Dr Prashant Kidambi's cricket book makes 'Best of Year' list

Dr Prashant Kidambi, Associate Professor in Colonial Urban History, has made it into the Financial Times Sports Books of the Year list with his book Cricket Country: An Indian Odyssey in the Age of Empire which tells the story of the first ‘All-India’ cricket team to go on tour in Britain in 1911.

As Britain celebrated a new age with the coronation of King George V, an ‘All India’ team led by the Maharaja of Patiala arrived for a series of 23 matches. Fourteen of these were ‘first class fixtures’, with the visitors completing a tour scorecard of won two, drew two, lost ten.

Previous attempts to form an ‘All India’ cricket team had fallen apart because of political and religious disagreements, which the 1911 squad somehow overcame, combining the talents of six Parsis, five Hindus and three Muslims. Significantly, two of the squad were Dalits, considered part of the ‘untouchable’ caste – one of whom, Palwankar Baloo, was the tour’s star player, taking 114 wickets across all 23 games.

This new book explores how the very idea of India took shape on the cricket field and raises important questions about the role of sport in shaping our ideas about belonging, ethnicity, race and national identity today. 

Dr Kidambi trained as a historian at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, where he completed an MA and an MPhil before proceeding to the University of Oxford to undertake a doctorate. After holding a Junior Research Fellowship in History at Wolfson College, Oxford, he took up a lectureship in our School of History where he has taught ever since. He is also a member of the Centre for Urban History, a key research centre within the School.

In Cricket Country Dr Kidambi blends his knowledge and love of cricket with his expertise in colonial history, cleverly permeating the story of on-field sporting battles with details of the continuing off-field wranglings between imperialist oppressors and the oppressed.

Speaking about the book’s success, Dr Kidambi said: “It is an honour to have made it onto the FT’s list of sports books of the year in 2019. My aim was to bring back to life the sporting achievements of the first All-India team to make it to England, despite suffering many early defeats and having to deal with the prejudices of the time.”   

A review in the FT said: “Three compelling central chapters make Cricket Country. These conjure up a dazzling Edwardian London and a celebration of Indian sportsmanship. Kidambi’s achievement is to retrieve from obscurity the backbone of the team, including a Dalit, or low-caste, bowler Palwankar Baloo and Muslim cricketers from the Islamic educational centre of Aligarh.”

Cricket Country: An Indian Odyssey in the Age of Empire by Prashant Kidambi is published by Oxford University Press.