A story in the New York Times today discusses the role that cricket is playing in cohering South Asian immigrants who live in Rome. Cricket, according to the piece, is one of Italy’s fastest growing sports, and much more popular among South Asians than soccer. The story puts us in mind of one of the themes of Right Off the Bat, which is that, for all of baseball’s and cricket’s histories as sports that represent the quintessence of respectively American-ness and Englishness (meaning, in effect, “whiteness”), not only have the games been the pathway for people of color to become “acceptable” to the majority (i.e., white) society, but that they’ve also become the repositories for ethnic communities’ self-identity in their new countries.
Here lies the tension: Cricket and baseball offer minorities a way to immersion in the larger society, and yet they run the risk of isolating and ghetto-izing those same communities. During the 1980s, Norman Tebbit, a minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government, notoriously suggested that people of South Asian descent who lived in England should be tested on their allegiance to their host country by whether they supported the English cricket team, or whichever side from Pakistan, India, or Sri Lanka was visiting. Tebbit’s particularly blunt and racially tinged question—filled with the anxieties over what these “others” were thinking and doing in the midst of Little England—was roundly criticized, but it nonetheless touched a deep chord. You can probably guess what Tebbit considered the “correct” answer.
Wherever you fall in the “cricket test”—and when England played the U.S. in last year’s World Cup soccer tournament, Martin’s allegiances were sorely tested—Tebbit’s question offers a fascinating glimpse into the anxieties and opportunities that have been channeled through baseball and cricket throughout their history. In our opinion, it’s what makes these sports so rich beyond the playing of the games themselves, and one of the many fascinating threads that tie them together.