01 January 1970

'East Meets West': Bishop Cotton School's Cricket Tour To UK With A Dash Of Bhangra

The tour was one of the first post-pandemic by an international school to the UK and one of the few in recent years by an Indian school.

Simon Weale addressing teams at Westminster School, central London
Simon Weale addressing teams at Westminster School, central London Special Arrangement

Bishop Cotton School, Shimla has completed a nineteen-match, twelve-day cricket tour of London and the South of England. The ‘East meets West’ tour followed in the footsteps of our founder George Cotton, a noted educationalist in Victorian England before he traveled to India. 

After a year when our hostels were able to operate through strict adherence to bio-bubbles, the venture was a definitive statement that BCS students (now vaccinated) are re-engaging with the world. The tour party consisting of thirty-four boys from across India and aged from 10-15 landed at Heathrow on 8th June.

We were blessed with two weeks of glorious British weather as we embarked on an unashamedly ambitious schedule of cricket matches against Britain’s finest schools including Eton College, Westminster and Marlborough. On most days we fielded three separate teams.

The tour was one of the first post-pandemic by an international school to the UK and one of the few in recent years by an Indian school. Apart from a chance to expose our boys to the sights and sounds of London, our tour was designed to strengthen links with a number of schools that we have a historical connection with. We hope this venture is just the start of a process of creating global educational opportunities for our boys.

Choosing cricket as the focus of the tour was straightforward. BCS boys love cricket. I am a lifelong cricket lover and learned several life lessons playing in a multi-cultural Oxford University cricket team of the late 1980s that included players from far afield including India Today’s anchor Rajdeep Sardesai. I have organised similar cricket tours to the Caribbean and South Africa and when you visit a country as part of a sports team you embrace a common heritage and shared tradition which means you are welcomed with the warmth of a family member. It also helped that every cricket fan in the UK was looking forward to seeing the India Test team who were about to arrive. Our hosts were always very happy to adapt to the respective ages and strengths of our teams. The schools we played invariably had facilities and coaching set-ups worthy of professional sporting franchises.

We wanted the matches to be an unforgettable experience for our new friends. We asked our boys to be as noisy (in Hindi), energetic and enthusiastic on the field, but to be polite at all times and to use perfect received English off the field. As a benchmarking exercise, the impression we gave was that BCS boys can fit in and adapt anywhere. A wonderful innovation was the boys’ decision to showcase Bhangra dancing as an example of modern Indian culture. This proved to be the ultimate ice-breaker. The boys hadn’t realized that many of the schools were co-educational, but after some initial shyness once they started dancing their joy was infectious and they got everyone interacting joyfully.

Our itinerary took us from Westminster School’s ground in the shadow of Big Ben to the magnificence of the English summer countryside and to the historic city of Cambridge. In London, we toured the sites by red bus, river taxi and we ventured onto the London Underground. We visited London’s premier theme park and we saw a T20 match at Lords. Wherever we went we were supported by UK-based Old Cottonians. Fittingly we ended the tour at Marlborough College where Bishop Cotton had been Headmaster.

Many have asked what our results were, but ultimately these were not important. Every match was hard fought and we had some notable wins including a victory in the first ever match between a BCS team and an Eton College team. Our boys have had an experience that should give them a wider perspective on the world and a taste for adventure. One said ‘It was the best thing I have ever done. What more could you ask for?

(Simon D Weale MA (Oxon) is the Director, Bishop Cotton School, Shimla)