The laws of cricket are a set of rules set up by The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) which describe the laws of cricket global, to ensure equality and equity. The MCC retains the copyright in the laws of the game. Only the MCC may change the laws. Although currently this would normally only be done after discussions with the game’s global governing body the International Cricket Council (ICC). Cricket is one of the few sports for which the governing principles are referred to as ‘Laws’ rather than as ‘Rules’ or ‘Regulations’.
Important dates in the history of the Cricket Laws are as follows:
The first recognized Laws of Cricket were published in 1744 after a meeting at the Star and Garter. They specified that the pitch be 22 yards long. The distance between the bowling crease and the popping crease be 46 inches. The wickets be 22 inches tall and six inches wide. The ball weigh between five and six ounces. These were altered in 1755 and further changes were introduced over the next hundred years or so.
1. 1774 – In 1774, the first leg-before-wicket law was published.
2. 1760s and 1770s – It became common to pitch the ball through the air, rather than roll it along the ground. This crucial innovation gave the bowler the weapons of length, deception through the air, and increased pace. It also opened alternative possibilities for spin and swerve.
3. 1780 – Three days had become the length of a major match and this year also saw the creation of the first six-seam cricket ball.
4. 1798 – The size of the wicket increased from 22 inches in height to 24, and from 6 inches in breadth to 7; a new ball could be demanded at the start of each innings and if a fielder stopped the ball with his hat the batting side would be awarded five runs.
5. 1810 – Toss for choice of innings.
6. 1811 – Wides added to the score but called ‘byes’ until 1828 when ‘wides’ used for the first time.
7. 1819 – Height of wicket increased from 24 to 26 inches, and popping crease extended from 46 to 48 inches.
8. 1823 – Height of wicket increased from 26 to 27 inches, now 8 inches in breadth.
9. 1835 – The ‘follow-on is introduced compelling a team 100 runs or more in arrears after the first innings to bat again (or ‘follow’ its innings ‘on’). The margin was reduced to 80 runs in 1854 and raised to 120 in 1895.
10. 1836 – The bowler is credited with every wicket which falls to his bowling – previously the custom had been to credit the fielder who took a catch and not the bowler who delivered the ball.
11. 1838 – A third stump is added to the wicket.
12. 1848 – Leg-byes first recorded as such. Moreover, the invention of vulcanized rubber led to the introduction of pads and protective gloves soon afterwards.
13. 1849 – It is permitted to sweep and roll the pitch between innings.
14. 1884 – Firsts include the introduction of boundaries, preventing the use of nearby shrubbery to hide the ball.
15. 1889 – The four-ball over was replaced by a five-ball over, which became the current six balls in 1900. Though eight-ball overs were the norm in Australia and New Zealand until 1979 and the only no-ball was when the bowler’s foot strayed over the crease.
Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC)
Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) was founded in 1787, arguably the most famous cricket club in the world. The next year in 1788, it published its first revision of the Laws of cricket. The Laws, evidence that the standardization of conditions was considered as an indispensable feature of the ‘modern’ game, also now provided for rolling, mowing and covering the wicket. The MCC remains responsible for the Laws of Cricket. However, it has long believed that the game should be played in conformity with its traditional “spirit”, as well as within its Laws.
In 1903, the MCC assumed responsibility for the administration, organization and selection of all overseas tours. Until 1977–78, all England touring teams played under the banner of the MCC, with the exception of Test matches. Hence we read references to the ‘1970–71 MCC tour of Australia’ – a term never used by the majority of cricket fans at the time for whom all tour matches were England matches.
The MCC was formerly the governing body of cricket in England. Across the world until these powers were handed over to the ICC and England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) in 1993. The MCC, however, remains the framer and copyright holder of the Laws of Cricket. While just about every other sport has rules, cricket has laws.
The Preamble – The Spirit of Cricket
In the late 1990s, two distinguished MCC members (and ex-England captains), Ted Dexter and Lord (Colin) Cowdrey, sought to preserve the spirit of cricket in the game’s laws. This would remind players of their responsibility for ensuring that cricket is always played in a truly sportsmanlike style.
The Dexter/Cowdrey action turned out successful. When the current code of laws was presented in 2000. It included, for the first time, a preamble on the spirit of cricket. As it states: ‘Cricket is a game that owes much of its peculiar appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any action which is seen to abuse this Spirit leads to injury to the game itself.
The preamble goes on to illustrate the roles and responsibilities of captains, players and umpires in respecting and defending the spirit of cricket. Since 2000 code was published. The MCC has developed the new laws and the spirit of cricket–as broadly as possible, both in Britain and overseas. As a result, cricketers, right across the world, are increasingly aware that they should not merely obey the game’s laws but safeguard its spirit.
Featured image credit: Getty images