Feb 22, 2015
The history of cricket in India begins with the British East India Company which began trading in 1617. Over the coming centuries it would go on to monopolize, tax and eventually rule large parts of India on behalf of Britain, an unprecedented period of human history known as “Company Rule”.
Thousands of British soldiers, sailors, administrators and merchants traveled to India during The Raj and it was inevitable that they would bring their beloved game of Cricket, which was first recorded being played in the princely state of Cambay around 1721. By the late 18th century the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club was perhaps the first formal team in the country, organizing games mostly between expatriate teams (image by Nic Redhead).
The East India Company held a standing army, with tens of thousands of Indians serving at any one time. These troops were trained in European style and this included instruction on British customs like Cricket. The game spread like wildfire and suddenly European teams were facing tough competition from local rivals. Early Indian teams were drawn along ethnic lines and in the inaugural “first class” season of 1892-3 the Parsees (a Zoroastrian community) beat the Europeans to claim the Bombay Presidency.
In 1932 India joined the “elite club” of top level Test countries along with South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, West Indies and England. The Indian national team played England at Lords soon thereafter in front of a huge crowd of 24,000 including King George V, still at that time Emperor of India.
It wasn’t until 1947 that India was finally independent, but the national obsession with cricket has far outlived British control. Millions listened by radio in 1952 as India earned their first Test win against England at Madras. As hotly contested as encounters with England are they cannot compare to games against local rival, and past enemy, Pakistan (image by Jenn Coyle).
India’s rise as an economic power is showcased the the star power and financial draw of its domestic cricket league. Whereas once talented Indian cricketers might have dreamed of a big money career in England, now the biggest league in the world is the IPL T20. The IPL uses a short, intense and high scoring 20 over format which now means the world’s top players leave their domestic clubs for the IPL season. The money and prestige on offer are so great that an invitation to an IPL team can be simply too good to turn down. Some critics sneer at the “made for TV” format and corrupting influence of money, but the huge attendance figures suggest the IPL is the world’s most vibrant and fastest growing leagues.
Later this year India will contest the ICC World Cup hosted by Australia and New Zealand. India will undoubtedly catch World Cup fever and nerves will be tested to the very limit. Britain may have brought cricket to India, but many would argue that India is now where it lives.
Related post: 4 Amazing facts about India
Feature image by rogbi200