Photo of cricket players in white uniforms holding their arms in the air to signal for an appeal
Players appeal for a wicket. Photo by Nic Redhead, Wikimedia Commons CC

“Kaaaaach it!”
“Bowled ‘im!”
“Wadda wrong’un!”

Americans may scratch their heads at these expressions, but a large body of international sports fans relishes those words. England and Wales are currently hosting the Cricket World Cup, the 12th edition of the tournament that began in 1975; ten national teams who have made it past qualifiers are slogging it out to lift the trophy. Social scientists around the world have studied cricket — as with many sports, a social science perspective on cricket shows that the pitch and stumps reside at a complex intersection of globalization, postcolonialism, boundaries, and identity.

Cricket is a global sport based on institutional and organizational processes as well as broader patterns of cultural and national identity. The centuries-old sport started in the United Kingdom and has since spread into a worldwide, modernized phenomenon, complete with fireworks, cheerleaders, and sophisticated analytics. An international network of cricketing organizations, athletes, broadcasting companies, sponsors, and state actors bring the game to its large, global audience.
In several countries, cricket’s growth has been shaped by the dilemmas, challenges, and sticky wickets of decolonization. In these countries, cricket has played an important role in building new cultural and national identities; social scientists explain that the popularization of cricket is both a cause and consequence of broader change. South Asian nations today are key players and decision-makers in the international cricketing world, which reverse-sweeps conventional logic that white countries hold greater global power.
The cricket field can also tell us a lot about race, belonging, and hierarchy. A classic in the social science of sport, C.L.R. James’ Beyond the Boundary uses his tales playing cricket to highlight status, exclusion, prejudice, and inequality within a social world shaped by racism, colonialism, and resistance. For example, he describes how team selection in cricket was shaped by skin-color rather than skill. Today, James’ ideas still influence scholars who study cricket as relevant to race, group boundaries, and social movements. Some researchers have studied anti-racist activism and the pursuit of equitable cricket representation in countries grappling with racial inequality. Others have shown that cricket offers an avenue of legitimization for marginalized and underrepresented groups in such nations.

Unfortunately, many issues of exclusion and marginalization still exist in the cricketing world today, both within and across different nations. As cricket continues to grow, globalize, and gather, such issues will hopefully be firmly driven outta here from the middle of the bat.

For an explanation of cricket terms, visit this ESPN glossary.