Archaeology and Cricket

I spent the last few weeks watching – here and there – the Cricket T20 Worlds. This is the tournament for the shortest form of cricket where each side is limited to 20 overs. The team from the West Indies defeated the hosts, Sri Lanka, yesterday morning. As the West Indian side danced Gangnam style to celebrate their dramatic win, I got to think about hybridity and the post or, even, trans national moment that we find ourselves living through.

As I (and undoubtedly others) have argued that cricket is a paradigmatically hybrid game. As a sport, cricket expanded and developed along colonial lines as all of the most serious cricket nations were former members of the British Empire, and as a result, it has a distinctly post-colonial complexion with the style of play and individuals from the former colonies influencing the metropole as much as the metropole has influenced colonial practice. The popularity of cricket in south Asia where some of the most penetrating critiques of post-colonial nationalism have emerged (e.g. Chakrabarty, Bhabha, Spivak, et al.) only make the point more obvious.

So it is no surprise that the final four teams in this week’s tournament – Sri Lanka, West Indies, Pakistan, and Australia – all have their unique histories as both cricket playing sides and as national or post-national entities. For example, the West Indies has a “national” anthem even though it is a team that represents players from around the Caribbean. Pakistan and Sri Lanka have both had recent and persistent issues surrounding their sovereignty and political and ethnic divisions. In the broader tournament almost every team bears the marks of contested or negotiated nationalism:  sides like England which featured South African players, a competitive team from Afghanistan – the quintessential post-national state – and, the South Africa team which continues to see sport as an important place to manifestat the re-imagined nation.

In fact, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve decided cricket forms an intriguing lens for considering the same post-national critiques which have become embedded in recent debates in  archaeology. The appropriation of cultural forms at the so-called periphery that were so recently valued by the traditional center manifests the hybrid character of objects in post and transnational discourses. The desire of the Turkish state for the return of objects removed from Asia Minor during Ottoman times makes clear that significance of hybridized meanings to process of nation building. The hybridized objects that emerge as cultural currency in debates over the repatriation involves both challenging the ascribed value of objects at the center and the projection of the nation through time. Artifacts associated with antiquity in Asia Minor mean a different thing to the Turkish state than they do to international museums who include these objects in their collections, but both sides do understand the other side’s perspective as both independent from and deeply embedded within their own. 

Cricket, Gangnam style, and archaeology represent the trade in artifacts whose meaning derives from very particular cultural circumstances. The building of nations and identities in our globalized world involves the intentional and systematic misrecognition of these cultural objects.

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