Cricket on warpath
Cricket needs to be kept out of India’s retaliation agenda against Pakistan since boycotting its World Cup match is not the answer to Pulwama
The attack on the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) men in Pulwama by an Indian-native Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) militant has aroused a feeling of hatred and revenge in the mind of each and every Indian. The troubles in Kashmir, with no concrete solution in sight since the time of partition, has now reached a stage of anger, frustration, and need for serious action. The thought of losing our soldiers, who selflessly protect us from our enemies, to be attacked on our own turf, is unthinkable.
The air in India is full of taking forceful revenge against Pakistan, if not through war, then through the most popular sport in Asia, Cricket. The focus for revenge has zeroed in towards the forthcoming World Cup cricket tournament to be played in England from May 2019. The call for India to boycott the cricket match against Pakistan during the tournament or banning the latter from participating has found encouragement, not only from several of the former cricketers but also from many of the emotionally hurt Indians.
Sport, is a platform for peace, friendship, and goodwill. Politics has no place in it. A cricket match is not a battlefield, but a mature way of showcasing one's prowess and superiority in a congenial atmosphere that brings forth not just competitiveness but also fair play and camaraderie. India should definitely play cricket against Pakistan in the World Cup 2019. During the World cup in 1999, we did so in the midst of the Kargil war, that too in England. India beat Pakistan at Old Trafford in Manchester, where they are once again slated to play each other on June 16, 2019. There was no adverse incident reported during and after the match then, and everything went off peacefully.
India, thereafter, lost in the quarter-finals against New Zealand, whereas Pakistan went through to the finals and was defeated by Australia. The most bewildering aspect now is that some of the former players, who readily played against Pakistan in 1999 and then some years later enjoyed a wonderful series in Pakistan, are the ones who are so vociferously insisting on not playing them now. The Vajpayee-led government should be complimented for not mixing the game of cricket with our bitter battle against Pakistan, that too in the thick of war. A true sportsman at heart and that is what made Vajpayee such an astute and a good leader.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is planning to write a letter to the International Cricket Council (ICC) to state their views on either banning Pakistan from the tournament or the option of India not playing them or even maybe India boycotting the World cup altogether. These are all steps that can cause a lot of repercussions in the long run. A good example of this was faced by our very own Indian Women's team recently in 2016. In the Championship matches to qualify for a place in the World Cup, they were forced by the Indian government to forfeit their matches against a lowly-placed Pakistan side. The International Cricket Council (ICC) not only penalised India with no points but also enforced a penalty on zero runs scored by the team.
This had a considerable effect on the points as well as in the calculation of the run-rate. The Indian women were demoted and were made to play qualifying rounds, which fortunately they won and only then could they qualify to play in the main draw. They almost made history, but unfortunately, lost narrowly to England in the World Cup final. It was a remarkable journey for the Indian women's team, but the ordeal and the process to finally reach the final was tedious and did have its moments of hardship.
The Indian men's team not playing Pakistan could lead to some serious consequences. The competition between the 10 top teams is quite intense. The last few years have shown that in a limited overs game, even the lowest-ranked side of the tournament, in this case, Afghanistan, could surprise the highest ranked team, England. Cricket teams around the world have learnt how to play the one-day format. The difference in superiority that one sees amongst the top sides playing Test matches is drastically reduced during a limited overs encounter. India, last year, showed how much better they were compared to Afghanistan in the conventional format of the game and were surprised by losing to them in the shorter version.
The possibility of India missing out on points, if they do not play Pakistan and being given a zero run penalty could very easily keep them out of the top four qualifiers. The presumption of India playing Pakistan in the final knock-out stage of the World Cup 2019 is a dream. This year the field is wide open and nominating the last four is quite difficult to forecast. There are over three months still left for India to play Pakistan.
Cricket needs to be kept out of the agenda of India's retaliation against Pakistan. Afghanistan has done this well and should be given a pat on their back for it. It also has militants and issues with its neighbour, Pakistan. But for them to finally make it to the elite stage of the world cricket arena by fighting against all odds, is what cricket as a sport is all about. The game of cricket is played between the bat and the ball and it should be kept as one!
(The writer is a former Test cricketer. The views expressed are strictly personal)
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