The Wisden Cricketer - March

Anyone but Little England

The pleasure is deep in seeing the old colonial master lose, says Dileep Premachandran

The pleasure is deep in seeing the old colonial master lose

'There was Botham too, swaggering around in that ridiculous mullet, and his enlightened views on the subcontinent' © Getty Images
My dislike of English cricket grew roots even before I went to England, long before I had watched Ian Botham smack a six or Bob Willis run through a side. As a seven-year old I listened with some bemusement to the adults talking animatedly about South Africa - a faraway place with a funny shape on the map - and boycott.

It was many years before I realised that boycott was unrelated to sporting sanctions and merely a reference to Geoffrey. Years later he told me his decision to go to South Africa had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with securing his financial future. Most Indians did not see it that way and less than four decades on from independence few could blame them. Having promised Indira Gandhi, the prime minister, that there would be no rebel tour, Boycott and his cronies soon changed tune for a few rand more.

Funnily enough, it was the generation before mine that loathed the English the most. My maternal grandfather had spent almost three years as a political prisoner of His Majesty's government during the Quit India struggle but his views on the English were invariably well-balanced, with acknowledgement of the infrastructure that had been put in place during two centuries of colonial rule. My uncles' dislike of the English had less to do with politics and everything to do with touring cricketers who had made a career out of whining about the conditions: everything from the heat and dust to the prawns that we so love. The likes of Fred Trueman never toured India and that might explain why he, like Dennis Lillee, is never considered in the same class as Malcolm Marshall or Michael Holding, who terrorised the surprise World Cup winners during a 3-0 rout in 1983-84.

Little changed even when we moved to England. When India and Pakistan toured in the summer of 1982, my mother, who watched now and then, would often fume at what she saw as condescension on the part of commentators. The BBC's Test Match Special team belonged to the tweed-jacket world, with views that a former boss of mine - English himself - politely referred to as Little Englander.

My mother, who watched now and then, would fume at what she saw as condescension on the part of commentators

More than any of the Indians, though, it was the magnificent Imran Khan that quickly became my hero and I was bitterly disappointed when Pakistan could not at least draw the series. I even took pleasure in talk of Imran's skirt-chasing antics, though at that age I had little idea of what it entailed.

That Anyone-but-England mentality was set in stone a few months later, during the Ashes series of 1982-83. With only highlights on offer and my mum and sister hogging the TV, watching was an event in itself. I admired the elegance and artistry of Greg Chappell and Kim Hughes, the pugnacity of Allan Border and the hair-raising pace of Thommo. England did have David Gower in the style stakes but they also had the likes of the insomnia-curing Chris Tavaré and Willis - wannabe-Afro-haired and robotic next to Thommo's rockstar aura.

I suffered through the Ashes debacle of '85. Tanya Aldred remembered it as The Summer of Love in an article for The New Ball. For me it was the summer of pain, watching Andrew Hilditch being suckered into the hook and AB often standing alone on decks that burned against English swing-and-seam bowling. There was Botham too, swaggering around in that ridiculous mullet, and his enlightened views on the subcontinent.

But while my Indian roots and Australian heroes helped in the indoctrination of anti-English feeling, affirmation came in that glorious summer of 1984 when Liverpool FC conquered Rome and those magnificent men with ebony skin and Bob Marley sweatbands arrived in England. It being the 1980s, when monkey noises still greeted black footballers, I had quickly become aware that the colour of my skin mattered, and nothing gave me as much pleasure as seeing Viv Richards romp to 189 not out at Old Trafford. Gordon Greenidge's coruscating 214 at Lord's and the resulting blackwash were a bonus and years later, when King Viv told me that "it was all about getting respect", I knew exactly where he was coming from.

The 16 years of Australia's Ashes hegemony which encompassed my late teens and passage into adulthood felt like a party that would never end and, when it did last summer at The Oval, I was secretly sending text messages asking for score updates and blinking back tears while supposedly watching a Bizet opera with my girlfriend. Though England had been by far the better side, it sickened me to admit it and I can hardly wait for Australia to regain the urn.

This article was first published in the March issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
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Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo