The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) must be congratulated for its bold move to invite the Pakistan cricket team to visit India for a short tour of one-day and Twenty20 matches at the end of this year. The decision has delighted millions of fans in both countries, who revel in the competitive intensity these contests inevitably produce. Quite clearly, the cricket-loving public in the subcontinent is against the game being politicised in a narrow and chauvinistic way — something a section of our political class and intelligentsia is wont to do. There is absolutely no logic for prohibiting bilateral cricket ties at a time when India and Pakistan maintain a range of other sporting contacts, apart from having cultural exchanges and trading relationships. Also, India has no reservation about playing Pakistan in multi-nation tournaments, where refusal to play would entail forfeiture. The last such match in India was held just a year ago — the World Cup semi-final at Mohali. It is true that India-Pakistan cricket has had a tendency to arouse excessive passions, but an important reason for this is the fact that the two countries rarely play each other. The answer surely is more cricket — or enough to make such matches seem so routine and habitual that nobody would regard them as if they were politically charged gladiatorial contests or a matter of national honour.
Although the BCCI’s decision must be officially approved by the Centre, it appears that the tour has already received an informal nod from the ministries of Home and External Affairs. Predictably, those who have been running a longstanding hate campaign against India-Pakistan cricket, such as the Shiv Sena, have already registered their opposition. That Mumbai, which suffered the 26/11 terror attack, resulting in the snapping of sporting ties, has not been chosen to host any of the matches is probably deliberate. The Sena, which used its roughnecks to vandalise the pitch in Delhi’s Ferozshah Kotla and ransack the BCCI office in Mumbai in an attempt to disrupt Pakistan’s 1999 tour of India, would have been difficult to contend with in Mumbai. It was in the 1999 series that Pakistan registered a nail-biting victory in Chennai despite a heroic innings by Sachin Tendulkar that almost saw India through. Although deeply disappointed, the throng of cricket fans gave the Pakistani players a standing ovation as they did a victory lap of the M.A. Chidambaram stadium. It was a significant moment in the history of India-Pakistan sporting relations which underlined a basic truth — that cricket, when played and enjoyed in the right spirit, is but a game.