The game underwent major development in the 18th century to become England's national sport. Its success was underwritten by the twin necessities of patronage and betting. Cricket was prominent in London as early as 1707 and, in the middle years of the century, 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, its popularity peaking in the 1748 season. Bowling underwent an evolution 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.
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Cricket is a bat-and-ball game played on a cricket field (see image, right) between two teams of eleven players each. The field is usually circular or oval in shape and the edge of the playing area is marked by a boundary, which may be a fence, part of the stands, a rope, a painted line or a combination of these; the boundary must if possible be marked along its entire length.
Crickets often appear as characters in literature. The Talking Cricket features in Carlo Collodi's 1883 children's book, The Adventures of Pinocchio, and in films based on the book. The eponymous insect is central to Charles Dickens's 1845 The Cricket on the Hearth, as is the chirping insect in George Selden's 1960 The Cricket in Times Square. Crickets are celebrated in poems by William Wordsworth, John Keats, and Du Fu. They are kept as pets in countries from China to Europe, sometimes for cricket fighting. Crickets are efficient at converting their food into body mass, making them a candidate for food production. They are used as human food in Southeast Asia, where they are sold deep-fried in markets as snacks. They are also used to feed carnivorous pets and zoo animals. In Brazilian folklore, crickets feature as omens of various events.
The phylogenetic relationships of the Gryllidae, summarized by Darryl Gwynne in 1995 from his own work (using mainly anatomical characteristics) and that of earlier authors,[a] are shown in the following cladogram, with the Orthoptera divided into two main groups, Ensifera (crickets sensu lato) and Caelifera (grasshoppers). Fossil Ensifera are found from the late Carboniferous period (300 Mya) onwards, and the true crickets, Gryllidae, from the Triassic period (250 to 200 Mya).
The fly Ormia ochracea has very acute hearing and targets calling male crickets. It locates its prey by ear and then lays its eggs nearby. The developing larvae burrow inside any crickets with which they come in contact and in the course of a week or so, devour what remains of the host before pupating. In Florida, the parasitic flies were only present in the autumn, and at that time of year, the males sang less but for longer periods. A trade-off exists for the male between attracting females and being parasitized.
Given Derrick's age, it was about half a century earlier when he was at school and so it is certain that cricket was being played c. 1550 by boys in Surrey. The view that it was originally a children's game is reinforced by Randle Cotgrave's 1611 English-French dictionary in which he defined the noun "crosse" as "the crooked staff wherewith boys play at cricket" and the verb form "crosser" as "to play at cricket".
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Crickets have from time to time appeared in poetry. William Wordsworth's 1805 poem The Cottager to Her Infant includes the couplet "The kitten sleeps upon the hearth, The crickets long have ceased their mirth". John Keats's 1819 poem Ode to Autumn includes the lines "Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft / The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft". The Chinese Tang dynasty poet Du Fu (712–770) wrote a poem that in the translation by J. P. Seaton begins "House cricket ... Trifling thing. And yet how his mournful song moves us. Out in the grass his cry was a tremble, But now, he trills beneath our bed, to share his sorrow."