There has been a series of articles in the recent days arguing against India playing a cricket series with Pakistan. With the decision in the hands of the government, perhaps those making the argument will eventually win. For the government, it is far easier to say No to a cricket series with Pakistan than to say Yes, and then go around explaining the decision to its legion of “nationalistic” followers and prime-time television news anchors.
Evidently, there are two ways of looking at playing cricket with Pakistan. Even those who oppose the series say that as a cricket fan, they would want cricket to happen. After all, Pakistan has a rich cricket legacy – the doosra and the reverse swing originated there – and the India-Pakistan cricket rivalry, though diminished in recent years, can still send emotions soaring in the two countries.
Honestly, as a cricket fan, this particular proposed series with Pakistan is hardly exciting. Three one-dayers and two T20s in empty stadiums in Sri Lanka are not really something cricket fans ought to be excited about. As a real cricket fan, you ought to be happy if such a cricket series – no test matches and an irrelevant neutral venue – were to be actually shelved. But for two reasons: one, the BCCI signed a bilateral MoU with PCB last year, agreeing to play this series, in exchange for Pakistan’s support for BCCI’s control of ICC; and two, any cricket series involving India brings big money to the other boards and Pakistan cricket board could certainly do with that financial impetus.
That money for keeping alive cricket in Pakistan is important – and important for India. With West Indies and Zimbabwe in doldrums, cricket is now a eight nation sport. That number is the bare minimum you need for cricket to be called a real international sport. Unlike Australia or South Africa, India boasts of primacy – both commercial and playing wise – at no other team sport. It makes commercial and sporting sense for India to ensure Pakistan remains a serious cricket playing nation, and cricket – unlike Kabaddi or Kho-Kho – continues to be seen as a competitive multi-country sport.
There is a counter-argument too. Why not deprive Pakistan of these funds and give them to Fiji instead? Or to Nepal? Oh no, that won’t be possible any longer after what has happened between India and Nepal in the recent months! India’s track-record of helping new cricket countries doesn’t give much confidence though. Remember that Bangladesh is yet to play a test match on Indian soil. Or that Afghanistan has not been invited for a bilateral series in India so far. For India, it is more prudent to keep Pakistani cricket alive than to create a new cricketing power.
But what about Pakistan being an enemy country, which spawns terror against India? Should we be playing against such a country? After all, India didn’t play with South Africa during the years of Apartheid and we should treat Pakistan similarly.
The comparison with Apartheid-era South Africa is wrong. India just did not cut off sporting ties with South Africa in that period, it had no diplomatic, business or cultural ties with that country. If cricket is just one thing among a blanket ban on all dealings with Pakistan, it would meet the test of logic.
Choosing cricket alone for a ban while we play hockey, export movies, import TV series, and have diplomatic relations can’t be a rational strategy. If the situation with Pakistan was so grave, our prime minister would not be having a quick tête-à-tête with his Pakistani counterpart on the sidelines of climate summit in Paris.
Moreover, when it came to South Africa, India was not alone. It had the support of a large number of countries in Asia and Africa which were also boycotting South Africa. When it comes to targeting Pakistan, not even Bangladesh will be on India’s side. There is hardly any pressure that can be built by India acting alone.
In any case, the entities who control cricket in Pakistan and those who control the terror machinery there are not the same. A Hafiz Saeed or an ISI chief couldn’t care less about a Misbah ul Haq batting against Ravichandran Ashwin. Nor are the generals and jehadis democratically elected leaders, who will come under public pressure because the Pakistani masses are being deprived of watching cricket against India. Cricket or no cricket with India, the terror machinery in Pakistan will continue to function unabated.
That is the bottom-line: whether India should play a cricket series with Pakistan or not can be a matter of opinion. Banning it perhaps has a signaling value for the domestic political constituency in India. But to suggest that it can be an instrument of fighting terror emanating from Pakistani soil is disingenuous.