The Indian Sports Minister Uma Bharti has once again confirmed India's determination not to play cricket against Pakistan. This time the reason given is that cross-border terrorism should cease before the Indian cricketers will put bat to ball against the Pakistanis. In the present climate of great tension between the two countries, Bharti's statement seemed singularly irrelevant.
With the armies of both countries massed on the borders and the skies overcast with war clouds, cricket would be the last thing that would come to mind. Yet, imagine simply the impact of the two countries deciding to resume cricket relations. The tension would evaporate and the war clouds would have rolled by.
The Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board Lt.-General Tauqir Zia has been quick to reiterate Pakistan's stand; it is ready to play against India at any time and at any place. Clearly, the Indian government attaches a great deal of importance to cricket and has made it a foreign policy plank. This is because there is a cricket madness in India. By not playing cricket against Pakistan, it is being demonstrated how serious are the differences between the two countries!
Both India and Pakistan are members of the ICC and also of the Asian Cricket Council. One would have thought that cricket matters would have been settled at this level and the governments had their hands full in dealing with more urgent problems like food, shelter, clothing, health and education that people of both countries so desperately need.
India's refusal to play against Pakistan is not hurting Pakistan cricket but is proving to be a major obstacle in the development of Asian cricket. There are four Test playing countries in South East Asia, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. If these countries were to stand together, South Asia could become a power-house in international cricket. Alas, it is not to be.
There is no system of relegation, no way in which the Test status of a cricket nation can be withdrawn. So there seems to be no point in questioning the Test credentials of Bangladesh. That it is at the lowest rung of the ladder cannot be denied. But it is not always going to stay there. There is bound to be improvement but this improvement will not come overnight nor will it come by sacking the coach or the captain.
Bangladesh has been losing to teams that are vastly superior to it and I think it is cruel to make fun of it. I remember that Pakistan, despite having beaten India, England, New Zealand, Australia and the West Indies in the fifties were still considered the babes of cricket. When Pakistan toured England in 1962, it was outclassed much the way that Bangladesh is being outclassed.
Led by the late Jim Swanton, there was a campaign that Pakistan should not get five-day Test matches on the ground that it was not good enough. Luckily wiser counsels prevailed otherwise a very dangerous precedent would have been set.
I think what Bangladesh should do is to send promising players to play in the domestic tournaments of other South Asian countries. I know that Pakistan would be happy to help.
The players should be inducted in various teams as a 'guest player'. These 'guest players' could also spend some time at the Cricket Academies.
Pakistan won the two-match Test series without raising a sweat and well inside the allotted five days. The quality of the bowling should not detract from the quality of Yousuf Youhana's double century. This is his second double century in Test cricket and it establishes without doubt that he has the hunger and the stamina to play long innings. So many batsmen throw it away after getting a hundred.
I don't think the selectors learnt anything new from the Test series. They had it right and they should have no problems in picking the team for the series against the West Indies. There remains a question mark against Wasim Akram. The suggestion is being floated that he should confine his cricket to the One-day Internationals. I do not agree with this.
We can afford to rest him for the Test matches against the West Indies but if New Zealand is coming to Pakistan, we will need our best team. Far from being a push-over, New Zealand in its present form will start as favourites.
I think the time has come for umpires from third countries standing in the One-day Internationals. Far too many mistakes are being made in the triangular in Australia. One of the most glaring was when Mark Boucher drove a full toss straight to Chris Cairns who caught it kneehigh, as straight forward a caught and bowled as is imaginable but the umpire gave him not out, probably because Boucher stood his ground.
Boucher should not only have been given his marching orders but the match-referee should have fined him. Apparently no batsman 'walks' these days, taking a chance that the umpire may get it wrong. I think too that Trescothick was distinctly unlucky to be given out at Kolkata.
It was a crucial wicket and since it was an Indian umpire who gave him out. England's supporters are likely to put a "patriotic" construction on it. This is wholly unnecessary for it can sour the rest of the series.
If we can get one ICC umpire for the Test matches, I see no reason why we can't follow the same principle in the one-day internationals, which in some respects, is considered more important than the Test. This is typical ICC thinking, inconsistent and devoid of logic.