Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: July 2017

11 - Englishness and Cricket in South Africa during the Boer War


The mid-to-late nineteenth century witnessed a tremendous growth in cricket's significance across the globe. Within Britain and the colonies, the game came to symbolize the very essence of English Victorian society and the promotion of white Anglo-Saxon values. ‘It is difficult to underestimate the importance of cricket in Victorian life’, explains Keith Sandiford. The game ‘was a ritual as well as recreation, a spiritual as well as a sporting experience. Its values were used freely by politicians, philosophers, preachers and poets.’ It became the ‘imperial game’ and, above all else, it was an English creation.

Cricket spread to all societies across the Anglo-world where organized games were played: India, the Caribbean and Australia. Here it had been transformed from a simple, pastoral game into a powerful and symbolic force representing all that was deemed by the ruling classes to be worthy in the Anglo-Saxon character. ‘In a fiercely nationalistic era Englishmen regarded cricket, an exclusively English creation unsullied by outside influence, as proof of their cultural supremacy.’ It was a time of complacency, security and opulent pride. Victoria had expanded her empire to South Africa and here too cricket came to symbolize ‘Englishness’ and the civilizing mission of the Englishman abroad.

Cricket's attraction to the English Diaspora, being the conscious community of expatriate English around the world, came in its exclusiveness, its codes of practice and an ethos that made it distinctly ‘English’. Cricket was a product of England. Its customs and traditions had been shaped in the