yards, and to erect a wicket at either extremity. Each "wicket" consists of three wooden "stumps," twenty-eight inches long, sharpened at the bottom, whereby they may be stuck perpendicularly in the ground, and grooved at the top, in order to receive two short sticks or "bails," which rest lightly across their tops. When pitched, the wickets face each other, and each presents a parallelogram twenty-seven inches high by eight inches broad, erect and firm-looking, while in fact the lightest touch of the ball or any other object would knock off the bails and reduce it to its elements. Each of these wickets is to be the locus in quo not only of a party rivalry, but also of an exciting individual contest between the bowler and the batsman, the former attacking the fortress with scientific pertinacity, and the "life" of the latter depending on its successful defence. The "popping-crease" and the "bowling-crease" having been white-washed on the turf—the one marking the batsman's safety-ground, and the other the bowler's limits—all is now ready for play. The captains toss a copper for choice of innings, and the winner may elect to send his men to the bat. He selects two representatives of his side, who, having accoutred themselves with hand-protecting gloves and with leg-guards, take position, bat in hand, in front of each wicket. All the eleven players on the out side are now marshaled by their captain in their proper positions as fielders, one being deputed to open the bowling. For a few moments the new match ball—than which, in a cricketer's estimation,

A carbuncle entire, as big as thou art,
Were not a richer jewel—

is passed round among the fielders, just to get their hands in; which ball, we may mention, is nine inches in circumference, weighs five and a half ounces, is in color not unlike a carbuncle, and nearly as hard. The umpires take their respective position, and at the word "Play!" the whole party, like a pack of pointers, strike attitudes of attention, more or less graceful, and the game begins.

The bowler, stepping briskly up to his crease, delivers the ball, and, whether it be a "fast round-arm" or a "slow under-hand," his endeavor is so to bowl it that the ball shall elude the batsman's defence and strike the wicket. The batsman endeavors, first and foremost, to protect his wicket, and, secondly, if possible, to hit the ball away, so that he may make a run or runs. This is accomplished when he and his partner at the other wicket succeed in changing places before the ball is returned to the wicket by the fielders.

The several ways in which a batsman may be put out are these: 1. "Bowled out," if the bowler succeeds in bowling a ball which evades the batsman's defence and strikes the wicket. 2. "Hit wicket," if the batsman, in playing at the ball, hits his wicket accidentally with his bat or person. 3. "Stumped out," if the batsman, in playing at a ball, steps out of his ground, but misses the ball, which is caught by the wicket-keeper, who with it puts down the wicket before the batsman returns his bat or his body within the popping-crease. 4. "Caught out," if any fielder catches the ball direct from the striker's bat or hand before it touches the ground. 5. "Run out," if the batsman, in attempting to make a run, fails to reach his safety-ground before the wicket to which he is running is put down with the ball. 6. "Leg before wicket," if the batsman stops with his leg or other part of his body a bowled ball, whose course in the opinion of the umpire was in a line with the wickets, and which if not so stopped would have taken the wicket.

At every ball bowled, therefore, the batsman must guard against all these dangers: he must, without leaving his ground, and avoiding "leg before wicket," play the ball so that it will not strike the wicket and cannot be caught. Having hit it away, he can make a run or runs only if he and his partner can reach their opposite wickets before the ball is returned by the fielders and a wicket put down. All the fielders are in active league against the batsman, whose single-handed resistance will be of little avail unless he exceeds mere defence and adds his quota of runs to the score of his side. To excel in this requires, in addition to a scientific knowledge of the game, cool presence of mind, a quick eye, a supple wrist, a strong arm, a swift foot and a healthy pair of lungs. Thus the nobler attributes of the man, mental and physical, are brought into play. As the Master in Tom Brown's School-days remarks: "The discipline and reliance on one another which cricket teaches are so valuable it ought to be an unselfish game. It merges the individual in the eleven: he does not play that he may win, but that his side may."

Four balls, sometimes six, are said to constitute an "over," and at the completion of each over the bowler is relieved by an alternate, who bowls from the opposite wicket, the fielders meantime crossing over or changing places, so as to preserve their relative positions toward the active batsman for the time being. Any over during which no runs are earned from the bat is said to be a "maiden" over, and is scored to the credit of the bowler as an evidence of good bowling. In addition to the runs earned on hits there are certain "extras," which, though scored as runs in favor of the in side, are not strictly runs, but are imposed rather as penalties for bad play by the outs than as the result of good play by the ins. Thus, should the bowler bowl a ball which, in the opinion of the umpire, is outside the batsman's reach, it is called a "wide," and counts one (without running) to the batsman's side; should the bowler in delivering a ball step beyond the bowling-crease, or if he jerks it or throws it, it is a "no ball," and counts one (without running) to the batsman's side; but if the batsman hits a no ball he cannot be put out otherwise than by being "run out." If he makes one or more runs on such a hit, the no ball is condoned, and the runs so made are credited as hits to him and his side. The umpire must take especial care to call "no ball" instantly upon delivery—"wide ball" as soon as it shall have passed the batsman, and not, as a confused umpire once called, "No ball—wide—out." Again, should a ball which the batsman has not touched pass the fielders behind the wicket, the batsmen may make a run or runs, which count to their side as "byes:" should the ball, however, missing his bat, glance from the batsman's leg or other part of his body, and then pass the fielders, the batsmen may make a run or runs, which count to their side as "leg-byes."

The game thus proceeds until each batsman of the in side is in turn put out, except the eleventh or last, who, having no partner to assume the other wicket, "carries out his bat," and the innings for the side is closed. The other side now has its innings, and, mutatis mutandis, the game proceeds as before. Usually two innings on each side are played, unless one side makes more runs in one innings than the other makes in both, or unless it is agreed in advance to play a "one-innings match."

So much for the matter-of-fact details of the game of cricket. To enter into the more interesting but less tangible combination of science, chance and skill to which cricket owes not a little of its fascination, would extend this article far beyond its assigned limits. The science of "length-balls" and "twisting lobs," the skill in "forward play" or "back play," the chances of "shooters" and "bailers," are balanced in a happy proportion, and to a cricketer form a tempting theme. But we must content ourselves by referring those disposed to pursue the subject to such books as The Cricket Field, The Theory and Practice of Cricket, Felix on the Bat, Cricket Songs and Poems, and to other similar English publications on the game, which are so numerous that if collected they would make quite a cricket library.

Nor can we here refer to the incidental pleasures which a cricket-match affords independently of participation in the game itself. These are depicted, from a lady's point of view, by Miss Mitford in Our Village; where a pretty bit of romance is interwoven with a description of a country cricket-match, the very recollection of which draws from the graceful authoress this admission: "Though tolerably eager and enthusiastic at all times, I never remember being in a more delicious state of excitation than on the occasion of that cricket-match. Who would think that a little bit of leather and two pieces of wood had such a delightful and delighting power?"

And this sentiment is echoed by scores of the fair spectators at our home matches. When, for example, during the last international match at Germantown, one of the English Gentlemen Eleven said to a lady, "We were told we should have a fine game at Philadelphia, but, really, I had no idea we should be honored by the presence of so many ladies," her reply expressed the sentiments of a numerous class: "Oh, I used to come to a match occasionally pour passer le temps. At first the cricket seemed to me more like a solemn ceremonial than real fun, but now that I understand the points I like the game for its own sake; and as for a match like this, I think it is perfectly lovely!" Another of the English Eleven—a handsome but modest youth—on being escorted to the grand stand and introduced to a party of ladies, became so abashed by unexpectedly finding himself in the midst of such a galaxy of beauties (and, as a matter of course, the conscious cynosure of all eyes) that, blushing to suffusion, and forgetting to lift his hat, he could only manage to stammer out, "Aw, aw—I beg pardon; but—aw—aw—I fancy there's another wicket down, and I must put on my guards, you know;" whereupon he beat a hasty retreat.

A game which has for centuries in England afforded healthful recreation to all classes must needs possess some value beyond that of mere physical exercise. Not that we would undervalue the latter advantage. Improvement in health usually keeps pace with improvement in cricket. Mr. Grace, the "champion cricketer of the world," is hardly less a champion of muscular physique: he sought in vain for a companion to walk to town, late at night, from the country-seat of the late Mr. Joshua Francis Fisher, where the cricketers, after a long day's play, had been entertained at dinner—a distance of more than ten miles. We heartily concur in the favorite advice of a physician, renowned alike for his social wit and professional wisdom, who prescribed "a rush of blood to the boots" to all professional patients and head-workers—men who, happening to possess brains, are prone to forget that they have bodies. In no way can this inverse apoplexy be more healthfully or pleasantly induced than by a jolly game of cricket. That the sport is adapted to American tastes and needs we are convinced, and that it may find a habitat throughout the length and breadth of our land is an end toward which we launch this humble plea in its interest.

Now we hardly expect all the readers of Lippincott's Magazine forthwith to become cricketers, but we venture to suggest, by way of moral, that some of them may take a hint from Mr. Winkle, who, when asked by Mr. Wardle, "Are you a cricketer?" modestly replied, "No, I don't play, but I subscribe to the club here."

Albert A. Outerbridge.