Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Neocolonization of the Gentleman's Game

When a few enterprising gentlemen from the East India Company decided to colonise India, they came armed not just with modern artillery, a strong naval fleet, and mercantile policies, but also with bats and balls. Because, Cricket was never seen as just a game. It was more than mere runs and wickets.

The British used the game as an instrument to impose imperial order, glorify their rule and transmit English values in the colonies. They used the game to impose moral standards on the unenlightened Indian populace. For long, the sahebs would play the game under the sun. The native was only allowed to watch from afar.

But the native would not remain a stranger to the game. He would adopt it, get better at it and use the very game as a form of imperial resistance and nationalism. He would eventually, transform the very English of English games (and they have invented quite a lot of them) into a game that has become essentially Indian in essence and character. Today, the gentle claps from stiff-lipped gentlemen in tweed jackets and wide-brimmed hats in Lords has given way to the raucous and passionate fan of the Eden Gardens.

Clubs were formed. Associations created. Teams organized. And soon, the country had begun to produce players of fine calibre like CK Nayudu and Lala Amarnath. But as a team, they were yet to make a presence felt on the global arena. They neither had the economic clout of England or Australia nor the sheer brilliance of the West Indies. They were the Sri Lanka of the 80s and the Bangladesh of the 90s.

It all changed in 1983.

It is said that catches win matches but Kapil’s catch would not only win the first world cup for his country but go on to change the cricketing landscape of India and the world. It was the time the humble television started to become popular in the households. It was also the time when Indian hockey was on a decline. The world cup winners were the heroes people were seeking for. The players gained popularity among the masses the game spread through the nook and corners of the country. Cricket’s pivot to India had begun.

24 years down the line, another Indian captain would go on to win the first T20 world cup which led to the consolidation of India’s hegemony in world cricket.

Today, India heads a unipolar power structure in the cricket politick. The rise has been a reflection of the fast-growing economy and increasing purchasing power of the citizenry in the country. The country’s market grew with its growing middle class and the sheer size of its cricket crazy population lends it enormous weight.

India is dubbed as the commercial centre of gravity of the game and accounts for 80% of the game’s revenue and 75% of the viewership. In the words of Gideon Heigh, “the world is witnessing the Indianisation of cricket, where nothing India resists will occur, and everything it approves of will prevail”.

The BCCI, the apex governing body of cricket in India, has grown into a multi-headed hydra spreading its tentacles everywhere. It decides whom India will tour and who would tour them. It rearranges matches held elsewhere to suit television viewers in India. It even changes rules to decide how the game will be played to suit its needs, a classic example being the DRS. It even refused to come under the ambit of the World Anti-Doping Agency, simply because it did not want to. India is to the ICC what the United States is to the UN.

The growth of the IPL is merely symptomatic of the shift in the economic power from the developed bloc to the emerging world. The cash-cow of Indian cricket has upset traditional cricketing structures. There is money involved in it like never before. Teams across the world are adjusting their calendars to participate in the IPL. Many players have made it abundantly clear that they will prefer the league over national commitments simply because it is too good money to lose. Even England, the lone country to put up a resistance against the IPL, have come to terms with it.

Cricket in the country has become a way of life. Players are not mere mortals- but gods and demi-gods. People perform pujas before matches. They shower love and adulation when the team wins. And they break houses and burn effigies when the team loses. The inordinate amount of passion generated by the fans led Ashish Nandy to remark that Cricket is an Indian game accidentally discovered by the British.

On the other hand, English cricket today is undergoing dynamic changes with more players of Indian origin representing the national team and at grass-root levels. It is estimated that in the coming decade or two, half of the English team will have players with subcontinental origin. Quite ironic, considering the fact that the princely Ranjitsinghji was long denied a spot in the England team just because he was brown.

Decades ago, the English took their cricket wherever they went, acting as missionaries of the game, spreading it in their colonies. Today, we find the Indian diaspora carrying their game to America and other parts of Europe, introducing the game among the locals Cricket has truly become an Indian game.

The iconic Lord’s still remains the home of the game. But it’s heart beats at Wankhede.

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