“A mode of expression, of national expression, is not created by chance or by whim. It is the product of history and historic striving, conscious and unconscious. Michael Jordan ‘flies’, Vivi Richards ‘hits across the line’, each expressing his particular genius, in their own specific mode of national expression. Cricket is ours…”
Stephen Wagg, Cricket and National Identity in the Postcolonial Age, 2005.
When looking at the cricket from an impartial perspective it may appear to be a simple sport between two sides of eleven men, however the meaning and connotations associated with it had deep implications for Britain and its empire in the twentieth century. Aside from Britain, cricket helped shape Australia, the West Indies and India in similar and contrasting ways. As a sport of British origin, cricket was seen to foster and develop the national character, morals and ideals of Englishmen. Whilst serving to reinforce gender roles, cricket also served to deconstruct them evidenced through the formation of and international participation of women in matches. Similarly within Australia, cricket served to reinforce constructed national identities such as the “Aussie Battler” particularly around Sir Donald Bradman and the 1932-1933 Bodyline Ashes series. Within the West Indies cricket served to generate regional national identities particularly through cricketers such as Viv Richards whilst also generating anti-colonial sentiments. Through the Indian context it can be seen that cricket played a major role in the early constructs of the nation where the game expanded through radio and television with support geared exclusively at the national team.
Cricket played a key role in the development of British national identity as it both reinforced gender roles and served to deconstruct them. Cricketing discourse within twentieth century Britain emphasized that men who played enjoyed an elevated sense of national worth as they gained positive character traits, which would become synonymous with the state. By playing the sport, men were encouraged to place their enjoyment below the interests of the team, therefore giving players a high moral worth. Players also acquired traits such as solidarity, teamwork and valor all of which represented quintessential British traits, which would help define their masculinity. Despite the overwhelming twentieth century view of cricket as a masculine space, women’s participation helped to deconstruct their engrained gender roles as they became actively involved in matches organized by the Women’s Cricket Association (WCA) which was established in 1929. By 1934 the first women’s international match between Australia and England was played, helping to overturn notions of male dominance in sporting arenas.
Bodyline cricket – 1932/33
Within Australia, cricket fostered key national identities particularly notions of the “Aussie Battler” which was reinforced in the 1932-1933 Ashes series through which Bradman’s determinism shone against England’s defeatist tactics. Throughout the early twentieth century, Bradman was a key shaper of Australia’s national identity as he helped unite the nation and shift attention away from the lows of the Great Depression. Bradman’s exploits with the bat helped lift the spirits of ordinary Australians and helped them define themselves as a nation through cricket. The 1932-1933 Ashes series helped proliferate the notion of the “Aussie Battler” national identity as the negative tactics used to quell Bradman helped generate anti-British sentiments whilst the nation collectively rallied around his efforts in the face of adversity. After his death in 2001, the memory of Bradman and his portrayal in popular culture emphasized his exemplary status within Australia’s consciousness with dominant narratives presenting a united consensus on his impact on the nation.
The West Indies
Within the West Indies, cricket played a key role in generating regional identities tied to key cricketers including Viv Richards with matches between England cementing anti-colonial sentiments. The early twentieth century saw the development of a range of racially exclusive cricket clubs whereby classes could interact with coercion or fear. The mixing of different races also meant that notions of ‘black expertise’ were placed in combat against that of whites and cricket was therefore linked to a black struggle in the late 1930’s. Contests within the post-war era were the key watershed moment in West Indian cricket epitomized in the 1950 West Indian victory against England at Lords, marking their first ever win on British soil. The emergence of Viv Richards in the 1970’s with his aggressive and flamboyant playing style helped symbolize the importance of cricket in allowing the West Indies to advertise its flair to the world. West Indian cricket peaked in the 1990’s during the national team completely dominated the international scene with the success of players such as Curtley Ambrose from small villages helping to generate regional identities.
Through the Indian context cricket was the major driver of Indian national identity particularly though the entity of the national team. Early constructs of India’s national identity were built around cricket due to its ability to unite the people. Regional sentiments for local teams were not the same as basketball in America or soccer in England and therefore the national team is the sole driver cricket based nationalism. Live radio commentary and later televised matches helped proliferate support for the game and allowed it to gain popularity. The introduction of Hindi as the language used by radio cricket commentary can be seen as part of the wider construction of a distinct Indian national identity and would serve to create a homogenous state. Successes in the 1980’s and 1990s particularly against Pakistan were key in fostering a sense of national rivalry with Indian success strongly linked to collective pride.
In conclusion cricket has the unique ability to allow players and nations to express themselves in manners, which become associated with ideas and values such as imperialism, anti-colonialism, gender, equality, heroism and cowardice.
- Wagg, Stephen. Cricket and National Identity in the Postcolonial Age. New York: Routledge, 2005.