Stoolball is a sport dating back to the 15th century, originating in Sussex. It may be an ancestor of cricket (a game it resembles), in fact Stoolball is sometimes called “Cricket in the air”. Traditionally it was played by milkmaids who used their milking stools as a “wicket”.
The game’s popularity has faded since the 1960s, but is still played at a local league level in Sussex, Kent and Midlands. The National Stoolball Association was formed in 1979 to promote Stoolball in England. The game was officially recognised as a sport by the Sports Council in early 2008. There are ladies’ leagues in Sussex, Surrey and Kent and mixed leagues in Sussex. Fernhurst play in a local league and tournaments throughout the summer.
Stoolball is played on grass with a 90-yard (82-metre) diameter boundary, and the pitch is 16 yards (15 metres) long. Each team consists of 11 players, with one team fielding and the other batting. Bowling is underarm from a bowling “crease” 10 yards (9.1 metres) from the batsman’s wicket, with the ball reaching the batsman on the full as in rounders or baseball rather than bouncing from the pitch as in cricket. Each over consists of 8 balls. The “wicket” itself is a square piece of wood at head or shoulder height fastened to a post. Traditionally the seat of a stool hung from a post or tree was used. Some versions used a tall stool placed upright on the ground.
As it is played today, a bowler attempts to hit the wicket with the ball, and a batsman defends it using a bat shaped like a frying pan. The batsman scores “runs” by running between the wickets or hitting the ball beyond the boundary in a similar way to cricket. A ball hit over the boundary counts for 4 runs if it has hit the ground before reaching the boundary, or 6 runs if it landed beyond the boundary upon first contact with the ground. Fielders attempt to catch the ball or run out the batsman by hitting the wicket with the ball before the batsman returns from his run.
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