Although the main object of the game has always been to score the most runs, the early form of cricket differed from the modern game in certain key technical aspects. The ball was bowled underarm by the bowler and all along the ground towards a batsman armed with a bat that, in shape, resembled a hockey stick; the batsman defended a low, two-stump wicket; and runs were called "notches" because the scorers recorded them by notching tally sticks.
In 1611, the year Cotgrave's dictionary was published, ecclesiastical court records at Sidlesham in Sussex state that two parishioners, Bartholomew Wyatt and Richard Latter, failed to attend church on Easter Sunday because they were playing cricket. They were fined 12d each and ordered to do penance. This is the earliest mention of adult participation in cricket and it was around the same time that the earliest known organised inter-parish or village match was played – at Chevening, Kent. In 1624, a player called Jasper Vinall died after he was accidentally struck on the head during a match between two parish teams in Sussex.
At the grassroots level, local club cricket is essentially an amateur pastime for those involved but still usually involves teams playing in competitions at weekends or in the evening. Schools cricket, first known in southern England in the 17th century, has a similar scenario and both are widely played in the countries where cricket is popular. Although there can be variations in game format, compared with professional cricket, the Laws are always observed and club/school matches are therefore formal and competitive events. The sport has numerous informal variants such as French cricket.
The world's earliest known cricket match was a village cricket meeting in Kent which has been deduced from a 1640 court case recording a "cricketing" of "the Weald and the Upland" versus "the Chalk Hill" at Chevening "about thirty years since" (i.e., c. 1611). Inter-parish contests became popular in the first half of the 17th century and continued to develop through the 18th with the first local leagues being founded in the second half of the 19th.
The Laws state that, throughout an innings, "the ball shall be bowled from each end alternately in overs of 6 balls". The name "over" came about because the umpire calls "Over!" when six balls have been bowled. At this point, another bowler is deployed at the other end, and the fielding side changes ends while the batsmen do not. A bowler cannot bowl two successive overs, although a bowler can (and usually does) bowl alternate overs, from the same end, for several overs which are termed a "spell". The batsmen do not change ends at the end of the over, and so the one who was non-striker is now the striker and vice-versa. The umpires also change positions so that the one who was at "square leg" now stands behind the wicket at the non-striker's end and vice-versa.
Cricket has had a broad impact on popular culture, both in the Commonwealth of Nations and elsewhere. It has, for example, influenced the lexicon of these nations, especially the English language, with various phrases such as "that's not cricket" (that's unfair), "had a good innings" (lived a long life) and "sticky wicket". "On a sticky wicket" (aka "sticky dog" or "glue pot") is a metaphor used to describe a difficult circumstance. It originated as a term for difficult batting conditions in cricket, caused by a damp and soft pitch.
Cricket characters feature in the Walt Disney animated movies Pinocchio (1940), where Jiminy Cricket becomes the title character's conscience, and in Mulan (1998), where Cri-kee is carried in a cage as a symbol of luck, in the Asian manner. The Crickets was the name of Buddy Holly's rock and roll band; Holly's home town baseball team in the 1990s was called the Lubbock Crickets. Cricket is the name of a US children's literary magazine founded in 1973; it uses a cast of insect characters. The sound of crickets is often used in media to emphasize silence, often for comic effect after an awkward joke, in a similar manner to tumbleweed.
Male crickets establish their dominance over each other by aggression. They start by lashing each other with their antennae and flaring their mandibles. Unless one retreats at this stage, they resort to grappling, at the same time each emitting calls that are quite unlike those uttered in other circumstances. When one achieves dominance, it sings loudly, while the loser remains silent.
Cricket is one of many games in the "club ball" sphere that basically involve hitting a ball with a hand-held implement; others include baseball, golf, hockey, tennis, squash, badminton and table tennis. In cricket's case, a key difference is the existence of a solid target structure, the wicket (originally, it is thought, a "wicket gate" through which sheep were herded), that the batsman must defend. The cricket historian Harry Altham identified three "groups" of "club ball" games: the "hockey group", in which the ball is driven to and fro between two targets (the goals); the "golf group", in which the ball is driven towards an undefended target (the hole); and the "cricket group", in which "the ball is aimed at a mark (the wicket) and driven away from it".
Crickets are small to medium-sized insects with mostly cylindrical, somewhat vertically flattened bodies. The head is spherical with long slender antennae arising from cone-shaped scapes (first segments) and just behind these are two large compound eyes. On the forehead are three ocelli (simple eyes). The pronotum (first thoracic segment) is trapezoidal in shape, robust, and well-sclerotinized. It is smooth and has neither dorsal or lateral keels (ridges).
The 19th century saw underarm bowling superseded by first roundarm and then overarm bowling. Both developments were controversial. Organisation of the game at county level led to the creation of the county clubs, starting with Sussex in 1839. In December 1889, the eight leading county clubs formed the official County Championship, which began in 1890.
A phylogenetic study by Jost & Shaw in 2006 using sequences from 18S, 28S, and 16S rRNA supported the monophyly of Ensifera. Most ensiferan families were also found to be monophyletic, and the superfamily Gryllacridoidea was found to include Stenopelmatidae, Anostostomatidae, Gryllacrididae and Lezina. Schizodactylidae and Grylloidea were shown to be sister taxa, and Rhaphidophoridae and Tettigoniidae were found to be more closely related to Grylloidea than had previously been thought. The authors stated that "a high degree of conflict exists between the molecular and morphological data, possibly indicating that much homoplasy is present in Ensifera, particularly in acoustic structures." They considered that tegmen stridulation and tibial tympanae are ancestral to Ensifera and have been lost on multiple occasions, especially within the Gryllidae.
Crickets have many natural enemies and are subject to various pathogens and parasites. They are eaten by large numbers of vertebrate and invertebrate predators and their hard parts are often found during the examination of animal intestines. Mediterranean house geckos (Hemidactylus turcicus) have learned that although a calling decorated cricket (Gryllodes supplicans) may be safely positioned in an out-of-reach burrow, female crickets attracted to the call can be intercepted and eaten.