Words fail me! I am dumbfounded by the refusal of the Indian government to allow its team to participate in the tri-nation tournament in Sharjah which was to be played to raise funds for the earthquake victims. In times of distress, the sole consideration should be for all, to lessen the suffering, to provide help.

Scoring political points is singularly callous. I cannot believe that anyone can be so uncaring and so lacking in compassion.

I first learnt of this refusal from Star News who showed the Indian Sports Minister Ms Uma Bharti making the announcement and when asked why, she said that there had been no change in the policy of not allowing bi-lateral matches between India and Pakistan. But this was not bi-lateral, it was tri-lateral, the third team was Bangladesh.

Then I read her statement and I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry "200 crore rupees can be raised if our team plays matches with the film stars in the country," she said. Was this her way of showing contempt for the tri-nation tournament that had been formally proposed by the Asian Cricket Council of which India is a member? I am wondering what the people of Gujarat and one sees harrowing pictures of devastation and human suffering on television, feel about their desperate plight made into a political football?

Actually, it was my suggestion made in column last week suggesting matches for earthquake relief that had spurred the ACC to react to it. In fact, I was a little miffed that Jagmohan Dalmiya appeared to be getting the credit for the suggestion without even a nod of acknowledgement. The column had appeared on the same day that the ACC met.

I think the ACC should still go ahead and either invite another country or raise a team which could include some individual Indian players. As I wrote, it is a symbolic message. Actually, I had visualised that the matches should be played in India, in Mumbai.

The Pakistan team would happily travelled to India and I foresaw Sachin Tendulkar and Wasim Akram going round the stadium, hat in hand, jointly collecting funds. A great chance has been missed to demonstrate, to hammer in the point that humanity is a higher virtue than politics.

The chairman of the PCB, Lt.-General Tauqir Zia is perfectly justified in feeling concerned about that series of the Sharjah Cup to be played in April. Will the Indian government allow its team to play in Sharjah given that Pakistan is one of the teams. I think the ICC should also be concerned at the refusal of one member to play against another member.

I have no problem with the Pakistan team that has been selected for the New Zealand tour except that 16 players appear to be one player too many. The first item of interest is that Moin Khan has been retained as captain. There was a flurry of news stories that speculated that he might get the axe because he was reportedly not seeing eye to eye with Javed Miandad.

We are, by now, quite used to last minute panics whenever a Pakistani leaves on a tour. It could have become serious but the PCB Chairman not only defused tension but knocked some sense in all concerned so that everybody is now happy. The team is a perfect balance of experience and youth. Two young players forced their way into the team through tremendous performances in domestic cricket, Imran Farhat a left-handed opening batsman and Sami who is fast-medium bowler. The rest of the team selected itself.

The return of Shoaib Akhtar is welcome but we all have our fingers crossed about his fitness. He played only two for the five matches and bowled a total 13 overs for 74 runs without taking a wicket. He hasn't played international cricket for nine months. But the doctors have pronounced him fit. Pakistan had pinned its hopes on a pace attack for apart from Shoaib Akhtar, there is Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Abdur Razzaq, Azhar Mahmood and Mohammad Sami.

There are two specialist spinners in Saqlain and Mushtaq Ahmed with Shahid Afridi as an available option. Interesting that selectors should have picked Mushtaq Ahmed, an old war-horse over the colt Danesh Kaneria but once again they have gone for experience. I think that the selectors felt, rightly in my opinion, that Pakistan's bowling strength is pace and they erred in the selection of the team against England banking on spin on what they were told would be spinning tracks.

But the good news from Pakistan's standpoint is that the five practice matches unearthed some highly promising talent and now that Pakistan has to a cricket academy, one hopes that this talent will be groomed. Mudassar Nazar had already been made chief coach of the academy but the PCB has every intention of inviting top ex-cricketers as visiting coaches of which Geoff Boycott is the first, sponsored by McDonald's Lahore who have indicated an interest in sponsoring cricket at a grassroots level, a welcome addition to the growing number of sponsors. Cricket is truly getting globalised. Will the hamburger replace cucumber sandwiches at the tea interval? Should this happen, I hope I will at least get the credit for the suggestion!

But television pictures of the earthquake victims haunt me, as I am sure, they haunt all those seeing them. And I am amazed anew that the offer of playing charity matches was spurned and for reasons that can be called unfortunate though in fact they are mind boggling. If indeed a charity match is played between an Indian team and film stars, I hope no objections will be raised if some Pakistani film stars volunteer to play in the match. I know they would willingly do so.