x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Misgivings about cricket series remain among India and Pakistan

The announcement that Pakistan and India may resume their intense rivalry next year sent out ripples of excitement, but there is much political discourse yet to happen.

Shahid Afridi, centre, congratulated India's players after they defeated Pakistan in the Cricket World Cup semi-final, but later claimed not including Pakistani players in the IPL was India's way of making fun of Pakistan.
Shahid Afridi, centre, congratulated India's players after they defeated Pakistan in the Cricket World Cup semi-final, but later claimed not including Pakistani players in the IPL was India's way of making fun of Pakistan.

The announcement by the International Cricket Council (ICC) that Pakistan and India may resume their intense rivalry next year has sent ripples of excitement in the subcontinent but there is a serious and rather ominous backdrop to the proposed series.

The subplots are multi-layered and will require some serious ironing before a ball is bowled in anger.

There is mistrust between the two cricket heavyweights. India is still seething at what it sees as Pakistani involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and Pakistan are still bitter over the severing of all cricketing links between the two nations as a result. There is a feeling India is firmly against allowing any representatives of Pakistan on its territory.

The suggestion of a neutral venue for the series has been floated by the ICC, but the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the prime stake holder in this series, is yet to comment on this, which really does not bode well as it suggests there hesitancy to follow this route.

From the Pakistani side of the fence, there is relief that cricketing relations are to resume.

But optimism aside, Pakistan fans have some serious misgivings at the apparent attempts by the BCCI to undermine Pakistan cricket at the behest of the Government of India.

Cricket is being used as an instrument of foreign policy against Pakistan — or so it seems to the ordinary Pakistani fan. The removal of Pakistan as one of the joint hosts of the World Cup 2011, ostensibly for security reasons, still rankles in the minds of many a Pakistani.

Then there is also the small matter of a snub directed at Pakistani players wishing to participate in the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL).

It is no secret that Pakistan players have been ignored or deliberately neglected, with seemingly inferior players from other foreign teams being preferred.

"The fact is these people didn't want our players to get practice and exposure before the World Cup, which is being held after the IPL in India," Ijaz Butt, the PCB chairman, said in January last year.

Butt went on to hint at conspiracy involving the now disgraced former IPL commissioner, Lalit Modi. "Tell me, who is Lalit Modi, he is vice president of the Indian Cricket Board and the IPL is part and parcel of the Indian board," Butt said.

Shahid Afridi, the former captain, added further fuel to the simmering fire.

"The way I see it, the IPL and India have made fun of us and our country by treating us this way," Afridi said in 201.

The resentment felt by Pakistan fans has somewhat been watered down since due to Pakistan players finding new homes with other leagues round the world, but the suspicion towards the Indian establishment and its ulterior motives remains firmly rooted in the collective psyche of the nation.

The Pakistan cricket establishment also feels there are some scores to settle. There is a feeling among the old guard of the PCB that the BCCI, buoyed by its financial clout, is flexing its muscles to stamp its authority on the ICC and that Pakistani cricket will be made to pay a heavy price for this hegemony.

This type of sentiment is best represented in the recent statement by Ehsan Mani, the Pakistani former-head of ICC, where he openly accuses arch rival India of using its financial clout and power to oust Pakistan, especially in cricket.

The BCCI and the PCB must put aside their differences for the benefit of the fans.

Whether they can rise above petty politics and external pressures remains to be seen.

The Pakistan players community are strangely muted in their response towards the series.

While they are not exactly falling over themselves to play against India, possibly due to the displeasure at being excluded from the IPL, they are aware that the exposure derived from playing against their arch rivals can result in many more lucrative financial opportunities.

So, for the moment, you will hear some inconsequential niceties mumbled by players to make them more palatable to audiences on both sides of the border.

The issue of a neutral venue is also a hot topic. If the security situation cannot be guaranteed, the usual list of neutral venues will be rolled out, with the UAE coming out top of the alternatives due to the popularity of the game among expatriates of both nations.

Whether Team India, who have shunned the Middle East due to their dislike and suspicion of alleged irregularities in Sharjah can rise over their fears to play in Dubai or Abu Dhabi is still open to question.

Cricket and its fans — the people who actually matter here — will be all the poorer if the question over a neutral venue becomes the focal point of an eagerly-awaited series.

It will reflect badly on both boards and, quite frankly, heads should roll if an amiable solution is not found.

 

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