There was an indignant reply to my tweet message, which had criticised the manner in which the Pakistani cricketers had been snubbed at the Indian Premier League auction the other day. “The IPL has made all possible players available,’’ went the rebuttal, “the government has guaranteed visas for all players including Pakistanis, the franchisees assess the risk options and choose the best available. So what’s the big deal?’’
The argument is seemingly infallible: save that, as students of formal logic might detect quickly, it is based more on form and not content; or perhaps even more pertinently in this matter, context. After all, this was not just about a simple player auction, it was about the most emotive issue in the subcontinent, cricket: and in a broader dimension, not merely about cricket, but about the fragile Indo-Pak relations in which symbolism plays a deep role.
Let’s look at the issue from another angle. Suppose there had been bidders for the Pakistani players, and say five of the 11 had been picked up by different franchisees. Suppose, further, that on the eve of the tournament, all five players pulled out of the tournament citing personal problems. Would anybody believe that this was not a considered decision by all of them, with possibly the Pakistan Cricket Board and the government of Pakistan also party to it to embarrass Indian cricket and India?
Let me play devil’s advocate a while longer. Was there an advisory from the government to the IPL, and from there to the franchisees, to shun the Pakistani players? Perhaps not. Given the peculiar nature of Indo-Pak relations, especially post- 26/11, should there still have been some sort of discussion about the issue before the auction? Certainly yes. Does anybody believe that there wasn’t? Most certainly not!
In a volatile political scenario, cold logic has cruel limitations and perception becomes more crucial than reality. We are told that what happened at the auction was mere coincidence driven by plain business considerations. Not impossible, but improbable. It’s a test of anybody’s credulity to accept that three major stakeholders in the drama — the government, the IPL and the franchise owners — would have been ignorant of what was likely to happen.
The cricketing merit of the Pakistani players, of course, need hardly to be discussed. At least three of them — Shahid Afridi, Umar Akmal and Umar Gul — would have been ‘hot picks’, and if former captains Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble had not had their hands tied, so to speak, they would surely have squirmed in their seats in bypassing them. Unlike most Aussies and some Englishmen, these Pakistani players were available for the entire season.
My point is, why go through the charade when the outcome was known in advance? Why the tamasha of asking the Pakistani players to apply in time, with due clearance from their government, when it was evident that they would not find takers. The easier (and best) way out would have been to omit them from the auction this season, hope for the political climate to improve, enhance franchisee confidence, and then bring them back into contention.
The crux of the matter, therefore, is really not the proprietary correctness of the IPL, the no-risk business acumen of the franchise owners, and the reluctance of the government to ‘poke’ its nose into the affairs of what it considers a ‘private tournament’. It is the utter diffidence of these three stakeholders towards the political sensitivities involved, one which affects the biggest stakeholders in this affair: namely, the people of India and Pakistan.
The trauma of 26/11 haunts all Indians, not only those associated with cricket and the IPL. Terrorism is reprehensible, and its propagators must be hunted down and destroyed, but alienating a whole people for the actions of a dastardly few is hardly a solution. Ordinary Afghans and Iraqis, who know a thing or two about it will aver that this is just not cricket. But that’s another story altogether.
Ayaz Memon is a Mumbai-based writer
The views expressed by the author are personal