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

'Smith's record in India is an aberration'

Modern Masters: Rahul Dravid and Sanjay Manjrekar discuss Graeme Smith's terrific record in different conditions

    A hole in England's bucket

Jarrod Kimber: Overworked bowlers, poor selection, and plenty of business jargon - England's cup of woe is full

    England don't need a visible coach

Martin Crowe: The team now consists of two halves: a burnt-out one and a fresh one

    'The guy you want to go to war with'

My XI: Martin Crowe on the gritty approach that turned Allan Border into a run-machine

Battling the fear of defeat

Samir Chopra: A fourth-innings chase can be brutally unforgiving; every wicket can lead to acute anxiety

News | Features Last 7 days

Ridiculed Ishant ridicules England

Ishant Sharma has often been the butt of jokes, and sometimes deservedly so. Today, however, the joke was on England

Vijay rediscovers the old Monk

The leave outside off stump has been critical to M Vijay's success since his India comeback last year. Contrary to popular opinion, such patience and self-denial comes naturally to him

England seem to have forgotten about personality

They have to see a glass that is half-full, and play the game as if it is just that, a game; and an opportunity

Ishant's fourth-innings heroics in rare company

In India's win at Lord's, Ishant Sharma took the best bowling figures by an Indian in the fourth innings of a Test outside Asia. Here are five other best bowling efforts by Indians in the fourth innings of Tests outside Asia

Another battle, another defeat on Planet Al

Alastair Cook has got used to feeling of the axe hanging over him. Only his team-mates can save England now

News | Features Last 7 days