Cricket – A Means of National Expression

“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.

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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.

Britain

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.

Australia

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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.

India

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.

 

Further Reading

  • Wagg, Stephen. Cricket and National Identity in the Postcolonial Age. New York: Routledge, 2005.
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7 comments on “Cricket – A Means of National Expression

  1. What an interesting read! I really like the concept that a sport like cricket really has much deeper sentiments within it than just being a game. The quote used at the beginning is really engaging and also allows the reader to feel proud of Australia’s national identity and proud to be involved in a nation that celebrates cricket so well. I also like the pictures you have used as they tie really well into your argument about cricket being a nation-shaping game. I think the idea that cricket presented the identity of an ‘Aussie Battler’ is also interesting. How funny that a game can portray so much of a nation! I love the prestige, the moral values and the identities that cricket brings to each nation you have idenitifed, and it also brings a unique sense of belonging to each. I would have liked to have seen a little more of your argument in your conclusion, but I still find this a very well-rounded blog piece. I love that you have chosen this topic and I think you have written and explained this really well. Thanks for the good read.

  2. jamesvilimaa says:

    I don’t like cricket, oh no, I love it! Great article, with some really great incites. I have often thought about what the game means for Australians and the attitudes embodied within it, but rarely have i thought about what it means for other nations like India and the West Indies. This was really easy to read, and i can imagine it being very helpful to anyone who is interested in this area. I completely agree with you how the characteristics of the players are heralded as reflections of a national identity, and commentators remarks only back this up. Thinking about how much Bradman is made into an icon these days, the memorials built to him, his place in popular culture all reaffirm your arguments. Cheers.

  3. David Finney says:

    This was a well developed argument and, I suspect, was deliberately expressed in an interesting way for the benefit of the cricketing unwashed. The identification with the different commonwealth countries was accurate and it is a shame that North America seceded before the beautiful game was introduced there. It would surely have improved the mutual understanding between Regan and Thatcher that we have read about in an earlier post. Is it the subtle complexity of the game which can only be unravelled by colonial upbringing or are the people of non-commonwealth countries not prepared to spend five days in a combat which often finishes in no result.
    A final winge.Does Julien not realise that the greatest of all was Garry Sobers and Viv Richards was merely a disciple.

  4. edmundquinlan says:

    This is a very interesting insight into the way in which cricket plays a part in moulding identity. Wagg’s quote at the beginning is particularly useful as it indicates that it is not just cricket, but different sports in different nations, such as basketball in the United States, that help form identity.

    I like that you looked at England, Australia, the West Indies and India as the four regions to support your thesis. Perhaps South Africa may have also been looked at, and how the apartheid and their exclusion from test-playing status affected their national identity.

    It is clear in this article that different nations took cricket into their identity in different ways. It is interesting how the West Indies and Australia saw their respective battles with England on the sporting field most significant, whereas India preferred to display their prowess in games against their regional neighbour Pakistan.

    I had never really thought about Viv Richards’ flamboyant style as allowing the West Indies to showcase their flair. It is a well constructed point.

    I would recommend the ABC series ‘Sporting Nation.’ It gives great insights into sport in Australian identity. See http://www.abc.net.au/tv/programs/sportingnation.htm.

    A great article. Now I really can’t wait for the Ashes!

  5. mm31190 says:

    An interesting way to view cricket! I like your insightful thoughts as to how different countries perceive cricket on a larger scale. Do you have any ideas/thoughts to explain and describe the different countries having their golden eras’ of iconic players and legendary status? i.e. West Indies of the 80s, Australia 90’s -early 2000’s.

  6. Australia is cricket obsessed and it was really great to see a post on how cricket has become embedded in Australian culture and a fundamental part of our national identity globally and how this has also occurred in other commonwealth nations. Some very good points about how cricket fostered a collegial sporting culture and behavioural similarities between Australia and other commonwealth countries like England and India. The section on how cricket plays into the unique cultural identities of the countries it is played in was very informative. I am familiar with the ‘Aussie Battler’ mentality and hero-status of Don Bradman but not the cultural intricacies of the West Indies including how cricket actually raised anti-colonial passions or how radio broadcast cricket matches facilitated the acceptance of the Hindi language in India. Equanimity between gender’s is always an issue in professional sport but the blog draws attention to the growth of women’s cricket and the development of a Women’s Cricket Association by the 1930s; which seems quite early on in terms of equal treatment of women. I loved the use of humour too, made it much easier to read.

  7. Jennifer Yeh says:

    To borrow David’s phrase, I am one of the “cricketing unwashed”. Despite my state of unwashed-ness, I did find the post engaging and well explained.

    I particularly liked the contrast of national identities between different countries from the commonwealth. For instance, the construction of the figure of the “Aussie battler” had been influenced by the Great Depression and Australia’s relationship with Britain.

    In addition, I get the impression that you used a diverse range of primary sources for your research, ranging from personal texts such as letters, to forms of mass communication such as newspaper articles, radio and television broadcasts.

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