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Howzat: a brief and fashionable history of cricket

With the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup and The Hundred on the horizon, Thomas Pink explores the sartorial legacy and origins of the Gentleman’s Game.

It’s hard to imagine a more quintessentially British pastime than cricket. After all, in what other sport do the players literally stop half-way for a spot of tea and cake?

Britain may be the birthplace of cricket and permeate its DNA, but, these days, it’s far more popular in countries like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia. In fact, in a ranking by of cricket’s popularity by country, Britain was squeezed out of the top 10 by New Zealand. America, meanwhile, took the 28th spot but in an unprecedented move, the States will host 16 contests of the 2024 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in Lauderhill, Dallas and New York, including a blockbuster clash between India and Pakistan in New York on 9 June.

However, for centuries, summer in Britain has been cricket season and with the return of the aforementioned T20 this June and – later in the summer – young offshoot The Hundred (23 July-18 August), there is clearly still a place in the nation’s heart for the Gentleman’s Game. As 20th-century poet Edmund Blunden once mused, ‘Cricket for us was more than play, it was a worship in the summer sun.’

That being said, the esoteric rules of cricket coupled with the rather stiff- necked etiquette of the Pavilion at Lord’s give cricket a whiff of elitism. But this simply isn’t the case. Cricket can technically be played with limited resources in any large enough space. “Gully cricket” is a common sight in the Indian subcontinent, with “backyard” and “beach cricket” being played by people of all ages and backgrounds with equally loose rules in Australia and the Caribbean.

Indeed, like many sports, cricket has humble, albeit often contested, origins. It allegedly dates back to the 13th century, when country boys would play a game that involved throwing a ball at a sheep’s pen – the crossbar being called a “bail” and the gate itself a “wicket”. The first official recordings of the game come from the late 16th century and, in 1788 – a year after its formation as a gentlemen’s club – the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) established the Laws of Cricket, and is still regarded as the custodian of the laws to this day. In 1814, the MCC moved to Lord’s cricket ground in St John’s Wood, London, which is still recognised worldwide as the ‘home of cricket’.

The instantly recognisable cricket whites have an equally fascinating story and evolution. From the early to mid-18th century, cricketers tended to wear a foppish ensemble of frilled shirts, nankeen breeches, silk stockings and buckled shoes. Frilled shirts eventually gave way to high collared shirts paired with braces and bow ties (later ties), finished with a highly impractical top hat. In the mid-1800s these were replaced with the more recognisable striped caps, which were teamed with colourful shirts that featured patterns of stripes and spots. The earliest uniforms of the MCC were bright blue blazers, with the institution’s signature red and yellow stripes – nicknamed “egg and bacon” – appearing in the Victorian era.

Cricket whites, also known as “flannels”, became customary in the 1800s, around the time when cricket was established as the national sport. White clothing was readily available at the time, and playing in white is functional in the summer (even in England) as it reflects the heat. White also acts as a stark contrast to the bright red ball. However, cricket fans will know that vibrant kits are far more commonplace in today’s leagues. In fact, First Class and Test Cricket are the only professional fixtures that still play in traditional whites. Since the 1980s, one-day international games have been played in colourful jerseys and the T20 leagues wear similarly vibrant kits.

As for spectators outside of the VIP areas, the mood is surprisingly relaxed. A cricket match tends to be an all-day event, so comfortable and practical clothing, with a sensible hat and lots of factor 50, is a no- brainer. The aforementioned Pavilion at Lord’s upholds the strictest dress code, where men are required to wear a jacket or blazer and collared shirt with a tie or cravat, and only members are permitted to wear the official “egg and bacon” club stripe. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to the Pavilion this summer, invest in Thomas Pink’s Pale Blue & White Classic Fit Formal Double Cuff Prince of Wales Check Shirt or a Pale Pink Slim Fit Formal Plain Poplin Shirt. Both would look rather fetching with our Navy Blue Four Dot Floral Motif Silk Tie or the Navy Blue & Orange Petersham Striped Silk Tie, which gives the air of the prestigious club’s signature stripes.

Of course, if you’re planning to go to any of the T20 games this year then you will have the unenviable task of travelling to the Caribbean or the United States, where all 41 fixtures are being held. Maybe leave the tie at home and pack a trusty linen or linen-cotton blend shirt (try our new Sky Blue Smart Casual Grandad Collar Cotton Linen Slub Shirt) and a bucket hat.

If you’re staying in the UK this summer, the good news is that you can get your county cricket fix at the upcoming T20 Blast (30 May-14 September) at venues across the country, and The Hundred returns in late July. This fast-paced competition was originally introduced in 2021, although the idea for a simple 100-ball format was floated around in 2017. The Hundred aims to attract a completely new audience of all ages and backgrounds to the game, with a mix of high-octane action and live entertainment. The dazzling pyrotechnics and performances may have some cricket purists choking on their cucumber sandwiches, but the egalitarian concept of The Hundred brings the game back to its humble origins, where etiquette and attire weren’t nearly as important as having a jolly good time.