Representational photo © Getty Images
Representational photo © Getty Images

September 10, 1624. Jasper Vinall passed away 13 days after a dreadful injury during a cricket match. Abhishek Mukherjee recollects cricket’s first known tryst with the Grim Reaper.

It had been over three centuries since King Edward I’s wardrobe accounts mentioned his son playing “craeg and other games”. That son, Edward II, was probably not aware of the fact that seven centuries down the line, the consequences of his act would help me pay my bills.

Curiously, the next known reference of cricket does not take place till 1597, when John Derrick, a coroner, narrated his days at Free School, Guildford, when “hee and diverse of his fellows did runne and play at creckett and other plaies.”

After craeg and creckett came the first use of the word that means the world to us, in, of all places, an Italian-to-English dictionary by Giovanni Florio. The book translated sgillare as “to make a noise as a cricket, to play cricket-a-wicket, and be merry.”

As if Italian was not enough, A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611) translated crosse as “the crooked staff wherewith boys play at cricket.” The French verb, crosser, stood for “to play as cricket.”

Note: It will be unfair to mention A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues just in the passing. Though it was meant to be a bilingual French-English dictionary, Randle Cotgrave had unknowingly penned down one of the most important representations of Britain of the era.

But let us move on. A court hearing in 1640 mentioned that there was a ‘cricketing’ (a cricket match, presumably) between Weald and Upland on one side and Chalkhill (Chevening, Sevenoaks, Kent) on the other “thirty years since”. That puts it at roughly the publish year of A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues.

There are evidences of Oliver Cromwell, no less, dallying with the sport in 1618. Our incident dates back to four years after that.

An excerpt from Randle Cotgrave’s book with definitions of crosse and crosser
An excerpt from Randle Cotgrave’s book with definitions of crosse and crosser

The Horsted Keynes incident

Not much is known of the match in question barring the facts that it was played at Horsted Keynes (in Mid-Sussex) on August 28, 1624. Vinall was (presumably) standing close to the batsman Edward Tye, who hailed from West Hoathly, also in Mid-Sussex.

Note: Google Maps shows the distance between Horsted Keynes and West Hoathly (in 2016) as 4 miles. Though there is no real evidence, it can be assumed that inter-village matches were played, at least in Mid Sussex. Of course, it could have been a completely different contest where Tye could have been invited. Maybe Tye was merely passing by or staying at Horsted Keynes at that time. One can only speculate.

Coming back to the incident, the ball went up in the air as Tye hit it. Vinall waited for the catch, and Tye wanted to avoid getting out. However, unlike batsmen of later eras, who can merely hope for the fielder to grass the opportunity, Tye had an advantage.

Since the law for “hitting the ball twice” had not been coded yet, it was perfectly legal for Tye to have another go at the ball while it was in air.

Unfortunately, Tye had his eyes on the ball, not on Vinall; the bat came crashing down on poor Vinall’s head.

Thirteen days after the match, Jasper Vinall passed away at West Hoathly, as per Tim McCann’s Sussex Cricket in the Eighteenth Century. It is not clear why he was taken away from Horsted Keynes, the venue of the incident.

Thus cricket claimed a life for the first time.

The coroner let Tye go on the grounds that it was an accident.

What followed?

– Despite the Vinall incident, there was no change in the laws. A similar incident happened in 1647 at Selsey, West Sussex, killing one Henry Brand.

– The 1744 laws had the clause “if a Ball is nipp’d up, and he strikes it again wilfully, before it came to the Wicket, it’s out,” ruling out such accidents in future.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)