Cricket in Many Accents.

Trevor Joyce sent Samir Chopra’s The Allrounder essay “Linguistic Lenses” to me in 2014; it’s so old the link has rotted and I have to provide an archived one, but dammit, it’s still a good piece and I’m posting it!

I heard cricket in many accents.

In Indian English, the language of the cities and metropolis: the clipped middle-class intonations of All India Radio commentators like Ashish Ray and Narottam Puri, the dry drawl of the Nawab of Pataudi, the slight lilt of Dicky Rutnagur. There was the Hindi commentary of Sushil Doshi and Jasdev Singh; I did not understand every one of their flowery Sanskritized descriptions, but I could sense their excitement, well-practiced in their stints at hockey games.

When I discovered the BBC and Test Match Special on my short-wave radio, a new host of accents entertained me: I did not then know I was listening to distinctive regional variations of the English language in its homeland. On the far-end of the short-wave dial was Radio Australia and Australian accents: sometimes broader and tangier, reflecting a country background, sometimes the flatter urban varietal, closer to the English accent but still bearing unmistakable traces of the Strine.

The West Indies’ Reds Pereira and Tony Cozier – among others – introduced me to the Caribbean’s distinctive voices; I did not recognize then – and often still do not – the local variants of the Caribbean’s many accents though my years in New York City have taught me some differences between the broad Jamaican, the rustic Guyanese, and more clipped Antiguan or Bajan. (I have noticed a difference between the accents of say, Gordon Greenidge and Clive Lloyd, and the later generation of West Indian cricketers; the former’s bore the stamp of years spent playing and living in England.) […]

The first accents I had heard and associated with cricket were not those of the players; they were of those who described the game to us. The conversations and interviews of cricket players were terse and brief and clichéd; the commentator could speak at greater length. His tribe peddled endlessly in clichés too, but by virtue of greater exposure to them, I grew more familiar with their accents, ones used to express a wider range of topics.

Associating a new accent with cricket is instantly evocative; when I first heard Freddie Trueman’s northern Yorkshire variant, I sought to conjure up conversations in his times. All those stories by Neville Cardus about grizzled Yorkshiremen and Lancashiremen that said ‘tha’ and ‘nowt’ and all of the rest; now I had a voice to go with it. I could now imagine better the cultural differences between the English North and the South that had been verbally described to me so often, a division I had not been able to grasp when England had seemed one monolithic mass. […]

I had seen the ‘maan’ of the Caribbean in text, described by Sunny Gavaskar in Sunny Days but once I had heard the Caribbean accent its placement became real; there were now sounds to go with the pictures of the cricket on the beaches, the loud, exuberant spectators in stadium stands; I could now hear the “Knock his head off Mikey!”, I could hear “Respect Gavaskar maan.” In 1996, I first encountered a South African commentator on television; unfortunately, I found Trevor Quirk insufferable, but I grew to love the South African accent anyway, because of a dear friend whom I met when we were post-doctoral fellows in Sydney. I ran together – in my mind – my friend and the South African players that spoke like him, personalizing them and reducing their anonymity.

Cricket’s accents helped me understand mine better. In 1979, after the conclusion of the epic Oval Test against England, Sunil Gavaskar and his captain Srinivas Venkatraghavan were interviewed on BBC. An English correspondent, within earshot but out of sight, had wondered what a pair of Welsh cricketers was doing talking about the game just concluded. Thus did I learn my Indian accent with its singsong intonations was akin to some kinds of British ones. Years later, after I had moved to the US, when my mongrel accent was described as an Irish brogue, I would be taken aback till I remembered the Sunny-Venkat interview.

Belated thanks, Trevor!


  1. There were numerous cricket clubs around the world outside the former British empire. They were founded mostly as a legacy of English expats. Some of these survive as football (soccer) clubs.

    It would be interesting to see how cricket would have sounded in Spanish if it had taken root in South America. Maybe there would have been the same exuberant shouting “siiiiiiix” as there is when a “gooooool” is scored in football.

    In Croatia, there was a small number of cricket playing enthusiasts some 120 years ago, but the game never took root. Cricket was translated as razor-kapija, a name that means “destroy gate”.
    There has been a revival of cricket in Croatia in the last 20 years by returnees from Australia. Again, this is a very small niche sport in the country.

  2. If you are interested in international cricket, this video about the game in the Trobriand islands is practically required viewing. (Having seen the end of that documentary as a child, I spent the better part of my life wondering if I would ever find it again—and whether it was actually a real documentary or a parody piece. However, thanks to the World-Wide Web, all things are possible.)

  3. J.W. Brewer says

    I assume the Caribbean lexeme spelled here as “maan” is the same one I’m more used to seeing with the eye-dialect spelling “mon”? The “maan” alternative creates an interestingly South-Asian vibe, innit?

  4. Cricket was translated as razor-kapija, a name that means “destroy gate”.

    I love it.

  5. Dan Milton says

    Cricket is adaptable. Fifty or sixty years ago I visited a small village in American Samoa where after church on a Sunday afternoon the boys played cricket on the beach. The beach was a bit narrow so the the fielders on one side were knee deep in the ocean. All singing and dancing as they manned their positions.

  6. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Cricket is played in Corfu, I understand, but I expect it looks less exotic than Trobriand cricket.

  7. Trobriand cricket ought to be made the new standard of the game.

  8. Emma John has an excellent piece about the problems of cricket in England:

    Middlesex – and the UK as a whole – is home to thriving leagues and park teams that exist with little support from official bodies. This has led to a farcical situation in which some traditional, predominantly white clubs complain about a lack of new players, while oversubscribed Asian teams struggle to find grounds. It might seem obvious for the former to hire out their pitches, or follow the example of Crouch End (and other clubs such as East Lancashire) by involving Asian players in their organisation and outreach. However, Ankit Shah, co-chair of Middlesex’s equality, diversity and inclusion committee, told me he does not see this happening. “This conservatism, protectionism, whatever you want to call it, is out there,” he said. “It’s not just the clubs – it’s the private schools, too. They often have three or four pitches that aren’t used from July to September. And you’re talking about some of the best facilities in the country.”

    English cricket has long been a refuge for a certain kind of conservative, a panic room padded with a fantasy of a vanished country. In his 1994 history of cricket, Anyone But England, the American writer and Marxist activist Mike Marqusee wrote that the sport had introduced him to “a world where the norms of an imagined 19th century still obtained… a world of deference and hierarchy, ruled by benevolent white men, proud of its traditions and resentful of any challenge to them”. Cricket, to him, portrayed “an England that did not exist, except, powerfully, in people’s heads”.

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