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Former India opener; author of Beyond the Blues, an account of the 2007-08 Ranji Trophy season

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

Aakash Chopra

July 24, 2012

Comments: 32 | Text size: A | A

Fans from either side of the border enjoyed a game played in the right spirit, India v Pakistan, 2nd semi-final, World Cup 2011, Mohali, March 30, 2011
India v Pakistan: will we ever let it be just a game? © Getty Images
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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

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Posted by   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.

Posted by Jack_Tka 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.

Posted by anuradha_d 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

Posted by DaGameChanger 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...

Posted by   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

Posted by 777aditya 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!

Posted by   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.

Posted by bigdhonifan on (July 25, 2012, 16:12 GMT)

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

Posted by Naresh28 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.

Posted by zulfi43 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..........

Posted by dadvoc on (July 25, 2012, 13:57 GMT)

I'm not sure that this series will take place

Posted by   on (July 25, 2012, 13:52 GMT)

Dear Aakash! If players are afraid that their homes would be vandalized, they should not participate in series. That should help them get the rest as well.

Posted by Asbah on (July 25, 2012, 12:44 GMT)

"Evolved nations don't use cricket, or any sport, as a means of showing dissent or consent"!! Aakash, you should read about the Olympics of 1980 and 1984.

Posted by   on (July 25, 2012, 10:28 GMT)

The only reason BCCI agreed to play pakistan is that they earning less in IPL and due to bad performance of indian team against strong opponents.

Posted by AlpineWalker on (July 25, 2012, 10:05 GMT)

@AndyZaltz etc. We hold you in utter contempt. Hope you understand what that means.

Posted by ROXSPORT on (July 25, 2012, 8:30 GMT)

@mumbaiguy79: I fully agree with you. Aakash should soon be getting a call from the BCCI to straighten up. And, ultimately, he will have to fall in line, as Kapil has recently...!!!!!

Posted by ROXSPORT on (July 25, 2012, 8:27 GMT)

@AndyZaltzmannsHair: Get a break, boy. Take a look at the rankings, LOLZ. India is way ahead of Pak in ODI rankings. I do agree with Aakash on one thing though, i.e., mindless scheduling. I suspect it is being done to help the PCB financially (as their finances are in a mess) in return for their support in the ICC, most notably, on the UDRS issue. And, for that reason alone, don't be surprised to find Sachin in the ODI team (being the big crowd puller that he is, even in Pak). Perhaps, one thing that the BCCI can do is to try out a few fringe players in the ODI's, thus playing down the importance of this series (wishful thinking!!!!). This will also ensure that the series is played a bit more freely / uninhibitedly. But again, if only it were not to help the PCB financially..............

Posted by BeatTheChamps on (July 25, 2012, 7:32 GMT)

BCCI should just donate some money to Pakistan board as a goodwill gesture. No point in hosting a series which will elevate tensions and put physical burden on the players. Indian players need to be fit for the Australia series! I feel that BCCI is digging a grave for itself because there's gonna be a player burnout and India will get a hard time from Australia.

Posted by Massive_Allan_Border_Fan on (July 25, 2012, 1:17 GMT)

As an Australian, I and my countrymen are generally (with an unfortunate handful of racist exceptions) affectionate towards both Indians and Pakistanis. We don't see India and Pakistan as being very different. As I have grown up and become more aware of world affairs, it is clear that India and Pakistan see themselves as extremely different. Similarly, catholics and protestants in Northern Ireland have extremely tense relationships, but the rest of the world just sees them as Irish. From every point of view (economic, human rights, cultural), ending the tensions between India and Pakistan would do both nations a great service, and the populations of both countries would benefit enormously. The only losers would be the politicians who have made their careers demonising the other side. Cricket has a massive and very positive role to play in this. Get on board, people.

Posted by Nadeem1976 on (July 24, 2012, 18:45 GMT)

This is much needed series for cricket. Cricket is boring without Indo-Pak matches. Bring it BCCI and PCB. just Bring it on. Great job.

Posted by   on (July 24, 2012, 18:19 GMT)

Something may happen in between and cricket will suffer again, my humble suggest is, we should do away with Ind/Pak series forever.

Posted by mumbaiguy79 on (July 24, 2012, 17:39 GMT)

Aakash, excellent article! Get ready for a call from BCCI :)

Posted by Vilander on (July 24, 2012, 14:56 GMT)

There is some strength in this argument, from a sport persons perspective definitly. But i am interested in knowing an evolved nation, that played bilateral sporting events with a hostile nation. Did UK host bilateral events with Germany ( WC matches and olympics do not count). Did the us hold bilateral events with japan ? Did iran and iraq have bilateral sport events.. I dont know, but appears like nations do not like to have sporting events with hostile nations.

Posted by   on (July 24, 2012, 13:45 GMT)

If cricket is not to be used as a political tool, why does it matter if the sides are playing again?

Posted by Selassie-I on (July 24, 2012, 13:41 GMT)

Well written Akash. Whatever the reasons for this game, it certainly doesn't have the player's best interests at heart. I suspect as usual with the BCCI it's a moneyspinner.

Posted by bibhashdash on (July 24, 2012, 13:26 GMT)

I found myself wanting so badly to disagree with you Aakash. Disagree, because I actually want to see India and Pakistan face off in a series. It is one of the reasons I started watching cricket when I was little. We may argue against having such a meaningless series, but I can guarantee that if and when it kicks off, fans on both sides will not care for the reasons behind holding it. It's just the nature of our relationship with cricket and of our rivalry with Pakistan. However, the reasons you have laid out do make sense. So begrudgingly I agree with you!

Posted by   on (July 24, 2012, 12:29 GMT)

Nicely put Akash. I was waiting for a long time to see a cricketer (or any other sportsman) think like this. There are a lot of things unsaid in the India - Pak series (and political relation too for that matter). Often, the public is given a view to appreciate the effort being put in. And the other part, I seriously doubt, is hidden away. This has always been the case, be it sports or politics. In spite of all this, its really appreciable that there are some things being done to repair the relation between the 2 countries through cricket. But after all, repair is still repair. It can never be brand new ! So, agreeing with Akash, it would have been much better if both the cricketing boards had thought of giving it some more time and go for a full fledged tour to make it a greater success.

Posted by AndyZaltzmannsHair on (July 24, 2012, 11:17 GMT)

Most of the naysayers and those against the series is unsurprisingly coming from the Indian side. The same commentators who will sing platitudes about using cricket to break boundaries suddenly change their tune. 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. I also believe this series should be called off now. I'm sick of the complaints from the Indian side. India should arrange matches against their equals, I.e. Ban and NZ, are about their level in the rankings. Home matches of course, can't have them playing away.

Posted by ooper_cut on (July 24, 2012, 8:34 GMT)

Really, cricketers should be treated with more dignity than this. When the FTP was planned, this gap was designed to give the players some much needed rest within the long Eng series. Now to push them into another meaningless political series is real rubbish. Just the intent to resume ties with pakistan would have been enough for now, the tour could be planned for a later date.

Posted by N.Sundararajan on (July 24, 2012, 7:04 GMT)

N. Sundararajan from Chennai---Well said Akash ! It is just politics---by the country's sports ministry and by the BCCI---different reasons--but the same approach. It is the viewers who are taken for a ride by such frequent political machinations---and the real problems are swept under the euphoria carpet !

Posted by   on (July 24, 2012, 6:57 GMT)

what a fantastic article! Summed it up brilliantly

Posted by   on (July 24, 2012, 4:30 GMT)

He is exhagerating cricket is a tool for peace, love and competition between the countries

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Aakash ChopraClose
Aakash Chopra Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.

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