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What's up, Mr Dalmiya?

By Prem Panicker
March 08, 2003 12:49 IST
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Are power, influence and money -- not necessarily in that order -- the only things that matter, these days?

The question is prompted by the Board of Control for Cricket in India, and its chief Jagmohan Dalmiya -- who have petitioned the government for permission to tour Pakistan.

Dalmiya, in fact, is so keen on the tour that he has gone to New Delhi this morning, to meet Sports Minister Vikram Verma and plead his case.

What is amusing, in a bizarre sort of way, is the rationale being extended: apparently, the World Test Championship will be badly affected if India does not tour.

Oh really? The West Indies pulled out. Australia opted to play in Sharjah -- a neutral venue, which meant that the home and away structure on which the WTC is built now stands compromised. Sri Lanka decided to help Pakistan out with a few games (a pay-back for Pakistan and India supporting the island nation when, in 1996, Australia and the West Indies refused to play their scheduled World Cup games in Lanka), only to pull out at the last minute, citing security fears.

New Zealand, finally, took the bull between the horns and toured -- only to pack their bags and scamper back when a bomb went off outside the team's hotel.

None of the above withdrawals impacted on the WTC -- but if India does not tour, ah, horrors, the whole world order will immediately collapse, chaos and confusion will result, ditto woe and misery.

Or so Dalmiya will have you believe.

India, Dalmiya warns, will be isolated in world cricket if it does not tour. Just like New Zealand, Sri Lanka, the West Indies et al have been isolated today?

This, mind you, is the same Dalmiya who, in the furore over ambush marketing, was prepared to stand up to the ICC and in fact argued that the world body could not risk isolating India because after all, 80 per cent of the sponsorship money for international cricket comes from this country.

When did that change?

The amusing part of it all is the transparent nature of the request. When the board talks of the WTC, it is not out of concern for a poorly conceived championship that recently installed South Africa as world champions on the strength of having beaten Bangladesh, despite getting creamed both at home and away by Australia.

The real reason is different -- the government of India informed the BCCI, quite a while ago, that India will be permitted to play only world-level, multi-lateral tournaments against Pakistan. So, by invoking the WTC, the board hopes to work its way around the biliateral ban -- this is a "world" championship, the argument runs, therefore India has to play.

The real reason? One is money -- imagine the bagfuls of cash sponsors will throw onto the table if India plays Pakistan.

The other is power. Granting Test status to Bangladesh was, in large part, to ensure that at the ICC high table, the Asian bloc would now muster four solid votes. Similarly, if the BCCI can swing an India-Pakistan series now, the Pakistan board will back Dalmiya in anything he wants to do.

It does not seem to occur to the board and its president that just a week ago, the Lashkar-E-Tayiba was threatening suicide attacks against Indians, with Prime Minister as first -- but not the only -- target.

It does not seem to occur to the BCCI that one of the topmost terrorists in the world has confessed that Osama Bin Laden is alive, and well, and conducting meetings with his henchmen in that country.

It does not seem to occur to the BCCI that the GoI is, every year, spending millions of dollars fighting a proxy war in Pakistan.

But these are, after all, minor concerns that pale into insignificance when weighed against the World Test Championship, right?

When, a few days ago, I wrote, as part of a column, that India does not need to play Pakistan in the current climate, I received quite a few mails suggesting, first, that such statements were an attempt to gain cheap publicity by appealing to jingoistic sentiments; secondly, that the fact that the likes of Imran Khan have hailed the Indian win and called Tendulkar the best in the world (never mind that the week before the WC, the same Imran was hailing Inzamam as the best in the world) proves that Pakistan has enormous goodwill for India.

And finally, I was told, look what happened in Chennai when Pakistan won a Test there -- they got a standing ovation!

Indeed. But then, I can't also forget what happened at other venues on the same tour; or what happened in Ahmedabad more recently; or what happens in Kashmir on a daily basis.

I also find myself asking a question I can't find an answer to -- is there an instance, in history, when an Indian team received an ovation, in a Pakistan stadium, equivalent to the Chennai incident?

If thinking that there is more to life than cricket is jingoistic, if saying that the Indian blood being shed on a daily basis in Kashmir matters is "spreading the message of hate", then hey, in this instance, I am an unabashed jingoist spreading the message of hate. Or whatever.

One thing I am not, is naive enough to imagine that the BCCI's latest move to squeeze in a cricketing tour of Pakistan stems from concern over the fate of a World Test Championship that the ICC itself concedes is badly conceived, and is now in the process of revising.

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Prem Panicker