I wrote this piece as part of a National Sports Museum Exhibit, they never paid me. So here it is.
Cricket is one of the two national sports of The Bahamas, along with sailing, at least on paper. The reality is that if Bahamians were polled on what their favorite sports to play and spectate are, Cricket would lose a popularity contest by a wide margin to a number of sports including basketball, baseball, track and field, soccer and American football. Bahamians are not into cricket.
It’s understandable why Bahamians don’t sail; Sailing is a sport of access, like Golf and to a certain extent, tennis. Unless you belong to a yacht club or know someone who can drop up to $10,000 on a boat and necessary equipment and have a sailing coach (those aren’t easy to find either), you’re not going to get to sail. But all you need to play cricket is a stick, a ball, and a dozen, or so, of your closest homies. Despite this, you will never find kids at any park in The Bahamas playing pickup games of cricket.
This wasn’t always the case. For well over a century cricket was far and away the most popular sport in The Bahamas, to the point that the most popular social gatherings for both sides of the racial divide in this segregated little colony were cricket pitches, and that laws had to be passed to prevent people from playing in the streets. Then, in the latter half of the 20th century, people stopped playing cricket, opting instead for American sports. Now we produce NBA players and professional baseball players.
This series of articles explores the origins of the sport and how it got to The Bahamas and looks into the question I asked myself when I started writing this: What the hell happened to cricket in The Bahamas?
What the hell is Cricket Anyway?
Cricket is one of the most popular sports in the English Diaspora, currently played in over 100 countries worldwide (Cricket Archive, 2017). The game is of the bat and ball variety utilizing 11 players on each team at any given time. It was made international as a result of Great Britain’s efforts to colonize the world at one point becoming by far the most popular sport in The Bahamas at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th before being supplanted in popularity by sports like baseball, track and field and basketball.
Where the hell did Cricket come from?
Though exact origins of the sport are unknown, cricket is believed to have been invented in the Weald area of southern England by Norman or Anglo Saxon children (Wynne, 1997) making the sport anywhere from 1000 to 1500 years old.
The first definitive historical record of the sport occurred during a 1597 court case when a witness swore under oath that he played creckett with a friend in about 1550, and there were many historical accounts describing how wildly popular cricket was among children in Tudor England in the mid to late 1500s, (Birley, 1999).
The sport’s popularity dwindled during from 1649 to 1660 when Puritan Zealot Oliver Cromwell ruled as lord protector of England. His government sanctioned strict observance to the Sabbath and unfortunately Sundays were the only free time that working class people had to play sports. Once the monarchy was restored cricket once again become ubiquitous in the streets of Southern England. (Wynne, 1997).
The sport went worldwide in the 1700s expanding alongside the British Empire. By the late 1700s the game, with its now-standardized rules and dimensions, was being played in North America and the West Indies (Bowen, 1970).
How the hell did cricket get to The Bahamas?
Though it can be assumed that cricket was played in The Bahamas due to the large influx of Loyalist immigrants from America, as well as the consistent British Military presence in the colony following the conclusion of the US war of independence in 1776, historical accounts of the sport being played here don’t show up until almost half a century later.
What may actually be the earliest recorded mentions of the sport being played in The Bahamas shows up in 1833 when a law was passed by parliament that prohibited pickup cricket games on the parade ground (current day Marlborough Street), as well as public streets. (Craton & Saunders, 1998, p. 85). That may have been the first recorded mention of the sport but the fact that they had to even pass such a law tells us that not only people played cricket in The Bahamas early in the 19th century, but they may have played it entirely too much.
One of the earliest records of formal cricket games took place between soldiers stationed at Fort Charlotte and a team of local civilians in 1855 (though the newspaper report indicated that cricket matches were common occurrences at the time). Although there wasn’t a formal league in place, cricket games were the prime social gatherings for upper-class Bahamians on Sundays during the 19th century. Teams of white soldiers, local civilians or sailors from visiting US and British Navy vessels would play in front of white spectators at Fort Charlotte, while blacks played on whatever playgrounds they could find (Craton & Saunders, 1998). Like the rest of The Bahamas, cricket in the 19th century was segregated as hell.
So there you have it, 19th century Bahamians were all into cricket. This love affair would continue into the early 20th century, but it wouldn’t last. To find out what happened, check out part two next Monday.