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PLAYING FORWARD

Cricket, its truly blue-blooded champions always believe, is more than a mere game. It is a way of life, they aver somewhat quixotically. In India, a land where dreams and legends thrive, cricket is often seen as an agent of diplomacy. The game has been used before to signal or mark changes in the vexed relationship between India and Pakistan. A thaw is indicated when the two nations engage each other in bat and ball, and a frost when they do not. One reason for using cricket in this manner is the passion and interest that the game never fails to arouse on both sides of the Wagah border. The British Empire left behind a divided South Asia but a part of its legacy was a game that is more popular in the Indian subcontinent than in England. When India and Pakistan play at Lord’s, more people come to watch than when England plays — to take a random example — South Africa. In the grounds of India and Pakistan, an encounter between the two countries brings to mind George Orwell’s memorable description of sports — “war minus the shooting’’. It could be argued, of course, that it is better to have a war consisting of willow and the leather rather than with actual bullets. To this extent, the proposal to resume cricketing ties between the two countries is welcome so long as no one assumes that it will actually lead to a solution to any of the problems afflicting the relationship between the two nations.

The real reason for resuming cricketing ties is, however, economic. The huge popularity of the game in India and Pakistan inevitably makes it the most lucrative in terms of television rights, sponsorships, advertisements and other deals that have become part of cricket’s camp followers. It is somewhat apposite that the proposal to resume cricketing ties with Pakistan was moved in the Board of Control for Cricket in India by none other than Jagmohan Dalmiya, the man who in the back rooms of cricket politics brought about a kind of Asian unity and also brought in big money for Indian cricket. Cricket between India and Pakistan will create some bonhomie and please the fans no end but, most importantly, it will fill the coffers of the BCCI. The government of India could get some collateral advantage but the security considerations will also cause it
severe migraine. It is to be hoped that no one in the government is expecting a T20-like quick fix solution. There is always that danger as there are cheerleaders galore all around.