Terror notwithstanding, government should give India-Pakistan cricket a chance
The Indian government’s constant refusal to let the national team play a bilateral series against Pakistan could hurt the BCCI’s standing in world cricket. At a time when the BCCI has found itself totally cornered over the International Cricket Council’s new global revenue share model, the government’s decision to stop bilateral ties could turn out to be a tactical blunder.
Earlier this week, sports minister Vijay Goel questioned the wisdom of BCCI officials to engage in a meeting with Pakistan Cricket Board officials in Dubai over the future of bilateral cricket between the arch-rivals. In the wake of the happenings in Jammu and Kashmir, Goel ruled out any cricket between India and Pakistan saying “terror and sport can’t go hand in hand.”
Given the rich legacy of warmth and understanding among officials, players and more importantly, fans across the world, it is time to review this rigid standpoint that is doing more harm than good. Cricket, or sports for that matter, can be used to open better political dialogues and soothe frayed tempers.
Remember, how former Chelsea superstar Didier Drogba helped stop a five-year-old civil war in Ivory Coast after he led his nation to the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. Given the fact that cricket is religion in the subcontinent, imagine the impact a Virat Kohli or an MS Dhoni, or Shahid Afridi or Younis Khan can create on misguided souls killing people to achieve the impossible.
Recently, the Pakistan Cricket Board sent a legal notice to BCCI for not honouring a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2014 to play six bilateral series between 2015 and 2023. This is more of a formality. The Dubai meeting was extremely cordial with the BCCI expressing its helplessness, vis-a-vis the government’s standpoint.
Sending legal notices, publicly expressing angst against Indian officials and exciting the national media with juicy anti-BCCI quotes are age-old tactics to keep India’s no-cricket-with-Pakistan simmering. You will hardly see PCB officials making anti-Bangladesh or anti-Australia comments.
No matter what is said in public, behind the scenes, officials have an ‘emotional’ understanding that has seen cricket officials from India and Pakistan together staging the first World Cup outside England in 1987.
Together, they have surmounted obstacles showing a South Asian solidarity never seen before. When the sub-continent hosted the 1996 Wills World Cup, Australia and the West Indies refused to play a group match in Colombo due to security issues. The organising committee quickly airlifted a team comprising top Indian and Pakistan players to play in the Lankan capital.
A bomb blast in Colombo a fortnight before made the Australians shaky. It was perceived that Australia’s withdrawal from Colombo was a vendetta against the Third World. Sri Lanka won four crucial points that finally won them an easy passage to the semis but the fans of the island nation were denied the excitement of watching two quality international sides at play. Terror defeated sport but the course of events saw the Lankans making the final and even beating the Aussies to win their first World Cup under Arjuna Ranatunga.
The Lankans felt at home playing the 1996 World Cup final at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium. Sunil Wettimuny, the eldest of the three Wettimuny brothers who played for Sri Lanka, was the commander of the Air Lanka flight that took Ranatunga’s team for the historic match in Lahore.
“I have never seen a nation supporting another nation like that,” Wettimuny recalled in an interview to the Island newspaper. “I don’t think they (Pakistanis) would have supported their own country that way. If a Sri Lankan went shopping that day, he would not have had to pay for shopping. At restaurants they gave food free,” Wettimuny added.
The trust factor among the four cricket boards of the subcontinent has always been better than the ‘white’ boards – England, Australia and New Zealand. India’s rise as a cricket superpower since Nineties would not have been possible without the support of PCB, Cricket Sri Lanka and Bangladesh Cricket Board. So to deny fans from watching a cricket match between India and Pakistan is punishment.
Sunday’s group B game between India and Pakistan in Birmingham was sold out within hours of the tickets goings online. It’s always been the case. The fanaticism around India versus Pakistan encounters has always been positive. In the 2013 Champions Trophy, when they clashed at Edgbaston, Birmingham was swept away by saffron, white and green as fans converged from all parts of the globe.
Sports lovers are like dreamers. Imagine an India versus Pakistan final at the Oval on June 18. Interestingly, on the same day, in east London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, India will clash with Pakistan in a men’s Hockey World League semi-final match. I wonder how many bullets will fly in J&K that day!