BCCI’s invite not the manna from heaven made out to be
It is a measure of how desperate we are to engage India that the crumbs of a mid-break handed out by their cricket board have been welcomed as manna from heaven.
Forgotten in the euphoria is how humiliating the invite is, to begin with. The pithy three ODI ‘series’ is slotted in a Christmas break for the visiting Englishmen, who would return to play the last leg of the series after India takes pity on Pakistan!
Ah! But it’s not even pity, if the word doing the rounds is to be believed. The roots of the decision to play ball with the neighbour half a decade after the last bilateral engagement is said to lie in the increasing heat India is facing from Australia, England and New Zealand on the Umpires Decision Review System, which Pakistan also vociferously supports.
Financial powerhouse India has so far blocked all attempts by ICC to make it mandatory but there’s a limit to how much opposition it can withstand. The idea, according to the speculation, is to revive the Asian bloc — Sri Lanka and Bangladesh form the quartet — to hold the forces at bay.
Like millions of fellow subcontinent lovers of the sport, I have been a great supporter of India-Pakistan engagement at the worst of times but clearly, we could have done with more honourable terms of engagement.
Agreed that security is a major concern and so India cannot come over here — as the ICC future tour programme envisions — but Pakistan had shown willingness to host the matches abroad. Even now it has rather meekly welcomed the announcement despite feverishly pushing for India to either come to Pakistan or play abroad first rather than itself going to India.
All these years, India has not only thumbed its nose at Pakistan by regularly refusing to play in a bilateral series and allegedly leaning on its other neighbours not to tour Pakistan but also refusing to allow Pakistani stars — some of the world’s best in the shortest version — to participate in IPL and Champions League.
There is resentment even within India for the bilaterals. And this diatribe is led by none other than the much respected Sunil Gavaskar. An Indian friend of mine argued that being a fellow Mumbaiite of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, who has once again pledged not to allow Pakistanis to play, he has to make a pitch along those lines.
Not too convinced that this is actually the reason — Sunny’s outburst centred on Pakistan’s alleged lack of cooperation to bring the perpetrators of Mumbai attacks to justice — but it says something about the kind of atmosphere that will greet Pakistani players if the ‘series’ hopefully, goes ahead.
Truth to tell, the Indians are simply not interested in a re-engagement as recent history and the general discourse in India following the announcement of a short engagement this winter suggests.
To be fair to them, while they may have a reason not to — it begs emphasising that those are decidedly political reasons. In my humble opinion, where they are flawed is in the approach.
Sport should never be made a hostage to politics. It defeats the very purpose of engagement: imbibing the best principles of healthy competition.
From an Indian perspective, it can also be argued that the approach is inherently flawed since the stringent policy of non-engagement is not followed in international tournaments. Why? It is because it would lead to penalties/forfeiture of points. Also, for some strange reason, the bilateral disengagement is not strictly followed in sport other than cricket.
I’m also surprised at the romanticism associated with Indo-Pak cricket — the usual premise being that it is a leveler of animus, and somehow builds bridges. Engagement may be helpful in terms of the latter but am not so sure about cricket per se.
No matter how pronounced the mantra, it takes a back seat when the two countries have a cricketing rendezvous. No amount of goodwill and diplomacy seems to work when fires of rivalry are stoked by crazy fans and passionate players hungry for instant glory.
But what shatters the fallacy of romanticism is raw emotion, which bubbles up to the surface like boiling water. Not that it deters the intelligentsia, which extols the virtues of a lovely game, which truth to till, now seem as distant as to belong to the Victorian age.
However, bad it might seem, the history and geography of the region, often gallops from the background to the foreground whenever these two countries meet on a cricket field. Amazingly, people begin to see more than a cricket match — in a cricket match.
To an outsider, all this is pretty intriguing. The population of peaceniks who are capable of treating an Indo-Pak cricket encounter as no more than a game constitute a virtual silent minority.
Over the years, ‘experts’ have propounded the theory of regular competition to reduce the intensity of rivalry and pave the way for stronger political and cultural connect. However sound the idea may seem, it hasn’t delivered on the cricket front until now.
Sure enough, people want to see more people-to-people contact at all levels but when it comes to specifically cricket, they don’t wish to settle for anything less than seeing their own team win. The game’s virtues brushed aside, it then simply boils down to “Us” versus “Them”.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad and can be reached at [email protected]