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Cricket's Lost Bastions - Nations Where Cricket Was Popular At One Time

by Jashan

Cricket as a sport is limited to few nations. For many years since its birth, there were no particular efforts made to take cricket to new pastures. It was only after the 1996 World Cup that ICC took some good initiatives to take cricket to new nations. Though they have not been perfect, the initiatives have led to many success stories to be proud of.

In contrast, there are many countries where cricket could have been a major game but it missed out. The reasons could be many:

  1. ICC being formed as Imperial Cricket Conference and shutting itself to countries outside the commonwealth.
  2. The length of the game was also a limitation as only Test Match was the format.
  3. Rigid rules of cricket controlled by MCC who under colonial influence wanted to keep the game to gentlemen as per its definition. This literally shut any scope of innovations.
  4. The local factors in the country.
  5. The weather limitations.

In many countries, these factors literally killed the game. Lets take a look at some of the countries where cricket was a major sport at one time, only to lose its popularity due to above mentioned factors.

USA

Cricket was once the most popular game in the country. In fact, the first cricket international match was played between USA and Canada and it was so popular that in 1800s, around 10000 people attended that game. However around the civil war, a game very similar to cricket- Rounder & Baseball began to gain popularity. Baseball was easier to play as it just required a bat and ball and a ground while cricket required a proper pitch.
Also cricket was played by the elite and soon baseball emerged as the game of the masses. Cricket had its pockets but then 2 things happened. ICC was formed in 1965 and since US was a non commonwealth nation, it meant no tours of counties or MCC. Secondly the pockets where Elite played the game soon shifted their attention towards Golf and Tennis. Hence sadly, the game which was once very popular soon lost out to baseball.

Now recently with people from South Asia, Caribbean & UK migrating to USA, the game has seen a resurgence. Cricket is now a fast growing sport in the United States. Hopefully over time, the game will see better management by USACA.

Canada

Cricket was declared as national game by the first prime minister of Canada. As already mentioned, Canada was the first nation to play an international match of cricket. As the game declined in USA, the same happened in Canada too. The rough Canadian weather also played some part in the decline of the game.
Like USA, the game has seen a resurgence in recent times. In fact Canada qualified for three consecutive World Cups in 2003, 2007 and 2011. Also the whole team in now on contracts, showing the game is on a rise. However there is still long way to go.

Malaysia


Before independence, cricket dominated the headlines of all the newspapers in the country. The Malaya cricket team had even managed to beat the visiting Australians on one occasion. Despite the limited sports culture in the country, the game had good enough mind share. Malaysia was admitted to ICC as an associate after 1965 when ICC changed from Imperial to International.
By that time the game had lost a lot and never recovered to regain old levels of popularity in the country. There were other causes for game not becoming popular.

Whenever cricket was taken to any country, it was played by the elite of that country only. In India and Indian sub continent, we had Kings, Nawabs, Raja, Zamindar etc who were the Indian Elite. They played along with the Britishers and after the Britishers left, the elite continued with the sport. Hence the culture of the game continued and soon spread to the masses in all the 4 Test Nations of Indian Sub Continent.
In Malaysia, there were no such elite and hence when the Britishers left suddenly no one was there to continue the tradition and we had a Broken Arrow.
With cricket again getting globalized and T20 the new format to expand the game, the game like most part of the world is seeing some resurgance. The MCA has also a vision to get Malaysia ODI status by 2020 and recent performances of Malaysia have been encouraging. They came 3rd in ACC trophy narrowly losing to both the finalists by single digit margin. Also the junior program has been rekindled. FInally MCA has managed to get 4 sponsorships. Lets hope they regain the interest of Olden times

Fiji

Cricket was once a very popular game in the Island Nations. The Fiji team used to regularly play against the various teams from New Zealand and it was an event that always attracted eyeballs. In fact, the Indian and West Indian teams had played against the Fiji teams in Fiji en route to play Australia. However, being a small nation and having smaller population meant that the level of cricket team stayed inferior to that of the test playing nations. This factor over time led to less teams touring or inviting Fiji. Meanwhile, Rugby started to gain popularity in Fiji. Over the passage of time, the locals realized they have a body built that is more suitable for Rugby and it was much easier for them to perform. Cricket’s loss proved to be Rugby’s gain in the country.

At present, Fiji have lost the number 4 spot in cricket playing countries of Oceania (behind Australia, New Zealand and PNG) with Republic of Vanuatu replacing them. Lets hope the condition of cricket improves in Fiji.

Burma

Surprised to hear this name? Did you know that the Burma team had defeated the Ceylon team once in 1927 IIRC? Though both teams were made of Britishers but then, that was the case in every country at that time. The game was started and played by Britishers and then taken over by the higher class of local and then eventually spreading to the masses.
But in Burma, the local elites were Indians. Indians formed a majority in capital Rangoon. The local Burmese really resented them. The political situation in the country soon changed. First the Japanese captured Burma in 1941. They started to discriminate against the Indians. The Indians began to leave the country. Then when British drove out the Japanese, it was almost certain that they will grant independence to Burma.
The Burma independence was not like the one in South Asia where the subsequent government maintained good relations. The British and Indians both were hated hence cricket also became a victim. Burma chose not to join the Commonwealth and hence ICC got out of question. Burma then further went into isolation and socialism and game of cricket, its clubs all started to lose out. Hence over time the game of cricket was dead in the country.
If Burma somehow had managed to go on the lines of South East Asia, then surely the large impact of Indian Diaspora and its neighbours India and Bangladesh would have made sure that the game of cricket stayed alive. With globalization, the game of Cricket has started to come back. A movie on lines of famous Indian movie “Lagaan” name “Bo Ba” was also made and was hugely popular. Presently probably Burma is the weakest of all cricket teams but cricket surely is making a comeback. Lets hope over time they come out as a strong contendor.

Some more nations where Cricket got a head start but could not capitalize were
1. Argentina
2. Netherlands
3. Denmark
4. Italy

Cricket’s global standing would have been entirely different had the game managed to prevail in the above mentioned countries. For around 80 years, cricket was kept in a cocoon with just the British and elites having access to the willow. To cover these 80 years, it would take at least 20 to 30 more years for the ICC to make cricket a truly global sport.

Edited By: Ambuj Gupta

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