India used to be known as the “land of benighted heathens and lesser breeds” (Singer 11) across the West during the pre-colonial and colonial periods. Gradually, these archaic “scratches” (Singer 11) on the minds of the Europeans and Americans have been replaced by the flamboyant images of PM Modi, the sensational Bollywood film industry, and undoubtedly, our cricketers: the Men In Blue.
In contemporary India, the image of ‘cricket’ is intimately interwoven with the image of the nation. Historically, the English colonisers introduced this sport in our colony, and soon the game became a way of beating the British at their own chosen sport — a way for the slaves to one-up their colonial masters. Today, India has wholeheartedly embraced this piece of colonial legacy.
This image is of Kapil Dev, the then-captain of the Indian cricket team, receiving the World Cup trophy from Robert Carr (also known as Lord Carr of Hadley; Carr was the chairman of Prudential Assurance, the company that sponsored the World Cup in 1983) (Quora) in Lord’s, England. The Prudential World Cup victory of 1983 was the first appearance by an Asian nation in a World Cup final and the first time in the history of this tournament that India had won the world cup.
The inclusion of Indian cricket in class IX CBSE Social Sciences’ syllabus and its prominence in Indian cinema is a testament to the power of its image. The film Lagaan (dir. Ashutosh Gowariker, 2001), the most popular representation of cricket in India is a stark portrayal of the caste system in the country, and racism during the British Raj. “Cricket-fever” is also visible through newspaper headlines (‘The Dream of a Billion Comes True’; carried by a leading Bengali daily on the opening page after the Indian cricket team completed a Test series victory over Pakistan) (Ray 1637), radio shows, and advertisements, including the Kamla Pasand pan masala’s advertisement during the 2019 World Cup which ran with the tagline “Ek Aur Baar”; which coincidentally holds an uncanny resemblance with BJP’s tagline for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections “Phir Ek Baar”. These sources are also an exhibition of the overlapping sentiments of cricket aspirations and nationalist feelings in our country.
A longitudinal study of Indian cricket brings to light a trajectory very similar to that of Indian civilisation: Along with the gradual progression of Indian images in the minds of Europeans and Americans from a peace-loving, stuck-in-the-past, democracy-promoting nation, India has grown to be acknowledged as a vibrant, rapidly technologically advancing, aggressively dominant nation; who holds a firm hegemony over cricket. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is the richest and most organised cricketing board in the world. This transition in India’s cricketing image is in synchrony with the shift from the image of “Nehru, the intellectual world leader” (Singer 11), to Modi, the shrewd politician. This shift can be further exhibited through the ‘Monkeygate’ scandal of 2008 (Scroll.in), where Indian bowler Harbhajan Singh insulted the Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds — a man of West Indian descent — by calling him a “monkey”. This incident is a stark portrayal of India’s evolution from a formerly-oppressed nation, to a country with the soft power to be the oppressor.
Today, we have moved far ahead from this image of Kapil Dev — humbly accepting the World Cup trophy from a White man, wearing a standardised white shirt with a dark-blue overcoat; to the immediately identifiable bright blue of our jerseys, and to the image of six-sixes in an over by Yuvraj Singh, the “God of Cricket” Sachin Tendulkar, and boldly brilliant Captain Kohli. In our modern India, even today superstitions and pujas become the rage when a cricket match is on. It’s certainly not far-fetched to claim that in contemporary India, cricket is held to the standard of a ‘religion’: only what remains to be seen is how strikingly these Gods will continue to live up to their image in the upcoming years, both within the country and abroad.
Quora. “Who presented Kapil Dev the World Cup in 1983?” www.quora.com/Who-presented-Kapil-Dev-the-World-Cup-in-1983. Accessed on 6 March 2021.
Ray, Somshankar. ‘The Wood Magic’: Cricket in India – A Postcolonial Benediction. The International Journal of the History of Sport. 2008.
Singer, Milton. Passage to More Than India: A Sketch of Changing European and American Images. New York: Praeger Publishers. 1972.
Scroll.in. “The ‘Monkeygate’ scandal and how it strained India-Australia cricketing ties”. scroll.in/field/902884/the-monkeygate-scandal-and-how-it-strained-india-australia-cricketing-ties. Accessed on 6 March 2021.