Cricket in New Jersey
The definitive history.
During the 1840s, a decade before “baseball mania” gripped much of America, the most popular adult team sport was the British import, cricket—a game with origins dating back to the 14th century. The epicenter of American cricket was Philadelphia. The city’s most prominent club was the Union Club, founded in 1843. It was the first to construct a level, manicured playing surface (which is required for effective bowling). That cricket field was located in the city of Camden, New Jersey—making the Garden State home to America's first proper cricket "crease."
In 1844, following the formation of the New York Cricket Club, John Cox Stevens cleaved off part of his land holdings in Hoboken to create the Elysian Fields (right), which would become the club’s home base. Soon the space became popular with baseball clubs from the city. In 1845, a group of skilled craftsmen formed the Newark Cricket Club. Most of the top cricketers in the 1840s were British transplants. During the 1850s, interest in cricket waned as young men continued playing the childhood game of baseball into adulthood. Almost any open space could be turned into a baseball diamond, while space for cricket grounds was at a premium.
That being said, by the 1850s there had developed a robust population of American-born cricket players—enough to hold a pair of exhibition matches in 1854 between two “native” all-star teams—the first in Newark, the second in New York.
In 1857, proponents of cricket recognized the need of a national association to promote the game. They held annual conventions in New York. Though inspired by the great English clubs, they understood that play had to be “Americanized” in some ways to broaden its appeal to young men and sporting fans. Had the Civil War not begun in 1861, their efforts might have proved fruitful.
Cricket’s “big moment” in antebellum America came in 1859 in New Jersey, when an English team of All-Stars (left) played a three-day match in Hoboken starting October 3rd. It was part of a five-match tour of Canada and the U.S. and marked the first time an English all-star team had traveled outside of Great Britain.
The English pros were led by George Parr, recognized as the world’s top batsman. Their 11 all-stars faced a team of 22 players picked by the St. George club in Staten Island. The Brits demolished them. However, thousands of spectators ferried over from New York each day, paying $5 for a three-day pass (a week’s salary for most workers). The American team was led by Sam Wright and his son, Harry (below).
If the name Harry Wright is familiar, it is because of his connection a decade later with baseball. Wright was hired as a cricket pro in Cincinnati after the Civil War and, in 1869, he assembled baseball’s first all-professional squad, the undefeated Cincinnati Red Stockings.
By that time, baseball had eclipsed cricket as America’s go-to team sport. A follow-up All-England tour might have given cricket a fighting chance, but the tour was cancelled after the start of the Civil War.
Although its popularity waned, cricket never disappeared from the sporting scene in the Garden State. The Sea Bright Lawn Tennis & Cricket Club (actually located in Rumson) was formed in 1877 and opened its cricket crease in 1885, hosting a match between Sea Bright and members of a club from Staten Island. Another New Jersey club with a cricket team was the Orange Lawn Tennis & Cricket Club. Both clubs fielded men’s and ladies’ teams.
While cricket grew in popularity around the world—particularly in British-controlled territories—it was marginalized in the United States by baseball, which achieved a status among immigrant boys as a game that accelerated the assimilation process. Cricket's fortunes began to change in the 1960s with the growth in population of West Indians and, more recently, South Asian cultures, particularly from India and Pakistan.
Today, the town of Edison is the focal point of cricket in the tri-state region. Its eight fields are in constant use, weather permitting, by more than 50 local youth and adult teams. Field availability is a key to the future growth of the sport. They must be well manicured, drained and maintained—more like a golf course than a baseball diamond—and that can be extremely expensive. Adventure Crossing, a 300-acre sports and entertainment complex that recently broke ground in Jackson, has incorporated a cricket stadium into its multi-use design in anticipation of becoming the go-to spot for cricket tournaments in the northeast.