Bal Thackeray loves his cricket and nephew Raj Thackeray has been known to take guard in local games in the leafy streets around Shivaji Park. As the two leaders compete to raise the nativist pitch in India’s financial capital, we advise them to survey the cricketing scene and figure out how commerce and migration have enriched India—and also Mumbai.
There was a time when teams competing in local tournaments such as the Ranji Trophy were dominated by one group. The old Madras team was once full of upper-caste Tamils and a rare Sikh family playing for the southern team—A.G. Ram Singh and his sons A.G. Kripal Singh and A.G. Milkha Singh—were exceptions that stood out. Marathi players, with a few Gujaratis and Parsis thrown in, dominated the old Bombay team. The language you were most likely to hear in the city’s overcrowded maidans was Marathi. This was common till at least the 1970s.
The first cracks appeared when professional cricketers moved from one state team to another in search of better pay or opportunities. Bombay stalwarts such as Vijay Manjrekar and Subhash Gupte turned out for Rajasthan, for example. Mumbai itself got in Karsan Ghavri and Zaheer Khan at different points of time.
But gradually “outsiders” started getting into various teams. Today you have a Rohit Sharma playing for Mumbai, a Rahul Dravid turning out for Karnataka, a Hemang Badani for Tamil Nadu and a Manoj Tiwary for Bengal.
The north Indian teams have yet to become more diverse because of the pattern of migration, but the influence of commerce is fast liberating players from their local roots. The Indian Premier League has been like a whirlwind that has torn down many of these old assumptions, sending Manpreet Gony to Chennai and Dinesh Karthik to Delhi.
Whatever the English might say, cricket does not reflect life in all its shades. We know that the internal migration is a complex issue and that this complexity is not captured in the shouting matches that have broken out. But nobody in his right mind will say that a player can turn out of Mumbai only if he speaks Marathi or that “outsiders” have cut opportunities for local players.
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