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Cricket and the Anti-Colonial Effort

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Winning in cricket was a political statement for those who suffered from colonial rule

A family of cricket players who decide who to hit first by playing rock, paper, scissors in Swat, Pakistan. Photo: Mohammad Khan

When I took a trip to Pakistan in January 2020, I got into a love affair with a sport I never thought I would play: cricket.

When I took a trip to Pakistan in January 2020, I got into a love affair with a sport I never thought I would play: cricket.

The infamous – and original – bat and ball game, with countless rules, is somehow still the second most popular sport on Earth. I was amazed to see rows of men and children in every village, town and city all playing this game in the same regions of the world that gave us the sports of Buzkashi, Pehlwani and Kabaddi.

Why is cricket so popular here?

A quick Google search gives us the answer to this question, that answer – like the answers to many questions around the modern Indian subcontinent – has to do with British colonialism.

The British introduced the ball and bat game of cricket to British India, America and the Caribbean in the 18th century.

Cricket was originally another tool of the British Empire to assimilate their colonies, but they were unaware that the game would play a role in political liberation among the colonized.

According to the Malian writer Manthia Diawara, they played the game with the expected pretensions and privileges. The sport, with its many rules, beautiful white jerseys and extremely tedious pace, was meant to showcase English politeness, decency and “intellectualism” at the time.

Diawara would add that this sense of ‘Englishness’ was also a performative racial superiority, characterized by English values ​​and behavior as supreme and foremost in contrast to the ‘others’ (especially the colonies) who intended to imitate their behavior. mimic and copy, but never could. do this properly as they claimed. That was the underlying political story of the English when they first introduced the game to the rest of the world.

Ironically, the British both wanted others to imitate them, but not in a way that would do them best. When it came to sports, the colonial empire didn’t realize it could get its pie and share it too.

According to the famous Trinidadian historian CLR James, cricket turned into an unexpected revolution against the British Empire.

In his book, Beyond the Boundary, which discusses this phenomenon with cricket in the Caribbean and the West Indies, he argues that the sport: are imposed on the colonies to tame them, to push them to the psychic boundaries where they would learn the settler’s values ​​and ethics. But once they got the chance to play the master’s game, to excel at it, the colonials got a sense of self-worth that would eventually set them free. ”

While the ruling colonial masters played this game, the people of the colonies soon learned it – and as their movements grew in independence, cricket soon became an outlet for diplomatic statements.

Some colonies, such as America’s, revolted in creating their own variety of cricket (now known internationally as baseball), while the colonies of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and many others found joy and pride in not only playing the sport, but also beating the “intelligent white man” at his own game.

“The clash of race, caste and class has not slowed down West Indian cricket but stimulated it […] Social and political passions denied normal outlets expressed so fiercely in cricket (and other games) precisely because they were games, ”states James in his book.

Sooner than later, the West Indian teams of the 1960s dominated the sport, followed by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Each winning Cricket World Cups against the ancient symbols of “white cricket excellence” in the teams from England and Australia.

This great pride and joy in the athletic revolution against their settlers is also reflected in their descendants as the people of the Indian subcontinent now lead the International Cricket Council and the popularity of the sport has not waned.

“Cricket has always been a deep passion of mine. Playing in my hometown with the other children was everything for me. It has a special place in my heart, ”said local cricketer Ayaz Yusufzai.

Yusufzai is a Pakistani immigrant who shares a similar story about the sport to many young men and women in India and Pakistan. In fact, India holds the record for the most under-19 Cricket World Cup championships and Bangladesh is the current champion.

As a result of the sport’s ever-growing popularity, the former colonies have not only rebelled against their colonizers through the sport, but also revolutionized it.

New formats from One Day Internationals and Twenty-20 have made shorter, faster, and much more action-packed games. While cricket in its purest form was a long game that lasted several days, India, Pakistan, South Africa and the West Indies all brought with them their own flair and style that changed the sport forever.

Today’s cricket is now a global sports phenomenon in a post-colonial world still struggling to overcome the consequences of Western imperialism over the past four centuries.

“The Greeks believed that an athlete who represented his community at a national competition and won, conferred a remarkable award on his city. His victory was a testament to the quality of the citizens. […] A city that could produce such citizens did not need walls to defend it, ”James writes.

Cultural identity, revolution and emancipation characterized the political landscape of the British colonies, and for many it was precisely the play of the colonizers that freedom, hope and liberation could be cheered with emphatic pride.

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