Plans to invite foreign dignitaries, including some of India's greatest cricketers, to Imran Khan's impending inauguration as Prime Minister of Pakistan have been shelved. Fawad Chaudhry, the spokesperson for the party Imran heads, said Imran had ultimately decided on a "simple ceremony" that would include just a few of his close friends.
That was a 24-hour turnaround in which Imran's party had first floated the tantalising possibility of the likes of Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev flying in for the inauguration. Chaudhry had confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that enquiries had been made of the Foreign Office to see if foreign delegates could be invited to the oath-taking ceremony. Those in line for invitations to the event included Gavaskar and Kapil, contemporaries of Imran in his cricketing heyday, as well as Navjot Sidhu. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi was also in the frame for an invitation, but the change of stance today means those high-profile guests from across the border will not attend.
"The PTI chairman [Imran Khan] has directed us to stage the oath-taking event with austerity," Chaudhry told Dawn. "He will take his oath in a simple ceremony at Aiwan-e-Sadr (President House). It has been decided that no foreign personalities will be invited to the ceremony -- it will be a completely national event. Only a few close friends of Imran Khan will be invited. There will be no show of extravagance at the event."
Imran, whose party the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) won the most seats in the country's general elections last week, is effectively Pakistan's Prime Minister-elect, with his inauguration likely to be days away. His decision to invite cricketers who were among the biggest rivals of his career appeared to be, prima facie, an extension of the agreeable tone he struck towards India in his unofficial acceptance speech following the elections.
Imran has enjoyed convivial relations with most of his contemporaries across the border. When he was an opposition leader in Pakistan's parliament in 2016, he was a high-profile attendee in Kolkata for the India-Pakistan game at the World T20, and was part of an entertaining evening after-dinner talk on a panel that also included Kapil. The pair were two of the great quartet of allrounders that dominated the game in the 1980s, alongside Ian Botham and Richard Hadlee.
Kapil was among the first from the cricketing fraternity to send his congratulations to Imran following his party's victory, saying it "felt really good" to see a cricketer he had played alongside become Prime Minister of his country. Sidhu was particularly effusive in his praise of Imran following the election, calling him a "pure soul who led from the front".
Long-suffering fans across both sides of the border may have drawn a flicker of hope from this recent outpouring of warmth for the India-Pakistan on-field rivalry, currently on hold by factors unrelated to cricket. Political tensions have meant the two countries haven't played any bilateral cricket since Pakistan toured India in 2012 for two T20Is and three ODIs, while the last time they clashed in a Test match was back in 2007. Of the Indian side currently playing the first Test against England at Edgbaston, only two players - Dinesh Karthik and Ishant Sharma - have played a Test against Pakistan. India and Pakistan will clash in the Asia Cup in the UAE in September.
The last time Gavaskar toured Pakistan as a cricketer also had heavy political overtones. It was the ill-fated tour of 1984, which saw an ODI between Pakistan and India in Sialkot cancelled halfway through after news broke of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination, with the tour immediately called off. Gavaskar was never to play in Pakistan again.
*Aug 2, 1215 GMT: The piece was edited to reflect the fact that Imran Khan decided against a lavish oath-taking ceremony, effectively ruling out the possibility of Kapil Dev and Sunail Gavaskar's attendance at his inauguration.