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Sport and the Imperial Bond: The 1911 ‘All-India’ Cricket Tour of Great Britain

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Summary This article explores the interplay of sport, politics and public diplomacy through a case study of the first ‘Indian’ cricket tour of Great Britain in 1911, an extraordinary venture peopled by an improbable cast of characters. Led by the young Maharaja Bhupindar Singh, the newly enthroned ruler of the princely state of Patiala, the team contained in its ranks cricketers who were drawn from different Indian regions and religious communities. The article examines the politics of this intriguing cricket tour against a wider backdrop of changing Indo-British relations and makes three key points. First, it suggests that the processes of ‘imperial globalization’ that were presided over by the British in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries marked an important epoch in the evolving relationship between sport and diplomacy. In particular, it highlights the role of sporting tours as instruments of public diplomacy in the age of empire. Second, it shows how the organization of the 1911 tour reflected the workings of a trans-national ‘imperial class regime’ that had developed around cricket in colonial India from the late nineteenth century onwards. Finally, the article considers the symbolic significance that came to be attached to the tour, both in imperial Britain and in colonial India.

Affiliations: 1: School of Historical Studies, University of Leicester United Kingdom


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