Prospect Magazine

IF THERE is a lesson to be drawn from India’s incredible victory it is not about nation or race but simply about cricket.

It is tempting but foolish to draw too many lessons from sporting occasions. Sport reflects life, but does not tell us much about living.

Neville Cardus wrote that if every­thing in England was destroyed it would be possible to recreate English society, so long as a copy of the laws of cricket survived. That’s not true, of course. But if Cardus had been at Lord’s during the one-day cricket final between England and India in mid-July, he would have found much to reflect on.

I left Lord’s that evening £50 poorer but walking on air as India beat England by two wickets in one of the best — certainly one of the most exciting matches seen in one-day cricket.

I grew up in Bombay worshipping Indian cricket and crying when my team was defeated. Now I do not cry so easily, not because the present generation of Indian cricketers are less fallible, but because I have found other ways to console myself.

At Lord’s, just after tea on that Saturday, I took comfort in a bet on an English victory, thinking that I would balance my heavy heart with a heavier wallet. At that stage, with India on 146 for 5 and having lost their greatest batsman, Sachin Tendulkar, chasing England’s 325, there seemed no way we could win. An Indian friend said he would bet that India could get within 25 runs of the English total. It looked easy money.

I was watching the game from a box which, like the crowd of 30,000, was evenly balanced between Indians and English. Samosas, poppadoms and biryani were washed down by Pimms.

The Lord’s ban on flags and drums meant the noisy exuberance that had marked India’s progress to the final was missing. In the earlier matches, Indians, many of them second and third generation British Asians, had danced the Bhangra, the Punjabi dance, while their compatriots banged drums and blew whistles, converting grounds nor­mally as quiet as Anglican churches into replicas of noisy Indian temples.

At Lord’s, the Indian cricketers and their supporters were at first subdued while the English basked in their antic­ipated victory. But as the two young Indians, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif, started the fight back, the mood changed. In the box my friend said, “It’s just like when the Indians were fighting for freedom.” It was nothing of the kind. But in the Tavern stand below, carefully concealed Indian flags emerged and I heard the first shout of India Zindabad — long live India.

Then as the Indians scampered the winning run, courtesy of an English overthrow, the Indian team came charging down the steps at Lord’s and did a victory lap draped in the Indian flag. I looked across at the box next door, which a few moments ago had been full of smiling English faces. It was empty.

The England captain, Nasser Hussain, is of Indian origin (as is the England player Ronnie Irani) and the Indian coach is a New Zealander. But such cricketing miscegenation was forgotten in that moment of safe but exhilarating sporting nationalism.

We know that sport in Britain, especially cricket, is an outlet for the dual identity of many of its ethnic minorities. We know too that the passion with which any British-Indian supports India in cricket has little bearing on how well integrated that person is in his or her adopted country.

If there is a lesson to draw, it is about cricket, not race. It will be hard for the four-match test series to escape the shadow of that one-day final. The pace and sensibility of the more popular one-day game is different from the five-day game — and they are diverging. Cardus was wrong. The same rules can produce very different games and very different Englands.

© Mihir Bose


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