A shared love for all things cricket

Whenever India plays in the UK it’s like a home game, thanks to a vibrant diaspora of more than 1.5 million people. I was at the 2019 World Cup, which saw a sea of blue — close to 100,000 Indian fans travelled to the UK for that series.

Alex Ellis is the British High Commissioner to India.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

A noisy, exciting series ended quietly with players jetting off from Manchester early, many leaving for the IPL.

The ending should not detract from the series, reminding cricket fans that red-ball cricket can be utterly compelling. It was almost gladiatorial at times — Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara against the ever-young James Anderson, or Joe Root against Jasprit Bumrah’s spearing yorkers. India winning twice in London in the last session of the fifth day was sporting drama which had me hiding behind my sofa.

Whenever India plays in the UK, it’s like a home game, thanks to a vibrant diaspora of more than 1.5 million people. I was at the 2019 World Cup, which saw a sea of blue — close to 100,000 Indian fans travelled to the UK for that series. This shared love for the sport is an integral part of our living bridge — a term coined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to describe the unique people-to-people relationship that exists between the UK and India.

As Her Majesty’s High Commissioner to India, a large part of my ‘day job’ involves building a deeper, more forward-looking partnership that benefits both our people and the world: through creating jobs by increased trade and investment, fighting Covid and furthering our excellent health cooperation, working to keep our countries safe, and tackling the global challenge of climate change together. It also means nurturing this unique ‘living bridge’ that makes the UK-India relationship like no other. To do this, I have to first understand modern India — no easy task, with a population over 21 times that of the UK and (at least) 22 different languages.

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Languages are a window into a country and culture's soul, so I’m trying to learn Hindi, with some difficulty. Fortunately, I’ve discovered that I’m already fluent in a language spoken across India — Cricket, which is a language of passion and fun.

I remember fondly the time I spent playing cricket with my pupils in Indore over three decades ago. That India was different, but what hasn’t changed is this country’s incredible capability to turn challenges into advantages — both on and off the cricket field.

I saw that at Lord’s in 1983, sitting with my father when India lifted the World Cup for the first time. Kapil Dev’s game-changing catch over his shoulder to dismiss Viv Richards and Balwinder Singh Sandhu pegging back Gordon Greenidge’s off-stump. What happened that day was hard to believe, and I feel India’s recent habit of winning from improbable situations might well be traced back to that victory.

It has been a happy coincidence that my ‘day job’ has allowed me the privilege to meet Indian cricketing greats like Kapil Dev, Rahul Dravid, and Kris Srikkanth. I also had the chance (completely coincidentally) to visit Chepauk Stadium in Chennai and Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad to watch some cricket, although both experiences were painful for an England fan. I was left completely in awe of the passion that this country has for the sport, and how it links us together. In Chennai, when I played with the youngsters who won the Street Cricket World Cup in 2019, Sam Curran’s name was on their lips.

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Looking ahead, the UK-India relationship is entering a transformative decade that will see closer cooperation on areas that matter to both nations. I expect our living bridge will have a crucial role to play as we set out on this ambitious journey together.

While cricket remains an area of high interest for sports tourism, I know the UK’s other major events like Wimbledon and the Premier League have a massive following. The Commonwealth Games in 2022 are almost upon us and promise to be spectacular. They will be the first carbon-neutral Commonwealth Games and also the most inclusive with more para-sports than ever before and the first multi-sporting event to feature more medals for women than men. Covid permitting, I would encourage more people to use this opportunity to visit and explore… you won’t be disappointed.

In the meantime, I shall continue to practise my doosra and the cover drive with the High Commission’s cricket team and explore this wonderful country armed with a smattering of Hindi and a love for all things cricket.

(Alex Ellis is the British High Commissioner to India)

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