Why can't India and Pakistan play bilateral cricket, again?

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One of the largest cricket rivalries has been held ransom by political hypocrisy. There is no reason why the two nations cannot meet in bilateral series when trade relations, cross-movement of people and culture, and diplomacy carries on 'despite border violence'.

Let’s rewind to March 17, 2012. The Indian cricket team is in Dhaka, the bustling capital of Bangladesh, for the Asia Cup. Specifically, the Men in Blue are in Mirpur, a suburb that hosts the Dhaka Zoo, the National Botanical Garden, the headquarters of Grameen Bank, the Mirpur Cantonment and, of course, the Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium, which is also from where the Bangladesh Cricket Board operates.

There’s a sense of calm around the proceedings even though India are slated to meet Pakistan the following day. Perhaps, the reason for the lull was the happenings of the previous evening. Sachin Tendulkar had taken the burden off his — and India’s — shoulders by scoring an unprecedented but long-overdue 100th international century. We witnessed history on March 16, 2012, but more was to be made the following day. The match against Bangladesh was only a prelude to the mother of all clashes, India versus Pakistan.


So, when I walked up to the sensational off-spinner Saeed Ajmal soon after he had finished training, I was expecting to garner some ‘quotable quotes’. ‘Exclusive’, of course. Ajmal, arguably the world’s deadliest spinner then, even though his bowling action was under scrutiny, did the unexpected. He put his arm around my shoulder and took ‘us’ for a walk. “Yaar, India aur Pakistan toh chess bhi khelte hain, hockey bhi khelte hain, kabaddi bhi khelte hain, hum tumhari picturen bhi dekhte hain, toh phir yeh cricket mein hi kyun itna pressure hota hai? [My friend, India and Pakistan play chess, hockey and kabaddi, we watch your movies too, then why is there so much pressure when it comes to cricket?]”

I was perplexed, and my reply bordered on the obvious. We don’t play enough these days, I said. Cricket is a religion in both countries… People want to see the teams play more often because it makes for absorbing viewing… and so on. The response had Ajmal stumped. He nodded, his smile suggesting he wanted Pakistan to play India more often. He took his arm off my shoulder, picked up his kit bag and dragged it toward the team bus, signing autographs and posing for pictures along the way. The following day, India and Pakistan dished out a classic. Virat Kohli smashed his way to a gleeful 183 not out as India made a mockery of the 300-plus target.


Fast-forward to 2017. Ajmal, who last donned the Pakistan green over two years ago, would be thinking the same. As would millions of fans on both sides of the border. Why are cricket matches between India and Pakistan so few and far between? Why has it been nearly ten years since the two teams played a Test match. It’s also been four years since an ODI series. Why are aficionados on both sides of the Radcliffe Line repeatedly denied the joy of enjoying one of the most iconic rivalries in cricket?

Even as the Prime Ministers, National Security Advisors, Foreign Ministers, diplomats and bureaucrats of the two countries meet often in this country or that, or even abroad, cricket is seemingly used as a diversionary tactic. ‘Nationalists’ on both sides, especially India, are quick to jump on to the bandwagon. “No peace, no cricket” is their ready response. Well, why then are we playing the same team twice in the space of as many weeks? In the final of the ICC Champions Trophy, no less. Oh, and yes, don’t forget there was an India-Pakistan encounter in the 2016 ICC World T20, too; and the Champions Trophy in 2013; and the ICC World Cups in 2015 and 2011. Two of those games were played on Indian soil, one played in front of the Prime Ministers of both countries.

Yes, Pakistan continues to sponsor terrorism at the border. It has made a mockery of the peace process and killed our soldiers and civilians. But this violence has not stopped either country from suspending trade relations. Nor have cultural and diplomatic happenings been affected. Strangely enough, we never hear 'Nationalists' raise their voice when we play the same country in global tournaments. Isn't that hypocritical?


For those ready with the argument that the ICC comes up with the fixtures, here’s what Dave Richardson, the chief executive of the global body, said in June last year, “No doubt, we want to try to put India versus Pakistan in our event. It’s hugely important from an ICC point of view. It's massive around the world and the fans have come to expect it as well. It's fantastic for the tournament because it gives it a massive kick.”

Richardson, the former South Africa wicketkeeper, said this after releasing the fixtures of the ongoing Champions Trophy in 2016. He had no qualms admitting that India and Pakistan were repeatedly drawn in the same group on purpose. And neither the BCCI nor the PCB has ever objected to this.

Richardson is a smart man. He’s only doing what any CEO would: maximising the profits of his organisation, and that of every stakeholder in the game (broadcasters, media houses, expert columnists and commentators, tour operators, airlines, hotels, and of course, the players).


The incompetent marriage of cricket and politics has at its heart no deep nationalistic cause, even if that were an excuse for what is sheer hooliganism.

'When will India play Pakistan in a bilateral series' is that one puzzling question with no answer. As a fan of cricket — Indian cricket no less — I would like to see the countries engage in cricket matches regularly. If nothing, playing Pakistan now would help India rewrite its awful head-to-head record. Pakistan leads the contest 72-52 in ODIs (5 no-results) and 12-9 in Tests (38 draws/no-results).

The sport is being made a scapegoat, a convenient excuse to depict that all is not well between India and Pakistan. While India has imposed few sanctions on Pakistan in other spheres of life, the cricketing relations between the two nations continue to suffer. If this is not two-facedness, then what is? Cricketers from both nations share very cordial relations; and the likes of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Ramiz Raja, and even the charismatic Imran Khan, fly in and out of India at will. Yes, playing Pakistan in Pakistan could be risky. We have got to take the word of our security agencies at face value as there’s no sense in risking anyone’s life. But how exactly is inviting the Pakistan team to India a hazard? Or, for that matter, playing in a neutral outpost like the UAE or the UK?

The incompetent marriage of cricket and politics has at its heart no deep nationalistic cause, even if that were an excuse for what is sheer hooliganism.

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