An early vote for India-Pakistan Tests in England
My weekend got off to a rough start, but the news I read this morning, that India and Pakistan might play Test matches at a neutral venue (sometime after 2012) has put a huge smile on my face.
Hopefully, the sensible thing will be done by staging these in England. India and Pakistan need to stage their Test cricket somewhere else; in stadiums that might actually fill up with loud, enthusiastic fans, of which there will be plenty in England for both teams. Pakistan can regard North England as "home" and India can do the same with the South. Many expats will fly in to watch the games (I would seriously consider flying over for one Test at least), and hopefully, English pitches will co-operate with the weather to produce some result-oriented cricket. The India-Pakistan cricket relationship needs a shot in the arm, and this might do it.
The fact of the matter is that even without the politics that has been getting in the way, India-Pakistan Test cricket in recent years has been a bit of a crashing bore (and not just because both boards have staged too much cricket between the two). The series in 2004 was played in empty stadiums, an especial irony given all the pre-tour hoopla about how desperate the Pakistan cricket fan was to see the Indian team in action. The two series played in India since then have been impressive showcases for India's inability to close the deal in Tests. In both series, India held the upper edge, and managed to royally stuff things up. In the 2004-05 series, they won one Test when Pakistan obligingly rolled over, but failed to drive home the advantage in another, and then completely lost the plot by putting together a nice last-day collapse in the third Test.
In the last series played in India, Pakistan sent over a team which looked so lackluster on the field that I almost felt like asking them to walk back to the pavilion for an intravenous coffee drip. India failed to put this bunch out of their misery as well, managing only a 1-0 win when by all rights they should have wiped the floor with a 3-0 margin. The last Test featured that perennial favorite of Indian Test captains: the meandering, cautious move toward a declaration, which is then delayed so much that a draw is the only outcome possible.
But the crowning glory of India-Pakistan Test cricket in recent times was the series in Pakistan in 2006, which showcased dead pitches and horrendous run-fest snoozes in the first two Tests, before India redeemed matters with a spectacular display of incompetence in the third game (it takes special talent to lose after your quick bowler has taken a hat-trick in the opening over of a Test).
I can only hope with fingers crossed, that the games will be staged in England and that plans will be finalised soon. The current enforced gap is a good thing; it has made cricket between India and Pakistan a little less common, a little more desirable. A good India-Pakistan Test can be the best of the best. But it needs some large crowds and a co-operative pitch or two. I think these will be found in England; I'm sure about the first and optimistic about the second. India and Pakistan will both have attacks capable of exploiting the conditions, the locals will be looking to pick up some bragging rights, and many English fans will turn up to watch as well. It has all the makings of a good summer of cricket. Bring it on.
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here