Bangalore: Now that India have managed to slip in a series with Pakistan in the middle of a series with England, they are seeking a change in the Laws of cricket. They want the changeover between innings in Test matches to be increased from ten minutes to three and a half hours. That way, in a normal Test of four innings, they can squeeze in a three-match T20 series with Pakistan. Thus do they plan to serve both Test cricket and T20 to the greater glory of both formats. And keep Pakistan happy. And provide entertainment to television viewers who can take bets on which player is likely to wear the wrong clothes to the party.
The possibilities are endless.
Not for the first time, cricket is being asked to carry the burden of diplomacy and peace; to be something beyond itself, to symbolise more than a sport, to hold out hope for the hopeless, to succeed where politicians have failed, to provide photo-ops for future generations, and lots more. Suddenly, a cover drive is no longer a cover drive, but another missive in the communication between the two countries; an off-break stands for itself and as a substitute for joint communiqués issued after an official meeting.
Sport is often called upon to bear the politician's burden. When all else fails, appeal to Afridi and Dhoni. These two passionate cricketers have to pretend to be wearing suits and carrying attaché cases so nothing they say in the heat of a match can be misinterpreted to suggest anything remotely undiplomatic.
It is difficult to find folks on either side of the border who do not profit from an India-Pakistan series. For the politicians, it is a godsend. Photo-ops apart, there is no distraction like cricket to take attention away from scams, corruption, internecine battles, stagnation. For the cricket boards, it spells money and influence. India need Pakistan's support at the ICC - what better way to ensure this?
Television, which pays ridiculous amounts over long periods, is happy it has a whopper like an Indo-Pak series to recover investment and make up for the losses in other series. Former players on both sides (Sunil Gavaskar apart, this time) are happy to be wheeled back into the spotlight and mouth platitudes on television about brotherhood and a shared past. The volume of advertisements in newspapers and magazines increases, so the print media are happy too.
Even the traditional nay-sayers - like the Shiv Sena in Mumbai - are happy for the opportunity to display their superior patriotism by spitting on anything from across the border. Threats mean more publicity, and a series brings with it promise of muscle-flexing and the quotable quotes.
Gavaskar's is a populist stand - appealing to the hurt and anger in us for the terrorist attacks, but then ruining the effect by suggesting that such hurt and anger is somehow the exclusive preserve of those from Mumbai. As if the man from Kolkata or Chennai wasn't affected by the attacks on Mumbai.
The argument that nothing has changed since the ties were discontinued has some validity. Pakistan need the series far more than India do, both for cash and credibility. There is, too, the testing of the waters ahead of the next IPL where if all goes well, Pakistani players might get to play.
The one group which may not be ecstatic about the series is the players. Dhoni has said that as professionals they should be prepared to play and that sentiment has no place in such matters. Brave words. But in a season where India take on Sri Lanka, New Zealand, England, Australia and play the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka, they can't be blamed if they crave a break occasionally.
They are handicapped by the fact that they do not have a Players' Association which can work in tandem with the BCCI to ensure that sanity and common sense prevail when it comes to drawing up the calendar.
The series is five months away and that's a long time in politics, which is what an India-Pakistan series is an extension of. Even if the series does not come off, that would be a triumph for the BCCI . "You will have to support us at the ICC and elsewhere," it can tell the PCB, "we were happy to invite you to India; forces beyond our control made it impossible for you to actually play."
Great joy is often accompanied by great cynicism.