A century and a half ago, the first indentured labourers arrived on a ship from India to work on sugarcane plantations in what was then Natal. The thousands of poverty-stricken people who made the journey across the Indian Ocean were getting a raw deal - they would work to pay back the costs of their travel to South Africa, and when they had done that they could either go back home or stay on and earn a measly wage. Effectively that meant almost all of them would never return to their homeland and had to build new lives in a new country. But their lives were not all about work and poverty. "They were naughty and they played games," Ashwin Desai, a sociologist, tells ESPNcricinfo. The first of those sports was football.
"It was the game of the people, and for many it was all they knew," Krish Reddy, the well-known cricket historian, says. Even though it was amateur and played on derelict fields, where any excuse for a round object could be a ball, it was taken seriously. It was also the start of what came to be a tradition: of tying sport closely with the motherland. Many teams were named after something in India. "They were very nostalgic about their home and they wanted to feel close to it. So they called their teams names like Tigers of India," Reddy says.
It's these bonds with India that are still evident among the diaspora today. Many South Africans of Indian descent still nurture strong links to the religions, foods, dress and other elements of culture of India. To some that tie is so strong it even leads them to cheer for the Indian cricket team, although the community as a whole learnt and played the sport in South Africa.
Cricket began to catch on in South Africa in the late 1880s, about 30 years after the first Indians arrived in 1860. At that stage the policy of segregation was not formalised, but there was a distinct distance between people of different races, along economic lines as well as cultural and social. Indians took up the sport in Natal by the early 1900s, according to Reddy, and formed the Durban Indian Cricket Union in 1923.