Bal Thackeray was once a cartoonist who drew caricatures of Pakistan’s touring team to India in 1960-61
Pakistan and India have mostly seen cricket through the secular lens. One could, however, argue that cricket has reflected communal antagonisms in the subcontinent over the years — there were diverse forces shaping the political face of undivided India. Communal tensions were quite palpable in the 1940s, though things weren’t always like this. There was a sense of community even in 1924, when the Mohammedan team won the Bombay Triangular tournament and was joined by the Hindu team in their celebration, despite the Khilafat agitations of that period. Cricket could potentially have served as a common denominator in undivided India, but this never really happened.
The famous Bombay Pentangular tournament of pre-Partition India comprised teams of Hindus, Mohammedans, Parsis, Europeans and the Rest. In the 1946 edition of the tournament, K C Ibrahim spurred the Muslims to victory with only five minutes of play remaining. Despite agitation outside the Bombay Gymkhana Ground, Indian captain Vijay Merchant, who was captaining the Hindu team in the tournament, went over to the Mohammedan pavilion and felicitated Ibrahim. This was all happening in Maharashtra, now the stronghold of the Shiv Sena.
It is interesting to note that Bal Thackeray, who went on to lead the Shiv Sina, was once a cartoonist who drew caricatures of Pakistan’s touring team to India in 1960-61. He welcomed players like Hanif Mohammad, Fazal Mahmood and Saeed Ahmad. Nonetheless, extremism was always a reality in India, which Hanif Mohammad soon found as a cricket fan willfully injured the cricketer’s hand while shaking it on a tour to that country.
Later we saw shifting paradigms shaping geopolitics, which led to a 17-year interruption in India-Pakistan bilateral encounters on the cricket field, which did not resume until 1978-79. During the 1987 Pakistan tour of India, when relations between the two countries were highly tense, the then president General Ziaul Haq carried out what came to be termed as ‘cricket diplomacy’ as he visited Jaipur to witness one of the matches.
By 1999, Indians were protesting against Pakistan for triggering insurgency in their country, as well as for the Kargil war. India only played Pakistan in ICC tournaments through most of the 1990s. Despite there being a resumption in bilateral cricket ties in the following decade, the situation at present is much the same as it was in the 1990s, with the brief 2012 tour to India witnessing the BCCI pocketing all the financial windfall the trip generated. Given the present state of affairs and the way the BCCI has conducted itself of late, the PCB hierarchy must now have realised that the sport’s global dynamics have changed.
India in the 1970s played second fiddle to the BCCP largely due to the latter’s able representation at the ICC. Subsequent events, however, saw the BCCP degenerate due to incompetence and lack of a well-defined policies when it came to cricket. The Pakistani board’s myopia allowed the BCCI the space to rule the sport with freedom.
The BCCI eventually progressed to a stage where it was providing about 75 per cent of the international game’s total revenue. Under the method of governance imposed by the ‘Big Three’, the control of international cricket has been placed in the hands of India, England and Australia. Former PCB chairman Zaka Ashraf might not have been as erudite as Najam Sethi but most critics believe that he would have handled the Big Three fiasco better and would not have allowed India a free hand. Sethi, on the other hand, returned from India boasting of having signed MoUs under which India were bound to play Pakistan, ensuring financial wellbeing at both ends. Where are these documents now?
And now we have the latest fiasco of the new BCCI President Shashank Manohar inviting PCB Chairman Shahryar Khan to India to discuss the possibility of the two teams playing a full series, but then left Khan stranded with Shiv Sena extremists attacking the BCCI office. Furthermore, the ICC withdrew Aleem Dar from standing in ODIs in India, again highlighting how meek the body has become under India’s dominance. The PCB, instead of talking about possibly boycotting participation at the ICC World Twenty20 in India next year, should have deliberated and analysed the BCCI’s current hegemonic presence in world cricket. The PCB must take exception to the ICC withdrawing Dar. The ICC showed its inability to send its officials to officiate during Zimbabwe’s tour to Pakistan earlier in the year due to security concerns; why can’t it take the same stance with the BCCI right now? If the ICC failed to ensure an umpire’s security in India, would it be able to assure it to the Pakistan team next year? I believe shifting the championship out of India will not be practical given the huge cricket market there and the various commercial agreements that have been signed. However, the PCB needs to show some spine. Shahryar and Sethi must realise that the world around them is changing fast. Let us not allow India to bully us in the wake of being the leaders of the ‘Big Three’.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 30th, 2015.
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