April 2, 2011

India or Sri Lanka: whom to support?

Which team does a second-generation British Asian fan cheer for? It's not all that straightforward

Most British Asian cricket fans thrive on their identity. But if I'm honest, I have struggled with mine. As England will find this summer when they meet both World Cup finalists, Sri Lanka and India, Asians in Britain are among cricket's most fervent supporters. Today, as passions brink on overspill in the restaurants and homes hosting World Cup get-togethers, I'll be thinking of all the old friends from school who branded me the ultimate "coconut". Raised in an Indian household, I am an unashamed England supporter.

Allegiance is central to sport - it gives a veneer of meaning to an otherwise trite pastime - but as I found, just what drives someone to support one team over another is no straightforward thing.

It was easier when I was younger. I supported England because they were the team I knew. Introduced to the game in time for the 1993 Ashes, there was no question of backing Australia, so England were my team. As each of the players and their conundrums became more familiar - Will Hick ever make another Test hundred? Has Fraser lost his "nip"? Should Stewart open? - the tie grew stronger. It was a whole six Test series before the ultimate question of allegiance was thrust upon me, and by then it was too late.

England v India in the summer of 1996? Of course I supported England, they were my boys. Childish rebellion drove me to scream my colours ever louder. Wedding receptions became my own, nonsensical underdog struggle as I raged against the family establishment that was instructing me to support India. I proudly passed the Tebbit Test, having no clue of the sentiment that underpinned it.

Familiarity and defiance may have once been the root of my support for England but at secondary school I learned just why it was so sacrilegious. Colonial history and the experience of Indian migrants in England gave an altogether weightier feeling to the question of allegiance. For my parents' generation, supporting India was about maintaining a connection to the old homeland. It was about sticking one in the eye of the coloniser. It was about expressing an identity that was mangled in the process of adapting to a new country.

My childish resistance quickly gave way to a more sombre assessment. Though I still supported England, I insisted that was the fault solely of coincidence. If the first series I watched had involved India, there would have been no question about following the family line. As it was, I glibly accepted my schoolmates' decree that I was brown on the outside and white on the inside. Visiting India as a young teenager I apologised for supporting the old enemy and swore earnestly that against anyone else, India was my team.

Fast-forward 15 years and the context has changed. Indian cricket can exert an influence even greater than the Anglo-Saxon colonisers could ever manage. The mammoth TV-viewing public offers advertisers a market they are prepared to spend vast swathes of cash reaching. The IPL is a chest-thumping celebration of a modern India that the world's best players are longing to play in, and the BCCI can dictate terms to the rest of the game. The on-field ascent to supremacy has followed, and MS Dhoni's side stand within one match of crowning the transition by claiming cricket's biggest global prize. Fair to say the new India offers little by way of romantic struggle.

For most British Indians, like my friend Shamik, the shadow of the past is still what matters. "Basically it's history," he said. "Even though financially the power rests with India now, the context of colonialism and family makes India the team I support." But for me it's different. I cheered when India floored the boorish Australian side in epic series through the 2000s, yet now find myself begging for someone to challenge the new top dogs.

So coming to the all-Asian final, I'm left with another tricky question of alliance. I'm proud the best two teams in the tournament are Asian and compelled by the backdrop of two subcontinental giants playing their final World Cup match. Cricket-wise there is little to pick between the two sides. My roots tie me to India but the draw of a small island-nation scrapping against the game's powerhouse is almost irresistible. With a day to go I can't quite decide, but come the toss a jolt in my gut will reveal the answer.

Sahil Dutta is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Awadhesh on April 4, 2011, 9:17 GMT

    Hmmm, deep points being made, worthy of a seminar topic in Sociology courses at University. Someone said that cricket is not a game, it is a narrative about life. I am glad that we do have articles such as this to get to the guts of our passion. I do not know how old you are but reflect, what would third generation "outsiders" believe. I hope with globalisation, especially in cricket, the new youngsters will support the country they have to live the rest of their lives in.

  • Amit on April 3, 2011, 18:06 GMT

    Interesting Article. Im an Indian living in UK for last 11 years and am always amazed about the support most subcontinent teams enjoy with the British Asian population here. Its easy for us people who are actually born in the subcontinent to question their loyalty when they dare actually support England over their own country, But lets spare a thought on what they have to go through emotionally when they dont support England in only one thing. Respect too all fans out there no matter whom u support. Wonder if I shall ever get to see in my lifetime India playing in a football world cup , Now wont that be something for the new century ?

  • Dummy4 on April 3, 2011, 3:41 GMT

    I'm and British Asian, now living in Australia. I have supported the England cricket team since the 1990's. I have played a majority of my cricket thus far in my life in the UK (Scotland and England). Have played a bit in Australia. If I was a pro, I would be playing for England. India v Sri Lanka, is like watching Brazil v Argentina in the FIFA world cup. Enjoyed the game, the passion and a great show case for the sport. As for my personal intrest, that finished in the Quarter finals. Looking forward to 2015. India still need to perform in a world cup outside the sub continent, just putting it out there....

  • Dummy4 on April 3, 2011, 2:13 GMT

    Well written column. I agree. Allegiance should be to the country he was born,raised regardless of what his roots are. If England is playing against an asian country I would say 2nd gen British Asians should be supporting England.

  • Gaurav on April 3, 2011, 0:03 GMT

    Interesting article !. Being an Indian living in US..I can somewhat understand your predicament. I lived the first 27 years of my life in India..so there is no doubt about whom I support..but what abt my nephews and nieces who are born here ?..this is a sad byproduct of being an immigrant I guess..

  • Bhagwati on April 2, 2011, 21:54 GMT

    The note written by FabulousMrF is really intersting and poetic. Good one. He compares his neighbors and their attitude with the attitude of the neigbors of his country Bangladesh.

  • Muthuvel on April 2, 2011, 21:07 GMT

    Sahil, this is country vs country not club vs club. You will never know the euphoria of your country winning unfortunately; if you plan your allegiances. i advise you to be firmly behind England and yet enjoy good performances from other teams. BTW you are either indian or british what is british asian ? you have mixed national roots?? or would not want to be called indian.

  • Sanjay on April 2, 2011, 20:15 GMT

    With all due respect, Sahil, I don't think you have the slightest clue on the meaning of "support". You simply don't change allegiance when it comes to countries. You are who you are. If you feel English, then England it is.

    As far as 2day's game went, your stance should be neutral with the old cliche "May the best team win".

    And it did: INDIA.

  • Dummy4 on April 2, 2011, 19:14 GMT

    2-04-2011:: I m overwhelmed tonight. Ws tht just another final or a final of an Indian's Dream..ws tht joy fr just another victory in the finals or ws it about smthng i hd never experienced in my life..Just pinched myself to realize tht i wsnt dreaming..n wen i saw Sachin running into the field wid a grand smile ''grandest of dem all'' on his shimmering face..hands raised..wen i saw yuvraj's tears mixd wid the most precious of sweat he hs ever shed ..harbhajan crying like a baby n saw one of a kind victory lap wid the GOD Sachin sitting sky high..i realized tht this ws a Dream actually,which came true .A dream cherished by the secnd largest population in the world . It cme late but nevr it wd hve come so gud as it did tonight..Love u team India ..Love u Sachin :*..Thank u vry much :')

  • V.L on April 2, 2011, 18:49 GMT

    Huh! Alex and South Indian Rule 1:never under-estimate India! 2)If you think it is wrong think again and see rule No 1 again!

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