Reverse cricket imperialism

Who calls the shots in the global business of cricket? Middle-class Indian television viewers

By Andrew Leonard
January 10, 2008 9:58PM (UTC)
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As a typical American who understands the game of cricket about as well as I comprehend string theory, I have been paying only idle attention to the nasty charges of racism and poor sportsmanship overshadowing a recent series of hotly contested showdowns between the Indian and Australian national teams.

I do know that the Australian team is currently the Godzilla of cricket, having won three straight World Cups and currently poised on the verge of breaking its own record for consecutive Test wins. I have also gathered that Australia is globally notorious for its over-the-top "sledging" -- a practice in which players insult their opponents during play, hoping to break their concentration.


But last fall, there was much to do in the Indian newspapers over reports that Indian spectators had themselves gone too far, taunting Australia's lone black player, Andrew Symonds, with racial epithets. Last week, the controversy boiled over when Symonds accused one of India's star players, Harbhajan Singh, (a .k.a. "The Turbanator") of calling him a "monkey" during an ongoing tour of Australia by the Indian team. Singh was immediately suspended for three matches.

India's official cricket organization, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), responded by suspending the tour altogether.

And then something interesting happened. The International Cricket Council, the game's governing body, temporarily rescinded the suspension, pending an appeal that, at last report, might not even take place until India finishes its Australian tour. And now the tour is back on.


According to the Financial Times, while Australia may be the Yankees of cricket on the field, India now calls the shots off the field. The country's burgeoning middle class watches a lot of televised cricket -- and television is where the money is.

Writes Sundeep Tucker:

India provides 70 per cent of cricket's global revenues, placing the BCCI in a powerful position. With the sport almost entirely bankrolled by television income and corporate sponsors, it is little surprise its center of gravity is shifting to the sub-continent.

This is a fascinating reversal of cultural imperialist fortune. I can't be the only spectator from afar who has always found the sub-continent's adoration of cricket a bizarre legacy of British conquest. The Japanese love of baseball is the only thing I can think of that is similar, but even that pales when compared to the wholesale adoption of upper crust English behavioral attitudes towards such things as "fair play." For India to now be so influential in the global economics of cricket would have been hard to predict, I dare say, when the British were crushing the Great Mutiny, back in the day.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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