Over the weekend, while he was in Dubai, Shashank Manohar was asked what objections the BCCI had to playing a series with Pakistan in the UAE, in four different ways.
First, straightforward: Is there a particular reason why you do not want to play here? "No" he said, "we want to play in India."
Then, probing a little more: It has been said that you are not keen to play in the UAE. "It has been said by whom? Did I ever say this?"
Third, now a little perplexed: So you are saying you have no issues with playing in the UAE? "Presently, there is no question. Presently, we gave an option to Pakistan asking them whether they will come to India. Pakistan was to get back to me, they haven't got back to me."
Finally, the Hail Mary question: Are you saying the BCCI has no issues with the UAE as a venue? "I am telling you because that is never a reason, presently what I have asked Shaharyar Khan is whether they are willing to come to India to play their games in India."
Manohar is a lawyer by profession, a cricket administrator by nature. There was never any chance he would actually answer the question put to him. Before he arrived in Dubai he was at least a little less abstruse, admitting to ESPNcricinfo that there did exist reasons to not play in the UAE, but he'd be damned if he told anyone what they were.
At an intellectual level, this approximates to the rationalism of the schoolyard. "I don't want to play anymore, I'm taking my stuff away and I'm not telling you why." By now cricket has just about made peace with the fact that it runs to the whims of a bully. But this is not bullying. This is just that spoilt rich kid.
We, then, are left to guess as to what those reasons may be. An unnamed BCCI official has said that Manohar told him it was because he was worried by the "nefarious activities" in the region; that is, that Manohar worries India playing here could lead cricket down the same alley it found itself in the '90s, when Sharjah was seen as the epicentre of cricket's fixing storm.
"Six Full Members have made full or partial tours to the UAE since Pakistan began using it as a home, some of them multiple times. None of those series have been found to be corrupted, or come under any suspicion"
If so, it betrays a seriously outdated and naïve understanding of how corruption works in cricket. By itself, that lack of comprehension is worrying because he has just taken over as the head of a board still trying to clean up its most prized product.
Corruption, Manohar should understand, is not bound by geographical boundaries. In the 2013 IPL spot-fixing scandal, the three games at the centre of the investigation were played in Jaipur, Mohali and Mumbai. In 2010, Lord's was the venue of cricket's most infamous spot-fixing scandal, involving a UK-based agent. Danish Kaneria was punished for spot-fixing in a game played in Durham, linked to Anu Bhatt, a man suspected by the ICC of being involved in illegal betting, whom he first met in the West Indies and whose house he once visited for dinner in Delhi. In 2009, four Australian players reported suspect approaches, all made on an Ashes tour in England. So many more examples exist, it is not worth wasting time over here: the internet exists, use it.
So if it is indeed Manohar's logic that staying away physically from the UAE will help keep Indian cricket clean, then let Indian cricket stay away from all those places and venues where suspect activity has taken place. That would include many venues inside India, all of London, Bangladesh (where they went earlier this year and where the BPL has had its own problems) and, well, the list goes on. Maybe India could play inside a vacuum, as it sometimes feels their administrators want?
It is so obviously unsustainable logic that it feels a little patronising to even be pointing out. It is not venues that are suspect. If a player or a team is willing to be corrupted, ways will be found in Trent Bridge, Tashkent, Tennessee or Timbuktu. It will not happen by magic either, just by the simple wonders of modern communication. All cricket corruption really needs is a SIM card, a working internet connection and a television (insert your own little joke here about Manohar's habit of not using a mobile phone).
Quite what the BCCI's refusal to play in the UAE says about the rest of the world, who knows, other than it can't be very complimentary. Six Full Members have made full or partial tours to the UAE since Pakistan began using it as a home, some of them multiple times. None of them have had any problems before coming here, or any while here. None of those series have been found to be corrupted, or come under any suspicion, or serious investigation that is beyond the ordinary remit of what the Anti-Corruption and Security Unit does for any international match anywhere.
A number of Associates play here regularly. The ICC has held three tournaments here since 2012, including an Under-19 World Cup, in which India participated. India themselves have played an ODI series here, in 2006. Less than two years ago, the Indian board was happy to stage part of the IPL here. Manohar did publicly oppose that as well, on the grounds that it would "tarnish" the image of the tournament (let's LOL at this for a second, in the knowledge of what happened in 2013 and where).
Unless what Manohar is implying, but not saying, is that he is worried that his players might be more susceptible than all the others who have toured the UAE?
Manohar, it is worth noting, was in Dubai ostensibly in his role as the new chairman of the ICC. The ICC wanted to stress that his meeting with Shaharyar Khan, with Giles Clarke as facilitator in his role as the head of the Pakistan Task Team, was very much in his role as BCCI head. It was a bilateral issue, which had nothing to do with the ICC.
Imagine how that meeting must have gone. Shaharyar and Clarke were already talking when Manohar joined them. Perhaps he went out of the building first, punching out as ICC chairman and then walked back in as BCCI president, punching in anew. Maybe, to save time walking in and out, the ICC has hats for such occasions, so that as he walked into the meeting, he physically took off the ICC one and replaced it with the BCCI one? We'll never know but can only hope that Shaharyar suggested to the BCCI president that he enlighten the ICC chairman about the exact nature of their problems with the UAE as a venue; after all, if it is such an issue, the ICC has a right to know, especially given that, you know, they are based there. Maybe it can be an agenda point at the next ICC meeting.
Incidentally, I asked Manohar about the potential conflict of interest in being a BCCI president who is insisting on not fulfilling an agreement in full with another Full Member, and that of being an ICC office-bearer who - and I quote from the ICC's Code of Ethics' clause on fiduciary duties - "shall discharge his duties… in a manner that the director reasonably believes to be in the best interests of the ICC"; and one of the many best interests of the ICC surely includes ensuring a Pakistan-India series does take place, and more so, that Pakistan are able to play cricket at its exiled home, to ensure its health.
As he is a lawyer, and as the ICC has a pretty solid legal department, I'm pretty sure there is enough wriggle room for this to not be a conflict of interest at all. Just like owning an IPL franchise as a BCCI office-bearer also wasn't, at one time, a conflict of interest.
You might not have guessed the exact words of Manohar's response - "Today was the first day I went to ICC office. So give me at least some time" - but you probably did the gist of it. Still, lack of familiarity did not prevent him from assaulting the many conflicts of interest in the BCCI from his first day and, indeed, making it a plank already of his tenure.
The upshot of it all is that we still may not have a series, and if we do, it is likely to be in Sri Lanka and of an unfulfilling nature. Jinnah once complained about getting a moth-eaten country out of negotiations with India and England. In similar spirit, Shaharyar Khan - and cricket generally - can complain of a moth-eaten tour out of these negotiations with an Indian and an Englishman.
Whatever the BCCI's motives - and wanting to establish a fixed home season has been suggested as another - the agreement for this to be a Pakistan home series was signed in May 2014. The right thing to do is to honour that. It really is as simple as that.