Cricket and Colonial Legacies

In openDemocracy, Ehsan Masood looks at cricket in the wake of last months controversy.

In Lagaan, a Bollywood film set in British India, an experienced team of British soldiers challenge farmers from a village to a game of cricket. But this is to be no ordinary match. If the villagers win, the crippling tax (lagaan) they owe to the Raj is to be waived. If they lose, the tax is to be trebled. None of the farmers have played before, and the district’s feudal prince begs them not to become lambs to the slaughter. But the villagers, whose captain is played by actor-director Aamir Khan, feel they have little to lose as the tax is already unaffordable. For readers who may not have seen this film, I won’t spoil the ending. What I can say is that it is another example of how a global audience is reading and watching the history of India from its own perspective.

I was reminded of the film last month when a match between England and Pakistan ended abruptly amid much controversy on 20 August. As with the fictional Lagaan, this real game of cricket between a rich nation and its (former) colony offered its spectators the same mix of sport, power, colonial politics, allegations of racism and cheating, together with flashes of comedy. Its cast even included the descendant of royalty in the shape of Shahryar Khan, chair of Pakistan’s cricket-governing board and the country’s former ambassador to London; his grandmother was the queen of Bhopal in north India.