World Cup 2019: Rock-a-bye cricket!

Updated: Jun 19, 2019, 17:36 IST | Harit N Joshi

mid-day visits the 'cradle of cricket' in Hambledon where the first rules of the game originated before the MCC became custodians of the laws

World Cup 2019: Rock-a-bye cricket!
The Broadhalfpenny Down club, which was formed in the 1750s. Pics/Harit N Joshi

Southampton: Let’s get a bit trivial to begin with. Did you know who introduced the third stump? Who first brought in the width of the bat regulation? And who discontinued rolling the ball along the ground while bowling?

Much before London’s Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) became the custodians of the laws, it was at the Broadhalfpenny Down ground where the three key laws that define the modern game — introduction of length bowling, addition of a third stump and the regulation of bat width — transformed cricket from just another pastime to England’s national sport.

A stone to commemorate the Hambledon Cricket Club site
A stone to commemorate the Hambledon Cricket Club site

It was no surprise that the International Cricket Council, the game’s world governing body, kicked off their 2019 World Cup Trophy tour from the ‘cradle of cricket’ Broadhalfpenny Down, which is 20 miles from the city here, before reaching out to other places in England.

While the Broadhalfpenny Down had club cricket memorabilia, the Bat and Ball Inn which is opposite the ground is where the real treasures can be found. From the first laws of the game to photographs of Hambledon cricketers and some autographed pads and gloves, it is a must-visit for all cricket lovers.

Watch the full video below.

“We are glad that those rules still exist,” said Mike Beardall, the chairman of the Broadhalfpenny Down
Preservation Trust, which was granted charitable status in 2012.

Special place in history

The Broadhalfpenny Down holds a special place in history. This is where Hambledon Club, the first proper cricket club was formed in the 1750s. “An exact date of the formation of the club has never been established and much of its early history is weathered in mystery,” according to the book, Hambledon Cricket and The Bat and Ball Inn by Diana Kerr.

Cricket Bats
The first bat used (left) and how it has evolved over the years

Opposite the ground was The Hutt [now called as the Bat and Ball Inn] that served as its clubhouse. The landlord of the clubhouse Richard Nyren, arguably the finest all-rounder to grace the game before WG Grace, was instrumental in defining the laws of the game.

There are some interesting incidents that led to the formation of the three key laws of the game. The incidents stated in Hambledon Cricket and The Bat and Ball Inn explain what led to the formation of the laws of the game.

In 1771, when Thomas White, a noted Surrey cricketer, appeared with a bat as broad as the wicket, it was cut down on the spot and a law was established to regulate the bat width to four and a quarter inches, which remains a regulation to this day.

The first rules of cricket
The first rules of cricket

Hambledon cricketer John Small played a leading role in the introduction of the third stump. During a single-wicket game in 1775 between Hambledon and Kent, Small was all set to score 14 runs to win with a wicket in hand. He did so, but Kent bowler Edward Stevens’s best three balls passed between the stumps without disturbing the bails. The stumps were six inches apart. Despite Hambledon getting a favourable result, the victors agreed to experiment with the use of a third stump, which within a few years was universally accepted. The discontinuation of bowling ‘underarm’ to length balls was an initiative by Nyren and Tom Walker.

“Thomas Lord, the founder of the MCC at Lord’s Cricket Ground, made Hambledon the centre of cricket when the sport was played primarily in the south of England in 1750s. Gambling made the sport very popular in those days,” said Beardall.

Death blow to Hambledon

However, once Lord moved to London and established the MCC in 1787, it struck a death blow to Hambledon as many of were among the founders of the MCC. “In the following year, the authority of controlling the conduct of the game passed from Boardhalfpenny Down to Lord’s,” said Beardall. The last nail in the coffin for Hambledon Club came in 1791 when Nyren left with the last match played at Broadhalfpenny Down ground in 1792.

“For 116 years there was no sound of bat and ball on Broadhalfpenny Down,” said Beardall. However, in 1907, noted English cricketer CB Fry brought cricket back to its original home. They now have a team that goes by the name Broadhalfpenny Brigands CC.

The Bat and Ball Inn which was originally The Hutt that served as the pavilion and clubhouse
The Bat and Ball Inn which was originally The Hutt that served as the pavilion and clubhouse

After attaining charitable trust status seven years ago, the Broadhalfpenny Down built a proper structure and organise events apart from just playing cricket. “Through the trust we host events, encourage young cricketers, visually impaired and disadvantaged and make provision for new equipment,” said Tracy Murley, the event and marketing manager of the club.

The first authorised cricket bat on display at The Bat and Ball Inn
The first authorised cricket bat on display at The Bat and Ball Inn

Murley joined the club a couple of years ago when she organised the diamond jubilee marriage anniversary of her cricket-crazy parents at the Broadhalfpenny Club. “It was my Plan B due to the weather, but my guests had a memorable evening and my parents were absolutely thrilled. Since this club has such a prolific history, I approached the chairman to take it a step further. So, we now give it out for parties, weddings and get-togethers. We also don’t mind if someone wishes to bury their ashes on the Broadhalfpenny Down ground,” said Murley.

Also Read: World Cup 2019: Eoin Morgan blasts fourth fastest WC century; hits 17 sixes in an innings

The power centre may have moved to London, but Hambledon is content having playing a major role in defining the game when it mattered the most.

Also Read: Arjun Tendulkar's pace too hot for Surrey 2nd XI opener

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