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First-class cricket is the highest-standard international or domestic matches in the sport of
cricket Cricket is a Bat-and-ball games, bat-and-ball game played between two teams of eleven players each on a cricket field, field at the centre of which is a cricket pitch, pitch with a wicket at each end, each comprising two Bail (cricket), bai ...

cricket
. A first-class match is one of three or more days' scheduled duration between two sides of eleven players each and is officially adjudged to be worthy of the status by virtue of the standard of the competing teams. Matches must allow for the teams to play two
innings An innings is one of the divisions of a cricket Cricket is a Bat-and-ball games, bat-and-ball game played between two teams of eleven players each on a cricket field, field at the centre of which is a cricket pitch, pitch with a wicket at ...
each, although in practice a team might play only one innings or none at all. First-class cricket, along with historical single-wicket and modern limited-overs forms, is one of the highest-standard forms of cricket. The etymology of "first-class cricket" is unknown, but it was used loosely before it acquired official status in 1895, following a meeting of leading English clubs. At a meeting of the
Imperial Cricket Conference The International Cricket Council (ICC) is the world Sports governing body, governing body of cricket. It was founded as the ''Imperial Cricket Conference'' in 1909 by representatives from Australia, England and South Africa. It was renamed as ...
(ICC) in 1947, it was formally defined on a global basis. A significant omission of the ICC ruling was any attempt to define first-class cricket retrospectively. That has left historians, and especially statisticians, with the problem of how to categorise earlier matches, especially those played in Great Britain before 1895. The solution put forward by the
Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians The Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians (ACS) was founded in England in 1973 for the purpose of researching and collating information about the history History (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or rela ...
(ACS) is to classify all pre-1895 matches of a high standard as important matches.
Test cricket Test cricket is the form of the sport of cricket Cricket is a Bat-and-ball games, bat-and-ball game played between two teams of eleven players each on a cricket field, field at the centre of which is a cricket pitch, pitch with a wi ...
, the highest standard of cricket, is statistically a form of first-class cricket, though the term "first-class" is mainly used to refer to domestic competition. A player's first-class statistics include any performances in Test matches.


Initial usage under MCC ruling, May 1894

Before 1894 "first-class cricket" was a common term, used loosely to suggest that a match had a high standard; adjectives like "great", "important" and "major" were also loosely applied to such matches. There was at the time no concept of what became
Test cricket Test cricket is the form of the sport of cricket Cricket is a Bat-and-ball games, bat-and-ball game played between two teams of eleven players each on a cricket field, field at the centre of which is a cricket pitch, pitch with a wi ...
and so an international match would be called a first-class one, as would any match involving two senior county clubs. The earliest known match scorecards date from 1744 but few have been found before 1772. The cards for three 1772 matches have survived and, as scorecards became increasingly common thereafter, these three have formed the basis for retrospective classification of top-level matches as first-class from 1772. On 24 June, a Hampshire XI won by 53 runs against an England XI at
Broadhalfpenny Down 'Broadhalfpenny Down (pronounced /ˌbrɔ:dˈheɪpniː/; '' brawd-HAYP-nee'') is a historic cricket ground in Hambledon, Hampshire. It is known as the "Cradle of Cricket" because it was the home venue in the 18th century of the Hambledon Club, bu ...
in Hambledon. This is recognised as cricket's inaugural first-class match and is the first one in ESPN's Cricinfo database. At the beginning of the 1890s, there were only four formally constituted county clubs.
Sussex Sussex (), from the Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, e ...
was the oldest, formed in 1839, and it had been followed by
Kent Kent is a county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dictionary The ''Chambers Dictionary'' (''TCD'') was first published by William Chambers (publisher), William and Robert ...
,
Nottinghamshire Nottinghamshire (; abbreviated Notts.) is a county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dictionary The ''Chambers Dictionary'' (''TCD'') was first published by William Chamb ...
and
Surrey Surrey () is a county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dictionary The ''Chambers Dictionary'' (''TCD'') was first published by William Chambers (publisher), William and R ...
. In the early 1860s, several more clubs were founded, and questions began to be raised in the sporting press about which should be categorised as first-class, but there was considerable disagreement in the answers. In 1880, the
Cricket Reporting AgencyThe Cricket Reporting Agency (CRA) was founded by Charles PardonCharles Frederick Pardon (28 March 1850 - 18 April 1890) was editor of ''Wisden Cricketers' Almanack'' between 1887 and 1890. His father was the journalist George Frederick Pardon. It ...
was founded. It acquired influence through the decade especially by association with ''
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack ''Wisden Cricketers' Almanack'', or simply ''Wisden'', colloquially the Bible of Cricket, is a cricket reference book published annually in the United Kingdom. The description "bible of cricket" was first used in the 1930s by Alec Waugh in a ...
'' (''Wisden'') and the press came to generally rely on its information and opinions. The term acquired official status, though limited to matches in Great Britain, following a meeting at
Lord's Lord's Cricket Ground, commonly known as Lord's, is a cricket Cricket is a Bat-and-ball games, bat-and-ball game played between two teams of eleven players each on a cricket field, field at the centre of which is a cricket pitch, pitch ...
in May 1894 between the
Marylebone Cricket Club Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) is a cricket club founded in 1787 and based since 1814 at Lord's Cricket Ground Lord's Cricket Ground, commonly known as Lord's, is a cricket Cricket is a Bat-and-ball games, bat-and-ball game played betw ...
(MCC) committee and the secretaries of the clubs involved in the official
County Championship The County Championship (referred to as the LV= Insurance County Championship for sponsorship reasons) is the domestic first-class cricket competition in England and Wales and is organised by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). It bec ...
, which had begun in 1890. As a result, those clubs became first-class from 1895 along with MCC,
Cambridge University The University of Cambridge is a collegiate university, collegiate research university in Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom. Founded in 1209 and granted a royal charter by Henry III of England, Henry III in 1231, Cambridge is the second-oldest ...
,
Oxford University Oxford () is a city in England. It is the county town and only city of Oxfordshire. In 2017, its population was estimated at 152,450. It is northwest of London, southeast of Birmingham, and northeast of Bristol. The city is home to the Unive ...
, senior cricket touring teams (i.e.,
Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a Sovereign state, sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australia (continent), Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous List of islands of Australia, sma ...
and
South Africa South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa (RSA), is the southernmost country in Africa. With over 60 million people, it is the world's 23rd-most populous nation and covers an area of . South Africa has three capital citie ...
at that time) and other teams designated as such by MCC (e.g.
North v South The North of England cricket team, North of England and South of England cricket team, South of England cricket teams appeared in first-class cricket between the 1836 English cricket season, 1836 and 1961 English cricket season, 1961 seasons, mos ...
,
Gentlemen v Players Gentlemen v Players was a long-running series of English first-class cricket matches, between teams consisting of Amateur status in first-class cricket, amateur (Gentlemen) and Professional sport#Cricket, professional cricketers (Players). Two ma ...
and occasional "elevens" which consisted of recognised first-class players). Officially, therefore, the inaugural first-class match was the opening game of the 1895 season between MCC and
Nottinghamshire Nottinghamshire (; abbreviated Notts.) is a county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dictionary The ''Chambers Dictionary'' (''TCD'') was first published by William Chamb ...
at Lord's on 1 and 2 May, MCC winning by 37 runs.


Formal definition under ICC ruling, May 1947

The term "first-class cricket" was formally defined by the then
Imperial Cricket Conference The International Cricket Council (ICC) is the world Sports governing body, governing body of cricket. It was founded as the ''Imperial Cricket Conference'' in 1909 by representatives from Australia, England and South Africa. It was renamed as ...
(ICC) on 19 May 1947. It was made clear that the definition "will not have retrospective effect". The definition is as follows:''Wisden 1948'', p. 813.
A match of three or more days' duration between two sides of eleven players officially adjudged first-class, shall be regarded as a first-class fixture. Matches in which either team have more than eleven players or which are scheduled for less than three days shall not be regarded as first-class. The Governing body in each country shall decide the status of teams.
For example, MCC was authorised to determine the status of matches played in Great Britain. To all intents and purposes, the 1947 ICC definition confirmed the 1894 MCC definition, and gave it international recognition and usage. Hence, official judgment of status is the responsibility of the governing body in each country that is a ''full member'' of the
International Cricket Council The International Cricket Council (ICC) is the world governing body A governing body is a group of people that has the authority to exercise governance Governance is all the processes of interactions be they through the laws Law ...
(ICC). The governing body grants first-class status to international teams and to domestic teams that are representative of the country's highest playing standard. Later ICC rulings make it possible for international teams from ''associate members'' of the ICC to achieve first-class status but it is dependent on the status of their opponents in a given match.


Definition

According to the ICC definition, a match may be adjudged first-class if: * it is of three or more days scheduled duration * each side playing the match has eleven players * each side may have two innings * the match is played on natural, and not artificial, turf * the match is played at a venue which meets certain standard criteria regarding venues * the match conforms to the
Laws of Cricket The ''Laws of Cricket'' is a code which specifies the rules of the game of cricket Cricket is a bat-and-ball gameBat-and-ball may refer to: *Bat-and-ball games Bat-and-ball games (or safe haven games) are field games played by two oppos ...
, except for only minor amendments * the sport's governing body in the appropriate nation, or the ICC itself, recognises the match as first-class. A Test match is a first-class match played between two ICC full member countries, subject to their current status at the ICC and the application of ICC conditions when the match is played.


Recognised matches

In 2010, the ICC published its ''Classification of Official Cricket'' which includes the criteria with which a match must comply to achieve a desired categorisation. In the section on first-class cricket, there is a list of the types of match that ''should'' qualify. It is important to note, given the differences in opinion about what constitutes a first-class match, that the ICC clearly stipulates that its match type list "is not exhaustive and is merely indicative of the matches which would fall into the first-class definition". For example, the list includes matches of recognised first-class teams ''versus'' international touring teams; and the leading domestic championships (using their then-current names) such as the
County Championship The County Championship (referred to as the LV= Insurance County Championship for sponsorship reasons) is the domestic first-class cricket competition in England and Wales and is organised by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). It bec ...
,
Sheffield Shield The Sheffield Shield (currently known for sponsorship reasons as the Marsh Sheffield Shield) is the domestic first-class cricket First-class cricket is the highest-standard international or domestic matches in the sport of cricket. A first-c ...
,
Ranji Trophy The Ranji Trophy is a domestic first-class cricket championship played in India between multiple teams representing regional and state cricket associations. The competition currently consists of 38 teams, with all 28 States and union territories ...
, etc. In February 2020, during the
2019–20 Ranji Trophy The 2019–20 Ranji Trophy was the 86th season of the Ranji Trophy, the premier first-class cricket tournament in India. It took place between December 2019 and March 2020. Chandigarh cricket team, Chandigarh competed in the Ranji Trophy for the ...
, the 60,000th first-class cricket match was played.


Examples of first-class domestic competitions


Current active men's competitions


Retrospective classification of matches played before the definitions

The absence of any ICC ruling about matches played before 1947 (or before 1895 in Great Britain) is problematic for those cricket statisticians who wish to categorise earlier matches in the same way. They have responded by compiling their own match lists and allocating a strictly ''unofficial'' first-class status to the matches they consider to have been of a high standard. It is therefore a matter of opinion only with no official support. Inevitable differences have arisen and there are
variations in published cricket statistics Variations in published cricket statistics have come about because there is no official view of the status of cricket Cricket is a Bat-and-ball games, bat-and-ball game played between two teams of eleven players on a cricket field, field at ...
. In November 2021, the ICC retrospectively applied first-class status to women's cricket, aligning it with the men's game.


Issue for statisticians

A key issue for the statisticians is when first-class cricket for their purpose is deemed to have begun. Writing in 1951,
Roy Webber :''For the mayor of the US city of Roanoke, Virginia from 1968 to 1975, see Roy L. Webber.'' Roy Webber (died 14 November 1962 aged 48) was a British cricket Cricket is a Bat-and-ball games, bat-and-ball game played between two teams of el ...
argued that the majority of matches prior to 1864 (i.e., the year in which
overarm bowling left, 200px, English cricketer Darren Gough about to deliver the ball overarm-style. {{Cricket deliveries In cricket Cricket is a Bat-and-ball games, bat-and-ball game played between two teams of eleven players on a cricket field, field at ...
was legalised) "cannot be regarded as first-class" and their records are used "for their historical associations".Webber, pp. 9–10. This drew a line between what was important historically and what should form part of the statistical record. Hence, for pre-1895 (i.e., in Great Britain) cricket matches, "first-class" is essentially a statistical concept while the historical concept is broader and takes account of historical significance. Webber's rationale was that cricket was "generally weak before 1864" (there was a greater and increasingly more organised effort to promote county cricket from about that time) and match details were largely incomplete, especially
bowling Bowling is a Throwing sports#Target sports, target sport and recreational activity in which a player rolls a bowling ball, ball toward Bowling pin, pins (in pin bowling) or another target (in target bowling). The term ''bowling'' usually refe ...
analyses, which hindered compilation of records. According to Webber's view, the inaugural first-class match should have been the opening game of the 1864 season between
Cambridge University The University of Cambridge is a collegiate university, collegiate research university in Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom. Founded in 1209 and granted a royal charter by Henry III of England, Henry III in 1231, Cambridge is the second-oldest ...
and MCC at
Fenner's 200px, The indoor cricket school Fenner's is Cambridge University Cricket Club's ground. History Fenner's has hosted first-class cricket since 1848. The ground was established on a former cherry orchard leased for the purpose by Francis Fenner, aft ...
on 12 and 13 May, Cambridge winning by 6 wickets.


Important matches classification

When the
Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians The Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians (ACS) was founded in England in 1973 for the purpose of researching and collating information about the history History (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or rela ...
(ACS) published its ''Guide to First-Class Cricket Matches Played in the British Isles'' in 1982, it tentatively agreed with Webber's 1864 start date by saying that "the line between first-class and other matches becomes more easily discernible about that date". A year earlier, the ACS had published its ''Guide to Important Cricket Matches Played in the British Isles 1709 – 1863'' in which it listed all the known matches during that period which it considered to have historical importance. The ACS did stipulate that they had taken a more lenient view of importance regarding matches played in the 18th century than they did of matches played in the 19th century. As they explained, surviving details of 18th century matches are typically incomplete while there is a fairly comprehensive store of data about 19th century matches, certainly since 1825.


18th century startpoints

Subsequently, Webber's view has been challenged by those who suggest earlier dates for the commencement of "first-class statistics".
Bill Frindall William Howard Frindall, (3 March 1939 – 29 January 2009) was an English cricket Cricket is a Bat-and-ball games, bat-and-ball game played between two teams of eleven players on a cricket field, field at the centre of which is a cricket ...
believed that 1815 should be the start to encompass the entire roundarm bowling phase of cricket's history. However, roundarm did not begin in earnest until 1827. In Frindall's view, the inaugural first-class match should have been the opening game of the 1815 season between MCC and
Middlesex Middlesex (; abbreviation: Middx) is a Historic counties of England, historic county in South East England, southeast England. Its area is almost entirely within the wider urbanised area of London and mostly within the Ceremonial counties of En ...
at Lord's on 31 May and 1 June, Middlesex winning by 16 runs. The most significant internet-based views are those of ''CricketArchive'' (CA) and ''
ESPNcricinfo ''ESPN''cricinfo (formerly known as Cricinfo or CricInfo) is a sports news website exclusively for the game of cricket. The site features news, articles, live coverage of cricket matches (including liveblogs and scorecards), and ''StatsGuru'' ...
'' (CI), both of which hold that the earliest first-class match was
Hampshire Hampshire (, ; abbreviated to Hants) is a Counties of England, county in South East England on the coast of the English Channel. The county town is Winchester, but the county is named after Southampton. Its two largest cities are Southampton a ...
''versus'' All-England at
Broadhalfpenny Down 'Broadhalfpenny Down (pronounced /ˌbrɔ:dˈheɪpniː/; '' brawd-HAYP-nee'') is a historic cricket ground in Hambledon, Hampshire. It is known as the "Cradle of Cricket" because it was the home venue in the 18th century of the Hambledon Club, bu ...
on 24 and 25 June 1772. CA has numbered this match "f1" (i.e., first-class match number one) and CI as "First-Class # 1".


Historical versus statistical

However commendable these views may be, they are not only unofficial but also entirely statistical. The 1772 match left a scorecard that is complete apart from the bowling analyses and so the data is sufficient for a statistical study, especially as the scorecard was itself the start of a trend and there are surviving scorecards from every season commencing 1772. The historical view centres on the historical significance of a match and its known contemporary importance measured by, as is often the case with early matches, the amount of money at stake. Other factors are the size of the crowd, if known, and the fact that a match was deemed notable enough to be reported in the press. The earliest match known to have been accorded superior status in a contemporary report (i.e., "a great match" in this case) and to have been played for a large sum of money was one in
Sussex Sussex (), from the Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, e ...

Sussex
between two unnamed eleven-a-side teams contesting "fifty
guineas The guinea ( ; commonly abbreviated gn., or gns. in plural) was a coin, minted in United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Great Britain between 1663 and 1814, that contained approximately one-quarter of an ounce of gold. The name came from t ...
apiece" in June 1697, a match of enormous historical significance but with no statistical data recorded.McCann, p. xli.


See also

*
List of first-class cricket records This list of first-class cricket records itemises some record team and individual performances in first-class cricket First-class cricket is an official classification of the highest-standard international or domestic matches in the sport of ...
* Lists of cricket records


References


Bibliography

* * * * * * ''
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack ''Wisden Cricketers' Almanack'', or simply ''Wisden'', colloquially the Bible of Cricket, is a cricket reference book published annually in the United Kingdom. The description "bible of cricket" was first used in the 1930s by Alec Waugh in a ...
'', 27th edition, editor Charles F. Pardon, John Wisden & Co., 1890 * ''
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack ''Wisden Cricketers' Almanack'', or simply ''Wisden'', colloquially the Bible of Cricket, is a cricket reference book published annually in the United Kingdom. The description "bible of cricket" was first used in the 1930s by Alec Waugh in a ...
'', 32nd edition, editor
Sydney Pardon Sydney Herbert Pardon (23 September 1855 – 20 November 1925) was a sports journalist who was the editor of ''Wisden Cricketers' Almanack ''Wisden Cricketers' Almanack'', or simply ''Wisden'', colloquially the Bible of Cricket, is a cricket ...
, John Wisden & Co., 1895 * ''
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack ''Wisden Cricketers' Almanack'', or simply ''Wisden'', colloquially the Bible of Cricket, is a cricket reference book published annually in the United Kingdom. The description "bible of cricket" was first used in the 1930s by Alec Waugh in a ...
'', 85th edition, editor Hubert Preston, Sporting Handbooks Ltd, 1948 {{Authority control Cricket terminology