Marxist commentaries on cricket

Some observations about contemporary cricket::

1. The game of cricket has undergone massive transformation in the last 25 years. While I have not read CLR James' work, my objective is to describe some broad features of contemporary cricket.

2. Cricket is the most popular sport in South Asia [pop. 1.25 billion]. Tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of people follow this sport via TV, Radio and print media.

3. Rapid spread of TV, satellite technology led to creation of a vast market for cricket in South Asia. One important innovation in global cricket was 'limited overs' one day game, against the traditional 5 day format. This has made cricket result oriented, and thus very exciting. This has naturally led to huge increase in the number of viewers. None of this existed, when James' book was published [1963?]. World championships [which did not exist 20 years ago] have added to the excitement.

4. All these factors have contributed to massive entry of corporates for advertising their products. This means that there is enormous amount of money in cricket today. Cricketers playing test match level cricket in South Asia earn considerable sums of money. Widespread betting, match fixing allegations have become a regular feature of the game.

5. While patriotic sentiments dominate the crowd, there is hardly any anti-colonialism involved here. For Indians, English cricket team is like any other team [Pakistan excepted]. English cricket team is no different than, say, Sri Lankan team for Indian supporters. India-Pakistan cricket generates maximum patriotic fervour on both sides of the boundary.

6. While overall standard of the game have improved, the gap between different teams globally has narrowed considerably. No team can take its victory for granted. Entry of Bangladesh, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa in the world cricket and spread to Persian Gulf region [ Sharjah being the centre] are new features in the world of cricket.

Thus, cricket today is vastly different from what would appear to be the case from the posting based on James' book Beyond a Boundary. And if there is any class struggle in cricket, then I have not noticed it.

Ulhas Joglekar

I just want to make a point about class in cricket. While Ulhas may not have noticed any element of class conflict in Indian cricket, he is perhaps not so familiar with the game, or too close to it to notice. The Indian and Pakistani sides have for a very long time been dominated by the sons of mercantiles and military gents, many of whom have had private schooling similar in manmy ways to the British public school system whose alumni dominate the Long Room at Lords - the HQ of the MCC.

English cricket is highly polarized between the County and Test game, the domain of the ruling class and its middle class hangers on, and League cricket, particularly in Lancashire and Yorkshire. The last is rarely noticed, but has a huge number of teams, often from different streets in working class communities. Many are multiethnic, including Afro-Carribean players and those whose forebears are from the sub-continent. While it is always difficult for working class kids to get into the county and test sides, in Yorkshire this is on a completely different plane. The selection board is notoriously racist, and despite the huge numbers of black and Asian players in the Leeds and Bradford areas, not a single one has ever been selected for the county side.

Commercial sponsorship has made the English game into a circus of every conceivable variant, seen by some as inevitable because of falling interest in the game, at least by paying spectators. Test games involving India, Pakistan and the Windies draw huge multiethnic crowds, many supporting the visiting sides. This natural support has entered the armory of institutionalized racism, it being said that in order to be considered British you must support the national side. The racism in the game at every level prevents black and Asian players being considered even for county sides, except as highly paid stars brought in from abroad. Not surprisingly, the largest body of potential support therefore votes with its feet.

Walter Keen

1. Mercantile, feudal and military elements have not dominated the composition of Indian cricket teams for 20 - 30 years. A typical Indian cricketer comes from a family occupied in white collar jobs. e.g. Sachin Tendulkar.

2. Pakistan may show a different picture. Imran and Javed Miandad would encompass [in terms of their origins] both the ends of Pakistani class structure.

3.There is a significant body of spectators which is able to rise beyond racial, national and class prejudices. There is no dearth of Brian Lara or Shane Warne fans in India. It is possible for an Indian to be patriotic and still admire David Gower.

4. While there is no escape from class realities, in the contest on the pitch between the bat and the ball, the only class that matters is one based on elegance, technique and ability to innovate.


1. Cricket has changed a great deal in last three decades. While CLR James' view may be plausible for the Caribbean's and for his times, it does not describe the reality of cricket today. Whether that change is for better or worse, can be debated and there is scope for disagreement. Rob appears to agree with me that cricket has changed since CLR James.

2. While patriotic feelings dominate the crowd, these are no more the feelings of the coloniser vis-a-vis the colonised. Cut, pull or hook don't represent native protest etc. When English play Indians they are not playing the colonised. Indian crowds want their team to win, no matter who is the opponent. Losing to Pakistanis is worst kind of humiliation conceivable. Even women play test cricket nowadays. If this amounts to masculine protest, then the news has not reached me.

3.While the class background of cricketers is discernible[I have provided instances from India and Pakistan], there is good deal upward mobility at least in South Asia. While allegations of favouritism are not unknown, they have less to do class background and class prejudice. It is related to claims for fair representation to lads from different regions of India.

4. There are two types of cut stroke. Late cut and square cut. It is only the former which is played behind the wicket. The latter is played 'square' of the wicket. Square cut is probably the most popular stroke in the game. Late cut is a delicate stroke and is not played frequently. The cut is not played by hitting the underside of the ball [See the Review.] Both the cut shots are played by getting on the top of the ball. Lofted shots are usually employed either in the initial overs [ to take advantage of fielding restrictions in the first 15 overs], or in the 'slog' overs. Lofted shots are less common in the middle game.

5. I am unwilling to measure everything by criteria such as class, race, gender etc. In this I am consistent with the classical Marxist position. Lenin's views on Proletcult, Proletarian Science etc. are well-known. Inversion of bourgeois thought will produce impoverishment rather than socialism

Ulhas Joglekar

I was delighted by these posts on cricket. It is not often that one's guilty attachment to sport can be reread as part of the class struggle and with CLR James in support who can fear.

But alas I think the picture varies from country to country. Here in Oz cricket was the first national sport and probably still the only one and as such it played a vital role in forging a national identity. As a complement to this intrinsic nationalism it has functioned as a means of distracting one from the class struggle.

Moreover it is still the one major sport where aborigines have yet to make their mark. Thus in Rugby League they make up some 1`1-15% of the top players, while making up only 2% of the total population.

There have however been interesting political moments in the game. In 1932-3 the English arrived here with a trio of fast bowlers and they set out to hit the batsmen, especially Australia's' hero don Bradman,. The English called their bowling 'leg theory' and the Australians dubbed it 'bodyline.' It was extremely successful and the English smashed their way to victory. On the way there were near riots, a fracas between the two countries at prime Ministerial level. the Australians as always backed down, and did as they were told, though of course they whined a lot.

There is an interesting footnote to all this. That is the case of Egon Kirsch. He arrived in Australia in the 30s as I think the Comintern's agent. He was refused permission to land but he jumped from the ship and broke his leg. He was eventually deported. I have a collection of his essays and I was astonished to read that he wrote on the 1932-3 cricket tour. In that he says there was a popular demand for the Australian cricket board to pick Eddie Gilbert to attack the English. Eddie was an aborigine here in Brisbane. He was apparently the fastest bowler in Australia. They were was some talk he threw instead of bowling. But I do not know about this. However he did suffer racial abuse on the field and the establishment was never going to give him a go.

Pity. It would have been a great moment. Gilbert the Aborigine coming to the rescue of Australia.

I always tell my students that they should think of this contrast. The English came to Australia in 1932 and brutalized their way to a victory. Australia complained and whinged but did nothing. The English next went to India and tried the same thing. When they began to attack the batsmen, the Indian spectators armed themselves with fence poles and charged the ground. the English fled for their lives and that was the end of bodyline bowling.

My students usually sit silently listening to me tell this tale. But then that is the Australian way. A peaceful people. Moderate to their DNA.

Gary McLennan

Several excellent posts on this strange and unsettling game. A norwegian friend of mine thinks that it is perverse in the extreme - 'Why do those guys rub the ball on their crotch?' Explaining 'offside' or 'knock-on' to a US audience is child's play compared with patient indoctrination into the arcana of cricket of someone whose nearest experience is slapping someone with a wet codfish.

Gary raises the Bodyline Tour of 32-3. That was interesting. Jardine the 'gentleman' and Larwood the 'player' from the heart of the engineering and mining working class of Nottingham. It was a sound, though 'ungentlemanly' tactic - to tempt the hook or the pull as much as to terrorise. However, I cannot remember if it involved short-pitched deliveries or the 'beamer' - a non-pitching delivery aimed at the batsman's head. The latter is terror, without any doubt, epecially for a delivery around 160 kph. I didn't know about Eddie Gilbert, but do remember Hall and Griffiths exploding onto the scene decades later. I do not recall much racist abuse, probably because only a rope and a low fence separates players from crowd in cricket, and pace bowlers generally field at the boundary! 20 years after Larwood disappeared from the game - a sad tale in many ways - English fast bowling entered the glory years of Trueman and Tyson - Fred being from the mining community of South Yorkshire and Frank also rising from the leagues on t'other side. Though the odd short delivery kept the batsmen in a state of tension, the power lay in a combination of swing and movement off the seam - cutters (leg-, off- and late-), together with Truman's menacing demeanour, matched only I believe by Dennis Lilley. Trueman gave the lie to the theory that height and long arms make a fast bowler. The key to his action was an enormous backside!

It's all gone pear-shaped now - not Fred's stately rear, though I dare say it is - and I agree that commodification in the guise of innumerable one-day matches lies close to the roots of that. But it is not the source. The vast majority of cricket matches in England - sorry for seeming a little imperial oriented, but less is played in Scotland and Ireland than in Holland, and only SE Wales boasts a county side - is limited over, one-day in the pro-leagues of Yorkshire and Lancashire, and evening games for the majority. The transition from limited over to 3-day county (now 4) and 5-day tests has always set English cricket apart. From an early age, good young players are brought into county and test level through the county 'Colts' sides, rather than in soccer, where the movement is rapid and much more free. I guess it is very like being brutalized in the army; well, at least being withdrawn from the wider world. It is that which 'filters' players according to class and ethnicity, at the whim of the selection boards. Perhaps the greatest example of that is Yorkshire, where, apart from the recent decision to permit one 'outsider', you have to be born within the county. When overseas players flocked into the county game elsewhere, Yorkshire's decline began and serious racial discrimination against black and Asian players born in Yorkshire became thoroughly institutionalized.

There's a surprising aspect to this thread, although Charles Brown introduced an antipodean view from off-line, there have yet to be any comments from US contributors. Early on in my subscription, I remember one contributor being said to have strong views about Eurocentricity. This topic seems highly rated for that, even Brit-imperial! There have also been no comments regarding the death a few days back of Joe di Maggio, and nor have baseball or American football been discussed. Is that because they have no roots in the working class? Cricket, so far as I know began as a game of the elite, but was captured by sections of the working class in England and Australia, and to see the level of interest and playing in India from the slums of Bombay to the villages of Karnataka is astonishing - rather like soccer in Brazil with balls made of rags and bats of stave wood. Soccer - no, lets call things by their right name FOOTBALL/CALCIO - has its origins in the masses. It was a dangerous game, with deaths and riots, and desperate attempts by the ruling classes of the day to bring it under control - perhaps the ball symbolized the baron's head! Even with FA/FIFA rules, until quite recently it was a fearsome spectacle for all but the working class - the 'baying mob' writ large.

There is something very strange about NAm team sport - a sort of control, orderly and universal same-ness; a ritual, rather than a spectacle that gets to an emotional depth that makes it more important than life or death. Support for a team - I speak not of the trans-continental following of US football and baseball sides that is to the icon of a cap or a helmet, as if to a flag - does carry overtones of chauvinism to the extent of xenophobia, even in India-Pakistan cricket tests. But how to explain the passionate loyalty to a local team, the rivalry that crosses all barriers within an individual city, whether it is football in Manchester, rugby union in the Welsh valleys, rugby league and Aussy Rules in Sydney, or cricket in Bombay. It doesn't matter if the side has not a single local player, and nor do supporters care if their team ranks with the rabbit as regards combativity. It is not even down to 'afficion' - an obsession with the finer points of the game. It is being part of a unified mass, and the more closely packed that mass is, and the more focussed, the more powerful are the unifying bonds. It has all the feel of an anti-Vietnam War demo, Saltley Coke Depot, a mass strike meeting, a 'gheraou' (the non-violent but noisy and terrifying form of industrial action in India) and in general 'mobbing'. It is in this way that mass-attended team sport channels the energy of this aspect of politics, in the manner of an 'opiate of the masses'. In a sense, the corrosion of mass-attended team sport by its increased commodification and by giving it an acceptable face - all-seater stadia, increasingly outside urban centres - removes that diversionary channel. So perhaps we should not weep too much in our beer when watching Packer-Murdoch-sport on cable or satellite TV. Soon the only place to find that nape-hair-raising tingle of unification and focus will be on the cobbles, where it truly belongs.

The big question is, will there be hats and popcorn?

Walter Keen

PS Whatever became of lacrosse?

Well, here's a comment from Down Under, namely New Zealand.

When I was at high school in the 1970s, soccer was very much regarded as a game for 'poofs'. In fact it was not allowed to be played at a lot of high schools, because it was considered as unsuitable for NZ men and as encouraging homosexuality.

I went to what was the poorest and supposedly the hardest state high school in Christchurch, Aranui High, and we had no soccer team nor was such stuff allowed. It was rugby all the way - of course, here when the word 'football' is used it is primarily rugby that is being referred to - with hockey considered perimissible. But none of that English fairy soccer.

The idea among those charged with turning out 'real men' in New Zealand that soccer was a 'homosexual game' came largely from so many English players having long hair and kissing and cuddling and jumping on each other all the time.

It was only later on when rugby started to become increasingly publicly discredited by the Rubgy Union board's determination to maintain sporting links with South Africa, plus the rise of gay liberation, that soccer became more socially acceptable in NZ. Even then it tended to be played disproportionately by British and Dutch immigrants.

After the fateful Springbok rugby tour of NZ in 1981, during which the country was in a virtual state of siege with the biggest demonstrations and mass arrests in NZ's history, soccer began to really take off for a while. A lot of people, not just the usual middle class liberals, but also working class people took their kids out of rugby and put them into soccer. My current sister-in-law, who was at the time a solo mother with five sons living on welfare, for instance, took her kids out of rugby for several years in the 80s and got them playing soccer. (They're now all back in rugby as adults.)

But later on, some new brooms began sweeping in rugby. The game has become much more 'liberal'. Women's rugby is quite big, with the NZ women's team winning the women's world cup last year and clearly miles ahead of any other women's team in the world. There are gay rugby clubs, for instance, which play 'straight' rugby clubs. Rugby is really quite politically correct these days. Plus the commodification of rugby - professionalising it, subordinating it to commercial sponsorship, speeding up the actual game a lot etc - gave rugby a new shot in the arm and soccer has really been in the doldrums since. Part of the commodification of rugby has been driven by the economic restructuring here since the mid-1980s and part of it has been driven by competition with rugby league, which was also making big inroads for a while.

Philip Ferguson

Alas Phillip this was not true. As the recent bit of poofter bashing and baiting in English soccer proved. Le Soux was remorselessly baited because he had a posh accent.

Here in Oz the role of Ian Roberts the gay rugby league player's coming out as gay has been very interesting in that it was a great success. He kept his job etc. He did though have the backing of the Murdoch Press because of his friendship with Lachlan Murdoch the pretty boy son of Rupert.

Roberts is treated with the kind of tolerance which says it's ok being gay as long as you don't make a big thing about it.

I unfortunately missed his appearance on the footy show. This is where ex-rugby players get into dresses and clown around like Pantomime Dames. There under lying impulse in the show is the need heterosexual Australian men have to put on women's dresses. I suppose this represents a symbolic rejection of the burden of masculinity at an unconscious level.

Apparently these would be cross dressers sat there in almost terrified silence when Roberts came on. They would have loved to have put on those nylons and tutus but not in front of a poof -no way!


Gary McLennan