Patterson and Kaufman on Cricket

by Harry on May 1, 2005

Orlando Patterson and Jason Kaufman trail their forthcoming American Sociological Review paper on why cricket failed in the United States in today’s New York Times (it seems to be subscription only). Their thesis is that the egalitarian culture of the US caused elites to be extremely insecure, and therefore to hog cricket to themselves; which in turn helped out the entrepreneurs who were able to sell baseball as a game for the masses. In contrast, the self-confidence of the colonial elites in northern India and the Carribean enabled them to share cricket with the masses. This, of course, undercut any potential market for baseball, cricket being intrinsically superior (sorry, that last comment was from me, not them). You can hear them discuss it with Laurie Taylor here. In the interview, by the way, Kaufman claims never to have seen a game!



P O'Neill 05.01.05 at 10:56 am

The piece does seem to suffer a bit from whatever culling happened to get it to NYT size. After outlining their basic theory, they then have to rush through an explanation at the end of why Australia, with some similarities to N. American social structure still ended up with cricket as a dominant sport. Not a subject of their article, but Australian cricket is also interesting for the extent to which sectarian tensions existed on the team (especially in the Don Bradman days) — so perhaps another virtue of cricket was that it could contain this problem and still thrive.


Kieran 05.01.05 at 11:00 am

I shared an office with Jason in grad school for a few years. I can confirm he doesn’t watch cricket. Then again, Francois Furet never initiated a single revolution, either.


Gabriel Mihalache 05.01.05 at 11:03 am

It’s not “subscription only” but “free registration required”, and from my experience with the online edition of the NYT, they never spam or otherwise abuse your address… in case someone was was deter to click the link and find out for themselves.


urizon 05.01.05 at 11:22 am

Saying that cricket is superior to baseball is just silly. Kind of like saying my dad can beat up your dad.


Chris Corrigan 05.01.05 at 11:43 am

Yes Kieran…it looks as if this was a piece written by someone who really doesn’t appreciate cricket. I’ve never heard of a series “won by 159 runs” as the authors describe the recent Ind-Pak one day series. A match, sure, but a series is decided by wins, not runs.

I am Canadian, not Australian but I too found the analysis of Australia lacking. How to explain the preference too for rugby and AFL football? Is it my imagination or is does Australian sport actually evolve along regional lines more than class ones? Looking at cricket without a glance to the other sports that make up a nation’s passions seems to be lacking context.

When people say that cricket is too boring and too long,I ask them why they think golf is so successful these days in North America. Tiger Woods and Sachin Tendulkar share the same wily psychology and tenacity and they both ply their trade in matches that last over several days. And golf is certainly a more elite sport than cricket ever was. So what of all that?

Also, it strikes me that the leap to democratic institutions is plain weird. From cricket to democracy in one paragraph?

Too bad. I think the topic could bear some fantastic analysis, but it doesn’t seem to get it in this piece.


Richard Cownie 05.01.05 at 12:08 pm

Off the top of my head I can think of two major
factors which you would think would need to be

1) As a practical matter, cricket requires a field
roughly four times larger than baseball (because
the ball can be hit in any direction, not just
in a 90 degree quadrant). And since the ball
has to bounce before reaching the batter, the
wicket requires careful (and capital-intensive)

2) Cricket takes much much longer – 5 days for
a Test (international) match, 3 days for a
county game – compared to roughly 3 hours for
a typical baseball game.

I suspect economic factors play a role in the
adoption – in a low-wage economy where there
are many people chasing few jobs, the economic
cost of taking a few days to play cricket is
not prohibitive. But America has usually had
few people and relatively high wages, which
would favor a less time-consuming sport.

The idea that there’s a taboo against physical
contact between different social classes is
interesting though, and cricket certainly avoids
that – though the “bodyline” bowling controversy
of the Thirties comes close, IIRC the lower-class
English bowlers succeeded against the Australian
batsman by using very aggressive and dangerous


Harry 05.01.05 at 12:16 pm

urizon, I was kidding. Sort of.

WHen I last looked the Feb issue of ASR still wasn’t available. In the interview with Laurie Taylor they do a better job than in the NYT piece, which is why I linked to it. BTW, my own experience with journalism is that the editor retains full control over editing. In my case nothing has ever been distrorted, but in the case of an article about cricket in the NYT I would blame the editor rather than the author for a howler like the one chris corrigan notes, esp. when the lead author is a lifelong fan of, and expert on, the game.


tvd 05.01.05 at 1:21 pm

Beating the now erstwhile colonizing English masters remains one of the great allures of world cricket, I think. I don’t know if it would remain as popular without hapless England to kick around. (Certainly the English themselves aren’t so hot for the game anymore.)

The US gained independence early, and Canada was not oppressed, so that alone can explain why they went their own ways sportwise. (True, Australia is an exception, but perhaps they got drunk on their immediate success at drumming the Poms with clockwork regularity.)

As a rare American who loves cricket and has played both games, I can testify that baseball is more fun to play, or at least less unpleasant.

When we adapted the game for our own, one of the first things we did was to invent the glove. Standing a few feet from the batsman and catching a screamer barehanded is still the greatest act of physical courage in all of sport, one that you’d do for pride and love of county or country, but certainly not for fun.


Conchis 05.01.05 at 2:27 pm

“The US gained independence early, and Canada was not oppressed, so that alone can explain why they went their own ways sportwise. (True, Australia is an exception…”

As is New Zealand. Which makes your exceptions as numerous as your rule.


Chris Corrigan 05.01.05 at 2:31 pm

After listening to the BBC link, it’s clear that Kauffman is more sociologist than cricket fan. Orlando gets it but I can’t make heads or tails of their argument. Are they cricket had take-up in Indian and Pakistan because it allowed mixed classes to play together but not in Canada and America because it was too elitist there? I think a more interesting study might be to look at how the various Test nations have taken up the game, shaped their strategy and attachment to it and seen it as a way of embodying the post-colonial sentiments of the mid-20th century. It says more about “post-colonialism” than whether or not democracy will be bale to take hold universally.

And upon further reflection I wonder if comparing cricket and baseball isn’t more apples and oranges than it seems on first blush. Sure there is a ball and a bat and some of the terminology is the same (innings, outs, runs). But I still can’t figure why golf is more popular in the States, exhibiting all of the elitism, no touching and extended hours of play.

Far more interesting to me as a Canadian is why the national sport of militaristic and imperial America is a relatively genteel game played on a common ground on a summer afternoon, and why our national games, in blue-helmeted peace-keeping Canada, are lacrosse and hockey – both sports in which physical contact, violence and the domination of the opponent’s territory are essential elements.


tvd 05.01.05 at 3:28 pm

New Zealand? With less than half the population of London at any given time, and its closeness to Oz and the mother country, does it even count?

Seriously, what I get from talking with cricketers from around the world, beating England has historically been paramount. The US and Canada stopped giving a damn many many moons ago.

But I even know some Scotsmen whose only interest in cricket is in watching England suffer. :-)


eb 05.01.05 at 4:04 pm

Far more interesting to me as a Canadian is why the national sport of militaristic and imperial America is a relatively genteel game played on a common ground on a summer afternoon

Well, baseball was invented before the US became what it is today. And at the same time, American football has been referred to as “the moral equivalent of war.” This does not explain the violence of Canadian sports, however.


derrida derider 05.01.05 at 4:36 pm

And rugby (both union and league), field hockey and even polo are not violent, eb?

If you’re interested in sport and class, etc then union (a thug’s game traditionally played only by gentlemen) and league (a thug’s game traditionally played only by thugs) provide much neater, if less interesting, conclusions.

Cricket has traditionally prided itself on its classless and raceless appeal – a hundred years ago it was about the only way proles and toffs, and blacks, asians and whites, dealt with each other as rough equals.


mq 05.01.05 at 4:49 pm

“Standing a few feet from the batsman and catching a screamer barehanded is still the greatest act of physical courage in all of sport,”

Greater than standing a few feet from a heavyweight boxer and catching a right cross in the face? Greater than a quarterback standing in the pocket knowing he’s going to catch a blindside hit from a 250 pound linebacker?


mq 05.01.05 at 4:51 pm

“Far more interesting to me as a Canadian is why the national sport of militaristic and imperial America is a relatively genteel game played on a common ground on a summer afternoon,”

American football is the national sport of America, and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t fully understand American culture.

In case you haven’t seen it, American football is one of the most militaristic and imperial games there is.


stephen judd 05.01.05 at 5:02 pm

“New Zealand… does it even count?”

Come here and say that, mate.

Since we passed the 4 million mark several years ago, we are in fact at more than half the population of London and have been for some time.

Whether we are still that close to Australia or the UK is a matter for debate also. Certainly beating the Australians is the overriding aim not just in cricket but in all sporting events, hence the depressingly parochial slogan “I support NZ and whatever team is playing Australia”.)

Anyway, NZ cricket does not have the disproportionate contribution from Polynesians that other sports such as rugby have, but Samoans have evolved their own distinctive “Island cricket” or krikiti which is a game in its own right. There’s probably a thesis or two in that.


redfox 05.01.05 at 5:05 pm

Baseball remains the national sport of my America.


Harry 05.01.05 at 5:24 pm

mq, its not a competition, but I can’t think of anything in a legal team sport that requires the level of disregard for one’s own physical safety needed by a silly mid-on or silly mid-off. Tamer now that they wear protective helmets, of course. Nothing I’ve seen in Boxing or American Football compares. I’m open to counterexamples, though — there must be some.


almostinfamous 05.01.05 at 5:38 pm

im sure many cool peeps have developed their own theories of diplomacy through sports, but here is mine, sketchy though it may be:

when the vast majority of the populace of a nation finds a voice and/or emotional release in sports, especially when it is a single sport, the populace has its primal lust for competition/victory satisfied if/when they play what are perceived as rival nations in the same sport, thus decreasing hostility that may have been otherwise expressed or exaggerated through militaristic means.

this is of course, as the krazy kool kidz say about evolution, only a theory. but thats what you get for not being an international studies major.


eb 05.01.05 at 6:30 pm

And rugby (both union and league), field hockey and even polo are not violent, eb?

Of course they’re violent. I never claimed otherwise.


Bill Gardner 05.01.05 at 8:20 pm

“This, of course, undercut any potential market for baseball, cricket being intrinsically superior.”

Harry. Have you been feeling unusual lately?

Can you tell me what year this is?

Do you know who the president is?

Now I’d like to test your memory. Can you repeat these words: boat, cucumber, wire.

Please begin with 100 and count backwards by 7…


Canadian 05.01.05 at 8:50 pm

Its hard to comprehend how an article like this can be published in a serious sociology journal. Freaknomics anyone?


Ian Whitchurch 05.01.05 at 9:07 pm


It’s simply not true that a baseball game is over in three hours, as the World Series is played over seven days of play.

As played today at Club level in Australia, cricket is generally a one-day game.

Historically, district cricket in the country was played over two consecutive Saturdays, allowing the men of the district to earn their living.

English county cricket was played by either salaried professionals led by amateur gentlemen of leisure (eg Ranji), or members of professions such as doctors (WG Grace) or lawyers (Douglas *spit* Jardine) that could set their own hours.

Ian Whitchurch


Chris Corrigan 05.01.05 at 9:33 pm

The evolution of the comments to this post is fascinating…reflecting the general lack of focus in the original research in the first place?

I know America is hot for football, but baseball is still graced with “national pastime” moniker. That’s what intrigues me about our two countries’ shadow sides.

Cricket’s evolution seems to be towards shorter and shorter matches now anyway, so the time argument is out. Between 60 over ODIs and now the 50 over standard evolving to those hideous antipodean innovations Cricket Max and Twenty20, I fear cricket is actually losing something. It’s a beautiful game played over five days and the best Test matches have drama to rival any sport going.


Tom Lynch 05.01.05 at 11:50 pm

I tend to think the difficulties we’re seeing here in the analysis of cricket’s virtues and failings stem from the fact that outsiders don’t understand the sport well, lacking the enormous degree of acculturation required to appreciate it, and insiders can’t escape that acculturation.

One thing I do disagree with, though, is the suggestion cricket is a capital-intensive game. Yes, at the higher levels it is. But kids play it with one bat (any condition) and one ball (any condition) all the time. I played cricket ever summer day when I was in school, with only a rubbish bin, a tree, a tennis ball and a lousy old bat.


epist 05.02.05 at 12:12 am

“…but I can’t think of anything in a legal team sport that requires the level of disregard for one’s own physical safety needed by a silly mid-on or silly mid-off. Tamer now that they wear protective helmets, of course. Nothing I’ve seen in Boxing or American Football compares. I’m open to counterexamples, though—there must be some.”

May I submit laying down on the ice in front of a slapshot from the point(perhaps 20 feet away)? A hard shot tops 100 mph, and the puck is frozen solid, so hard that more than one fan has died from being hit by it after it leaves the ice.

I don’t know if it’s common for cricketers not to have any of their front teeth, but where I grew up, that was called a hockey smile, and even today, visors and mouth-guards notwithstanding, I’d bet that at least half of the defensemen in the league don’t have all of their own front teeth.

Now that’s a tough game.


taylor 05.02.05 at 3:05 am

The huge popularity of violent “football” in the US does not negate the Americanness of the gentlemanly and wonderfully slow game of baseball, which is akin to cricket. Baseball a Japanese game? That sounds right. But what makes it an American game? I am reminded of the saying that rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen, while football (soccer) is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans. As with the Canadian love of hockey, perhaps there’s an attraction for the opposite, an expression of what is normally repressed. In the US case, baseball may represent the longing for an imagined halcyon past. Then again, maybe it’s just a really good game.


tvd 05.02.05 at 3:41 am

No offense intended toward New Zealand, Mr. Judd. The overwhelming desire to beat the Aussies fills in nicely for the colonies wanting a go at England, which supports my original thesis.

A better question might be why nations still play cricket. Now that the last of the pre-independence generation has retired, the proud West Indies squad, historically at the forefront of the game, frankly find the game a bother.


stephen judd 05.02.05 at 4:00 am

“which supports my original thesis.”

No it doesn’t. New Zealand is not a colony of Australia; indeed, judging by the Australian popular press, the concern is that matters are the other way around.

Perhaps what you are trying to say is that cricket is sustained by the will to beat a historical arch-enemey or nemesis, in which case I wonder what distinguishes cricket from any other sport.


poor NZer 05.02.05 at 7:06 am

I guess this is slightly on topic. There’s a book by jock phillips, a NZ historian, called “a man’s country”, which, amongst other things, seeks to explain why rugby became *the* national sport for NZ. Now you’ll have to excuse me because I read it a few years back, but phillips’ answer was basically timing, British culture and egalitarianism.

Of course it’s a lot more subtle than that, and in fact phillips employs norbert elias’ ‘civilising process’ to explain the progress of sport in NZ. The early form of rugby was originally a brutal male sport, which fit well with “colonial crew culture” (this is important: settlers of the new colonies were often at the beginning male-dominated). In any case, various versions of rugby circulated, and it became popularised through Matthew Arnold’s public school education system, derived from Britain, and imitated in NZ. (I don’t remember why cricket wasn’t part of this: it may be because to some extent rugby got to NZ first; or because rugby fit with already existing social attitudes–ie., the crew culture).

By the turn of the 20th century, NZ’s society was changing, and a middle class was forming. This middle class was anxious about the violence manifested in these rugby games (and what this implied), and sought to ‘civilise’ it. Rules were tightened up; clubs and organisations were formed. At the same time cricket makes its entrance, but rugby was already far more established, and had a firmer hold in NZ culture (again, this crew culture) which cricket didn’t.

There is also a related thesis by James Belich, also a NZ historian, which I’d like to raise in relation to the discussion between TVD and stephen judd. This is the ‘greater britain’ argument which has gained currency recently amongst a number of imperial historians working on the ‘white dominions’/settler colonies. In essence, the thesis is that by the turn of the 20th century the white dominions saw themselves as ‘better britains’, of better stock and perhaps the inheritors of everything british (this is linked to all the ideas floating around at the time, notably Social Darwinism, and the fear that urban life was sapping the physical virtues of the British). Thus success in any field was often compared with the British, and could be seen to confirm to the NZers, Australians or Canadians that they were ‘better’ than the British. Phillips’ work also fits in with this. It is notable that rugby really took off in NZ at the beginning of the 20th century, when the NZ all blacks toured Britain (1903?), and won the majority of their games. After this the cast was set (or is it “the die was cast”?): rugby was ‘our’ way of showing the British how much better ‘we’ were than ‘them’. but if we could beat them in cricket, all the better.

So I suppose I go with TVD on this on cricket and the need to beat England: it’s probably the same thing. However, I’m not sure about TVD’s extension of this argument to NZ and Oz though. I think it’s true enough to say that NZ is simply trying to distinguish itself from Oz, it’s bigger neighbour. Nothing wrong with that.

whether or not NZ is a colony of Oz is an interesting question. At present NZ and Oz are debating who is to regulate banking in the two countries under the Closer Economic Relations agreement. Australia says it should be the Australian regulator; NZ insists each country should have its own regulator. What I find amusing as a NZer is that 96% of the banks in NZ are Australian-owned…..but now I’m really going off the topic.


aretino 05.02.05 at 8:25 am

Greater than a quarterback standing in the pocket knowing he’s going to catch a blindside hit from a 250 pound linebacker?

Please! That gridiron ball-chucker is fitted out in a suit of body armor that would put a medieval mounted knight to shame.


almostinfamous 05.02.05 at 8:48 am

1) As a practical matter, cricket requires a field
roughly four times larger than baseball (because
the ball can be hit in any direction, not just
in a 90 degree quadrant).

tell me how cricket is more capital intensive than golf, which seems to require in any place that isn’t japan,acres of land that need more constant attention than a cricket pitch?

aretino, you scooped me on that one :) same goes with hockey too actually.

check out the positions ‘silly point’ and ‘short square leg’ here


theophylact 05.02.05 at 10:24 am

Registration, not subscription. But here’s a permalink for you, generated by a useful site.


Another Damned Medievalist 05.02.05 at 10:35 am

Of course, it always surprises me that some of the great cricketers also played football — or more that football, the supposed sport of the working classes, had ‘gentleman’ players like Dennis Compton (did the double with Arsenal) …


Mike 05.02.05 at 11:00 am

I find cricket and baseball both incredibly boring. Games where you can take a nap on the playing field and not miss much — well, not much to be said for them.


Richard Cownie 05.02.05 at 11:10 am

On the length of games/matches: yes, cricket is
evolving towards shorter games. But when we’re
discussing the historical evolution of cricket,
the relevant issue is the relative duration of
cricket vs baseball and other games in earlier
times, e.g. 1880-1930. And even now, a one-day
60-overs-per-side cricket game is a good deal
longer than a typical baseball game – perhaps
6 hours of play vs 3 hours. That’s still a big

On cricket vs golf. Individual sports must be
another matter altogether. And golf courses
need a lot of water as well as land – not much
good for poor arid regions, e.g. much of India.
Also not much of a spectator sport in the period
under debate.

On playing cricket with a bat and trashcan. Sure,
that can happen, but I don’t think a sport can
flourish at the grassroots trashcan level unless
it also exists as a more formal high-level
spectator sport.

Anyway, I expect my guesses are all wrong, but
I’m pretty sure that economic factors play just
as big a role as sociological factors in
determining the adoption of different sports in
different circumstances.


Richard Cownie 05.02.05 at 11:12 am

The other problem with cricket, and maybe this is
indeed a social/cultural factor, is that it’s very
often a draw. It takes a special level of
tolerance for futility to spend 5 days playing
and then come up with no result :-)


Chris Corrigan 05.02.05 at 12:26 pm

Okay, random notes and replies, as I’m finding this thread really interesting.

1) The draw thesis would fit more with the “egalitarian” claim wouldn’t it? :-)

2) In the one day version though, the version played in far greater numbers now than the there- four- or five-day versions, it is very rare to get a tie, and unless the weather intervenes, a result is nearly inevitable.

3) Having played both the silly positions in cricket and defense in hockey it’s hard for me to choose which is the most dangerous position. Hockey pucks and cricket balls hurt about the same, and it’s hard to quantify the quality of the bruise in a meaningful way. I’ve also played Canadian football, as a receiver, and there is something to the claim that getting smacked at high speed from a blind side is a daunting prospect, but it’s not the same as having to dodge a bullet. I think the projectile sports win out in this regard. Twisting a knee is painful, getting shot at is just plain scary.

4) Turning Cownie’s idea on it’s head, I’m a big believer that pro sports will never thrive in places where people don’t play in the streets. Ice hockey is a passing phenomenon in Florida and Georgia, and cricket would be too in the USA and Canada. Unless the game is played with junk equipment at the drop of a hat, there is no hope for elite teams to find a market. It’s not about nurturing grass roots talent in organized leagues, it’s about where the game is played. For my money Orlando and James should maybe have looked at way games are PLAYED where they are played. I happen to play cricket with my four year old kid, using a tennis ball and a bat carved out of a cedar board. But we are the exception in Canada. Does he ever get excited though when we wander down to Stanley Park in Vancouver on a summer weekend to watch the real thing.

Cool conversation folks…thanks.


m. stanley 05.02.05 at 1:41 pm

Calling baseball America’s “national pastime” is a remnant of old PR. Football is a religion in the U.S., to a degree you simply can’t understand until you’ve seen it. It is the closest the U.S. has to the fanatical following of soccer in other countries. Perhaps baseball really does have a better claim to be a “pastime” in the sense of a pleasant leisure hobby or pursuit, football is something more.

Baseball probably *is* the leading sport among America’s soi-disant intellectuals (George Will, John Updike) who seem to find some sort of literary resonance there. As the previous commenter implied, I sometimes gauge foreigner’s understanding of American culture by whether they think baseball is America’s most popular sport or football is. If you just read about the country or mostly associate with New York intellectual types, you might think baseball is the leading sport, but if you have lived in flyover country you understand it’s football.

As long as I’m on the subject, I’ll note that football is indeed a dangerous sport despite the pads, with more serious injuries registered over the past few decades than either baseball or cricket. Someone was just recently killed by a tackle in an Arena League game. It’s only a matter of time until it happens in the NFL, someone seems to get paralyzed about once per decade.


m. stanley 05.02.05 at 1:44 pm

P.S. In my procrastination quest, I went straight from here to At a time with lots of big stories in baseball and in the middle of the NBA playoffs, the lead story was…the *2006* NFL college football draft. The market has spoken.


Richard Cownie 05.02.05 at 2:23 pm

More factors to throw in the mix:

1) Dense population centers and ease of
transportation – if there are enough people
with an hour’s travel, then you can assemble a
crowd for a short evening game such as baseball.
But if population is sparse and/or travel is
slow, then a longer game makes more sense.

2) Replacing pre-existing cultural events – was
there a tradition of multi-day festivities
(e.g. religious festivals ?) in the Moghul
Empire ? Re-purposing an existing tradition
is easier than creating something entirely
new, e.g. Saturnalia/Christmas, Beltane/Easter.


Justin 05.02.05 at 3:30 pm

Okay, I don’t know why its fashionable for liberal intellectuals to “like cricket”, but its the most boring sport in the world, and that includes baseball, which is not exactly exciting itself. When I was in Scotland, I was told to give it a chance, and I did, watching an entire multiday match between England and Sri Lanka.

“Now that you understand it, you see why its fun?” I was asked.

“I understand it, but now I think its more boring than ever.” was the only reply.

Look, the point of the game is to make contact with the ball….on the ground…as safely as possible…with the hope of making some scores as you do that. Unless you’re down big, where the point is hitting the ball…on the ground….period.

Now that may take skill, far be me to answer that. But as a spectator sport, it can only be exciting in the way that cultural forces make it exciting….in the way, if you give it history and tradition, professional paint drying could be exciting. Sure, there are all sorts of things one can “look for” in the game, but who cares? They’re not all that interesting anyway.

Now this doesn’t save baseball as exciting. But at least in baseball, the batter’s not just trying to “make contact”, and things actually have to happen on every at bat….walks and ground ball outs have consequences.

Now soccer is an exciting sport, and detractors of it tend to *like* baseball, which has always confused me…until I realized that people determine what is exciting not by any objective factors, but purely cultural…which explains NASCAR conservatives and cricket elitists all in one fell swoop.


tvd 05.02.05 at 3:35 pm

“The English are not very spiritual people, so they invented cricket to give them some idea of eternity.” —GBS


Vache Folle 05.02.05 at 3:46 pm

Quite a lot of cricket is played in the US, mainly by West Indian and South Asian immigrants, and I came to love the game through exposure to a Barbadian league in Brooklyn. There is also a history of minor cricket playing among elites, and Haverford College has a museum dedicated in part to cricket in America.

Cricket appears to have taken off in its present form in the late 18th or early 19th century after the US had been settled and had become independent. Other possibly related bat and ball games took hold in the US, and modern baseball is an outgrowth of the New York version of the game. IMO, this is largely historical happenstance and not a reflection of differences in national ethos.

By the time cricket became well organized and institutionalized in the late 19th century, it had become the domain of elites, and the game resisted professionalization for longer than baseball in the US. Non-elites played cricket, but this was in less well recognized leagues. Also, baseball was more accessible to working men as an activity because it took less time to play (or watch) and considerably less skill (as the game was played in the 19th century). Note that adult amateur baseball is much less prevalent than the less challenging versions of softball.

Today, cricket is a non-starter with Americans because it requires much more competence to enjoy than most Americans are willing to acquire. Baseball has grown a fan base by encouraging home runs and strike outs as a hook, and American football and basketball have sacrificed defense for spectacular offensive plays by rule changes. It is hard for cricket to emulate this and to build a superficial fan base addicted to boundaries and spectacular plays when these are so rare. I advocate a version of cricket I have seen as a practice game where the batsman is obliged to run on a struck ball, but cricket enthusiasts would rather donate a kidney than see the game degraded in such manner. Limited overs is bad enough.


Harry 05.02.05 at 4:06 pm


no-one said it was exciting to watch. Play it. Also, its too complicated to understand from a few days of watching. As your comments about it reveal. Unlike tennis and soccer, which are basically very simple, and hence easy to grasp without ever having played them. Nothing, by the way, to do with being liberal or intellectual — my guess would be that cricket-lovers are more conservative than the average person and, maybe, less intellectual. Certainly that’s my sense of British and Australian cricket lovers.


Justin 05.02.05 at 10:26 pm


As I pointed out in the post, ex post facto realizations of the popularity are possible for paint drying. It’s still all crap. It certainly may be more interesting a game than minesweeper, but its less popular than that…as a spectator sport, its absolute crap. As a playing sport, its like baseball with more stuffiness, or golf without the scenery and the nature.

In other words, Harry, its all crap :).


Justin 05.02.05 at 10:28 pm

PS I played cricket in summer camp poorly. I know plenty of people who play soccer poorly. Playing cricket poorly and playing soccer poorly require very little skill and time, and watching cricket and watching soccer take very little time. Playing soccer at a World Cup level takes quite a bit of complexity…hence why people say Totti sucks because he’s stupid. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t take a genius to pitch cricket, either.


Tom Lynch 05.02.05 at 10:37 pm

Actually, cricket is exciting, or at least interesting to watch. People acquainted with the game are very appreciative of (for example):

– a really vicious spell of fast bowling mixing inswing, outswing and seamers

– a batsman hitting boundaries on the on and off sides with proper technique (or even with beautifully unorthodox technique)

– an outfielder being able to display great athleticism to take a catch or stop a boundary after hours of inactivity

Test match cricket is a subtle game. It has many fewer moments of artificially created excitement than other sports, and you have to get to grips with a lot of detail to appreciate the action. Yes, this creates elitism amongst cricket fans – which is why people are always using the term “cricket purist” (the type who complains about one-day cricket players’ “pyjama” uniforms and can hardly even contemplate the travesty that is Twenty20).


Richard Cownie 05.03.05 at 12:03 am

There is certainly great skill in cricket: there
can be more variety in bowling than in pitching,
and also more variety of batting strokes than in
baseball. However, it has one huge flaw as a
spectator sport, which is that all the spectators
have to be very far from the action. In baseball,
spectators can be very close to the action at
home plate, first base, and third base.


Animal Nitrate 05.03.05 at 3:48 am

“It certainly may be more interesting a game than minesweeper, but its less popular than that…as a spectator sport, its absolute crap”

Popular: add up the populations of India, SA, Pakistan, Australia, NZ, Windies, England, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh…..don’t know about minesweeper but cricket remains more popular than basketball, American “football” or baseball.

Spectator sport: watch an Aussie one-day or a live match in India or Pakistan rather than the turgid excuse for cricket played by England.

I can happily testify that cricket is impossible to understand unless you’ve actually played it at some point and been on the receiving end of a decent spin ball, been a fielder at silly mid-on or attempted to bowl.

May I suggest Justin, that in the interest of sociological research you give up a day and try play a match? You may even enjoy it :-)


Richard Cownie 05.03.05 at 9:54 am

There is a superficial similarity between cricket
and baseball, in that the pitcher/bowler send the
ball to a batter/batsman who tries to hit it where
the fielders aren’t. However, there is an
interesting duality between the games: in cricket,
the bowler can make a lot of mistakes as long as
he/she delivers an occasional unplayable ball,
whereas the batsman must play flawlessly for hours
and for hundreds of strokes to get a good score;
in baseball, if the batter gets 2 hits in a game
(from 4-5 at-bats and about 20 pitches) he’s done
well, but if the pitcher makes 5 mistakes in 100
pitches he’s probably going to lose.

Now back to attacking the thesis: since the USA
became independent in 1776, and the ascendance
of baseball happened only after 1880, does it
make any sense at all to be talking about
“colonial elites” ? Surely one obvious
explanation is that the places where cricket
thrived were still real colonies ruled from
Britain, whereas the USA was fully independent
and Canada was a self-governing dominion.
I’m a little hazy on the precise timeline of
self-government in Australia, NZ, Canada, any
experts care to comment ?

Another fruitful approach might be to look at
figures for immigration and travel – certainly
there were a lot of Brits going to and from the
Raj in 1880-1930 who could spread cricket –
but for the US that was the great time of
non-English immigration, e.g. Irish, German,

All in all, trying to to explain this in terms
of sociology rather than economics and history
seems very questionable. If all you have is a
hammer, then everything looks like a nail,
I guess.


Richard Cownie 05.03.05 at 10:09 am

I checked the dates of independence:
USA 1776
Canada 1867
Australia 1901
New Zealand 1907
India/Pakistan 1948

So how about a real simple theory: the countries
which play cricket are those which were ruled
by Britain for some time after 1880 ? Does anyone
have a counter-example to that ?


poor NZer 05.03.05 at 10:47 am

one problem is that it all depends on what you mean by british ‘rule’. The dates you cite–which are all constitution acts, I guess (and I’m not sure where 1907 for NZ comes from)–don’t necessary equate to “independence”. For Canada, NZ Australia and South Africa, the better ‘formal’ date might be 1931 (the Statute of Westminster) and even that’s controversial (nationalists of NZ, Oz, Canada and South Africa will say earlier, imperial historians will say later).

but this is nit-picking. I think one thing that’s missing from your theory is any sense of reception: that is, you’re basically assuming that self-government will mean rejection of cricket. But why would it?

You can say that NZ and Australia still thought of themselves as British or part of the British world up till WW2 (at least), which might explain their keenness for cricket. (But what of South Africa? I don’t know enough about it.)


Richard Cownie 05.03.05 at 11:27 am

>but this is nit-picking. I think one thing that’s
> missing from your theory is any sense of
>reception: that is, you’re basically assuming that
> self-government will mean rejection of cricket.
>But why would it?

My choice of 1880 is not completely arbitrary. I’m
not a historian of cricket, but as far as I know
the rules and institutions of cricket – e.g. the
County Championship, the notion of “first-class”
cricket, and the first great age of cricketing
ehroes (e.g. W.G.Grace, C.B.Fry) all date to the
1880s and 1890s. Before 1880 it was just a game,
not a major institution and cultural phenomenon.

So for those countries which had independence
before 1880, no “rejection” was needed – they
never experienced the fully-established form of


Richard Cownie 05.03.05 at 12:04 pm

Another interesting date – in 1864 the rules
changed to allow overarm bowling. “Cricket”
before that date was obviously very different.


poor NZer 05.03.05 at 12:45 pm

I guess what I was just saying was that independence dates should be taken with a grain of salt. The example of Canada is a good one. Sure, Canada had a constitution in 1867, but I don’t think they were independent at that point in certain areas like foreign policy. In any case, the British influence continued long after various acts and declarations were made, and this was the same for all the settler dominions. And I’ve not even talked about the complicating influence of the Americans across the border for the example of Canada.

All I wanted to say was that people in these settler colonies also had a choice in what games they played, and it wasn’t simply a matter of what was imposed on them.

I thought this was a really interesting essay.

It’s a history of cricket in canada. Cricket continued in Canada for some time before and after 1880 from the looks of it, although it never became as popular as in Australia or NZ. The Canadians certainly experienced the fully-established form of cricket, but this didn’t mean they were bound to accept it (but would this be because they weren’t independent? Perhaps your theory still works?).

I had a flick through, and it basically said there were a number of reasons why canada failed to adopt cricket: one was because canadians were bad cricketers… (Oh Canada!) and so it wasn’t much fun to watch for Canadians, but there were other reasons, like the choice of sports canadians had, in comparison to say, Australia; local facts like canadian weather (which often ruled cricket out). But the reason Canadians don’t play as much cricket as the other countries isn’t to do with indpendence. Maybe it’s because Canada’s the oldest, and so most ‘advanced’ colony?

I think there’s ammunition here for your arguments though. There’s talk about immigration, elites and so forth.

In any case don’t get me started on underarm bowling–as any Australian or NZer will tell you NZ-Oz relations reached a low point when in 1981, to win a game, the Australian side chose to bowl underarm for the very last ball. We shall never forget!!


Chris Corrigan 05.03.05 at 1:10 pm

Interesting speculation about Canada. I think the connection to political independance is still a red herring though. We’re reverse engineering a tipping point here.

Around the 1880s here in Canada, we had a number of team sports being played in their infant form including hockey, lacorsse, football, cricket, baseball, curling. Early on, there was a national trophy for hockey, lacrosse and football (the Canadian form of which is different from the American form) which would have encouraged more organization of teams. These later emerged into professional leagues and so there was an element of stability brought to the games, although lacrosse has never been a truly well known sport, even after the box form appeared in the 1930s. Baseball, curling and cricket remained firmly in the amateur ranks. Baseball got professionalized but became wrapped up in the gravity well of America. Curling has had perhaps the best ride of it, with nationally televised men’s and women’s championships. It’s still an amateur game although played at the highest levels.

Lord Stanley and the Earl Grey bequeathed trophies to hockey and football respectively. The Stanley Cup and the Grey Cup provided the incentive for competition in a country where getting around is hard work, especially by rail or horse.


Richard Cownie 05.03.05 at 2:29 pm

>I guess what I was just saying was that
>independence dates should be taken with a grain
>of salt. The example of Canada is a good one.
>Sure, Canada had a constitution in 1867, but I
>don’t think they were independent at that point
>in certain areas like foreign policy.

In my view, the really influential factor would
be the presence of administrators and military
officers who had grown up with (post-1864) cricket
in England.
Clearly the Raj was being administered by large
numbers of English-born-and-raised officials
right through to 1948. If those people are also
involved in setting up the local school and
college system, then you can easily see how their
influence becomes self-perpetuating.

As a colony transitions to formal independence,
then certainly you would expect the number of
such colonial officials, and their influence, to
drop considerably. Certainly the declaration of
formal independence doesn’t represent any kind
of bright line for the end of cultural influence,
but I expect you could make the argument in more
detail by looking at the figures for numbers of
immigrants and numbers of colonial administrators
in the various countries. I’d guess that by 1880
(when cricket was really booming – W.G.Grace was
playing, the County Championship started in 1890)
Canada was mostly being run by Canadians rather
than expats ?

At the micro-level, here’s how it works: Henry
Straightbat plays cricket at his English public
school, maybe also at University and/or Sandhurst.
Then goes off to a colony where he runs the civil
or military affairs of a district. Wanting a
pastime for himself and his peers, he decrees
that a cricket pitch will be constructed. As the
local administrator, what he wants he gets, with
no awkwardness about voting or planning permission
He also decrees that each school will have a
cricket pitch. Now ten years later, you have a
country full of cricket pitches and a generation
of young men trained to play the game. From that
point on, cricket has a big institutional
advantage and other sports will find it hard to
get established.


poor NZer 05.03.05 at 2:58 pm

can’t speak for canada but this won’t work with NZ. No colonial administrators on the ground to speak of. The settlers were the administrators. Sure, there were guys in london who directed the settlers on some matters, but that was usually in relation to taxes and foreign affairs. Not cricket.

‘We’ (NZers) imitated what ‘we’ thought the British liked, and would work for ‘us’. I put ‘we’ in quotes because at that time–and until WW2–NZers considered themselves British, who just happened to be living in another part of the world. You can say, if you want, we weren’t imitating at all–it was our culture as well. this was the institutional advantage, perhaps.

I’m guessing the same thing happened in Australia. Basically the settler colonies ran themselves from very, very early on–and even in NZ, the most conservative of settler colonies, this was in the 1850s. There was almost complete autonomy in local affairs by the late 19th century; but very little in relation to external affairs.

I’m not sure how useful it is to talk of political independence at all. I think the problem stems from seeing colonies in the American or indian paradigms, since these presume a separation between the administrators, and the ‘locals’. But in the case of the settler colonies, the administrators *were* the locals.

It might be better to discuss cultural or local factors. I would say the fact that the settler colonies considered themselves British more than anything else is important explaining the popularity of cricket, and also timing. But even that’s not a full explanation, from my reading of the article I linked to above.


Harry 05.03.05 at 7:31 pm

“the countries
which play cricket are those which were ruled
by Britain for some time after 1880 ? Does anyone
have a counter-example to that ?”

The Netherlands (very flat, which is handy).
A bunch of good Danish cricketers too.

My understanding from contemporary accounts is that underarm bowling was much more savage than you’d imagine; hard to believe, though, that it could be as savage as overarm.

Brilliant discussion this.


Tom Lynch 05.03.05 at 7:49 pm

I suppose you could ask Trevor Chappell about underarm bowling.

Interesting tidbit for those discussing the relation of colonial national-identity to the development of cricket in British colonies – the first cricket team to tour England from Australia (in 1868) was, famously, all-Aboriginal.

This was a one-off only, though. I can’t think of any Aboriginal players who’ve featured in the Australian test team in the last fifty years.

Australia has struggled to shake off the “cultural cringe” since Federation in 1901, and one of the results of this has been the need to be more British than the British themselves at times.

Our national obsession with beating the (“whinging”) “Poms” at cricket has transformed into a sad ritual in recent years as English cricket has flagged and Australia has been dominant.


Richard Cownie 05.04.05 at 9:08 am

>The Netherlands (very flat, which is handy).
>A bunch of good Danish cricketers too.

Interesting. My theory can’t do much with that
(but it can’t have much to do with self-confident
cultural elites either)

>a sad ritual in recent years as English cricket
>has flagged and Australia has been dominant.

It seems that’s been going on my whole life –
I remember back to Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson
in the early Seventies – with only occasional
interruptions (Headingly 1981 shows cricket *can*
be as exciting as any other sport). But now I
live a mile from Fenway Park, and get my
underdog kicks rooting for the Red Sox against the
Yankees. Plus ca change …


Bill Harshaw 05.05.05 at 3:00 pm

A related issue: when and why does a sport become a symbol of national identity? Is it just a matter of competition within the country: i.e., baseball outcompeted cricket in the U.S., so its recognition as the “national pastime” was just recognizing market share? Or did baseball get anointed as the national pastime, founded by Abner Doubleday, etc. and that led to cricket biting the dust.

Or did cricket become a big deal in certain colonies because it was a chance for the colonists to compete with England?

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