Cricket has a long history in the Penrith area, with teams already in existence by the 1870s. One of the best known at that time was “The Rotten Orange Team”, formed at Emu (Plains) and consisting of working men, many of whom worked in the local orange orchards. The team was given this name by the more snobbish opposing team at Emu and a challenge match was set up. The Rotten Oranges won convincingly and for many years after this the teams existed amicably.

Numerous cricket teams have come and gone over the years. In 1889 the Penrith Cricket Club was formed.

William Peter Howell, born in 1869, represented the Nepean district on 16-17 February 1892 in a match against Lord Sheffield’s touring English cricket team led by Dr W G Grace. The match was organised by T R Smith on a cricket field especially created for the occasion in front of Thornton Hall. Nepean cricketers included Bill Howell, W Mosely, A Wood, William and Thomas Player, A Devlin, Francis and Frederick Woodriff, Dr Scott, T Thompson, M and J Cleeve, A Cooper, C Creswick, H Dunshea, G Edwards, A and G Evans, L Aveyard, W Wilbow, W Mitchell, J Jude and A Whitworth.

Howell followed in the footsteps of his relative Edwin (Ted) Evans, an off spinner from Emu Plains who played in six Tests for Australia between 1881 and 1886. In 1926, Jacob King reminisced about the sporting prowess of the Evans, Howell and Player families and noted that ‘no part of the Nepean district has a better record than Emu Plains in producing cricketers of merit’. King also remembered that the ‘biggest hitters we had in the district were Hilton Hunter and Athol and Bill Howell’.

In January 1898, Bill Howell played in his first test match against England at Adelaide Oval and made two trips to England in 1899 and 1902, and to South Africa in 1902. In August that year Tom Dickson convened a meeting of local cricketers at the Commercial Hotel in Penrith and as a result the Nepean District Cricket Association was formed. Its competition trophy was the Lees Shield presented by Local Member Samuel Lees which was to become the property of the first club to win it three times. That honour went to the Castlereagh Club.

Locally, in one match Howell took ten wickets for ten runs, and in another hit seven sixes from a seven ball over. While overseas in 1902, his parents, George and Hannah (Colless) Howell died within days of each other. They owned two farms valued at £1,165. After his retirement from international cricket Bill Howell returned to one farm at Castlereagh, while his brother Athol took up the adjoining farm. In 1899, Bill married Neva, the daughter of James and Sarah Hunter of Emu Plains. In 1957, Howell Oval in Penrith was dedicated to the cricketing achievements of William Peter Howell.

Cricket was not confined to the young however. For forty-five years the “Old Buffers” from St. Marys held an annual cricket match which was followed by a dinner in one of the local hotels. Initially formed to allay some of the enmity occurring in the township between those supporting free trade and those in favour of protectionism – a highly controversial issue in the late 1880s – this annual event went on to become a highly successful social occasion regularly reported in the local press. There is some controversy as to the actual date of the first match, with May and October 1889 and March 1890 all contenders.

Sport always had a competitive streak and after the First World War competitions became more formalised and professional. Clive Bendell from Emu Plains remembered that sport played a big part in any local person’s social life in the 1920s. He joined the Emu Plains Cricket Club and played for thirty years.He was also a member of local church and social groups which would organise special occasions like picnics near the river. In 1921, the Evans Memorial Shield, to perpetuate the memory of Ted Evans, the district’s first representative cricketer, was commenced for the local first grade competition.

On 8 September 1956 a new cricket oval and turf wicket, located adjacent to Penrith Park, was officially opened by New South Wales Cricket Association President, Sydney Smith. Smith, an ‘old Penrithite’, stated he was delighted to return to his former home. The Howell and Hunter families had produced a number of skilful cricketers and none more famous than Castlereagh farmer William Peter Howell who played for Nepean, New South Wales and Australia in the 1890s and early 1900s. Norman Hunter bowled the first ball on the new wicket to Mayor Chapman at the beginning of an exhibition match. The scorer on the day was Margaret Mayberry, who later married Kevin Dwyer, a tireless local politician and Mayor of Penrith. The next goal for the cricket club was for a pavilion. The gates to the grounds had been named W P Howell gates and Arthur Howell on the day stated their future pavilion (not to be installed until 1968) should be named after Norman Hunter.

By 1964, the City had 38 sporting fields, 22 of which were for cricket. In 1968 the N A Hunter Pavilion, named after Norman Hunter, was opened at Howell Oval. This building had once been the Penrith Aero Club’s clubhouse in Jamison Park. The Aero Club conducted joy flights from the Park during the 1950s. In 1973 the Penrith District Cricket Club entered the Sydney grade cricket competition. Sponsorship by the Penrith Panthers gave the Club the funds to recruit players. One of the more famous cricketers of recent times, Richie Benaud, was born in Penrith in 1930. Although the family later moved to Parramatta, his brother John, another Test player, was the motivator and force behind Penrith’s first Sydney grade premiership win in the 1978-79 season. In recent times, Howell Oval, with its village green features, has been developed as a significant gateway leading into the Penrith CBD.

One of the most famous cricketers of recent times, Richie Benaud, was born in Penrith in 1930. Although the family later moved to Parramatta, his brother John, another Test player, was the motivator and force behind Penrith’s first Sydney grade premiership win in the 1978-79 season.

With over a thousand young people involved in junior cricket, the Penrith area is capable of ensuring a strong competition and is the breeding ground for future representative players like Pat Cummins.