Cricket Country by Prashant Kidambi

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Cricket Country by Prashant Kidambi and published by Penguin and one of the shortlisted books for the Wolfson History Prize.

 

The Wolfson History Prize is awarded annually to promote and recognise outstanding history written for a general audience. First awarded in 1972, it remains a beacon of the best historical writing being produced in the UK, reflecting qualities of both readability and excellence in writing and research. Books are judged on the extent to which they are carefully researched, well-written and accessible to the non-specialist reader. The Wolfson History Prize is the most valuable non-fiction writing prize in the UK, with the winner receiving a total prize of £40,000, and the shortlisted authors receiving £4,000 each. The Prize is awarded by the Wolfson Foundation, an independent charity that awards grants to support and promote excellence in the fields of science, health, education and the arts & humanities.

The books shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2020 are:

The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans by David Abulafia

A History of the Bible: The Book and Its Faiths by John Barton

A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution by Toby Green

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

Chaucer: A European Life by Marion Turner

Cricket Country: An Indian Odyssey in the Age of Empire by Prashant Kidambi

 

About the Book

‘Cricket is an Indian game accidentally invented by the English, ‘ it has famously been said. Today, the Indian cricket team is a powerful national symbol, a unifying force in a country riven by conflicts. But India was represented by a cricket team long before it became an independent nation.

Drawing on an unparalleled range of original archival sources, Cricket Country is the story of the first ‘All India’ cricket tour of Great Britain and Ireland. It is also the extraordinary tale of how the idea of India took shape on the cricket field in the high noon of empire. Conceived by an unlikely coalition of colonial and local elites, it took twelve years and three failed attempts before an ‘Indian’ cricket team made its debut on the playing fields of imperial Britain.

This historic tour, which took place against the backdrop of revolutionary politics in the Edwardian era, featured an improbable cast of characters. The team s young captain was the newly enthroned ruler of a powerful Sikh state. The other cricketers were chosen on the basis of their religious identity. Remarkably, for the day, two of the players were Dalits.

Over the course of the blazing Coronation summer of 1911, these Indians participated in a collective enterprise that epitomizes the way in which sport — and above all cricket — helped fashion the imagined communities of both empire and nation.

 

About the Author

Prashant Kidambi trained as a historian at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, and completed an MA and an MPhil before proceeding to the University of Oxford to undertake a doctorate. After holding a Junior Research Fellowship in History at Wolfson College, Oxford, took up a lectureship in the School of History, University of Leicester, where he has taught ever since.

 

My Review

I have loved cricket since my early teenage years (quite a long time ago now) and have occasionally played for low-level club teams where batsmen have been underwhelmed with my spin bowling. I have followed the sport for years and have had that roller coast of emotion that you get supporting the England cricket team where defeat is often snatched from victory and the certainty of a batting collapse hangs over every match.

While cricket is a sport that we invented and evolved, it seems that most of the world is better at it than us as a rule, in particular the players of the subcontinent, hence the phrase, cricket is an Indian game accidentally invented by the English. Now days India is a force to be reckoned with in modern cricket, producing world-class batsmen and bowlers who can reduce an opposition teams supporters to tears. It is a sport that does manage to unite a country that is riven with internal conflicts, but where did it all begin?

The story begins way back in the 1830s when India was under British control and the youth of the day began to take up the sport. As it became more popular interest in traditional Indian games began to diminish. Their colonial rulers did not discourage this, seeing that the game extolled of the British virtues. Lots of local teams were formed and by the late 1870s, some of them were good enough to defeat the Royal Navy Team. It was around this time that the possibility of a tour of an Indian Cricket team around the UK was first mooted. For a variety of reasons, it didn’t happen, but in 1889 a team from England toured the subcontinent and the India team of Parsi’s beat Lord Hawkes team, much to the disbelief of spectators.

Ranji was a talented cricketer who had studied at Cambridge and at one point played for Sussex and there was even some controversy about his being selected to play for England. He was involved in the possible first Indian tour of the UK, that was being organised for the turn of the century, but he scuppered that with his attempt to secure the throne of Nawanagar. There were internal rivalries in the team too, with the Hindu and Parsi factions causing another attempt to tour being abandoned. These differences were resolved in the end.

Further progress was made with the organisation for the tour and the Tata family offered to help with financial assistance, but some of the team members complained about individuals from lower castes being selected, thankfully Balloo contested the decision and in his time became to be considered the best left-arm spinner in the world.

Finally, all the different aspects of the tour came together and a team left India to go to the UK in 1911. The UK that year was undergoing a heatwave with temperatures as high as 98 deg F. The country cooked, thousands died from the heat and there was even one man who shed so many clothes as he was so hot that he was arrested for nudity. On top of that, there was social turmoil, strikes fighting in the streets and a political battle between the House of Commons and the Lords. It was an inauspicious start to their tour of the UK, but they began it in Oxford, nonetheless.

They didn’t have an auspicious start to the tour and lost a number of their matches at the start of the tour, this was partly because they weren’t used to the pitch conditions of the spin and seam bowling, the matches were too close together not allowing recuperation between them and they were often set against much better sides. The odds were very much stacked against them, however, halfway through, their fortunes changed and they began to win matches, even Baloo began to take wickets and accumulated five-wicket hauls. The team was dissolved on it’s return to India and there would be another national team until 1926 and it was another five years after that, that an official Indian team would return to the UK.

I will admit to being a cricket fan, so this had an immediate appeal anyway, but for those that like their sport this book will almost certainly appeal. Kidambi has written a book that is comprehensive, richly detailed and full of stories and anecdotes about the origins of what is now a great cricket team. There was a brief sojourn into a story about a gentleman called Ramamurti Naidu who performed feats of strength and wrestling Fascinating as it was, and he was in the UK at the same time as the others, I wasn’t totally sure of the link to the cricket team’s story.

 

Don’t forget to visit the other blogs on the blog tour:

 

You can buy this at your local independent bookshop. If you’re not sure where your nearest is then you can find one here

 

My thanks to Ben at Midas PR for sending a copy of the book to read.

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5 Comments

  1. Annabel Gaskell

    I will put this book on a shortlist for getting my cricket-mad brother for his birthday – I always get him one cricket book each year! Not my kind of book, although I did have a good flirtation with Botham-era cricket.

    • Paul

      He sounds fairly sensible to me. Has he read Twirlymen?

  2. Liz Dexter

    I don’t know how I missed this at the time – this looks like an excellent read for the history or cricket fan!

    • Paul

      Life, no doubt! I really liked it, as you can probably tell

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