India in Pakistan, 2003-04 February 22, 2004

Spirit of compromise

In politics, if you can please some people some of the time, then you have done well

In politics, if you can please some people some of the time, then you have done well. In Pakistan cricket, if you please some people on even a few occasions, you consider yourself very lucky. The Pakistan Cricket Board, by ensuring that both Karachi and Peshawar will host the Indians for a day, has opted for the only path it could have chosen in what had become a no-win situation.

Yet, there may well be discontent that Karachi, in particular, has missed out yet again in staging a Test match. There may be further criticism, as there already has been in the press that the PCB has again distinguished itself only as an organisation devoid of backbone in dealing with matters of `national pride'.

But such criticisms will overlook the context within which the negotiations were conducted. As Rameez Raja reiterated after the announcement of the itinerary, when speaking to Wisden Cricinfo, "We had two objectives before all the negotiations started. One was to make sure the Indians came over for the tour and the other was to ensure that both Karachi and Peshawar stage an international." Both aims were achieved, and the PCB came out of a potentially dicey situation deserving, if not praise, some light pats on the back.

As Raja revealed, the BCCI was very keen to split the tour in two, playing either the Tests or the ODIs before general elections in India and then coming back afterwards to resume the tour, providing everyone with a thoroughly fractured and ridiculously fragmented series. This, Raja rightly argued, "was not logistically feasible," and if, as he says, the BCCI were insistent on this demand, then the PCB has achieved something by avoiding such a scenario.

They also wanted Karachi and Peshawar scrapped from the tour altogether, and the fact that neither was, represents a victory, albeit small, for the PCB. In his press conference, Raja stated he felt the tour might have been called off altogether had they pushed too hard for Karachi and Peshawar to stage a Test - a scenario even more likely to elicit trenchant criticism.

Critics can argue that a precedent has been set, indeed if it hadn't already been set, that both cities will forever continue to suffer from the presumption that they are unsafe, no matter what the ground reality. In truth, however, given that both cities were entirely bypassed by South Africa and New Zealand, hosting a match at all sets a positive precedent for future visitors.

There are reasons, however, why the praise isn't freely forthcoming. The choice of Rawalpindi as a Test venue will raise eyebrows, given that press reports indicated the curator was so unhappy with the pitch that he deemed it unsuitable for play. Raja played down the charge, claiming the pitch during the South African series wasn't to the liking of the Pakistan team, but that it had now been changed. Faisalabad, which staged matches against all three visitors last season, missed out entirely this time, for no perceptible reason, other than that Rawalpindi a logistically sound option.

Also, the scheduling of the ODIs before Test matches - though by no means an uncommon practice in itself - because the public might lose interest in India during April, when general elections are likely to be held, seems particularly bizarre. But, given that it is the politics of the sub-continent, perhaps there is a perverse logic hidden in there somewhere.

The nature of any negotiation, business, political or otherwise, is such that compromise and flexibility replace unbending will and rigidity as key attributes. Of utmost priority, as both boards recognised, was that the tour must go ahead and this rightly dictated the eventual agreement. Both parties have come out with something to show, and pronounced themselves happy with the itinerary.

In such matters, it often pays to keep a sense of perspective. Last week, debate revolved around whether or not the tour would go ahead at all. This week, it was whether or not matches would be played at particular venues. To some, that would represent progress, and the fact remains that India and Pakistan are playing in these parts after 14 years. If that won't please a lot of people, then there is little hope anything else will.