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The popular story of the origins of cricket go back to the 16th century. Australia and the United States didn't exist. Spain and France ended a war as Korea and Japan were starting one. England began exporting convicts to its colonies. France granted religious equality to Hugenots with Catholics. And, cricket was causing problems in Guildford.
There was dispute over a plot of land in Guildford. A court case was to determine whether it belonged to the school or not. John Derrick, a 59 year old coroner, testified that 50 years previously, he had been playing "creckett" on the land. He gave a description of the game he was playing, and it was essentially a primative form of cricket. This fixes the origins of cricket to be earlier than 1550. In the same year, "cricket" was defined in a dictionary not only as an insect, but a game.
Cricket had risen to prominence by spreading through the Weald, an area that encompasses much of modern day Surrey, Sussex and Kent. Indeed, it is known that the game was played in those counties, and spread to the largest nearby city, London, quite quickly. In the early 1600s, the monarchy was known to play the game. Indeed, in 1624, a fatality was recorded, when a batsmen illegally tried to hit the ball twice to avoid being caught, and inadvertantly hit the fielder in the head, killing him. The verdict was death by misadventure. It was one of many cricketing injuries in the early 1600s as a result of being bludgened with a cricket bat, both in games of cricket and otherwise.
Before about 1550, nobody knows where the game came from. Until this week...
Paul Campbell, of the Australian National University discovered a poem by John Skelton, which seems to describe his experience of watching Flemish immigrants playing the game. Indeed, Skelton did not take to the newcomers:
O lorde of Ipocrites
Nowe shut vpp your wickettes
And clape to your clickettes!
A! Farewell, kings of crekettes!
The poem, The Image of Ipocrisie dates to 1533, and predates the Guildford courtcase's citation of playing cricket around 1550.
Historically, it is known that Flemish weavers came to England for hundreds of years by the 16th century - there was much trade between the two areas at the time - so this ties in with the poem. As for the sport described, the poem not only mentions "crekettes", but "wickettes". Cricket is of course, played with three stumps (originally two), composing what has become known as a "wicket". This therefore seems very plausible. Linguistically, a European language expert of Bonn University, Heiner Gillmeister, "cricket" is a Middle Dutch phrase for hockey, "met de (krik ket)sen", which means to chase with a curved stick. This also ties in with the sport of cricket, since early cricket bats resembled the shape of a modern hockey stick. This was because until the 18th century, the ball was "bowled" literally, in the sense of bowling, i.e. rolled along the ground. So a hook at the end of the stick would be needed to hit the ball in the air.
There is some suspiscion about this however. An Australian discovering this in a year when England will play Australia in The Ashes is "well-timed" to say the least. As for the linguistic expert, well, he was German...
Joking aside, the search for the origins of cricket may now cross to continental Europe, and the Flanders area of modern day Belgium and The Netherlands. That said, the area has been subject to much warfare over the years, even before you get to the obvious war there, i.e. World War I. Evidence may be thin on the ground, but it would be good if there was mention of the game in the Low Countries to back up this finding.