Cricket must make Pakistan feel wanted

Bizarre and Pakistan cricket have come to be comfortable bedfellows – on the field, in the boardrooms of the Pakistan Cricket Board and in matters of Pakistan’s status as a host country.

Updated: January 21, 2013 12:18 IST
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When it comes to India-Pakistan cricket matches, there is really only one question that needs to be asked and answered: should the two play each other on a regular basis?

If the answer is to be based on cricket, if politics is to be kept out of the equation, it can only be a resounding ‘yes’. But that is a tough ask. Politics, international and internal affairs, and much else come into the picture when we talk India-Pakistan. Therefore, the yes-es come slowly when they come at all; folk who talk about keeping politics out of cricket dither a little. Of course, much of the debate in India will always centre on the ‘how can we play with Pakistan when they are killing our people’ sentiment.

The latest involves protests in Mumbai by right-wing political groups, expectedly led by Shiv Sena, to Pakistan’s participation in the upcoming Women’s World Cup. The spur, this time, is the killing of two Indian soldiers at the troubled Line of Control, allegedly by Pakistan soldiers. As a result, the games in Group B, which features Pakistan, have been shifted out of Mumbai to Cuttack. But what happens in the unlikely event of Pakistan reaching the knockouts? Will those games be played in Cuttack too?

It’s bizarre. But bizarre and Pakistan cricket have come to be comfortable bedfellows – on the field, in the boardrooms of the Pakistan Cricket Board and in matters of Pakistan’s status as a host country.

But I am making a case here for clearing the air, for a long-term appraisal of the situation.

I am no political analyst, but going by events of the last many years, it seems unlikely that the relationship between India and Pakistan will change – conclusively – in a hurry. Nor is it probable that the internal problems – political instability, the rise of the fundamentalist forces and much else – that Pakistan has had to deal with for so many years will go away. Which means that, firstly, India and Pakistan will very rarely, if at all, play against each other, and secondly, teams will not tour Pakistan.

I suppose that’s fair.

But it’s not fair for cricket. For one, Pakistan are one of the best sides in a sport that’s desperate to have as many teams more or less at par near the top. Pakistani cricketers have always been outstandingly talented, and watching them play – in turn explosive and implosive – makes for riveting viewing. For another, Pakistan has among the most passionate and fun cricket-watching public that I have come across; people who have been denied top-drawer cricket in their country for a while now for no fault of theirs.

This is where the bosses of the game need to come forward and take a call. It’s a straightforward decision: to address the problem and provide a proper, sustainable solution.

Firstly, if international cricket is not possible in Pakistan, take Pakistan out of the itinerary. Teams like Bangladesh should be told clearly that there is no need to promise tours of Pakistan – if it’s not on, it’s not on. Cancelling a scheduled tour is a downright insult. Make the UAE the regular ‘home’ for Pakistan – maybe for the next five years – and make arrangements for everyone to tour there. Sure it’s hot, but New Zealand is cold, much of India is humid and England is wet. Live with it.

Secondly, there is no compulsion for India to host Pakistan whenever its government decides to make a gesture of peace. Cricket must not be the pawn of politics. Pakistan must tour India only as often as the ICC calendar asks them to, and those matches should also be hosted at a neutral venue. I understand there are commercial factors that play into these decisions, but that’s why we have administrators. To administer; work out the problems.

And thirdly, no multi-team event that involves Pakistan should be held in India. Even if it’s one of the World Cups. It’s tiring and infuriating to have to hear the same fundamentalist drivel each time, and even worse when the administration bows to the nonsense and makes knee-jerk decisions in a bid to salvage whatever can be salvaged.

Many Indians might not care, but it’s humiliating to be a Pakistani in India at times like these. No one deserves to be made to feel unwelcome like this. Why create the situation in the first place?

International cricket needs the Pakistan team and Pakistan cricket needs international support. Politics must be kept out of sport, yes, but politics and international relations are a mite more important than sport. So in situations where sport and politics clash, sport must move away and ensure that it gives politics no opportunity to interfere. With cricket, that move must happen, and happen fast.

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