Whether to play Pakistan or not, ball is in government’s court (Column: Just Sport)

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So much is happening in cricket, both on and off the field. Its exciting on the park and so much politicking in the board rooms.

West Indies won a Test series against England at home and Sri Lanka handed out South Africa a similar 2-0 drubbing in their own backyard. Both West Indies and Sri Lanka had been going through a horrendous period before this unexpected reversal of form.

In off-field politics, India is divided whether to play Pakistan in the World Cup 2019 in the wake of a terror attack in Pulwama, inspired by organisations from across the border. Mercifully, the debate took a back seat with Australia in India to play two Twenty20 and five One-Day International (ODI) matches series.

The voices that matter in Indian cricket have spoken using the cricket sense, while some others sounded sanctimonious in trying to be more loyal than the king. Or is it they just want to be in the news at a time when words should be measured and tempered with logic, instead of looking for headlines or looking politically correct.

Surprisingly, a couple of active players thought it fit to express their feelings. Twitterati has its role in gauzing public mood, but decisions are not taken on emotional expressions or the language of trolls.

When the twitter is not abuzz about India-Pakistan World Cup game, it has another favourtie whipping boy, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Fans expect him to win a match for India every time he goes out to bat, whether he is batting with Virat Kohli or Yuzvender Chahal as partner. They expect him to score at a run rate of over 100.

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How quickly the fans forget that barely a month ago he was the man-of-the-series in Australia. Even for a last-ball defeat in the first Twenty20 game in Visakhapatnam on Sunday, Dhoni has to be blamed for refusing singles in the last two overs, just like Dinesh Karthik was crucified for the Twenty20 defeat in New Zealand. Yes, in both the cases, a couple of singles could have made the difference.

As for the India-Pakistan clash, the match is still some four months away and a lot can happen during the period, most importantly a new government will have taken office after the general elections, possibly in May. Things can get better for the teams to play their Old Trafford game on June 16.

Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar, two of India’s greatest batsmen, were on the same page. Both want India to play Pakistan and beat them. Both see forfeiting the match does not amount to punishing Pakistan and for that they should beat them and deny them the two points.

The point of discussion is whether sport can be used to settle political conflicts. This is not going to be the first time that the countries have been dogged by politics and it won’t be the last. The international sports administrators have been tough in dealing with political considerations, saying it goes against the spirit of Olympic charter.

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Only last week the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended all talks with India on its applications to host international events and asked its member federations not to hold any event in India unless the authorities promise that every participant is assured of visa.

The IOC came down hard on India after two Pakistani shooters, participants in the 25-metre rapid fire event in the ongoing International Shooting Federation World Cup, were denied visa by the Indian government.

India and Pakistan have had off-again and on-again cricketing ties, the two countries played bilateral series in between their strained relations. They even met in the world Cup when the Kargil conflict was on.

A decision on 2019 World Cup will be a cricket decision and not a political one as the top three men, who have anything to do with running the government and the ruling party, have been connected with cricket.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was president of the Gujarat Cricket Association (GCA) till he handed over the reins to his trusted associate Amit Shah. Shah is now the chief of the state association. The two may not take a decision on matters of cricket without consulting Arun Jaitley, who had been the cricket board vice-president for long.

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The easy way out is to say India will only be conceding two points to Pakistan by forfeiting their round-robin match and it should not affect their chances of entering the knockout semi-finals as one of the four top finishers. What people seem to ignore is the two points Pakistan get may take them into the semi-finals, or even the final where India can still run into them.

There are precedents of teams boycotting teams in the World Cup when their governments took political decisions. It all started with Australia and West Indies refusing to go and play Sri Lanka in 1996 on grounds of security and as luck would have it the island nation went on to win the World Cup, beating Australia.

Then in 2003, New Zealand refused to play Kenya in Nairobi, citing fears of security, and England did not want to go to Zimbabwe as their government was opposed to the Robert Mugabe regime. The result was that both failed to get to the next stage.

Let’s not forget the chairman of the ICC is Shashank Manohar, an Indian, and he has already assured the Indian board of full security to the Indian team during the World Cup.

At the end of it, it will still be a government decision.

(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])

–IANS

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