Dear England: you gave cricket to the world, but it’s an Indian game now

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Feb 08, 2024, 03:32

The money and power have been wrested away. This historic takeover of an international sport by a once colonised nation is unique

Thu 25 Jan 2024 05.00 GMT

onal income. And in international cricket, what India says always goes.

While for an English cricket fan nothing will match an Ashes series with Australia, England – which once sent B teams to India, captained by players who had never before played for their country – now sends its best teams to India. It also loves India to visit the UK.

This is a historic turnaround. While there were only 13 Indian tours to this country in 64 years between 1932 and 1996, there have been eight since 2002. The reason is an Indian tour generates more money by selling rights to Indian television than an Australian tour does, money vital to sustaining cricket in this country.

This takeover of an international sport by a non-white country is unique. The vast amount of Saudi money pouring into sport has shaken up golf, football and many other sports but, while Saudis will sit at the top table, the actual running of these sports and their formats will remain the preserve of the traditional white powers of Europe and the US. Not so with India and cricket. Also, in these sports, Saudis do not have players who can take on the world, while Indian cricketers, dubbed the “dull dogs” of cricket by the British media in 1959, are now strong enough to challenge the established powers of Australia and England, and have completely vanquished the once mighty West Indies.

What makes this takeover all the more remarkable is that Indians have cleverly taken every English innovation and made it their own in what is, perhaps, the most significant cultural, certainly sporting, appropriation in history. In the process, they have not only generated money that England can only fantasise about but forced England to change its historical cricket structure. The reasons for this remarkable transformation lie in the vast changes in English and Indian society since the second world war and, more particularly, in the last few decades.

In sharp contrast to football, where the Premier League is the top club competition in the world, filling both stadiums and coffers, traditional county cricket has declined, watched, so the joke goes, by two old men and a dog. This has forced English cricket since the 1960s to introduce new forms of the game to bring back the crowds. The 1960s saw the invention of the one-day game and allowing overseas players to play in county cricket; the 1970s football-style World Cups; in 2003, Twenty20 games; and in 2021, the most outlandish form, The Hundred. For much of this time India, a supplicant at England’s table, consoled itself by claiming to uphold the historical five-day Test. The rise of the Indian middle class in the 1990s, estimated to be about 400 million people, with money to spend made them realise they could be the masters. The result was the launch in 2008 of the Indian Premier League (IPL).

This was designed to answer a domestic need: a country that, Bollywood apart, was short of entertainment content. The IPL is played on summer evenings and, with most households in India being single-television homes where women control the remote control, designed as cricket’s soap opera. What is more, while English cricket innovations had maintained the sacrosanct century-old county cricket structure, for the IPL Indians came up with entirely new teams to reflect this new India that no longer needed to beg for money from the old white first world. The decade and a half since the IPL was launched has seen traditional Test cricket become a sideshow – the current five-Test series with the best players on display is a rare exception. Meanwhile, IPL formats, named franchise cricket, have mushroomed around the world. Even the Saudis, with no previous interest in the game, are planning an IPL-style cricket tournament.

The English media consoles itself by saying that world cricket is controlled by the “big three” of England, Australia and India, when in reality India is the only superpower. Many English cricket fans will become very aware of this Indian cricket power as they wake up early in the mornings over the next few weeks to watch television and hear Indian television commentators. When England play abroad they expect to hear English voices commenting on the game. They may not like it – and sports writers have already made their anger known – but that is something they will just have to tolerate.

India brushes aside concerns that it is behaving like an imperial power: it has other worries, not least appealing to the Indian diaspora in the US, which is both hungry for cricket and extremely well off. Having conquered England – irrespective of how this Test turns out – the new cricket overlords are now keen to conquer the US. With the platform they have, and with a cricket World Cup being held there this summer, they may well succeed.

  • Mihir Bose is the author of The Nine Waves: the Extraordinary Story of Indian Cricket


ble to appreciate this new India, initially shunned the IPL, confident it would not succeed, and courted Allen Stanford, the American who turned out to be fraudster and was jailed for 110 years. Now England has had to bow down to the IPL’s power. Historically, when the English cricket season started, cricket around the world effectively stopped, and cricketers flocked to play in this country. But with the IPL coinciding with the start of the English season, and offering football-style riches to cricketers, English cricket has been forced to allow its best players to play in the IPL and even miss part of the English season, including Test cricket.

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