May 10, 2009

All emotion, no logic

The emotion behind the PCB's decision to send a legal notice to the ICC over the 2011 World Cup decision is understandable. The board, the whole country, feels isolated, victimised and targeted. Two major tournaments have been taken away from them, countries have not toured them in better times and are now unlikely to tour for some time. Those the board once thought were friends within the Asian bloc have, in their minds, not helped them. Instead, they have pushed them further to the margins.

The process to exclude Pakistan, it also emerges, was not without considerable flaw. Any such decision is usually to be taken by the commercial arm of the ICC, the IDI board. That was not the case here. The subject was not on the agenda at the April meeting, and the PCB was seemingly caught unaware. Not as unaware and unprepared as it should have been, however: the ICC had, in February, asked the 2011 World Cup co-hosts to think of alternative venues should the situation worsen. After the Lahore attack, when everything changed, the PCB should not just have been thinking about such advice, it should've been acting on it.

The Lahore attack, and its implications, were on the agenda of the meet. One implication was clearly the World Cup and Pakistan's place in it: would it not have made sense to have a plan at the ready to present? A proposal for Abu Dhabi and Dubai to "host" Pakistan's matches was said by PCB officials to be on the cards - after the decision was taken. Apparently such a proposal wasn't tabled at all, perhaps because board officials balked at the possible expense involved in any such move.

Still, ostensibly, Pakistan feels humiliated, short-changed. A bullish, emotional response is inevitable, especially if there is a valid sense that legally a decision can be challenged. Some face also needs to be saved domestically. The problem, however, is just that: that the response is an emotional one, not one driven by cold-hearted logic.

Had it been, perhaps the board might have realised that even if the decision is referred to the rightful organ, which somehow finds that Pakistan should remain a host, no country can be forced to play here. Amazingly, the board still doesn't seem to have grasped the gravity of what happened in Lahore and how things have since changed. An international cricket team was targeted by terrorists, who eventually got away. No amount of legalese will convince cricketers to visit after that. They were unwilling before the attacks, as the Champions Trophy decision attests. How can their resolve to not tour Pakistan not have been strengthened now that the government and the board have failed to provide the kind of security that was needed - even if nobody really knows what kind of security measures will suffice against such barbarism? That is the bottomline.

 
 
Better it might be for the board to just move on; better than a legal notice might be a demand for a review; better it might be to try and repair a faltering relationship with the ICC and its members; better it might be for the PCB to remember the mantra of world politics, that there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests
 

And if the Middle East as a surrogate host is an option, then the PCB has not yet made it official. Thus, a legal battle appears futile. Potentially, for a cash-strapped board, it will hurt, for lawyers come as cheap as Hollywood stars.

There is also an unsavoury sense - emanating from the core of those behind this move - that Pakistan will push for the entire subcontinent to also lose out. If Pakistan is not reinstated for 2011, the board seems to be saying, then the subcontinent should host the 2015 World Cup and not this one. The PCB's statement, trying to bring in the troubles in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, confirms it.

It comes across as a tasteless, anticipatory schadenfraude, taking pleasure from the potential misfortunes of others in the hope of lessening your own gloom. Whatever the situation in these countries, no team has yet been attacked there and that makes all the difference. And how easy will it be to convince those very countries whose hosting rights you are trying to derail for 2011, to cooperate with you for 2015? Do these lines even have to be written to spell this out?

In the longer and broader term, logic says such a stance is disastrous, for confrontation will alienate Pakistan further. As it is, the present PCB administration is not about to write the sequel to How to Win Friends and Influence People. Their reputation within and with the ICC - it is reliably learnt - is as low as it has ever been.

Better it might be for the board to just move on; better than a legal notice might be a demand for a review, having tried to garner some support or have some firm alternative in place; better it might be to try and repair a faltering relationship with the ICC and members; better it might be for the PCB to remember the mantra of world politics, that there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests; finally, better it might be to use - and not squander - some of the genuine sympathy out there for Pakistan's plight more constructively.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo