The White Man's Burden

March 12, 2008

The White Man's Burden is a poem written by Rudyard Kipling about the US conquest of the Philippines. Theodore Roosevelt, later to become one of the most celebrated of Presidents of the United States of America called it "rather poor poetry, but a good sense from the expansion point of view". Cricket has long been removed from its colonial, imperialist roots. Ashis Nandy observed that Cricket is "an Indian game, accidentally invented by the British". Now, it appears that Kipling's "white man" is seeking subaltern status.

Christopher Martin Jenkins, writing in the Times laments about the impending appointment of Mr. Bindra as Chief Executive of the International Cricket Council (formerly the Imperial Cricket Conference), soon to be followed by the election of Mr. Pawar as the Chairman of the ICC. Neither of these appointments are foregone conclusions, but both are certainly likely.

CMJ, went to Marlborough, which as Wikipedia informs us was a boys school for a very long time, until the winds of modernity reached its doors and made it co-educational in 1968 (that tumultuous year). Other illustrious alums of Marlborough College include Sir Mark Tully. He was captain of the cricket team at Marlborough, and once made 99 against Rugby School at Lord's. 99's can be life altering experiences (unless you are Sachin Tendulkar, who, true to his middle class roots takes the pragmatic view that a 99 is better than a 19), and i speculate that his experience with a 99 prompted CMJ to fire off a letter to Brian Johnston at Test Match Special on the Marlborough letterhead asking him for instructions about becoming a commentator.

CMJ is clearly concerned by the impending disaster - two Indians running Cricket! There is an essential duplicity in opinion's such as CMJ's, for it is grounded in concerns which essentially boil down to the preservation of the five Test match long Ashes series. England have been regularly hammered in these contests for over 20 years now, with the exception of 2005, as all those MBE's commemorate, and it must be a measure of their desperation to preserve the primacy of the Ashes (especially in the context of the Border-Gavaskar trophy, which has become a series of battles in a long standing war now), that 6 Ashes Tests have been scheduled for the next series. England may yet regret it, for some one like Mathew Hayden may decide that he wants to sign off from Test cricket making 1000 runs in the 6 Test series, but this is besides the point. Why are England interested in preserving the Ashes? This is mainly because it is an extremely popular contest in England and Australia. Many fans in both hemispheres say that even though India - Australia Test Matches have been hard fought in recent times, the Ashes is the most important contest in their view. Thus, the commercial opportunity of the Ashes Tests, couched conveniently in tradition, has been preserved inspite of the Future Tours program being imperiled by it. There is discontent about BCCI doing the same with series against Pakistan, and while it could be argued that BCCI have over done it with a series every 12 months for the last 4 years (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007), the Friendship Series follows much of the same logic as the Ashes series does. (I use the Ashes here as a surrogate for the idea of Anglo-Saxon dominance in Cricket)

The duplicity, is because CMJ's essential point is that Sharad Pawar and Bindra won't really care about Cricket, and that if the clout falls officially into India's hands, then it could change Cricket forever, given India's financial clout, while those in the ECB and CA who care enough about Cricket to preserve the 5 match Ashes series in the FTP may get marginalized. His desperation is apparent from the weakness of his argument, which essentially boils down to - "Bindra should not be ICC Chief Executive, because even though he's capable and has accomplished much in the area of Cricket Administration, there are others who are equally good candidates, and more importantly, he will be joined by Mr. Pawar in two years time at the helm of the ICC". The obvious irony here is that he proposes a former South African "with a successful career in cricket and business" (an obvious reference to Dr. Ali Bacher), or Imtiaz Patel, also South African. The (ethnic) choice which Mr. Patel represents is according to CMJ a "compromise choice"!

The audacity of the argument is breathtaking. In essence, CMJ's point seems to be to beg to be allowed to continue fulfilling his white man's burden. The best reason he can offer to support his case, is that without being allowed to do so, he (i used "he" here to refer to the anglo-saxon clique that CMJ represents) would be divested of his agency as a cricket man - reduced in essence to the status of a subaltern! This loss, i speculate might be embodied in the Ashes being clipped to being a 4 Test series like most other Test series. Of course, England have historically disliked playing the Ashes for less than 5 Tests at a time. Indeed, when the Packer Australian's returned in 1979-80 to challenge England's hollow Ashes victory of 1978-79 (5-1), England refused to play for the Ashes, because the 1979-80 series was scheduled for only 3 Tests. Greg Chappell's Aussies thrashed England 3-0. Dennis Lillee took 23 wickets at 16, and Greg Chappell made 317 runs at 80.

That this rationalization of the Ashes in line with the rest of the cricket world would greatly help the Cricket calender is obvious. Many people criticize the cricket calender, but it is important regulation in my view - an essential balancing instrument between the desire to preserve Test cricket and ensuring commercial success. This theme of threat pervades a lot of CMJ's writing. He has called Twenty20 "a fast Frankenstein of a game", but only in the context of the enormous amounts that it seems to attract. From the purely cricketing point of view, the only comment by CMJ that i found was that "it's not much of a game for bowlers". So, Twenty20 as an innovation was probably Ok, until it began to attract big money - money which Test Cricket could not compete with. Had Twenty20 been a format originating out of India, one can only imagine the kind of scorn it would have attracted.

Just like India have done with Cricket as whole, they have appropriated Twenty20 as a format from England, and the BCCI has turned it into big business. Business which in CMJ's view threatens to disrupt the traditional Cricket calender - incidentally a calender tailor made for England and Australia (the cricket seasons are essentially the English Summer and the Southern Hemisphere Summer). Martin-Jenkins is an influential Cricket writer. He was invited to deliver the Cowdrey Lecture in 2007, where he covered a lot of ground and referred favorably the ECB "pioneering Twenty20". He also referred to the danger of journalist's being conned into "becoming spin machines for Premiership" - a reference to the dominance of the English Premiership coverage at the cost of interesting cricket news.

Isn't it ironic then that Christopher Martin Jenkins is unable to see the dangers of his own spin, and that of many other writers in England and Australia, who seek manufacture "India's arrival", there by feeding the sort of racially charged jingoistic frenzy which gets whipped up in the aftermath of contentious incidents like the recent Sydney Test Match? The enduring story of this Indian summer in Australia has not been the repeated childishness on the field, but the relentless jingoism off it. By building the BCCI up as this marauding tycoon seeking to take over cricket, writers like CMJ feed the prejudices on both sides. It does great disservice to the global game, much more than Twenty20 will ever do (unlike CMJ, i believe there are plenty of things wrong with Twenty20 as a cricket format).

There is no threat to the global game from India. At most, BCCI influence will make it a truly global game. Christopher Martin Jenkins ended his Cowdrey Lecture quoting Shakespeare:

"They are as sick that surfeit with too much, as they that starve with nothing" (The Merchant of Venice)

The problem with the current cricket calender and the current cricket establishment, is that it is surfeit with a deeply pervasive Anglo-Saxon influence, while the problem with the Twenty20, is that it is too little cricket. These are probably two of the greatest concerns in modern day cricket. It is a measure of the limitations of CMJ's anglocentric view, that he is on the wrong side of both these concerns. The great threat to cricket is not that two Indians may run the game, but that relics of the Raj like CMJ will use their enormous influence to discredit such an enterprise.

I certainly hope that more objective Indian observers than myself do not see any wisdom in engaging in a quasi-racist attempt to appoint the other man. It would do Mr. Bacher or Imtiaz Patel great disservice.

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The White Man's Burden


Author: Kartikeya


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