Clarity needed on resuming India-Pakistan cricket ties
There has never been or never will be a right time in the foreseeable future for India and Pakistan to play cricket bilaterally. It has always been a political gambit and it is once again, the cacophonic discussions on television channels notwithstanding.
The sound bytes certainly convey that the Narendra Modi government, like the NDA dispensation under Atal Behari Vajpayee, is keen on improving relations with the neighbours and there is no better way to show the intent than resuming bilateral cricket ties.
It is almost eight years since the burgeoning cricket exchanges between the two countries snapped in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai carnage by the militants from across the border.
India cancelled Pakistan's reciprocal tour to this country and also "unofficially" banned Pakistani players from playing in the Indian Premier League (IPL). Since then the contacts have mostly been confined to International Cricket Council (ICC) tournaments, though Pakistan did visit India in 2012-13 to play a three-match series of One-Day Internationals (ODI).
What has changed in recent months to prompt the Indian government to pipe down from a trident Pakistan policy to agree for resumption of cricket ties between the two countries? A raging debate is on and the jury is still not out.
It all began with the government deciding in principle to resume cricket relations with Pakistan and none other than Prime Minister Modi himself was quoted as telling his party MPs about it.
Then Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Shahryar Khan flew in from Dhaka to Kolkata not knowing his disembarking city was Delhi for talks with Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president Jagmohan Dalmiya earlier in the week.
Shahryar, a career diplomat and first cousin of Nawab Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, came to Delhi to tap the right sources by meeting Union Finance Minister and an influential cricket leader Arun Jaitley and board secretary Anurag Thakur, also a ruling party MP. All insist that the talks were preliminary in nature and a lot of cobwebs needed to be dusted off before getting down to serious discussions.
Most cricketers barring those who play to the gallery are in agreement that the two countries should resume playing cricket whereas the generals and diplomats are ranged against them, screaming to remind the protagonists about the happenings on the border.
The lone saner voice from the loudmouthed TV studios comes from Ambassador Krishan Chander (KC) Singh, who rightly questioned the very premise of playing the series offshore. Though in Opposition, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor feels it is naive to expect atmospherics to change the substance of the relationships and wonders why cricket alone is being singled out.
KC goes a step further, clearly questioning Arun Jaitley's role in trying to get cricket ties cracking. He has hit the nail on the head, saying Sharyar may not know where Dawood is but former Pakistan captain Javed Miandad should certainly be aware where his son's father-in-law is.
Jaitley was quick to take a step back. He told a pink daily that "it is for the external affairs ministry to decide" on the tour and when asked whether he is in favour of it, all he would say is that he "would not like to comment since he does not deal with it".
Taking the cue from Jaitley, others officials have also started weaving and ducking questions on the tour. The home ministry washed its hands of the uncomfortable issue, saying since the proposed series is going to be played in the United Arab Emirates, it is for the ministry of external affairs to deal with it!
Jaitley should have been reminded that Shahryar on return home from India told the media that the Indian Finance Minister "feels the green light will be given, it's not given yet but will be given in the next two months".
During the period, the two boards will also have to thrash out the vexing TV rights issue. The Pakistani broadcast rights are with Ten Sports, which is a part of the Subhash Chandra's Essel Group. The problem is the Essel Group is preparing to float a global Twenty20 league as a rival to the IPL, pumping in millions of dollars. The BCCI would not like to have anything with Essel and Pakistan will have to sort it out by agreeing to play in India or find another broadcaster for this particular tour if it is played in the UAE.
In such a scenario, KP asks, how can the Indian government engage in cricket diplomacy with a country which is providing cover for the most wanted terrorist in this country?
That, too, playing at an offshore venue which is a snakepit of the underworld even if Pakistan seeks to justify on the grounds that its Indian counterpart did not have any qualms in playing IPL matches there last year.
It may be recalled that way back in 1992 the Indian board had to call a Special General Meeting in Chennai to end the Sharjah honeymoon after startling revelations as to how the underwood has penetrated into the game. The general cry now is play wherever you want, except in the Gulf.
For the record, the series could be of three Tests, five ODIs and two T20 games.