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Event delayed is hope denied

For Paksitanis, the Champions Trophy represented more than a cricketing carnival. It was their symbol of normality and hope, writes Kadambari Murali.

cricket Updated: Sep 07, 2008 02:01 IST
Kadambari Murali

A few weeks ago, I walked past Ground Zero, the site of what was once the best known symbol of the downtown Manhattan skyline till, this month, that year. Now, it looks like a giant, somewhat surreal construction site.

A proposed memorial there is the subject of a highly emotional dispute between the relatives of those who died on September 11, 2001 and those that govern the site, over the scope and nature of the structure.

While most Americans empathise with the relatives’ grief and trauma, I also got a sense that many felt it was high time the new towers came up. For many reasons, but, mostly because they want a visible something that shows that life has gone on normally, irrespective of whether it has or hasn’t.

That same attitude — a combination of practicality, a need for normalcy and everyday symbolism and a show of solidarity — is reflected in the people who flock to the Mumbai suburbans or the London underground and in why Delhi’s Sarojini Nagar is a thriving market again.

Or, closer to our cricketing world, in why one of history’s most famous Ashes tours went on in 2005 despite the 7/7 bombings and — more overwhelmingly perhaps than for purely commercial reasons — Jaipur had an IPL game four days after about 80 people died in six synchronised blasts across the city.

A note from Neverland

Recently, cricket’s generally irresolute governing body, the International Cricket Council, sent out a press release about an ‘agreement’ being reached with its Principal Advisor IS Bindra, on the nature of his role.

Two of his major duties will be to assist in relations between the ICC and its member countries and work with host members to ensure the success of ICC events (like the just postponed Champions Trophy). Now this last is a major headache, especially at a time when the cricket world stands on the cusp of yet another breakdown in relations between the Asian bloc and the rest. That, of course, depends on whether cash-rich India keep backing Pakistan — but they generally do.

The way it was

If things had gone according to plan, at this time, the Pakistanis would have been preparing to forget about their political and economic turbulence, and instead, been frenziedly preparing to host the biennial event.

That it is a largely irrelevant competition is a different story, the point is that it was given to Pakistan by ICC officials who were aware of the volatile situation there.

For Paksitanis, by every account and despite the undoubted security-related hassles they would have been put through to watch a game or just travel, the Champions Trophy represented more than a cricketing carnival. It was their symbol of normality and hope.

Now that’s been taken away. And, whatever the ICC decides at Thursday’s meeting scheduled in Dubai, a meeting that will ostensibly ‘put in place a timeframe for arrangements’ for a 2009 event, no one can guarantee that it will be held as planned. Or that the South Africans, Australians, New Zealanders, West Indians and English, who refused to play there now will play next year; or that the country will be viewed as ‘safe’ or be able to stage an event.

I understand the arguments that cricketers who don’t want to travel there put forward. Some say it’s much too unstable and even a massive security cover can guarantee only so much. Others say it isn’t worth the worry it would cause their friends and families back home. And then, there’s the stress that comes with playing and living under the shadow of the gun.

Living on a prayer

Yes, it’s rough but that’s also the reality of the world we live in, one sans guarantees. Still, Asian cricketers and journalists travelled to Pakistan for the Asia Cup earlier this summer with no problem and, all things being equal, India will travel across the border for a full series early next year.

At the same time, it’s also a heartbreakingly complex situation, because even while you accept that there can be an attack of terror anywhere, in Mumbai or Delhi or Bangalore, in New York or London or Madrid or Bali, Pakistan, because of its geography and a number of other reasons, is in a peculiarly fragile position.

So knowing all this, what happens next to Pakistan cricket? How will the PCB build up its coffers, how will they sustain their cricket and how will they assure the cricket-crazy people that the game is not dying in their country, because of reasons beyond their control?

In an interview in late July, Inzamam-ul Haq was quoted as saying that if players pulled out, it would not only devalue the event, but would harm the developmental process of Pakistan cricket and damage them and world cricket. That it has. And how the issue is handled this month will tell us whether that damage is beyond redemption or not.

These are the complexities that Bindra, well thought of on both sides of the east-west divide, would have to help find an urgent answer to. More importantly, the ICC, inexplicably praised for ‘supporting’ Pakistan when it chose the convenience of postponing the issue in an nth minute meeting, has to realise that there is no point in sweeping something under the carpet because it looks particularly icky.

A decision has to be made: Either a place is safe enough for everyone to travel to or no one. And that decision must be implemented in action and in spirit. There is no point in humiliating a country or embarrassing a game.