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

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Soul of the Game

The Cambridge Companion to Cricket edited by Anthony Bateman and Jeffrey Hill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 2011; pp xxvi + 282, Rs 399 (PB).

To lament, as many do, on what cricket has made of cricket is a species of pathetic fallacy, it will be more appropriate to express concern over what man has made of cricket. Human society, in full flow of creativity, had once crafted this fascinating game. It is a game in which attainment of success calls for talent, skill, application, stamina, patience, 100% physical fitness, intense fellow-feeling and an instinct for honouring and abiding by the rule of law. It is not an easy game to play or even to watch. It has developed through the centuries from its Anglo-Saxon roots and kept mutating into new forms till it was the close of the 19th century and the concept of the five-day test series took shape. No point in denying the fact that, at its inception and in the early phase, cricket was essentially a class-centred game, a kind of quaint relaxation in indolent spring and summer-afternoons indulgence by the rural gentry. It however came to acquire an inner quality which, with the ushering in of the 20th century, attracted the social underclass, servants, orderlies, valets, masons, coal miners, artisans and such like. The gentry, whether grudgingly or otherwise, could not but recognise the flair of this riff-raff for the game and had to take them in. True, the formal class d­ivision into “gentlemen” and “players” persisted for quite some more while. This was only to be expected in an archetypal evolutionary society like Britain.

Much more noticeable was the rapidity with which cricket would penetrate into far-flung territories comprising the British Empire. The game caught on in the manner of forest fire. What was initially simple pastime for homesick expatriate officers, clerks, colonels and sergeant-majors soon contaminated the native breed. Even as the colonial club culture continued to spread, so too did cricket. In the Indian subcontinent, the nawabs and maharajas became avid patrons; in Ceylon, it was the tea and rubber barons; in the Caribbean, the bauxite merchants and the clan monopolising the sugar cane plantations. The craze did not just stop there. Give or take a couple of decades, the humbler folk started tiptoeing in, maybe the gardener’s son, maybe a ballboy or a vagabond who used to sell seashells at the seashore. In due course, the commoners swept out the “gentlemen” from the arena and ­established their total dominance. This happened both in England and the colonies, or formerly colonial outposts.

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