Why India-Pakistan cricket brawl is just politics and money

The ball may not swing, but Virat Hindus will continue to bat as if they were still playing in the IPL.

 |  4-minute read |   23-10-2015
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Recently I had begun to seek out the Hindi telecast of cricket matches, not because of any peculiar fondness for the language, but rather because of the joys of listening to the experts, in particular Kapil Dev and Wasim Akram. I understand that this illustrates my ignorance, because Kapil Dev was of course speaking Punjabi and Wasim Akram Urdu. Nevertheless, I was under the illusion that I understood what they were saying.

I also understand that the Shiv Sena, not content with digging up cricket pitches or posing as art critics, have now decided that any Pakistani involvement at all with anything to do with cricket in India is unacceptable. It has for some time now been impossible for a touring side from Pakistan to play in India. The last time India and Pakistan played a Test series was in 2007. That was in India. The Shiv Sena's first act of bravery on a cricket pitch was in 1991, when the unarmed Wankhade Stadium pitch in Bombay surrendered without resistance. Soon afterwards, Bombay ceased to exist as well.

The two countries, India and Pakistan, however, still appear to understand each other well. 2006 was the last time India played a Test series in Pakistan. In the meantime, since 2010, a "home" series for Pakistan means playing in the United Arab Emirates, ever since a terrorist attack on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009, when gunmen fired upon the buses carrying the team and officials to the third day of the second Test match in Lahore.

After all, as General Clausewitz would have told us had he been an Indian, cricket is a mere continuation of politics by other means. The ink thrown at Sudheendra Kulkarni, incidentally one of the Hindutva brigade's own, for his audacity at presiding over the book launch of former Pakistani foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, and the banning of a Ghulam Ali concert at the behest of the Shiv Sena's brigands, is poor politics indeed compared to the politics of cricket. Ideas, art, literature, music, can all be attacked without much impact: no one remembers who MF Husain was any more anyway, but we still remember that Pakistani cricketers cannot play in the IPL. Because even in the absence of an official ban, the fear that disruption by "extremist" groups will get in the way of business as usual ensures that no team will employ a Pakistani cricketer. (Let us, for now, forget that Wasim Akram was until recently the bowling coach of the Kolkata Knight Riders, just as we no longer mourn the demise of Bombay and Calcutta.)

Which brings us to the reason, then, why Pakistan doesn't get to host cricket matches, while India does. The answer, my friends, is of course capitalism. Forget about Test matches; the IPL, with its astronomical advertising revenues, giant televisions and incongruous cheerleaders have made Kerry Packer look like a cornershop owner. Cricket is, in all its hyperreal splendour, a massive earner, legal and illegal incomes are there to be made, and who can blame a cricketer who grew up on respect for a very different kind of game for not taking it all seriously enough to think that the occasional fixed match in such a format is perfectly fine? Meanwhile, because capitalism is also the core of politics, India is a superpower in only one arena of world politics: cricket. India may not have a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, but our very own and recently deceased Jagmohan Dalmiya had had the opportunity to run the International Cricket Council as if it were the Board of Control for Cricket in India, or even the Cricket Association of Bengal.

If, however, Test matches need to be played at all, there is a solution. Since Pakistan plays at "home" in the UAE, why not have Indian home matches in the Maldives? This will lead to further development of a backward country and cement Indian political ties with that state. Stadiums could be built with a capacity of 38, so that it could accommodate a large Test match crowd. The Shiv Sena can take credit for this triumph, and turn their attention to the problem of beef-eating.

And if India's importance in the ICC is to be reflected in the functioning of that institution, cricket-playing nations should be granted concessions to their cultural sensitivities in accordance with their financial importance in the economics of the game of cricket. Thus, for all matches involving India, appeals for review will now finally be considered: decisions will be made by a third and fourth umpire who shall swear an oath of truthfulness on a bottle of cow urine. And while we're about it, all cricket balls to be used in Test matches involving India abroad should be made of certified goat leather; the ball will not swing, and Virat Hindus will be able to continue to bat as if they were still playing in the IPL.


Benjamin Zachariah Benjamin Zachariah

Benjamin Zachariah is a historian at the University of Trier, Germany, and author of several books, including 'Nehru'and 'Playing the Nation Game'.

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