July 24, 2012

Why does cricket have to be a tool of politics?

The rush to have India play Pakistan doesn't benefit the game or the players

Cricketing ties between India and Pakistan are likely to resume shortly. The decks have been cleared for India to host a mini series against their arch-rivals Pakistan, albeit pending the Indian government's approval, which is likely to be forthcoming. India haven't played Pakistan in a bilateral series for quite some time, and while we can get excited by the prospect of another mouth-watering contest, the reasons for hosting the series in a hurry are difficult to fathom.

Why has the BCCI squeezed a series of three ODIs and two T20s into the smallest window available, in the middle of England's tour to India? Is it purely a goodwill gesture extended to our neighbours in the hope of improving diplomatic relations between the two countries? Or is cricket being used by the BCCI to strengthen its hand at the ICC board? Either way it takes us back to an old question: is it fair to use cricket and cricketers as a tool to gain ground or to propel a peace process? Evolved nations don't use cricket, or any sport, as a means of showing dissent or consent. Besides, when we attach goodwill to such a tour, cricket ceases to be just a game.

This series is already more than a contest between 22 individuals of two countries. When a match becomes bigger than the game itself, the pressure increases manifold.

I distinctly remember the pressure we, as a team and individuals, were under during the 2004 series in Pakistan. When cricket appears on the front pages of national dailies, you know that you're walking a tightrope. It was almost a given that if we failed on that tour, our houses would be vandalised and effigies of us would be burnt. We could not help but think about the safety of our families back home. Exaggerated reaction, you think? Not after what happened to the houses of Mohammad Kaif and other players following India's poor showing in the first half of the World Cup in 2003.

The last time India and Pakistan met, in the World Cup semi-final in Mohali, both nations came to a standstill. Jingoism was sold as patriotism and people on both sides of the border regarded the game as the final before the final; the winner was bound to be pardoned if they went on to lose the actual final.

Some say cricket can ease the environment, break the ice. Let's face it, an India-Pakistan encounter does anything but make the environment friendly or conducive to peace talks. The use of phrases like "life and death", "do or die" and "mother of all battles" is not only appalling but also exposes the countries' obsession with winning a game against the other. In such a scenario, are we really talking peace?

Spare a thought for the Indian players, who will be on a treadmill from the time India host New Zealand in August. The small window in December was ideal for them to recuperate and recharge batteries in, but they will instead now be thrust into an even higher-profile series than the one against England

A reason for passions running so high could be that India and Pakistan haven't played each other often enough in the recent past. We did see a considerable drop in interest, enthusiasm and animosity between the two countries in the 2004-07 period, when India and Pakistan played each other every year.

More importantly, though, from a cricket point of view, aren't we doing a disservice to the players and fans of both countries by not giving a series of this nature its due? Are three ODIs and two T20s played over a 12-day period of any relevance? Aren't we aware that meaningless bilateral limited-overs series are currently the bane of international cricket? Why couldn't we wait for an appropriate window to host a full-fledged three-Test, five-ODI series?

Spare a thought for the Indian players, who will be on a treadmill from the time India host New Zealand in August. The small window in December was ideal for them to recuperate and recharge batteries in, but they will instead now be thrust into an even higher-profile series than the one against England. If you talk about exhaustion and tiredness, the response will be that anyone who wants a break can ask and the board will oblige. But would any cricketer worth his salt ask for a break against Pakistan and risk a backlash?

Who stands to gain from this series, logically? To believe that cricket would set the ball rolling and get the nations to talk peace is a fallacy. In fact, both cricket and cricketers could have done without this meaningless scheduling. An educated guess would be that it is the Indian board that gains, on two counts. One, an unprecedented amount of money is guaranteed to reach its coffers via the sale of broadcast rights. And two, Pakistan is likely to repay the favour by toeing India's line on crucial matters in the ICC. If the Pakistan Cricket Board manages to convince the BCCI to share the TV revenue, it will also earn some money. Besides, of course, the governments of both nations will give each other a pat on the back for taking the peace process to new heights.

Amidst this hullabaloo, though, we may be treating cricket as a mere tool in the process. If diplomatic exchanges can resume, and artists, commentators and coaches travel to India soon after 26/11 to ply their craft, why don't we treat cricket in a similar fashion? Why is cricket considered something to be used to make a statement of intent with, or worse, a solution for long-standing political problems? Let's allow a game to be a game.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 26, 2012, 19:59 GMT

    The expected mudslinging has started in the comments column. There is no need for cricket diplomacy or cricket related peace overtures OR statements of intent. It is the ICC's duty to make sure everyone plays everyone equally often, and if they want exceptions for iconic series and other criteria, that should also be THEIR prerogative. The boards shouldn't get above themselves and they should be given to understand that their membership depends on agreeing to a decent FTP, and never on any account to renege on it. All they should have a right on is the actual scheduling. When Pakistan's membership was threatened due to political interference, it was fair enough. Every Pakistani is heartily sick of it anyway. It is ironic that cricket inspired terms like "playing with the straight bat", "playing the game", and "this is just not cricket", and that cricket is anything BUT "cricket" nowadays.

  • Jack on July 26, 2012, 12:34 GMT

    This series does some favour towards balancing the hatred shared among the two nations for each other. Remember, the WC semifinal: Ind vs Pak. Many Pak dignitaries came to india to see that match. Atleast they are sitting next to Indian dignitaries and we can assume that some talks have started un-officially. A cup of tea shared without the pressure of generating an outcome is sometimes benificial. The NEGATIVES of this: Creates un-necessary pressure on the players of both sides. TOP FINANCIAL GAINERs: BCCI and PAK Ckt board. ENTERTAINMENT & PASSION for : Both the countrymen.

  • anu on July 26, 2012, 9:06 GMT

    Aakash...what's the point ?...cricket is a tool for politics ? Yes...from Time immemorial sports have been used as a medium for Diplomacy....I would call it and not politics.

    Too Much Cricket....OK...that's the way it is and will continue to be.....there are people and organizations pumping money.....and want quicket returns...good for players, more money in the game.... Side Effects ??.........instead of playing 20 years we might see a modern day cricketer last 10 years.....and cope with the demands on large volume of cricket, we have a bigger pool of 20 to 30 cricketers......to serve the needs.

    Do not lament over what you cannot change

  • DaGame on July 25, 2012, 23:24 GMT

    SO when was last time Pakistan won a game against India..Can you please remind me? When Pakistan last toured Aus..this was the score 3-.0, 5-0 and 2-0 with Afridi banned. Enuf said...

  • Dummy4 on July 25, 2012, 18:54 GMT

    mr.kharak singh, ur country's cricketing protest has allowed us to become a better team. u guyz go abroad and get an 8-0 drubbing and u talk abt hving luxury to lose, seems like ur nation has acceptd that u guyz cnt perform on away tours atleast we r not in that situation we might nt play at home, we might be convincing otherz(nt begging,how u put it), but atleast we fight it out and r nt alwayz winging like u guyz do so

  • Aditya on July 25, 2012, 17:35 GMT

    wonder what Balasaheb Thackeray would have to say about this?! in the past, they have even dug up pitches, this time too lots of opposition expected. Dont forget Shiv Sena supported Pranab Mukherjee to become president - now that he has become India's 13th President, they will have to be taken seriously!

  • Dummy4 on July 25, 2012, 16:13 GMT

    andy's hair or whatever, your line, 'This after all is the same India that used cricket as a means of protest against Pakistan. The fact that protest has collapsed without having hurt Pakistan too much rankles many', really takes the cake for the past two years the Pakistan board has been begging indian team to tour their country and while we can play abroad and have the luxury to lose, your team unfortunately can only play abroad.

  • Sreejith on July 25, 2012, 16:12 GMT

    @AndyZaltzmannsHair Better place for you to comment is PAGE 3.

  • Naresh on July 25, 2012, 14:48 GMT

    If they do play its politics and if they dont its still politics. Lets enjoy the games as fans. May the best team win.

  • zulfiqar on July 25, 2012, 14:35 GMT

    awesome ....... need to ease tension rather than mounting senseless pressure let the cricket a game not a tool of political gain..........

  • No featured comments at the moment.