Ex-Tory Party Chairmain, Norman Tebbit, famously suggested a “cricket test” to decide if newly settled immigrants had finally cast their lot with England. They should, he said, support England in cricket matches against teams from their homelands, be they from the Caribbean islands or India and Pakistan.
While his silly name might suggest otherwise, Tebbit landed upon a hugely significant cultural symbol for his litmus test: cricket, as everyone knows, is an English sport, born and bred. Even worse (or better, depending on where you stand in this society), cricket lay firmly in the domain of those who thought they held a monopoly on defining what “English” exactly meant, that is, the upper-classes, heady especially during their Victorian hegemony.
This is, after all, the sport that has tea breaks and has labeled itself the “gentleman’s game” (no coincidence, then, that those who are called ‘cheaters’ in cricket — Muttiah Muralitharan or Pakistanis (the infamous Oval incident) — are often from the former colonies, whose people have yet to apparently master the strict and all-knowing codes of the Mother Country.
Of course, this was Tebbit’s point: unique among sports (except, perhaps, for baseball in Japan’s and Puerto Rico’s case), cricket owes its popularity to England’s imperialistic streak, and its spread depended very much on subjects hoping to adopt the colonist’s supposedly superior mannerisms and, of course, sport-of-choice. I will, of course, investigate this thread, which comes up often in cricket coverage, but I want only to suggest why Tebbit believed that cricket would do so well in unmasking any unwanted loyalties.
Tebbit, however, is an idiot for other reasons, brought out best by Amartya Sen, who argues that who you root for in a game might depend on a range of factors that have nothing to do with your ethnic identity (wanting a good series, for instance, or even a good game). Going even further, Sen argues that “identity” has taken up a far too monolithic definition in recent days, and believes that “who you are” can and should only be answered in a pluralistic manner that properly identifies the complexity of human existence. (That’s a mouthful.)
Without further ado, then, I give you my own special hierarchy of cricket loyalties, which, I recently discovered, is far too complicated:
1. India should win in every game, except, however, when it is playing in dead rubbers against Bangladesh, which deserves every victory it gains no matter which opponent.
2. Australia should lose, every time. Again, this has nothing to do with any latent hostility on my part towards Australians. Instead, I truly resent their dominance and aggressive style of play, which suggests an unnecessary arrogance that one Amherst professor once told me reminded him of apartheid South Africa’s racism. (Not to equate the two, of course. This is only a game, right?)
3. Pakistan should lose against India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, West Indies, but must win against Australia and South Africa. As for England, that usually depends on my mood.
4. England should win against every opponent, South Asian (except, of course, India) or otherwise. Again, this is not because of some incidence of false consciousness on my part: I know what England is and was, but they are the last bastions of the hallowed Test match. And honestly, they haven’t won as much as they should — come on, now, give them a bit of a break.
5. South Africa and Australia should lose on every occasion. (South Africa, however, should win when they are playing Australia, if only because that would justify South Africa’s reputation as “pretty good.”)
6. West Indies should win, every time. At this point, even against India, really. Poor things.