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History and Sport: The Story of Cricket – CBSE 9th SST

Page [VII]

Question: How was cricket popularized?

Answer: While some English team games like hockey and football became international games, played all over the world, cricket remained a colonial game, limited to countries that had once been part of the British empire. The pre-industrial oddness of cricket made it a hard game to export. It took root only in countries that the British conquered and ruled. In these colonies, cricket was established as a popular sport either by white settlers (as in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies and Kenya) or by local elites who wanted to copy the habits of their colonial masters, as in India.

While British imperial officials brought the game to the colonies, they made little effort to spread the game, especially in colonial territories where the subjects of empire were mainly non-white, such as India and the West Indies. Here, playing cricket became a sign of superior social and racial status, and the Afro-Caribbean population was discouraged from participating in organized club cricket, which remained dominated by white plantation owners and their servants. The first non-white club in the West Indies was established towards the end of the nineteenth century, and even in this case its members were light-skinned mulattoes. So while black people played an enormous amount of informal cricket on beaches, in back alleys and parks, club cricket till as late as the 1930s was dominated by white elites.

Despite the exclusiveness of the white cricket elite in the West Indies, the game became hugely popular in the Caribbean. Success at cricket became a measure of racial equality and political progress.

Question: How was cricket in colonial India organised?

Answer: Cricket in colonial India was organised on the principle of race and religion. The first record we have of cricket being played in India is from 1721, an account of recreational cricket played by English sailors in Cambay. The first Indian club, the Calcutta Cricket Club, was established in 1792. Through the eighteenth century, cricket in India was almost wholly a sport played by British military men and civil servants in all-white clubs and gymkhanas.

Playing cricket in the privacy of these clubs was more than just fun: it was also an escape from the strangeness, discomfort and danger of their stay in India. Indians were considered to have no talent for the game and certainly
not meant to play it. But they did.

Question: Describe why Parsi Gymkhana was established.

Answer: The origins of Indian cricket, that is, cricket played by Indians are to be found in Bombay and the first Indian community to start playing the game was the small community of Zoroastrians, the Parsis. Brought into close contact with the British because of their interest in trade and the first Indian community to westernize, the Parsis founded the first Indian cricket club, the Oriental Cricket Club in Bombay in 1848. Parsi clubs were funded and sponsored by Parsi businessmen like the Tatas and the Wadias. The white cricket elite in India offered no help to the enthusiastic Parsis. In fact, there was a quarrel between the Bombay Gymkhana, a whites-only club, and Parsi cricketers over the use of a public park. The Parsis complained that the park was left unfit for cricket because the polo ponies of the Bombay Gymkhana dug up the surface. When it became clear that the colonial authorities were prejudiced in favor of their white compatriots, the Parsis built their own gymkhana to play cricket in.

The rivalry between the Parsis and the racist Bombay Gymkhana had a happy ending for these pioneers of Indian cricket. A Parsi team beat the Bombay Gymkhana at cricket in 1889, just four years after the foundation of the Indian National Congress in 1885, an organization that was lucky to have amongst its early leaders the great Parsi statesman and intellectual Dadabhai Naoroji.

The establishment of the Parsi Gymkhana became a precedent for other Indians who in turn established clubs based on the idea of religious community. By the 1890s, Hindus and Muslims were busy gathering funds and support for a Hindu Gymkhana and an Islam Gymkhana. The British did not consider colonial India as a nation. They saw it as a collection of castes and races and religious communities and gave themselves the credit for unifying the sub- continent. In the late nineteenth century, many Indian institutions and movements were organised around the idea of religious community because the colonial state encouraged these divisions and was quick to recognise communal institutions.

Question: Describe the role played by Parsi Gymkhana in Indian cricket.

Answer: This history of gymkhana cricket led to first-class cricket being organised on communal and racial lines. The teams that played colonial India’s greatest and most famous first-class cricket tournament did not represent regions, as teams in today’s Ranji Trophy currently do, but religious communities. The tournament was initially called the Quadrangular, because it was played by four teams: the Europeans, the Parsis, the Hindus and the Muslims. It later became the Pentangular when a fifth team was added, namely, the Rest, which comprised all the communities left over, such as the Indian Christians. For example, Vijay Hazare, a Christian, played for the Rest.
By the late 1930s and early 1940s, journalists, cricketers and political leaders had begun to criticize the racial and communal foundations of the Pentangular tournament. The distinguished editor of the newspaper the Bombay Chronicle, S.A. Brelvi, the famous radio commentator A.F.S. Talyarkhan and India’s most respected political figure, Mahatma Gandhi, condemned the Pent angular as a communally divisive competition that was out of place in a time when nationalists were trying to unite India’s diverse population. A rival first-class tournament on regional lines, the National Cricket Championship (later named the Ranji Trophy), was established but not until Independence did it properly replace the Pent angular. The colonial state and its divisive conception of India was the rock on which the Pent angular was built. It was a colonial tournament and it died with the Raj.

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