The price we may have to pay for international cricket at a time like this cannot be measured simply in terms of rupees or dollars, writes Nirmal Shekar
International cricket is likely to return to India next week amidst the sort of security arrangements fit for a visiting head of state. As Kevin Pietersen and Mahendra Singh Dhoni walk out for the toss in the first Test between India and England on December 11, the M.A.Chidambaran stadium at Chepauk may have more uniformed men than you might find in a Republic Day parade.
Thank whoever-you-may-wish-to that sports events, unlike mindless terrorism, are pre-scheduled and security requirements can be anticipated and met in advance.
But then, while the sight of Fortress Chepauk might help soothe frayed nerves in the English camp — many of whose members are believed to have spent sleepless nights after watching television images of the Mumbai massacre — it should leave many of us wondering if the price we are now forced to pay to conduct and watch sport is worth it.
There has been a lot of talk about the business of cricket, about how the terror attacks might have dented Indian cricket’s status as the game’s superpower and about how much money Indian cricket stands to lose should England, Australia, South Africa, West Indies and New Zealand choose to boycott India.
All very well. Has anyone thought of the cost of convincing one team or the other to undertake the trip? Cost, not terms of the security operations or stadium upgrades or anything monetary, but cost in terms of the simple pleasures of life.
Can a starry-eyed kid who has dreamed all his brief life of shaking hands with a Pietersen or a Ponting or a Tendulkar ever hope to proffer his shivering, sweaty hand to his idol near the pavilion without a duty-bound commando brushing him aside quickly?
Can a visiting player who has always enjoyed soaking up the local culture through leisurely evening visits to the bazaars and malls and eating places ever think of doing it anymore, unmolested and unguarded and without a million fears haunting him?
How can such losses be counted? As Albert Einstein once said, “Not everything that can be counted, counts; and not everything that counts can be counted.”
Indeed, the price we may have to pay for international cricket in India at a time like this cannot be measured simply in terms of rupees or dollars, the only currencies that most cricket officials may be aware of.
Then again, while the movers and shakers in the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) may heave a sigh of relief after having convinced the Security Officer of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), Reg Dickason, about the blanket security that would be provided to Kevin Pietersen’s team on its return to India next week to play Test matches in Chennai and Mohali, the world’s most powerful cricket board should not fool itself into believing that the storm has passed.
India’s hegemony under threat
India may be world cricket’s economic powerhouse, generating well over 70 per cent of the sport’s annual income, but its hegemony is under serious threat following the Mumbai terror strikes. The damage control measures undertaken jointly by the Indian and English cricket officials may have helped salvage the short two-Test series but nobody can be under the illusion that normal service has resumed in cricket in this country.
Whatever the riches on offer, players from Test playing nations outside the sub-continent will continue to harbour doubts about their personal safety on tours to India unless permanent security arrangements are put in place in all the major cricketing venues in the country.
It is one thing to put together, on a war footing, the sort of security that Prime Ministers and Presidents might be embarrassed about in order to save a short tour; it is quite another matter to upgrade security at international stadiums and team hotels to a level that would help allay the fears of visiting players in the long term. But this must be done immediately to secure the future of international cricket in India.
No room for complacency
While cricket in this country has never been a direct victim of terrorism, there is no room for complacency on that count. Given Indian cricket’s high profile, and the fact that it draws large crowds to poorly equipped stadiums, it is certainly a plum target for terrorists. If mass casualties are what terrorists aim for, then sports venues are soft targets in India.
The first thing to do is to admit that, right now, Indian cricket is not quite prepared to meet such threats. The next step is to identify the vulnerabilities in the security system at stadiums and then rope in the finest experts in the field to plug the holes.
And the need for constant surveillance with the use of advanced technology, the introduction of turnstiles at spectators’ entry points and the identification of dedicated exit routes for players can hardly be exaggerated.
Of course, all this will cost a fortune. But if any sports body in the world can afford it, it is the BCCI. And remember, at the end of the day, nobody will have paid as big a price as the average fan in the stadium.