India or no India, Sharjah is going ahead with its cricket festival starting April 8.

If India had the right not to budge from its stance despite the many requests, appeals and hectic lobbying by various cricket bodies, the others have it too. There is no doubt that India's absence from a cricket tournament at Sharjah causes a set back to the game and financial loss to the organizers. At the same time it also frustrates the large Asian community that aspires to witness a cricket spectacle between India and Pakistan, the two Asian giants. The absence of any of the two teams brings down the enthusiasm of the spectators to a low ebb.

These were perhaps the factors that compelled Abdur Rahman Bukhatir to fly to Delhi to convince the Indian government not to jeopardize the fabulous event. Though India could not produce a tangible reason for its withdrawal, Bukhatir came back disappointed. The argument that `India will not play at Sharjah and will also keep away from other non regular venues like Toronto and Singapore for the next three years' is not commensurate with the spirit of the game and does not convince cricket lovers.

It seems a vague stand, neither mentioning Pakistan's presence at Sharjah as the bone of contention nor indicating India's willingness to play against Pakistan at the `regular venues'. It is baffling why the decision makers in India do not realize that the so-called non-regular venues have been established and encouraged to promote the game of cricket and to enlarge its sphere of activity. Having created the record of staging the highest number of one-day internationals, Sharjah is the most popular among such venues. Similarly Toronto and Singapore are playing a commendable role in promoting cricket in their respective regions. If India does not want to participate in the promotion of cricket, it appears suffering from some sort of an `attitude problem', which the ICC must take a note of. In fact the PCB Chairman so indicated in the Press Conference of 3rd April, in which he said that Pakistan will need to have the ICC provide us alternative opponents to replace India already chalked in the 10 Year ICC schedule.

It may be noted that Sharjah was created as a cricket center in the Gulf on the demand of a huge number of cricket-loving expatriates from India and Pakistan. Apart from the assurance for its success, the cricket boards of the two countries provided all possible assistance, in its establishment and successful functioning. The presence of the two teams in a tournament not only guaranteed a full house but also generated an unprecedented spirit of competition and revenue. It provided a week or more of concentrated joy and excitement to the people. Though inviting other teams later enlarged the scope of tournaments, the focal point rested on the matches between India and Pakistan.

Since I was a regular visitor to Sharjah in those days, I can say without an iota of doubt that the hospitality offered by the CBFS to the players, officials and the guests was not to be seen anywhere else in the world. Similarly their organization of matches was par excellence. A stage came when Sharjah became a holiday resort for the members of Indian film industry. The presence of popular film stars at the stadium became an added attraction for the spectators.

Other social events like parties, functions, exhibitions and musical programs etc added to the tournaments and made the cricket festival a real extravaganza. Above all, Sharjah was the exponent of providing financial benefit to players, something that the individual boards had not even thought of. India being one of the founders of this cricket paradise in the desert, its refusal to play at Sharjah amounts to the betrayal of a cause devoted to promotion of the game.

The CBFS has done well to fill in the gap by inviting New Zealand. Apart from maintaining its status as a tri-nation tournament, the Black Caps' excellent performance against Pakistan at home will be an attraction for the spectators. With the third participant Sri Lanka having thrashed England 3-0 in the recently concluded one-day series, the competition is going to be quite tough. Being on an upward march, New Zealand first tasted winning a tournament in Kenya last year and will surely try to do it again at Sharjah. Pakistan has just announced a young team. So let us keep our fingers crossed, as far as the result is concerned.

Coming back to India's refusal, there was a general impression that India shirked to play against Pakistan for the fear of a defeat. If this were true, having defeated Pakistan in hockey and humbled the ruling Australians in the test series at home, they should have gone to Sharjah on the up, to boldly face Pakistan. As for the second reason that they consider Sharjah as the hub of match fixing, suffice it to say the CBFS denies it and the least said the better.

One cannot, however, absolve the ICC from its responsibility of ensuring proper compliance of its international programs and maintaining decorum among its members. Although Sharjah may not come under direct purview of the ICC, the other series planned in the future, do. Its neutral cum passive attitude towards the problem is only encouraging its members to violate international commitments. Pakistan lost a colossal amount of money as well as losing the major part of its winter cricket season on account of India's refusal to visit Pakistan in January, Pakistan's protest on the subject is absolutely genuine. The disappointment expressed by the former cricketers and other lovers of the game is equally genuine.

Now that India's intentions of not playing cricket against Pakistan seem clear, the matter must be discussed in the next ICC meeting. According to the international cricket calendar, the two countries are supposed to face each other at least six times in the next ten years. Either the program should be re-hashed or ICC accepts responsibility to compensate Pakistan for revenue loss suffered. The loss to cricket lovers simply cannot be quantified - It's just not cricket!