Sunday, October 5, 2008

India and Australia - cricket as a relational metaphor

Cricket, it wouldn’t be wrong to suggest, was and is, the true national game in both India and Australia. This is precisely because it could be played against the English as part of the great imperial project. Hockey in India or Aussie Rules in Australia could not, and hence their legacies, like their origins, remain very curious in the sporting hierarchies of the two countries. It is important to answer, Why cricket and not hockey in India? Answers lie in the George Orwell axiom, “Serious sport is war minus the shooting.” If sport is in fact a metaphor (and in some cases a metonym) for war, then cricket simply was the necessity in India. Prowess in sport wasn’t enough.

Accomplishments had to be demonstrated in empire sport, which would mark a symbolic victory against the ruling colonial state. To substantiate the point: even when India won gold medals in field hockey in the Olympic Games in the years 1928-1956, hockey could never rival cricket in colonial India. This is because Britain refused to participate in Olympic hockey contests in the years 1928-1936, knowing that the Indians were favourites to win the gold. This is especially interesting because Britain had won the Olympic gold in field hockey in 1904 and 1920, the only years when hockey was played before 1928 and years when India did not participate. Absence of competitions against the coloniser, it can be argued, relegated hockey in the Indian sporting hierarchy.

Speaking to the press at New Delhi on 8 June 2005, the former Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer stated: “I think Australia and India, which have a long historic relationship, can build on some of the history of our relationship. Now…our two countries love cricket and the Foreign Minister, Pranab Mukherjee and I both love cricket. So, we spent a good deal of time over the lunch talking about our respective cricket teams and their prospects. We think that what we should do between us, between Australia and India, is to have a touring exhibition of Sir Donald Bradman’s memorabilia here in India. And we think that this exhibition, which should be jointly supported by Australia and India, would be very popular and this exhibition of Bradman memorabilia would go to major centres in India — New Delhi, Calcutta, Bombay, Chennai and so on.”