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Cricket cultures in conflict

By Boria Majumdar

As India and England prepare for the first Test of the current series, cricket historian Boria Majumdar reflects on changing times.

It is cricket's worst kept secret - that English players were averse to touring the sub-continent until not very long ago.

Cover of a souvenir to commemorate England team's visit to India in 1951
English stars were not inspired enough to make the trip to India

The Indian public missed out on Holmes, Sutcliffe, Wooley and Hammond in 1934. Trueman, Statham, May, Graveney and Bailey all pulled out in 1961-2.

Herbert Sutcliffe had toured India in 1930-31 as part of the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram's side and had also turned up for local Calcutta side Sporting Union in the process - but then special incentives were on offer, lots of money and presents of gold and ivory.

But with the princes losing their hallowed turf as India became an independent republic in the 1940s, nothing could inspire English stars to make a trip to this precious land of the Empire.

Another indication of the low status of a tour of India was that Nigel Howard and Tony Lewis, who captained England to India in 1952 and 1973, were rookies making their Test debuts as captains of their country.

So it was not without reason then that Indian victories against England at home were such huge causes for celebration.

Exotic Orient

Indian teams visiting England provoked a certain wonder among the hosts.

Soon after the Indians arrived for a series in 1932, the Evening Standard commented: "There has never been such a team of contrasts meeting on the common footing of cricket."

"The 18 players speak eight to 10 languages, belong to four or five different castes, some may not eat this and some may not eat that, a few are denied smoking by their religious laws.

Ted Dexter
To earn their share of the spoils players have little option but to travel to all parts of the globe
Ted Dexter

"Some similarly have drink proscribed; they are captained by a Maharajah rich beyond the dreams of county cricket treasurers.

"Some come from the plains where cold is almost unknown, and others from the hills where the climate has insured them even to an English summer."

Some three decades later, Ted Dexter, who captained a depleted English team to India in 1961-62, was witness to an amusing incident involving an Indian captain and the crowds.

"On one occasion a green toy lion was hurled at my good friend Poly Umrigar with a catapult and on being hit on the chest he lay flat on the ground. It was only when he realized that what had hit him was a toy did he get up," he recalled later.

Dexter also attributed English players dropping out of India tours to India's weak cricketing status.

"Up until the 1970s India was not a global cricketing force to reckon with and the amateurs felt it was wise to pull out from what was otherwise an extremely demanding tour."

'Bad decision'

Add to these the fear of the exotic Orient - from Delhi belly to dingy hotels and incompetent umpires.

Ten different umpires officiated in the five Tests of the 1961 tour - enough reason for the touring party to castigate the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

The situation remained unchanged in 1964 when Clive Taylor, writing for the Daily Mirror, had this to say: "There have already been six bad decisions.

"India is working on the system of one experienced Test umpire paired with a new boy. Ironically the bulk of the errors have come from the experienced man.

"Both sides are suffering. Once an appeal is made, the game becomes a lottery. Anything can happen."

In fact, almost every British scribe covering the Tests had taken Indian umpiring to task for errors which had operated against both sides.

The Shift

The Shift - the transformation of South Asia into the nerve centre of global cricket power - started in earnest in the 1990s.

South Asia, with its tens of millions of enthusiastic supporters, its super-rich internationals, its strong financial base and its over-compensating administrators, has gradually begun to replace Western control with Eastern control.

Flintoff in the nets at Mumbai
Happy to be here? Freddie Flintoff in the nets at Mumbai

So like it or not, the English players will have to smile their way to the sub-continent for simple monetary reasons.

One simple fact is enough to prove the point - in the inaugural match of the 2004 Champions' Trophy at the Rose Bowl in Hampshire, not a single hoarding was from a local company.

Every company being advertised was from the sub-continent.

So is the historical domination by one cricketing culture over the rest about to be replaced by another (with its essence in monetary muscle) and with what repercussions?

It is indeed a very delicate situation for the game.

The author is a sports historian and author of Twenty-Two Yards to Freedom: A Social History of Indian Cricket. He is a research fellow at Latrobe University, Melbourne



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