The roots of colonial cricket

Archive team photograph of Black cricketers

African scholars at English missionary institutions were keen cricketers and made the game their own. PIC/A1319, Corey Library for Historical Research, Rhodes University. Used with permission.

Throughout the 1800s cricket became increasingly popular in the British colonies. Created by the English, the game was introduced by government officials and the military to the West Indies and South Africa at about the same time; to Barbados in 1806 and to Cape Town in 1808. In Barbados, newspapers carried cricket reports alongside notices about slave sales and the fluctuations in sugar prices.

After the enslaved Africans were freed in 1838, Britain recognised the power of the game to reinforce the social hierarchy in its colonies. The white classes needed constant reminding that they were a 'race' set apart from the Africans in their midst. Cricket was watched only by 'highly respectable ladies and gentlemen', while the plantation owners prepared the cricket field and provided the hospitality.

The boundary of Empire

Throughout their Empire the British created boundaries. The cricket 'boundary' is therefore deeply symbolic for people struggling to free themselves.

Cricket was taught in missionary schools in order to impart English values to the indigenous people. The Africans came to love the game as much as the English.

Colonial cricket gradually evolved from being used as a tool of social control. Adopted by freed Africans throughout the world, the game would take on boundaries very different from those understood by its originators.