A Corner of a Foreign Field is giving me new insights into history and colonisation in every chapter I read. Today, I read about one of the early Indian college teams whose popularity is reminiscent of the fanatical following that the present Indian cricket team enjoys.
At the Mohemmadan Anglo-Oriental College, the English principal encouraged native students to form a cricket team. Soon, the team gained a lot of popularity and its exploits were followed with a fanatical zeal. The College soon became known for its cricket and its matches were watched with interest.
Some parents and patrons were, nonetheless, uncomfortable with or against the hold this foreign sport had on their students and community. They believed this love of cricket as ‘evidence … of an unhealthy subservience to the values and culture of the foreigner’. This when the College and its playing XI believed that cricket brought them closer to the colonisers and thus social advancement through increased associations with the Englishmen.
Although cricket began in the English countryside, its origins are prominent in urban India. Where the sport was once played in imitation of the colonisers, the natives soon became experienced players of the sport and internalised it completely. If you know anything about cricket in India today, you will know that it is considered religion (one that even unites all other religions) and cricketers are revered as gods.
What is interesting to note, historically speaking, is the fact that the colonisers first viewed cricket as something that connected them to and reminded them of their home country and allowed them to pass their time in more familiar pursuits, especially when their entire lives had been uprooted from England to India. The natives, in contrast, started off as simply imitating their colonisers and eventually developing a love of the sport itself.
However, this love and eagerness to learn and play cricket began to be viewed as the colonised peoples acceptance of the colonisers’ values and culture. Eventually, instead of acknowledging that the natives had learnt the sport by themselves and for themselves, ‘the rulers convinced themselves that they had actively preached the gospel, that they had taught Indians to play cricket’. Doesn’t this sound similar to so many other arguments for colonialism?
And yet, if you look at cricket in India today, it might just be difficult to convince people that its not an ‘Indian’ sport at all. It is countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, West Indies and South Africa, all former English colonies, that have internalised the sport and produced some of the finest cricket players in the world. Players who, if records are collected, studied and believed, might even surpass some of the best English cricketers. Could such talent, skill, technique and fanaticism really be ‘taught’?