The integration of cricket in Indian culture has been quite the ride – from its first introduction to its most recent developments, the history of this sport is truly complex. But to understand cricket is to understand India. Hopefully by reading this you can see and understand the beauty of this sport as well as understand its trajectory in the country.
When India met cricket
Our journey begins in 1721, when cricket was first introduced in India during British rule. Unfortunately, the sport didn’t have the brightest of beginnings, as the English East India Company brought it into the nation as a means of portraying a sense of racial and social superiority over the native populations that inhabited the land. Initially, the sport was only adopted by Indian elites, but then it slowly made its way into the local culture. Its integration became increasingly apparent in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with 1926 being a pivotal year for the sport. That was the year cricket ceased being just a hobby, and it became a symbol of national pride.
That was the year cricket ceased being just a hobby, and it became a symbol of national pride.
This shift in image was vital for the sport, especially considering the political state in India at the time. That year was one of great political instability for the country, between the considerable pressure from the Indian National Congress to push for political independence and Gandhi’s Civil Disobedience Movement also underway. It was a time where national assertion was necessary, and cricket provided a means for that. The All-India cricket team in 1926 was the embodiment of India’s advancement towards political as well as national independence. The emergence of this cricket team got the ball rolling for Indian cricket for years to come. But what exactly was it about cricket that created such a connection with the Indian people?
Cricket as a medium of expression
What cricket brought to India was a sense of simplicity. Played in its rawest form, all you really need is two willing players, a bat, and a ball. No need for a distinguished pitch or a fancy court – the sport could be played conveniently on streets and within neighborhoods throughout the country.
Seeing gully cricket (aka street cricket) played in every neighborhood with people of all ages and backgrounds is a familiar memory to every Indian. Cricket allowed us to look beyond our societal and religious boundaries, and encouraged us to really come together as equals. Despite the disparity that exists within the nation, cricket welcomed every Indian with open arms, and that’s why it has such a special place in our hearts.
Apart from becoming a cultural landmark for Indian citizens at an individual level, the sport also played a huge role in the collective national identity. With cricketers like Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar, and Virat Kohli , the Indian people found a sense of self. These players – along with many others – performing phenomenally on the world stage year after year brought a sense of pride and honor to the country that wasn’t there before. As this sport provided an opportunity for India to show the world its resilient spirit that was eager to make a mark on the world, Indian people felt recognized and represented globally for the first time.
Indian people felt recognized and represented globally for the first time.
Cricket, a national treasure
Aside from spreading national pride among its people, the sport did something else for India – it also opened numerous opportunities for economic advancements. Due to its growing popularity going into the 21st century, an Indian Premier League (IPL) for cricket was established in 2008. Among its most notable merits, this league created opportunities for local sporting talent by allowing them to measure themselves in a T20 format, which was otherwise only open to the national team. It provided another big platform for aspiring cricketers to showcase their talent, as well as raising the standards for the sport. And that’s not all – the league also became a melting pot of job opportunities, drawing in both local and international investors.
But while it’s important to consider these positives, it is also relevant to note the criticism against the IPL. For instance, the league was accused of promoting a (too) commercialized view of cricket along with general toxic consumer culture. While these critiques are not unfounded, we should also keep in mind that just like any other league, the IPL is not a perfect institution. It has its faults, yes, but it has given rise to several noteworthy cricketers and has shaped the sport into what it is today. In that regard, it is particularly important to mention women’s cricket within India, which the IPL helped promote.
The year 2016 marked the beginning of semi-professional women’s cricket competition in T20 format, thereby increasing recognition of the female cricket superstars of the country. This visibility then led to their silver medal victory in the Commonwealth Games 2022 and the gold medal victory of the Under-19’s women’s cricket World Cup in 2023, making leaps for women’s sport within the country and leaving their mark on the nation.
Whether it is gully cricket, the World Cup, or the IPL, cricket is deeply rooted within Indian culture, even despite its tumultuous beginnings. But that is another reason why this sport is so fascinating – in spite of being a remnant of India’s colonial past, it has since become such a defining aspect of the country’s national identity. This goes to show the true power of sport – it can bring people together, give a sense of honor, provide a means of expression, and most importantly allow people to showcase their talents and voices.
Edited by Emma C. C.