ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Beginnings of Cricket in India

Much More Than a Sport

Cricket Country: The Untold History of the First All India Team by Prashant Kidambi, Gurgaon: Penguin Viking, 2019; pp 456, 599.

Cricket Country: The Untold History of the First All India Team tells the story of the first all-India team to tour Britain, but it achieves much more. Other scholars, such as Rama­chandra Guha, have explored how sport has operated in India as a social and ­political baro­meter. The strength of Pra­shant Kidambi’s work is that it uses a particular time period—the tail end of the long 19th century—to examine how cricket captured particular tensions at the level of community, city, ­nation, and empire. India’s first ever cricket team went to Britain in 1911 to play a crowded schedule of fixtures. But, in the eyes of British and Indian spectators, far more was at play on the pitch.

Kidambi begins with Indian cricket’s origins, showing how questions of race and community played a formative role in its development. Parsis were the first Indians to pick up the bat and ball. Cricket playing was one component of the community’s steady anglicisation during the Victorian era, but they stamped their own culture on the game, even claiming that it had been played in ancient Iran. Their growing skill became a matter of concern for European cricket teams in Bombay, which played a contentious series of matches with the Parsis in the late 19th century. When Parsis began beating their colonial masters at the game, it created a sensation as far away as London—and fanned some racially fraught resentment on the losing side. These victories helped spur two Parsi tours of Britain in 1886 and 1888. Pherozeshah Mehta, the early Congress leader, recognised that these tours would have poli­tical value: they would complement Indian political delegations to the heart of empire, helping shape British public and parliamentary opinion about India. They would demonstrate Indian character and promote fraternal feelings between the two races. From the beginning, Indian cricket was about much more than sport.

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Updated On : 21st Sep, 2020
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