Playing Ind-Pak Series in Sri Lanka Defies Logic: Shashi Tharoor
So it looks like the decks are being cleared and the pitches watered for an India-Pakistan cricket series in Sri Lanka – provided, of course, our Government allows it to happen.
Despite being an advocate of the resumption of Indo-Pak cricket, I must confess to some puzzlement on this score. No, not because we are agreeing to play Pakistan: I don’t see why the LeT and the Jaish-e-Mohammad should have a veto on what the vast majority of the sports-loving public on both sides of the border wants. But because of the BCCI’s insistence that this take place in Sri Lanka rather than, as Pakistan wishes, on their “home” ground of the UAE.
After all, ever since a terrorist attack on a touring Sri Lankan side led cricketers to refuse to tour Pakistan, the UAE has served as “home” territory for that team whenever it was Pakistan’s turn to host a touring side.
Six Full Member countries of the ICC have toured the UAE since, some of them several times. True, Zimbabwe was recently persuaded to tour Pakistan itself, and it seems Bangladesh too is skittishly contemplating the option, but these are teams desperate to play against whoever will play them, anywhere. For the rest, the UAE is the preferred place: it’s close enough to Pakistan to credibly be a “home” venue, there are enough Pakistan supporters living in the UAE to fill the stadiums available, and pitch conditions and the general environment are closer to Pakistan’s than pretty much anywhere else available. It’s also, obviously, safer than Pakistan itself. But India, apparently, refuses to play there.
- Decision to play match in Sri Lanka defies logic.
- Six Full Member countries of the ICC have toured the UAE since attack on SL team, some of them several times.
- India is morally committed to fulfilling its obligation (signed and sealed bilaterally as well as in the ICC’s Future Tours Programme) to “visit” Pakistan, in other words the UAE.
- Some in BCCI hint that current chief Shashank Manohar still fears untoward corrupt influences in the UAE.
- But the UAE has cleaned up its act, and under the gregarious (and openly Indophile) Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al Nahyan, the UAE’s cricket administration has earned plaudits around the world.
- In an era of increasing transparency in every field, the BCCI remains uniquely opaque in its thinking and decision-making.
‘India is Morally Committed to “Visit” Pakistan’
The question is why. The issue of an Indo-Pak series this winter has been kicked around for a while, but everyone assumed that was because the BJP Government was reluctant to let cricket be played at a time when relations between the two countries are strained. However, India is morally committed to fulfilling its obligation (signed and sealed bilaterally as well as in the ICC’s Future Tours Programme) to “visit” Pakistan, in other words the UAE. Now we say we don’t want to go there, and would rather the Pakistanis come to India. When they point out, not unreasonably, that it’s their turn to host us, we rather churlishly tell them fine, but you can’t host us at what you consider your “home” venue – we want to play somewhere else.
BCCI’s Decision Defies Logic
Honestly, this defies all logic. It’s true that one series between Pakistan and Australia was “hosted” by the former in England, so it’s not unprecedented to play them somewhere other than the UAE. But that was a long time ago and since then, Australia has played Pakistan in the UAE without demur. It’s also true that at one time we were reluctant to play in the UAE because there were credible allegations of match-fixing, serious gambling and even mobsters (including the notorious Dawood Ibrahim himself) attending matches. But the UAE has cleaned up its act, and under the gregarious (and openly Indophile) Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al Nahyan, the UAE’s cricket administration has earned plaudits around the world. Indeed, the ICC itself has chosen to base itself in Dubai.
Many Questions Remain
So what’s our problem? No one’s saying. I have high regard for Shashank Manohar, the BCCI’s new chief, whom I met briefly during his previous tenure in that position. He strikes me as a fair-minded, effective cricket administrator with a strong core of decency and integrity. But he needs to explain to Indian cricket fans why we won’t play in the UAE. Why would we go to a country where rain so frequently affects matches, rather than one where the sun shines reliably all the time? Why would we choose to pay the Sri Lankan board the extra costs involved in hosting us, when we would have had no such costs if we had played in the UAE? Why would we give up the chance to play on pitches that would be a dream come true for the likes of Ashwin and Jadeja, in favour of pitches where their record isn’t all that impressive? And why won’t we play in a country where we have already participated in an Under-19 World Cup and a 2006 ODI series, not to mention a good chunk of the 2014 IPL tournament?
There are hints dropped by some in the BCCI – off the record, so I am not naming names – that Manohar still fears untoward corrupt influences in the UAE. I am not sure this is a sustainable apprehension. After all, some of the more notorious incidents of cricketing corruption in recent years have occurred in England, Bangladesh and India, not the UAE. If players are corruptible, geography will not constrain them. Equally, if they are determined to play it straight and preserve their consciences as well as their careers, no venue can sway them to throw a match or fix an over.
Fans Have a Right to Know
Indian cricket administration, to paraphrase Churchill on Russia, is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. In an era of increasing transparency in every field from politics to governance and accounting to zoo-keeping, the BCCI remains uniquely opaque in its thinking and decision-making. They won’t tell us why they oppose DRS, when India repeatedly suffers from umpiring decisions that could have been reversed by DRS. Now they won’t tell us why they are behaving, in the words of a Pakistani critic, Osman Samiuddin, like a “spoilt rich kid” in the school yard saying “I don’t want to play anymore, I’m taking my stuff away and I’m not telling you why.”
It’s time the bosses of our favourite sport levelled with us. The fans have a right to know.
(Former UN under-secretary-general, Shashi Tharoor is a Congress MP and author)