The Colonies Winning? That's Just Not Cricket!

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Such quintessentially English staples as tea and polo were actually inherited from India. And although they didn't invent cricket, flannel-clad men from the territories of the Raj have now arrived in England to offer some lessons in the finer arts of a game once held to encapsulate all that is noble in the British character. The proverbial crack of willow on leather heralded the start of cricket's world cup in London Friday, but despite England's opening-day win against improbable current champions Sri Lanka, the pundits expect the cup to travel once again to one of the former colonies -- South Africa, Pakistan, Australia or India. After all, trouncing the English at their own game has long been an important affirmation of postcolonial pride.

To most people in a country that calls the domestic championship of its own bat-and-ball sport the "World Series," the clash of erstwhile colonizers and colonized in a game still punctuated with breaks for lunch and tea may seem like a quaint echo of a lost empire. U.S. corporations doing business in Asia, however, are more alive to the game's significance. Pepsi is a prime sponsor of a tournament whose TV rights fetched $45 million in anticipation of $70 million from ad revenue. Most of that advertising will be directed at South Asia, where tens of millions of people are expected to watch every match. In fact, analysts fear the economies of South Asia may suffer billions of dollars in losses due to mass absenteeism on match days. Cricket may have been born in England, but the game's future now rests squarely in Asia, which is both the epicenter of the cricket economy and also the region that dominates the game. Cricket, of course, will remain a defining characteristic of what it is to be British. Much like that cup of (Indian) tea.