July 19, 2001

One-day series cancellation may be blessing for Indian team

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Finally, after much hemming and hawing the BCCI has formally withdrawn from the Super Challenge one-day series in Australia in September. It was hardly a surprise ever since the Board committed itself in May to the Asian Test Championship on overlapping dates. Exactly why they had to tarry until today to intimate their Australian counterparts is more enigmatic. The curtain thus comes down on an episode which began in April when India were proferred an invitation for a three match series including two indoor games at Melbourne's Colonial Stadium.

Having begun the tradition of indoor cricket in August 2000 against South Africa, the ACB turned to India in the second year. With the two nations slugging out one of the great Test series in history earlier this year for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, they were possibly keen to stoke the embers of that contest. A third match to be played at the Gabba was to have broken fresh ground, being the first time international cricket came to Brisbane outside the customary November- March period.

Board Secretary Jaywant Lele confirmed having received the invite but hedged his bets on accepting. The cause for India's ponderous reaction to the proposal became clear at the Asian Cricket Council meeting in Lahore in May when the Board pulled a rabbit out of the hat by agreeing to take part in the Asian Test Championship. India was set to clash with Pakistan in Lahore from September 12-16, following which they would host Bangladesh in another one-off Test from September 20-24.

That should have really put a definite lid on the Super Challenge prospect but the ACB was given to believe that the BCCI was still amenable to a change of heart. They were perhaps encouraged by the continued coyness of Indian officials who, as it turned out, could not get around the constraint of having committed their players to be simultaneously present in another location. No one can grudge the Board's preference for the Asian initiative over the Australian one. Cricketing ties between India and Pakistan have been suspended since May 2000 which is already far longer than the patience of fans across the Radcliffe line can endure.

There is of course the minor hiccup of the Indian Government not having granted permission yet for their national team's journey to Lahore. Indeed when the ACC decision was announced in Lahore on May 28, it had the effect of stirring a hornet's nest in the form of the excitable Union Minister for Sport, Uma Bharti.

"The BCCI should not take the liberty of making such announcements. To play in Pakistan, the BCCI has to first give a written proposal to the Sports Ministry which in turn would forward it to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). The final decision rests with the MEA. No such proposal of a tour of Pakistan in September has been received by the Ministry" reacted Ms.Bharti.

In return, ACC Chairman Jagmohan Dalmiya brandished a letter from the Sports Ministry which proposed the broad policy that 'India will continue to play Pakistan in multilateral tournaments at regular venues' including those in either of the two countries. With both parties still guardedly sizing each other up, there is the tantalising prospect that, having had two birds in the bush, the Board could conceivably end up with none in the hand.

That would probably suit the Indian players down to the hilt. Board President AC Muthiah's fax statement to his ACB counterpart mentions that he took the decision after holding consultations with his players and noting their concerns about a calendar chockful with engagements. Indeed, the team's schedule over the next 13 months, comprising 22 Tests and some 40 odd ODIs, is designed to make a stevedore faint. Perhaps it is just as well the Board has heeded that old maxim about geese and golden eggs.