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Cricket and Victorian England

In England, the rich who could afford to play it for pleasure were called ‘amateurs’ because they played for leisure and not for money (nothing but aristocratic value) whereas the poor who played it for a living were called ‘professionals’. They were paid wages by patronage or subscription or gate money. The social superiority of amateurs was built into the customs of cricket. Amateurs were called gentlemen while professionals had to be content with being described as players. They even entered the ground from different entrances. Amateurs tended to be batsmen, leaving the energetic and hardworking aspects of the game, like fast bowling, to the professionals.

Cricket is a batsman’s game because its rules were made to favour ‘gentlemen’, who did most of the batting. The social superiority of the amateurs was the reason the captain of a cricket team was traditionally a batsman. In 1930s, the English Test team was led by a professional, the Yorkshire batsman, Len Hutton.

It is often said that the ‘Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton’. Eton was the famous school that trained English boys for careers in the military, the civil service and the church––the three great institutions of imperial England. The Victorian empire builders justified the conquest of other countries as an act of unselfish social service by civilising the backward people.

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