LAHORE: Ehsan Mani, the newly elected PCB chairman, has termed India’s stance on playing Pakistan “hypocrisy”. In a climate of political tension between the two countries, India have not played a bilateral match against Pakistan in any format since January 2013, but have met them 10 times since then in multilateral events.
In an interview with ESPNcricinfo, Mani said it was the “will of the people” that cricketing ties between India and Pakistan resume, and added that sporting contact would improve relations between the two countries.
“The main thing is that we play cricket against each other. When we play cricket, especially in our countries – when we go to India or when they come here – helps in increasing people-to-people contact. Indian fans come to Pakistan. Lakhs of fans have come to Pakistan from India and everyone goes back happy.
“There’s no better way to improve the relations between countries than having sporting contacts, cultural contacts. For me, that is far more important than any amount of money that comes into the game.
“Indian public obviously love to see India and Pakistan playing, and so does the Pakistan public. Rest of the work is of the politicians and frankly, once India is in the lead-up to its elections next year, so I don’t think there will be any softening in their attitude. But in the long term, the people want it and you can’t go against the will of the people forever.
“There is a lot of hypocrisy at the moment. India plays an ICC event against us but doesn’t play a bilateral series. That is something that we need to address.”
India-Pakistan matches, Mani said, had the “highest value financially in the world”, but he maintained that the PCB’s desire for the resumption of ties was about more than money. When asked if Pakistan cricket could survive without bilaterals against India, he had a one-word answer: “forever.”
“Money isn’t the issue, it’s more about the game,” he said. “There are more viewers for an India-Pakistan match than any other match in the world. So, if the Indian government decides to deprive its own citizens of watching an India-Pakistan match then that is their choice.”
Mani’s predecessor as PCB chairman, Najam Sethi, was instrumental in moving the ICC to set up a dispute panel to resolve the impasse over India-Pakistan bilateral cricket. The PCB and the BCCI are currently awaiting the panel’s verdict.
Asked if he would have chosen the dispute-panel route, Sethi said he would have preferred dialogue with the BCCI and the Indian government, and recalled his role, during his tenure as ICC president, in convincing the Indian government to green-light the first full India tour of Pakistan in 15 years.
“I would have preferred for there to be board-to-board discussions and board-to-government decisions,” Mani said. “I was ICC [president] in 2003 and India and Pakistan were not playing each other then.
“I went and met the Indian government and I took with me the people that were leading the Indian cricket board at that time – Mr [Jagmohan] Dalmia, Mr [IS] Bindra, Mr Rajsingh [Dungarpur] – and we went to the different ministries concerned with India-Pakistan cricket relations, and they spoke more in favour of resuming cricket between India and Pakistan than I did as a Pakistani.
“I had to be slightly neutral since I was with the ICC. But I didn’t have to say anything – they were the ones saying we want to play against Pakistan. There is always some political interference in India but the Indian government has said, ‘Look, at the end of the day, it is the BCCI’s decision to play or not play against Pakistan, but they have to come and present a case to us,’ and I took them on face value.
“It took us about a year but they came in 2004 because I kept going back with people on the Indian cricket board and I was going as the ICC President and not as someone representing Pakistan.”
For all that, Mani said he wouldn’t keep trying to persuade India to play Pakistan beyond a point.
“I don’t intend to ask India to play us at all,” he said. “If they want to play they tell us, if they don’t want to play that’s fine. But we are not going to go after them; we are not going to beg them. It’s good for the game if India-Pakistan play each other but it will be on equal terms.