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When Nawaz Sharif took cricket diplomacy to CHOGM

Newly released classified papers in the UK reveal Nawaz Sharif suggested that a “Crickathon” be held during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting

world Updated: Jan 01, 2018 22:31 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Nawaz Sharif,Zia-ul-Haq,cricket diplomacy
Image of a poster announcing the Commonwealth Cricket Challenge of 1991.(HT Photo)

Cricket diplomacy took a back seat after former Pakistan president Zia-ul-Haq launched it in the tense backdrop of India’s Operation Brasstacks in February 1987, but as prime minister in 1991, Nawaz Sharif evidently made a success of it in Harare.

Zia had surprised the Indian establishment by travelling to Jaipur to watch an India-Pakistan Test, days after India held one of its largest military exercises in Rajasthan. Tensions eased after he met late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi during that visit.

Newly released classified papers in the UK reveal that Sharif, who began his first prime ministerial innings in November 1990, suggested that a “Crickathon”be held during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Harare, featuring leaders, cricketers and others.

It was enthusiastically agreed to by Britain’s then cricket-loving prime minister, John Major, who believed that “after the English language and the common law, cricket is the third unifying thread of the Commonwealth”, the papersreleased by the National Archives show.

Former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s letter to his then British counterpart John Major. ( HT Photo )

The match was held on October 18 and featured the prime ministers of Pakistan (Sharif), Britain (Major), Australia (Bob Hawke) and Jamaica (Michael Manley). India was represented by former prime minister PV Narasimha Rao, but there is no record of his wielding the bat or the ball.

Over 71,000 Zimbabwe dollars were raised for charity during the match, which also featured cricket legend Clive Lloyd (West Indies), Graeme Hick (England) and David Houghton (Zimbabwe).Sharif, who briefly played first class cricket, reportedly practised in the nets in Islamabad before the match.

Much of the groundwork for the match was done by the cricket-loving British diplomat in Harare,Mark Williams. Cricket terminology was often used in documents; for example in a note by Williams to Major’s private secretary two days before the match.

He wrote: “There is no obligation to bat but the Prime Minister might wish to face at least a token ball. A bowler who can be relied on to bowl a slowish long-hop outside off stump will be carefully chosen. It would ensure an excellent photograph.

“No running between the wickets would be required, though the Prime Minister might care to amble a single to chalk up $250 for charity. If the Prime Minister wished to spend ten minutes or so umpiring while Clive Lloyd and Graeme Hick were batting, that could be easily arranged.

“If the Prime Minister would like it, I could arrange for him to face a few balls in the nets shortly before the proceedings start from the bowler who will bowl to him in the middle,” Williams wrote.

The rules for the Commonwealth Cricket Challenge of 1991. ( HT Photo )

Major went on to open the batting with Hawke, scoring less than 10 runs and the partnership lasting 10 overs. He also supported the donation of cricket equipment worth£1,600 to local clubs as part of UK overseas aid.

Hosted by former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe, the Harare CHOGM issued a declaration setting out the group’s core principles, values and membership criteria. It is considered a landmark in the group's history.

The CHOGMwas held against the backdrop of the end of the Cold War and the then coming end of apartheid in South Africa.Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth in 2002 after Mugabe’s disputed re-election.

First Published: Jan 01, 2018 22:29 IST