The old order yieldeth
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
Suresh Menon is a writer based in Bangalore