During the 17th century, numerous references indicate the growth of cricket in the south-east of England and it is believed that the first professionals appeared in the years following the Restoration in 1660. A newspaper report survives of 'a great cricket match' with eleven players a side that was played for high stakes in Sussex in 1697 and this is the earliest known reference to a cricket match of such importance.
The game was prominent in London as early as 1707 and large crowds flocked to matches on the Artillery Ground in Finsbury. The single wicket form of the sport attracted huge crowds and wagers to match. Bowling evolved around 1760 when bowlers began to pitch the ball instead of rolling or skimming it towards the batsman. This caused a revolution in bat design because, to deal with the bouncing ball, it was necessary to introduce the modern straight bat in place of the old 'hockey stick' shape.
The Hambledon Club was founded in the 1760s and, for the next 20 years until the formation of Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and the opening of Lord's Old Ground in 1787, Hambledon was both the game's greatest club and its focal point.
MCC quickly became the sport's premier club and the custodian of the rules of the game known as the Laws of Cricket. These are maintained by the...