Samir Chopra July 4, 2008

India's Australian affair

Outside cricket, Indians still knew little about Australia

Reading Michael 'Fox' Jeh's post on 'Australia's Indian affair' has prompted me to type in a little excerpt from Mihir Bose's A History of Indian Cricket:

This [the 1959-60 tour] was the third visit by the Australians in nine years. On their two previous visits they had played eight tests, won four, and also won both series comfortably. But despite the batsmen and their bowlers proving vastly superior to the Indians they were always the most eagerly awaited of cricket visitors. Outside cricket, Indians still knew little about Australia. But when it came to cricket, India adored Australians....We feared their cricket but we respected them as cricketers. The Australians we felt took India and its cricket seriously. England always sent what looked like 'B' team. Before an English tour the Indian press would be full of stories of major players declining the tour. Australia never seemed to have that problem....England also often appointed a tyro captain to lead the side to India, as if it was a training ground....Whoever was the Australian captain always brought the team to meant more to the Indians to be playing Australia. It was a surer test of ability. Indians felt they were playing a country that did not treat them as an inferior cricket nation

The excerpt is interesting in so many ways: it speaks of a very different time, ordered in its power relations in very different ways; of a very different set of priorities on the part of the nations then playing cricket. Australian attitudes toward cricket, touring, its role in cricketing world affairs, were already interestingly different from the mother nation; it had already struck out a new path in forming its cricketing identity and not blindly imitating England had already been established as a solid guide to action. India looked for respect in the world; at that point in its cricketing history, just being taken seriously enough to play with was a significant gesture. Dreams of ruling the world's cricketing roost were surely distant ones.

Earlier this year as the India-Australia post Sydney fiasco brewed, and as chapter and verse was written about the misunderstandings between the two cricketing nations, I was reminded of this little excerpt from Bose's book. The oft-invoked vision of the realignment of the cricket world invariably points to its racial lines; the history of cricket suggests all sorts of interesting alliances are common. In the 1950s, both Australia and India might have wanted an identity for themselves that lay outside the ambit of England. Australia could do so by building a set of cricketing ties independent of its relationship with England; India by developing a healthy rivalry which acknowledged the sporting prowess of its adversary.

The growing relationship between India and Australia - a crucial one as this brand new world of cricket emerges - would do well to pay attention to all aspects of its history, including those that suggest their interests converged in the past.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here