x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Region in danger of being isolated

Amid the backdrop of what seems to be the perpetual potential for a random terror attack in South East Asia, the region's main sport is suffering like never before.

Amid the backdrop of what seems to be the perpetual potential for a random terror attack anytime and anywhere in South East Asia, the region's main sport is suffering like never before. Indeed, it's no exaggeration to suggest what is happening on the subcontinent right now represents international cricket's biggest challenge since the late 1970s when Kerry Packer cherry picked the world's best players for his unofficial one day extravaganzas.

Handsomely rewarded, the large majority of those players were all banned from representing their countries, some for a few years. Almost every single Test playing nation was diminished as a result. The latest challenge comes in a far more sinister form and with far greater ramifications for the sport. The most spate of terror attacks in India and Pakistan and the real threat of continuing violence in Sri Lanka mean the subcontinent is in danger of becoming an international cricketing wilderness.

How many foreign teams will want to tour the region? How many will cancel future trips which have already been agreed through the ICC's Future Tours Program? Huge swathes of the area have become no-go areas for visiting teams. Pakistan have not played a Test match this year, let alone hosted one. The country has also suffered the cancellation of a tour by Australia and the postponement of the Champions Trophy. It is the ultimate nightmare for Pakistan's administrators and their counterparts across the border must be terrified of the same thing happening to their country.

Yet England are currently in India. In ensuring everything possible was done to accommodate England's requests following the Mumbai attacks, the Indian board must be congratulated for understanding what was at stake and then acting with such alacrity and efficiency. Commandos, police escorted motorcades and armed lockdowns at hotels may make the England and Indian players feel even more like goldfish, but as Harbhajan Singh says, at least they feel safe. Many believe England's resumption of the interrupted tour is as much due to the tourists' sincere desire to fulfil their sporting and moral obligations to a traumatised Indian nation as it is to the economic imperative of maintaining a mutually beneficial relationship with the richest Board in world cricket.

Not only does the BCCI, with its various commercial contracts, account for 70 per cent of the game's international finances, but the Twenty20 Indian Premier League has redefined the scale of pecuniary rewards available to all players. Pakistani cricket has never been known for its riches, so Indian cricket may feel it can gain nothing from Pakistan and owes it even less. This is a misunderstanding. Indian cricket needs to do what it itself demanded of England: a show of solidarity in the face of a communal international threat.

Cricket has nothing to do with armed lunatic fanatics and everything to do with the people and their relationship with the players and their team. In this instance it is even more important to recognise the solidarity of sport and its reciprocity. Reciprocity will eventually make any other nation's withdrawal of a tour to Pakistan that much easier to refuse a future tour of India. India's willingness to be in Pakistan this January would have showed the world that terror won't win. Isn't that exactly the message India were asking England to proclaim? India's boycott of Pakistan could mean all the subcontinent teams playing anywhere but home, it seems.