In the Zone Sport and Politics Consultancy & Southampton Solent University
Dominic Malcolm’s latest work, Globalizing Cricket: Englishness, Empire and Identity, confirms his love of cricket and his desire to convey its centrality to understanding the evolving puzzle that is English identity.
Striking out on a critical path, he boldly combines discussion and analysis of the trajectory of cricket without being unnecessarily drawn into a surfeit of theoretical debate. Yet throughout, he acknowledges Norbert Elias’s framework of figurational sociology which shapes much of his thinking on the development of cricket as a modern game. In so doing, he applies the tools of historical sociology to explore what he considers to be the quintessential English game, and how this has changed as cricket has been globally diffused, and also become more important on the United Kingdom’s Celtic fringe.
Whilst paying homage to the substantial canon of cricket literature from within the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, Malcolm’s more innovative approach draws on four texts focusing on rugby, ice hockey, football and sociology (Dunning & Sheard 1979/2005, Gruneau & Wilson 1993, Giulianotti 1999 and Sugden 1996), all of which explore the relationship between their chosen sport and its societal impact. This approach is justified as he maintains that it helps to shed light and sociological scrutiny on the often made, but rarely explained, connection between cricket and Englishness, which frequently appear as a couplet.
In so doing, he captures the interest and imagination of those interested in the intricacies of cricket’s development whilst drawing in an audience who, though not familiar with the finer points of the sport, wish to acquire an understanding of how, and why, cricket became an active agent in forging some of the peculiarities of English identity.
As Horne comments in his introduction, the central objective of the book is to understand the underlying trajectory that the sport has taken from its beginnings to its present state. Allied with this is the desire to ensure that a series of explanations is offered that considers the relationship between cricket and Englishness as opposed to merely accepting and endorsing the view that cricket is a reflection of Englishness. This challenging task is undertaken by way of exploring such influences as social class, commercialisation, violence, innovation, national consciousness and the projection of Empire: hence the dual focus in the volume of explaining the development and diffusion of cricket in the United Kingdom and overseas, and how this has occurred whilst the game has continued to spread under the auspicies of the International Cricket Conference. As Malcolm advocates, cricket is the sport par excellence of the British Empire. For many in cricketing nations, no other sport delivers such meaningful contests that resonate so closely with their historically generated sense of identity.
Whilst regularly stating that he is not focusing on the globalisation of cricket (the movement of finance, mediatised images or personnel), Malcolm structures the volume in such a way as to make it difficult to isolate the global growth of the game from his central argument. The early chapters trace cricket from its initial emergence through its development in nineteenth century England, the era of colonisation, with particular reference to its failure to capture the American populace, a rejection which he contrasts with adoption of the sport in the Caribbean. The most riveting section focuses on internal colonisation recognising the need to go beyond socially constructed national borders, the advent of multiculturalism in Britain and how this impacts on new conceptions of Englishness and “othering”.Understanding and appreciating the complexity of cricket has long been a challenge for many citizens of the United Kingdom, let alone those living beyond its borders.
While seeking to deconstruct the nature and importance of the relationship between cricket and Englishness, Malcolm wrestles with the challenge of establishing what is meant by the term “national game”. As Bairner (2001) remarks, this is a slippery concept, which, in the case of cricket, is further complicated as the sport is perceived to have been “invented” in England. However, it has never been the most widely played sport in England.
Furthermore, the regular conflation of Englishness and Britain in descriptions about the game enabled the English game to become the premier game of Empire, being exported by personnel from all parts of the United Kingdom, representing those parts that experienced internal colonisation. In reality, cricket has been played at different times throughout the British Isles, and is best not seen simply as an English game: however, the reality is one in which Great Britain is viewed as Greater England (Haseler 1996), with the game often being used a civilising tool.
Malcolm addresses the neglect academics have often been guilty of in discussing the development of sport in the United Kingdom. However, cricket is also the game in which separate English and Irish nations are forged into one (Bairner & Malcolm 2010), whilst the renaissance of Celtic cricket is also linked to the reformation of the English game with the creation of the England and Wales Cricket Board in 1997. Although many in Wales remain concerned about the silent “W” (Harris 2006) this has as Malcolm comments, become more apparent through the vocalization of the “E”.
In addition to highlighting the changing impact of the Celtic dimension on national identity which is juxtaposed with a new sense of Englishness evident in the last decade, partly in response to devolution, Malcolm seeks to reconcile the challenge of how the game of British Empire can rub alongside the game that resonates most with Englishness within the United Kingdom. The status of Empire within the diasporic communities reflects the shift between issues of heritage and contemporary conditions and the ever more powerful notion of economic and political interdependence. Whereas the forces of liberation have largely evaporated for the Afro-Caribbean community, for South Asian communities cricket plays a role as the sport most likely to attract young males and females. Therefore, as notions of Englishness have altered in relation to cricket, this reflects the reality of English identity no longer being monolithic, and most definitely not static. The openness to, and acceptance of, change links in with the growing manifestation of what has been described as “Benign Englishness” (Edmunds & Turner 2001).
Understanding and appreciating the complexity of cricket has long been a challenge for many citizens of the United Kingdom, let alone those living beyond its borders. Yet, to understand any sport it is essential to seek to comprehend how, if at all, the game is central to the fabric of the society in which it is played. Even though cricket is now undergoing the process of “Indianisation”, with the game being driven by the global spread of consumer culture as a consequence of the power of international capitalism, the relevance of Malcolm’s historical and sociological approach is immense, as it journeys through the colonial and post-colonial eras, whilst always returning to its origins and how the game continues to appeal to its domestic audience.
In filling a clear gap in the market Malcolm succeeds in his objectives. The outcome is a volume that will be very useful for the graduate student but also for the sports enthusiast keen to place his/her favoured pastime and the mass of data generated into a critical context.
Copyright © Russell Holden 2013