Cricket is that beloved game that cements the colony to the empire. It has a murky origin in English pastures but, at least, since 1709, we have documented games of cricket being played. In the beginning, the rules were quite flexible. Some people showed up with huge bats, some bowled all day long. To put matters to a rest, and to ensure gentlemanly behavior, the Marylebone Cricket Club was founded in 1787. The club acquired a ground for play (Lord’s) and the next year, in 1788, laid down the laws governing cricket. This was an attempt to unify and codify the various rules developed in playgrounds and masonic lodges all across England. Here, you can read some earlier versions. Four ball overs, eh?
The first change in cricket arrived just as it left the island for the colony. In 1861, a team from Surrey decided to visit the Australian colony. They were surprised to find cricket not only flourshing there but attracting a fair crowd. The Australian team (tagged the World) beat the English. This caused much consternation. English crickers decided to take concrete measures. The rules of the game must be streamlined. Perhaps they were at fault. So in 1876, England went to play the first official Test Match at Melbourne with new rules. The result was another loss. However, this test match did cement the laws of cricket. What it failed to do was teach the colonies some respect.
The colonial challenge to English cricketers continued in India. Oriental Cricket Club was established in Bombay by Parsees in 1848. By 1860s, Bombay natives (Hindu, Muslim all) were playing cricket around the Colonial gymkhana grounds. While the teams were segregated, the English cricketers took great umbrage at having to see the natives pretend-play. Starting in 1877, the natives gathered the competence to play against the Bombay Gymkhana. They didn’t win their first match against the Europeans until 1878. The superhit movie Lagaan takes its inspiration for a native team beating the English not from this match but from a 1906 match in which Palwankar Baloo, an Untouchable from Poona, rose to prominence as a great bowler and defeated the English. As an aside, the resonance and popularity enjoyed by Lagaan among the South Asian diaspora shows that it hit some postcolonial nerve somewhere.
Cricket opened up to India, the Carribean, and South Africa by the early 1940s. But, it’s next change came again from Australia. A form of cricket that could be played in one day (yes, the whole day) as opposed to five days developed in the 60s in England but it was the Australians who revolutionized the game. In 1977, Kerry Packer introduced a white ball, colored uniforms, shorter game-rules and captured the media market. The rest of the cricketing world had to take note of this “exciting brand”. Most of the innovations were adopted to become the World Cup Cricket.
Which brings us to this latest great change facing Cricket. America. They don’t seem to have the attention span of the rest of the known universe. So while everyone from Malaysia to Canada can play the ODI in the version that it stands, the Americans cannot be bothered. Hence, there is talk of a shorter version of test cricket. But the bigger lure for the Americans is an even shorter version of the ODI called Twenty20 [with cheerleaders and names like Tigers, Foxes and Dragons]. Greg Chappell wants to give cricket ” a face-lift, or at least a dash of botox, to give it some freshness.” Which means, shorter run-ups, funkier field placements and, maybe, more cheerleaders. W.G. Grace is spinning in his grave.
It will be interesting to see how Cricket survives this challenge.
update: As if cricket wasn’t enough, they went after mangoes too!?