Table Cricket, patented by Cyril Ernest Nicholas, filed over a year before Arthur Weintrand’s version
Table Cricket, patented by Cyril Ernest Nicholas, filed over a year before Arthur Weintrand’s version

On November 10, 1903, WG Grace launched a game of table cricket invented by his friend Arthur Weintrand. However, it was not the first of its kind and was perhaps a misnomer, as Abhishek Mukherjee  narrates.

Sensible human beings take to cricket at a very early age. Unfortunately, playing outdoors is sometimes not an option for numerous reasons: it may rain, your nearest playground can be far away, or you are so abysmal that you get humiliated every time you play.

This gave birth to numerous forms of indoor cricket. Book cricket was a rage, at least in India in the 1980s and the 1990s when those benevolent despots called teachers subjected students to their drones inside classrooms. Trump Cards involved cards with career numbers of cricketers printed on them (you had to choose your row and challenge). There was table cricket, which required some cricketing skill, but not as much as you need outdoors. And then came computer games.

The game of table cricket is older than probably we think. As early as in 1903, WG Grace launched a game invented by his friend Arthur Weintrand at the Wisden showroom. The Times reported it as “a greatly improved form of the game of table cricket”. Though the game was invented by Weintrand, The Doctor had a hand in some of the rules.

What was the game like? There are little wickets, and a bowler delivers a ball larger than a racket ball (in other words, with diameter exceeding 1.5 inches) with the help of a spring. The device is equipped to alter pace and even impart movement off the surface in either direction.

Batting is relatively easier, though as per the demonstration, it is easier to defend with both hands and attack with one (to attain more power). All conventional ways of dismissal are allowed, and batsmen can even run if it is played in a large space.

Though the report does not mention the size of the playing field, an option of running between the wickets definitely implies a pitch of reasonable length.

It was, thus, anything but “table cricket”, unless the table in question was used to host gala banquets of the size they use at Valhalla.

Why, then, the attempt by the great man? One cannot be sure. Was it an attempt to thwart an earlier invention? We probably need to go a year back.

Cyril Nicholas’ patent

On May 20, 1902, one Cyril Ernest Nicholas from Launceston, Tasmania applied for the patent of a “Table Game of Cricket”. The patent, US 721072 A, was finally patented February 17, 1903.

What was this game like? Let us read from the patent (refer to the figure if needed): “The object of my invention is to provide a household amusement in which balls, a pitch cloth or board, a bat, wickets, a hurdle, a ball-pocket, ball-catchers, and sticks are used. These are so combined and arranged that a healthy and pleasant pastime is afforded to both young and old.”

The instructions were simple:

- A cloth or a board would be placed on the table. If it was a cloth, the ends could be held on the table with metal strips.

- There would be three stumps and one bail (“preferably made of one piece of wood and is undivided in its middle”). The stumps would be fixed to a base — a device we often see in street cricket or practice sessions.

- There would be a ball-pocket at the bowler’s end — basically a net suspended on a hoop on four stands. The hoop could be inclined at any angle.

- A ‘very light ball’ would be thrown at the ball-pocket. It was designed such that the ball would bounce just in front of the crease (the batsman must allow this to happen). The objective for the batsman would be to hit it back into the ball-pocket.

- There would be fielders stationed on each side of the table with field-nets. If the batsman failed to land the ball inside the ball-pocket, any fielder would be eligible to catch it to dismiss the batsman. A catch taken on the cloth would not be considered. The wicketkeeper would “sit in a chair behind the wickets,” and he would not be allowed to stump.

- If the batsman succeeded to land the ball inside the ‘ball-pocket’, it would count as a run.

Nicholas also suggested improvements to the game. It was, however, clear that this was bona-fide table cricket.

But then, Nicholas did not get to invite WG Grace to launch his game.