The Empire of Cricket

In his classic work on cricket, Beyond a Boundary, the West Indian Marxist CLR James makes the point that most anecdotes about cricket are boring to the non-aficionado because they begin and end with cricket. But in James' view, cricket was the grand sport of social and historical drama. It is therefore impossible to look at cricket as simply any sport. The story of cricket, for James, was the story of empire and race, of domination and resistance. In his time, the captain of the West Indies team was always a white man. James led a successful campaign to install Frank Worrell as the first black West Indian captain through 1959-60.   For years now, no white man has represented the West Indies at cricket. Yet empire and race endure. The West Indian batting legend Viv Richards once famously said that every time he smashed an English bowler to the boundary, he was paying back the erstwhile colonial master. Nor is this an odd, freakish sentiment. In the winter of 1933-34, the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) team toured India.

Ram Guha records the comments of two young Indian cricketers as they watched the incomparable CK Nayudu score a memorable century against the visitors. "Nayudu had driven away all fear of the foreigner from my mind", wrote one. "We madly cheered each shot past the boundary not only as a cricket performance but also as an assertion of our resolve to throw the British out of India", wrote the other. Decades later, the Hindi feature film Lagaan drew upon these historical memories to concoct a charming and delicious brew of cricket and romance, empire and resistance.

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Himal Southasian