Anyone but England

The old order yieldeth

Marqusee places cricket's evolution in a historical perspective and reveals the inevitability of the changes the sport has gone through in recent times

Suresh Menon

November 8, 2008

Text size: A | A

It was bad enough when CLR James wrote his masterpiece, but at least he was from a cricket-playing country. And he was in awe of Victorian traditions. Three decades after Beyond a Boundary, Mike Marqusee, who didn't even have the decency to belong to a Test-playing nation, and seemed to enjoy recording the dismantling of meaningless traditions, wrote his masterpiece. As Francis Wheen puts it in the introduction to Anyone But England, "it must be infuriating that two of the greatest books about the game have been written by chaps who were not only foreigners but also socialists". Difficult to tell which was the greater crime.

The two books are often spoken of in the same breath, but that is unfair to both. James' is an unclassifiable paean to continuity, while Marqusee's is not only about change but about placing that change in a historical perspective. It took an American to challenge the establishment, albeit an American who is passionate about the game. When James wrote in 1963, West Indies under Frank Worrell were just emerging as a world force. Great team, great players, but no administrative muscle. It is tempting, if mischievous, to read Marqusee's book as confirmation that players may come and players may go but officials endure forever - and they contribute most to rankings.

But that is simplistic, and fails to take into account the upheavals in society. For Marqusee's book is about passion, money and success coming together to wrench control of the game away from England. In the 1990s two events of significance occurred: England and Australia lost their power of veto in the ICC, and cricket, a sport protected by class, now became one supported by the market.

Marqusee's triumph lies in exposing the historical inevitability of the change. The game has changed more in the last quarter century than it did in the hundred years before that; Marqusee tells us why this was only to be expected. He is not happy with many of the changes, but no one can wish them away.

The spiritual father of Anyone But England is not Beyond a Boundary, but Derek Birley's The Willow Wand - for its iconoclasm, its refusal to accept the myths of the game untested, and for its act of holding up a mirror to the game from a completely different angle. In a new chapter, written for the tenth anniversary edition, Marqusee says, "I prefer my cricket unbranded - by either nation-states or multi-national corporations. The history of the game is intertwined with the formation of social identities - national, imperial, post-imperial. But that has only been possible because the game itself is so protean, so durable, so forbiddingly idiosyncratic... "

These very qualities give hope. "That is why one should never be too pessimistic about its future," says Marqusee.

From the book
"The hypocrisy that has long been regarded as one of the chief characteristics of the English takes root early in cricket, and is indeed one of the things that makes English cricket English - the way it lies about itself to itself. The Englishness is in the lie, in the cult of the honest yeomen and the village green, in the denial of cricket's origins in commerce, politics, patronage and an urban society."

Anyone but England: Cricket, Politics and the Fate of the Nation
by Mike Marqusee

Verso, 1994

Suresh Menon is a writer based in Bangalore

RSS Feeds: Suresh Menon

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Email Feedback Print
Suresh MenonClose
Suresh Menon Suresh Menon went from being a promising cricketer to a has-been, without the intervening period of a major career. He played league cricket in three cities with a group of overgrown enthusiasts who had the reverse of amnesia - they could remember things that never happened. For example, taking incredible catches at slip, or scoring centuries. Somehow Menon found the time to be the sports editor of the Pioneer and the Indian Express in New Delhi, Gulf News in Dubai, and the editor of the New Indian Express in Chennai. Currently he is a columnist with publications in India and abroad, and is beginning to think he might never play for India.
Related Links
Teams: England

    'Kenya cricket is dead'

Aasif Karim's dream spell against Australia in 2003 symbolised a brief golden period for Kenya, but since his retirement, the country's cricket has nose-dived. By Tim Wigmore

    Wicket-taking oldies, and English centurions

Ask Steven: Also, playing against most teams, highest ODI scores by batsmen out hit-wicket, and Flying Stumps

    'McGrath never talked about luck'

My Favourite Cricketer: Michael Kasprowicz admired Glenn McGrath's consistency and positive nature

'He's the rock of West Indies' batting'

Modern Masters: Rahul Dravid and Sanjay Manjrekar on the impact of Shivnarine Chanderpaul's run-scoring

The work that is county cricket

Jon Hotten: Players toil all season, but fans don't really get a sense of the scale of effort involved

News | Features Last 7 days

Shiv's not-outs, and hit-wicket victims

Also, top-scoring in both innings, most Test dismissals caught, and the oldest Test centurion

Dhoni clears the stadium

Plays of the Day from the Champions League T20 match between Chennai Super Kings and Perth Scorchers, in Bangalore

'You can't survive 66 Tests on the basis of a quota'

Ashwell Prince talks about proving critics wrong, scoring hundreds against Australia, and that unending partnership in Colombo

Nine-ball mayhem: Seven boundaries, broken bat, and a wicket

Chasing Chennai Super Kings' 242, Dolphins opener Cameron Delport played nine action-packed deliveries in his innings. Here's what happened ball by ball

Umar Akmal gives Raza the glare

Plays of the day from the CLT20 match between Dolphins and Lahore Lions in Bangalore

News | Features Last 7 days