Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 September 2012
The first agreed rules of modern cricket were laid down in the 1720s. This makes it, effectively, the only modern sport to be established in a pre-nationalist age. For much of its history cricket has been seen as the quirky and defining game both of the English and of the British Empire. While historians divide over whether cricket was an element in some civilising mission on the part of the imperial power or whether it was simply adopted by colonial people, it is clear that the inhabitants of contemporary India, Australia, Barbados, Bangladesh and elsewhere were playing cricket long before these territories were recognised as nations. As an international sport, cricket's present is defined by its imperial past. Ten nations qualify to play Test cricket. One is England; the other nine are all former British colonies – three of which (Australia, South Africa and New Zealand) were established as semi-autonomous dominions between 1901 and 1910. These countries all had substantial native populations, but exclusively ‘white’ governments. Formally constituted international cricket dates from this period: the Imperial Cricket Conference came into being in 1909, with England, South Africa and Australia its only members. Test matches, it was decreed, should be those solely involving the representative elevens of these three countries. (New Zealand, the third cricket-playing dominion, was allowed to compete in Test matches from 1930 onward.) The word ‘politics’ rarely, if ever, entered the discourse of cricket in these times.