Review: Anthony Bateman, Cricket, Literature and Culture: Symbolizing the Nation, Destabilizing Empire in Journal of Contemporary History 46:2 (2011)

Review: Anthony Bateman, Cricket, Literature and Culture: Symbolizing the Nation, Destabilizing Empire in Journal of Contemporary History 46:2 (2011)
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   Anthony Bateman, Cricket, literature and culture: symbolizing the nation,destabilizing empire , Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009; xii +236 pp.; £55.00 hbk; ISBN 9780754665373Of all sports cricket, challenged only by baseball, is the most bookish. Padwick’sbibliography of cricket, first compiled in 1977, numbered in excess of 10,000items by the time of its first revision in 1991. 1 This figure is likely to have doubledin the past two decades given the growth of sports publishing and the rise of cricket’s popularity, particularly in the Asian market. As any historian of sport willknow the majority of the published work on the history of the game is long onnostalgia and short on genuine analysis. One such publication is John Major’saccount of the early years of cricket that ends, tellingly, in 1914 at the end of the‘Golden Age’ of cricket. In a chapter on ‘The chroniclers and the scribes’ Major gives an account of those men (they were always men) who described theplayers of the Golden Age, including a description of Neville Cardus as a writer who ‘evoked the magic and romance of the game as no man before or after’. 2  Cardus is one of the two central figures to feature in Anthony Bateman’s Cricket,literature and culture , an analysis of cricket writing from the mid-nineteenthcentury through to contemporary novels. Cardus merits a chapter of his own, asdoes his sometime protégé, the Trinidadian cricket writer and intellectual C. L. R.James. Bateman uses the writings of these two titans of twentieth century sports 1 Stephen Eley & Peter Griffiths (eds.), Padwick’s bibliography of cricket: Vol.2 (London, 1991) 2 John Major,  More than a game: The story of cricket’s early years (London, 2007), 2921  writing to cut through the nostalgia and offers up a closely argued and wide-ranging analysis of the way in which writing about the game reveals the importantrole that it played in the definition of Englishness, and its unravelling, in thecolonial and post-colonial eras.The first half of the book argues that a process of ‘literaturisation’ of cricketoccurred from the mid-nineteenth century onwards in writing about the game.This process Bateman sees as a literary counterpart to the way in which cricketwas appropriated from the demos, where it had traditionally been associated withgambling, drinking and violence, to become the archetypal English and imperialgame – drilled into generation after generation of public schoolboys as part of thehegemonic rise of the ethos of muscular Christianity in the high Victorian era.Where the book’s argument is most srcinal is in the way in which it convincinglydescribes a development of a canon in cricket writing from the 1890s onwardswhich had a politically and socially conservative bent, and which reached itsheight with the writings of Cardus. Cardus and his antecedents aestheticizedcricket to make it seem a highly ritualized element of English national culture thatwas transported throughout the globe, and by these means enforced socialcontrol through hierarchical class and race relationships on the pitch, in thecrowd and in print. These relationships were made to appear ancient and naturaleven while the development of cricket thrived upon the rapid technologicaltransformation of the modern world through mass media, inter-continental traveland urbanization. 2  However, while the canonization of cricket writing is well described there is ashortage of contextual voices. Bateman is willing to use the writings of C. B. Fryand E. H. D. Sewell, hack journalists rather than literary figures, to back up hisarguments, but there is less evidence of familiarity with the public discoursesurrounding the game in the sporting and national press, or in scholarlyperiodicals such as the Spectator  and the National Review  . Such reading wouldhave shown that in the Edwardian era, for example, there was a very stronglobby arguing for the modernization of sporting practices on the colonial modelthat criticized ‘the calm assumption of the superiority of everything English…which is totally opposed to progress’. 3 But to round off his chapter on empireBateman gives an excellent account of the controversial ‘Bodyline’ tour, pointingout that while England’s aggressive tactics caused political tension betweenmetropole and periphery, the very fact that the argument was still couched in thedominant English discourse of ‘it is/it isn’t cricket’ ensured that the Englishaesthetic remained dominant.The second half of the book hinges on the way in which C. L. R. James was aseminal figure in devising a new aesthetics of cricket that developed the gameaway from its English srcins. James anticipated the postcolonial turn by ageneration in his collaboration with the West Indian all-rounder LearieConstantine, his writing offering a far more subtle account of the way in whichcolonial players took the English traditions of the game and reimagined the 3 P. A. Vaile, ‘Where John Bull fails’, C. B. Fry’s Magazine Vol. IV  (1905-6), 5353  ‘performative grammar’ of cricket in a way that directly contradicted the class andracial stereotyping of the canonical writers. 4 Bateman’s dissection of James’aesthetics of cricket is an important contribution to a growing literature on thesport that seeks to reassert the colonial dimension in its development. 5   Appearing at a time when the Indian Premier League threatens to complete theeconomic revolution in the game that was first politically realized when theheadquarters of the International Cricket Council were removed from Lord’s toDubai in 2005 it can only be a matter of time before the historiography follows asimilar trajectory in privileging the former colonies’ discourses over that of their erstwhile masters.GEOFFREY LEVETTBirkbeck College, University of London 4 Learie Constantine, Cricket and I  (London, 1933) 5 See for example Ramachandra Guha,  A corner of a foreign field: The Indian history of a British sport  (London, 2002) and Bruce Murray & Goolam Vahed (eds.),  Empire and cricket: The South African experience 1884-1914 (Pretoria, 2009)4
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