Saturday, March 20, 2004

But cricket's footprint, as the great Trinidadian writer C.L.R. James acknowledged in his seminal work, Beyond a Boundary, has always been larger than the grounds on which it is played. "In the inevitable integration into a national community," he wrote, "one of the most urgent needs, sport, and particularly cricket, has played and will play a great role."

James was referring to the project of Caribbean unity.... The idea Mr. James introduced in his timeless 1963 book was the notion of sport as an instrument of social justice and national identity. In his estimation, the motive force of West Indian cricket was to subvert the colonial project, restaging cricket in its parochial aesthetics as a discourse in anti-colonialism....

Fuelled by the sentiments that Mr. James had identified, West Indian cricket teams became the best in the world at a game that Lord Harris, a governor of Bombay, once argued required the "doggedness of the English temperament" for success. West Indian cricketers rewrote that script--eventually bludgeoning the English into a series of hapless surrenders in the 1980s, battering them with a muscular, exuberant and physically intimidating brand of cricket.

After a brief period of West Indian supremacy, cricket mastery passed to Australia, India, Pakistan and South Africa. These former colonies are producing the best cricket teams not so much because they are fired by an anti-colonialist aesthetic but because they are bolstered by familiar economic forces. Because Rupert Murdoch saw the potential for cricket in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, he trained the cameras of his media empire on the subcontinent. Among the many reasons why an India v. Pakistan cricket match is probably drawing more attention than the siege of an al-Qaeda deputy is that Murdoch's Star TV has turned Asia's cricket players into demigod millionaires.

Duke University academic Kenneth Surin argues that cricket is no longer "a means of national expression" and he points out that West Indian professional cricketers now earn a living touring the world in pursuit of ever-increasing financial rewards. Such globetrotting has levelled the playing field, Prof. Surin says: "Cricketing styles have become homogenized in consequence of this 'internationalization' of the game."

So last week, while India and Pakistan were meeting, the English team was steamrollering the West Indies in Jamaica with a British version of muscular, physical cricket, reversing the recent narrative between the two countries.

If the result in Kingston was parochial, it also contained a universal morality tale of the times.

-- From an op-ed piece on "the geopolitics of cricket" by Ken Wiwa in today's Globe & Mail.

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