- Cricket: A Political History of the Global Game, 1945–2017 by Stephen Wagg
In Cricket: A Political History of the Global Game, 1945–2017, Stephen Wagg presents a broad-brushed development of the game: from a nineteenth-century elite, British, white, amateur gentlemen’s preserve into a thoroughly professional, meritocratic, capitalist, sport-entertainment industry, in which India emerges as a “superpower” in the twenty-first century (256). Situating his analysis within the complex and mutating relations of power, prestige, politics of the time, and place, Wagg foregrounds that cricket in Britain [End Page 137] and former British colonies was not simply a colonial cultural relic or export but a site of colonial and postcolonial contestations. While in conversation with prior-acclaimed cricket literature (usually organized with a singular national/regional focus), this sixteen-chapter collection brings together all the major pre-, post- and transnational histories of cricket in a single and accessible volume.
The book is organized into two parts. The first part offers a historical survey of each of the ten test-playing countries. The second part is thematically organized, where significant changes in the game’s format and political economy are examined in relation to globalization and neoliberal policies. In the first nine chapters, Wagg relates, chapter by chapter, concise national stories, drawing on well-known secondary sources regarding a nation’s cricket and political transitions. The opening two-and-a-half chapters cover short histories of the three founding members (Britain, Australia, and South Africa) of the Imperial Cricket Conference, which would later be renamed as the International Cricket Conference (ICC) and serve as the governing body of world cricket. In discussing cricket in the “Mother Country” and her dominions (Australia, South Africa, Rhodesia, and New Zealand, in particular), Wagg artfully lays out the internal contradictions in British aristocratic values, which cherished amateurism over professionalism (playing “for the love of the game”  over playing for money), and aggressively guarded their class, race, and gender-based supremacy. Despite the many historical examples of the conservatism of cricketing aristocrats, they have shown exceptional openness toward liberal economic policies, modernizing marking tactics, mass media, television broadcasting, and sponsors. While all sixteen chapters, in one way or another, develop such ironies, contradictions, and inconsistencies, the political conditions (of racism, extraction of resources, and exploitation of labor) and political calculations (of independence struggle and nationalism) within which cricket cultures developed in the West Indies, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka were very different from that of the ICC’s founding members and settler colonies. Wagg shows the role cricket played in transnational diplomacy, in the building of national identities and confidence in the West Indies, and later in the rise of “the Asian bloc.” In the process, he argues, a combination of elitism, meritocracy through science and coaching, television, media, and commercial dominance that emerged over the years has significantly changed the terms of domestic and international cricketing relations.
The last seven chapters thematically address the impact that these globalizing trends, capitalistic and neoliberal forces, have had on the game in good, bad, and ugly ways. While Wagg only interrogates the global potential, reach, and limitations of the game in the final chapter, the question if cricket is, indeed, a “global game” remains ambiguous. His conclusion, however, suggests that, instead of global expansion of the game, there is a monopolistic consolidation of control over cricket’s professional industry by the three major players: India, Australia, and England. The chapters in the second part expand on the ways in which the game of cricket has changed over time, from traditional five-day tests to one-day matches and the most recent advent of Twenty20 and the Indian Premier League, examining what these changes mean for the political present and future of the game. Although among the most fascinating and original, the chapter on women’s cricket sits somewhat awkwardly in this section. Inclusion of women’s cricket in the discussion of regional histories presented in the...