|host: Birmingham date: July 28-August 8|
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This summer cricket is part of the Commonwealth Games. Eight women’s teams from around the world will compete for gold for the first time.
But cricket has always been part of the Commonwealth, or to give it another name, the Empire.
Unlike other sports, cricket reflects and reveals the legacy of that part of British history.
“If you’re a batsman and you’re out, you don’t question the umpire’s verdict,” said Dr Prashant Kidambi, an expert on Indian colonial history and the University of Leicester.
“It was a good way of thinking about the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized, in the eyes of the British.”
Kidambi’s book Cricket Country explores the origins of cricket, especially in modern Mumbai, where Lord Harris served as British Governor in the 1890s.
“As the empire grew, cricket became popular in different parts of the empire, and people like Lord Harris saw it as a sign of the success of the mission of British civilization,” Kidambi added.
“Cricket may be a metaphor for the empire itself; the idea of hierarchy, obedience, following the rules. But from the beginning, sport has also been an area where communities and societies express their identities.”
If cricket was originally meant to make India’s colonial subjects feel “more British”, it has now become the most visible and dynamic way of demonstrating India’s national identity.
The same goes for other places.
For example, in Antigua, a former British slave colony. Here, while reporting on England’s first Test against the West Indies in March, we caught up with the man who embodies independent black pride like any other cricketer – Sir Vivian Richards.
“I’m pretty firm on that, so maybe that’s why some people sometimes look at me and say, ‘Wow, what an arrogant guy, the way he went out and hit the ball’ and so on,” Richards said.
“No, it’s not arrogance. I just believe in humans and that’s the most important thing. I classify myself as human, the same color as any other on earth.
“As a people, we have given the world a lot — a lot.”
Richards, like many in the Caribbean, has urged greater recognition of the legacy of slavery.
“Tell generations and children how some apparently got their fortunes,” he said.
“We played a big role without getting paid. So, we’re hearing a lot about compensation now. For me, it’s a good option.”
On many islands where cricket is just one of the legacy of colonial rule, this is an issue of great significance.
But in Britain itself, deep questions of representation and accountability have been raised through cricket.
Edgbaston is hosting a Commonwealth Games cricket match. As journalists, we have seen firsthand the work Warwickshire has done to attract the diverse Birmingham population, especially the Muslim community; Ramadan indoor cricket matches, which began after fasting, with two thousand people on the ground for Eid al-Fitr prayers .
These moves predate Rafiq’s disclosures, but have become more significant since then.This Crowd members suspected of racist behavior It was a huge frustration for clubs committed to inclusivity in July’s Test match between England and India.
The Commonwealth Games offer another opportunity to make progress.
“I really believe in cricket’s ability to influence and set an example of how to be inclusive,” said former England international Isa Guha.
“There are so many different communities involved in cricket, that’s how everyone connects.
“Unfortunately, we’ve been through a very uncomfortable period over the past few years. It’s been difficult for everyone involved in cricket. We all have to look at ourselves and get better.
“Sadly, the Band-Aid has to be ripped off to reveal these disturbing truths before we can move on. But cricket also has the ability to do that through the Commonwealth.”
Organisations such as the Chance to Shine charity are also very keen on the Commonwealth Games as a women’s event which will spark another wave of female participation. The cricket tradition is innovating.
Kidambi believes the same is true for the Commonwealth.
“Politically, the Commonwealth is divided,” he said.
“The UK’s role as a political player has diminished. Now, if you think of the Commonwealth, you think of educational exchanges, sporting events like the Commonwealth Games.
“As the world becomes more polarized, the Commonwealth provides an area where nations can come together. Some people will win, some people will lose. But you’re participating in a common activity. That’s valuable.”
More than a century after the British promoted cricket as a “mission of civilization”, the concept of shared purpose and shared identity still exists.
This summer, it could be the legacy of the cricket empire we are witnessing in Birmingham.