Sometimes the internet can come up with gems.
The black and white video depicts Kumar Shri Ranjitsinghji (better known as Ranji) practicing in the nets. The video was shot during the 1897-98 Ashes tour in Australia by Henry Walter Barnett. He made three more such films during the tour but those are now lost.
Although the video is not from any game, but it is probably the oldest cricketing action of any kind captured on film. The silent film depicts Ranji practicing an array of shots. We hardly see the bowler or any other player. Except for the gentleman standing behind the nets in a waistcoat and hat, watching the proceedings while barely moving.
Observations from the film
- Players of earlier time wore different kind of clothes. The white shirt, cuffed to the wrists, wouldn't have looked out of place in formal gatherings.
- There are no bails on the stumps
- The famous "Leg Glance" - the shot which Ranji is said to have invented.
- The only protective equipment visible are the pads. (Even gloves are missing or not visible)
- And finally (as pointed out by a friend), how thin the bat is as compared to the modern bats.
Cricket has evolved a lot since the days of Ranji, but the evolution seems to have been almost entirely in favour of the batsmen with the bowlers being treated as second-grade citizens. Thicker bats, smaller boundaries, bowling and fielding restrictions, pitches being covered, protective equipment (helmet, arm guard, chest guard and what not), Free Hits. All this making batting easier (relatively speaking since Ranji's time). And of course the players are much fitter and stronger. Batting from a Test has evolved into the brute power of T20.
On the other hand bowler's have had to evolve themselves. Newer innovations are being crafted. e.g. Bodyline, Bouncers, Doosra, Carrom Ball, Reverse Swing, Slower Ball, Slow Bouncer etc. But many of these have been treated with suspicion like witchcraft and the dark arts. And been banned or restrictions imposed (at various times) during the course of the cricketing history. e.g. Bodyline and Spin bowling restricted by new fielding regulations, Bouncers limited to one an over, Ball-tampering allegations against Reverse swing, Balls being changed more frequently.
In all, things are stacked up against the bowlers, yet this lot doesn't seem to give up easily. They innovate but the administrators swing the balance back in the batsmen's favour with new regulations. Cricket certainly has changed quite a bit over the years.
P.S. India's first Test on film (Link)