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It?s showtime

Never has there been more at stake over 40 days of cricket between two countries, writes Avirook Sen.

india Updated: Mar 13, 2004 01:46 IST

Never has there been more at stake over 40 days of cricket between two countries. It will be naïve to think that India and Pakistan will henceforth limit their confrontations to the sporting arena, but once the players step on to the ground at the National Stadium in Karachi on Saturday, cricket will become part of a much bigger game: international relations.

Unlike in cricket, there are two possible outcomes in this game: either both sides win, or both sides lose.

And then there's the money.

Only one series in the history of cricket seems comparable. In 1932-33, Douglas Jardine, a set of dodgy tactics tucked under his cap and the fastest bowler in the world (Harold Larwood) on his side, took England to Australia to win the Ashes.

Sourav Ganguly's job is much tougher. He has to TRY and win the series - and he MUST win Pakistani hearts.

The complexion that the Bodyline series took - the near breakdown in relations between England and Australia - was due (mostly) to what happened on the field. Jardine basically asked his quicks to knock the caps off the Australians (a perfectly acceptable tactic these days, but unsportsmanlike then). The tour was nearly cancelled midway and a diplomatic salvage job involving governments had to be undertaken.

In the present instance, the bouncers were bowled (covertly) weeks ago primarily in Delhi. The tour was nearly cancelled until Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee's intervention, followed by a clear statement from the MEA that the tour was on. The silly theory that cricket could turn out to be a weapon of mass depression (WMD) before the Indian election was jettisoned just in time.

One consideration was the huge sum of money at stake. An estimated one billion rupees in ad sales has taken almost every inch of visible space. Samsung has sponsored the cup for $22 million. Ten Sports took the telecast rights for $10 million.

Here, the Bodyline series was slightly different. There were, of course, no telecast rights, but three companies sought permission to film the controversial Adelaide Test. They were granted permission for 20 pounds each. The footage would reach cinemas in the UK as newsreels three weeks after they were shot.

The Indian players will make between Rs 2.5 lakh and 2.75 lakh a game for the ODIs and the tests, and heaven knows how much more if they succeed.

The professionals who toured Australia were paid 400 pounds each plus performance bonuses. The amateurs (or 'gentlemen', including Jardine) got 150 pounds. This was for a seven-month tour, though there were gifts and mementos thrown in. (These, however, did not take the shape of large automobiles in those days.)

Concerns for Anglo-Australian trade and friendship saw to it that the scandal that was Bodyline eventually went down only as a cricketing scandal. Similar concerns have ensured that India is now touring Pakistan.

Only one side can win on Saturday. In the longer run, "now that the love has begun again", as they say ironically in Karachi, India and Pakistan can win or lose. What's clear is that they'll be doing it together.