At my all-girls’ secondary school, sport was dull and badly taught. We played netball - a version of basketball specifically invented for females, where you have to stand still when you get the ball, but not for too long, and physical contact is penalised. Pretty much everything which is great about basketball isn’t allowed in netball.
We also played a game called stoolball, which I remember as being good fun; we were taught that it was ‘the Sussex version of rounders’, and I always assumed that this was another genteel sport devised for the weaker sex by some Victorian educator.
Wrong, wrong. I’ve recently discovered that stoolball, which is still widely played in Sussex (predominantly, but not exclusively, by women) is one of the oldest known English sports. It was originally played by milkmaids (I kid you not) using a milking stool as a wicket, and is mentioned in documents going back at least 500 years. Historians believe it originated in the fourteenth century. It was a rough country game - there are records of it being played with stones instead of a ball - and matches were followed by rustic merrymaking with the village swains and ale-fuelled hanky-panky. It also made its way to America, and some Pilgrim Fathers (or their wives) were seen playing it in 1621 - on Christmas Day, and probably without the hanky-panky.
Nowadays there are also stoolball leagues in Kent and Surrey, and it’s played like village cricket, for competition and fun. It has always been played in Sussex, though East and West Sussex (typically) had different versions of the rules. After the First World War stoolball was ‘revived’ by a Major who felt it would be suitable for injured soldiers to play - he codified it and added rules from the men’s game of cricket which had, of course, been evolving separately for quite a while by then.
So, much of the terminology in today’s game comes from cricket, and the rules are roughly the same, but it looks more like rounders. The two wickets are square boards, at head-height, on stands, and the small leather ball is bowled underarm. The bat is weird. It’s round, like a heavyweight version of a table-tennis bat, made of wood, and hefty - you can take a good wallop at the ball with it. It, too, was probably originally a milking-stool, or the top of one, though there are also records of an early form of the game where the maids hit the ball with their hand, and in some areas they used a stick.
No one knows at what point the breakaway men’s version began to call itself cricket. The Stoolball Association firmly states that its game is the ancestor of cricket (though the MCC may not agree). Obviously the stick version of ancient stoolball developed into rounders, which is thought to be the origin of baseball. Or, given the 1621 eye-witness account, stoolball may be the direct ancestor of baseball.
So… cricket and, maybe, baseball were invented by….girls. Milkmaids. Not their boyfriends or their dads. Girlies in skirts.
Who is going to break this to Shane Warne?