The second most popular team sport in the world: what is the art of cricket?

The second most popular team sport in the world: what is the art of cricket?

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The Art Of Cricket – that's the name of an instructional book on cricket written by Sir Don Bradman in 1958. Visually it is not very attractive; the text is complemented mainly by black and white photographs. But what is the cricket art really like? It has (perhaps surprisingly) long history, among others also thanks to the fact that it's always been an extremely popular game. The first paintings on this subject date back to the eighteenth century. The boys and gentlemen in these paintings look elegant and it seems as if there actually wasn't anything easier than this sport. 

Francis Cotes, Boy with a Cricket Bat, 1766. Source: Yale Center for British Art

Cricket first appeared at the end of the sixteenth century in South East England. Two centuries later it became the national sport and gained worldwide popularity throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century. Nowadays it is played worldwide by about one hundred and twenty million players, which makes it the second most popular team sport in the world. Yes, you're right: football is the first.  

Charles Collyer as a Boy, with a Cricket Bat

The portrait of young Charles Collyer by Francis Cotes portrays a boy holding a cricket bat. The bat has a rather strange shape: it looks more like a bludgeon. Looking at the painting, you might wonder how the puny poor boy managed to hold such a massive thing in his hands. The painter Francis Cotes was a well-known portraitist and one of the founder members of the Royal Academy of Arts. He did a great job there too. 

James Grundy

Another painting portrays one of the bowlers famous in the 1850s, James Grundy (1827-1873). He was an extremely talented athlete. Among other things, he was one of twelve players who visited North America with the England cricket team. The importance of this painting lies primarily in the fact that the depiction of Grundy foreshadowed the popularity which some players later achieved. 

Sylvanus Redgate, James Grundy. Source: Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club

The Cricket Match (1909)

The painting The Cricket Match by Spencer Gore from the beginning of the 20th century represents a great shift in the art depicting cricket. It doesn't portray a specific player, but approaches cricket as a part of everybody's everyday life. If it weren't for the title, would we actually know it was a cricket match? Is it in any way significant for the painting? Nevertheless, the work perfectly points out how much popularity cricket was gaining. 

Spencer Gore, The Cricket Match, 1909. Source: The Hepworth Wakefield

The Cricket Match (1937)

A painting of the same name, painted by Cecil Howard Lay, represents even a greater shift in the cricket art. There are no players at all for a change. We can only see spectators watching a match through a fence. What match it is can then only be deduced from the title. One boy is watching the game from a tree, other children are sitting on a wooden fence. Only the young man in a white shirt wouldn't have to stand on the shoulders of the poor girl in a pink dress. Remember this when they tell you that kids used to be more polite.

Cecil Howard Lay, Kriketový zápas, 1937. Zdroj: Royal Air Force Museum

Girl Cricketers

In the paintings we presented so far, cricket was pictured as a purely male game, which is not true though. Henry Stockley's painting Girl Cricketers from 1932 proves exactly that. Cricket simply represents a phenomenon without the slightest regard to gender. 

Virat Kohli 

When talking about cricket in art, it would have been a sin to omit Sasha Jaffrey's painting of the Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli. This painting sold in 2017 for an incredible £ 2.9 million. We need to add that it was sold for charitable purposes: the proceeds were donated to this Indian player's Virat Kohli Foundation, which aids people living in poor conditions.

Sasha Jaffrey, Virat Kohli. Source: Daily Excelsior

"Slavery has no place in this world and we need to stand up and do our bit. I'm glad Virat has come forward against this evil and by buying this magnificent piece of art created by my favourite artist Sasha Jaffrey, I tick two boxes. I take a rare masterpiece to my home and also help this noble cause in my own way,” commented Poonam Gupta on his purchase then. 

Sacha Jafri. Source: Masala!

Slip 'N Slide Cricket

Amber Boardman treats the human body as a fluid matter. Her figures rather than people resemble scenes from some kind of a shapeless, melting freak show. They long for control over their situation, but that's out of their reach. The moment depicted in the painting Slip 'N Slide Cricket thus feels like a grotesque, but all the more chilling critique of our pursuit of high performance. What's all this for, when we're not capable of handling ourselves, let alone a ball? This painting can be seen as the opposite of how the sports theme is usually represented in art. Many art pieces mentioned in this article used cricket to show their adoration for sports, everyday life, cult of a person. For Boardman, it serves as a vehicle for social criticism. 

Amber Boardman, Slip 'N Slide Cricket, 2015. Source: Edwina Corlette Gallery

Honest With You

The work of the woman Mahtab Hussain deals with the theme of hijab. Some Muslim women choose to wear it also in foreign countries while others don't. This decision doesn't only reflect a fashion choice, but the general values of the person. Do Muslim women embrace Western values – whatever that means, or do they remain faithful to their culture even when they travel out of the country? The cricket bat symbolizes "Britishness" here. The game itself, if not a motif, cricket serves simply as the means expressing something else, something much greater. And that's probably the best example of what cricket has become over more than a century of its existence.

Mahtab Hussain, Honest With You, 2017. Source: Artsy


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Published 21.10.2022

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