Fact: Since 26th November 2008 I have been staunchly against Pakistan’s participation in the Indian Premier League (IPL). In fact I have been staunchly against any Pakistani citizen making any money in India, be it as a player or an artist.
Fact: I wasn’t always this way. I enjoyed the Pakistan cricket team’s visit to India in 1999 and I was proud of the fact that the Indian spectators in Chennai gave Pakistan a standing ovation after they narrowly beat us in a fantastic test match. Of course, I was even more thrilled when Anil Kumble picked up a perfect 10 in the match that followed, ensuring that we didn’t lose the series.
I also enjoyed the fact that Pakistan welcomed us with open arms in 2004 in a historic series (India won 2-1 in tests and 3-2 in ODIs).
But once the cricket started getting more frequent the novelty wore off. Pakistan visited India in 2005 (Tests were drawn 1-1 and Pak won the ODIs 4-2), India visited Pakistan in 2006 (Pak won the tests 1-0 and India won the ODIs 4-1), then Pak visited India again in late 2007 (India won the tests 1-0 and the ODIs 3-2). As the cricket went into overkill the matches seemed forced, almost as if the sole reason for the matches was to get the cricket boards some money. I wasn’t alone in my thinking, apparently, and matches in Pakistan in particular were rather poorly attended.
Fast forward to 26th November 2008. In a dastardly siege of the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai and extremely well-planned attacks across all of the city over 170 people were killed (or murdered, to put it correctly). There was national outrage over India. Unlike earlier instances, this time India was swift in establishing links between the terror attacks and two Pakistani extremist groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). Pakistan’s response: denial, claiming that the proof was not adequate. The lone surviving terrorist from the attacks, Ajmal Kasab claimed he was from Pakistan, but this was refuted by Pakistan. And the process went on and on. Every time India offered proof, the Pakistani administration shot it down, maintaining the facade of cooperation.
The rather minor collateral damage was that India cancelled its December 2008 tour to Pakistan and Pakistan reciprocated by cancelling its participation in the second season of the India Premier League (stating that India was not a safe place) and Pakistani participants of music reality shows in India like Zee Sa Re Ga Ma Pa were unceremoniously kicked out. Bilateral cricket tours between the two countries were put on a hiatus, for all intents and purposes. The Pakistani Government started issuing orders to all its nationals to cease traveling to India because “it was not safe”.
Pakistan’s image in the world (or at least in the cricketing world) became that of an unsafe place. International cricket teams in general refused to travel to Pakistan for any event. One team dared – Sri Lanka. This was perhaps in cognizance of Pakistan and India’s gesture before the 1996 Cricket World Cup when Australia and West Indies forfeited their matches in Sri Lanka by refusing to play there on the grounds of security (though a lot of Asians believed Australia’s refusal was more due to fearing a backlash over calling Muralitharan a “chucker” in the previous summer). What Sri Lanka got for its gesture was a terrorist attack on the bus carrying the Lankan team. While none got killed, a few Sri Lankans did get injured. The trip was terminated with immediate effect.
Some Pakistanis went far enough to blame India for the attacks, though this wasn’t the official position of Pakistan. But the bigger impact for Pakistani cricket became the revoking of Pakistan as a venue for any of the World Cup 2011 cricket matches. Rather unsurprisingly, the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) refused to support Pakistan as a venue when this happened. And rather surprisingly the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) expected BCCI to support it and even accused it of backstabbing. Historically whenever Pakistan had gotten itself in trouble, the BCCI had stood by it. The biggest such instance was the unsavory match forfeiture incident between Pakistan and England, thanks to the umpire Darrell Hair.
So what changed? The political scenario did (and hence the history lesson preceding this point). I often hear the statement that sports and politics shouldn’t be mixed, and art and politics shouldn’t be mixed. As an ideal it is as noble as it is asinine and impractical. The fact is everything is tied to politics. Unless the political situation somewhere is good, nothing can thrive there. If sports and politics weren’t interlinked, you wouldn’t have the national anthems of the teams being played before a football match, and you wouldn’t have country-based teams in events like the Olympics.
Throughout history sports events have been used to make political statements. USA boycotted the Moscow Olympics and USSR repaid the favour by boycotting the Los Angeles Olympics. Both were making political statements. Cricket had its own political statements made when Henry Olonga and Andy Flower wore black armbands to protest against Robert Mugabe’s dictatorship in Zimbabwe. And even more prominent was the total boycott of South Africa for several years due to its policies of Apartheid. I am sure there are other such incidents.
This brings me to the point of this article. Ever since the terror attacks on Mumbai I have been staunchly against India giving any form of remuneration and recognition to to anyone from Pakistan, be it their cricketers or their singers. These people are not terrorists and hell, some of them are eminently likeable, but they pay taxes in Pakistan and those taxes go into letting the perpetrators of heinous crimes flourish. I don’t want Indian money to feed people who come back to launch attacks on India.
When the Pakistan government and interior ministry kept flip-flopping on issuing its players NOCs for IPL, I was quite happy. This would mean that they would miss the deadline for filing applications and they would automatically be rejected for IPL. That would be great riddance without us doing a thing. But my fantasy was short-lived and though they missed the deadline, the IPL organizers bent backwards and got them drafted in time for the auction. That was a crying shame.
On auction day no Pakistani player out of 11 was offered a single bid. There is more to this statement, though. There were 66 players in the auction pool and 13 spots had to be filled, so 53 players would not be picked. If you follow the way the auction progressed, technically the Pakistani players actually put up for bids were Shahid Afridi, Sohail Tanvir, Kamran Akmal, Imran Nazir, Umar Akmal and Rana Naved ul Hasan, in that order. By the time Rana Naved ul Hasan was auctioned, 7 players had been bought – Keiron Pollard, Wayne Parnell, Shane Bond, Kemar Roach, Eoin Morgan, Damien Martyn and Thissara Perera. Several others were not bid for – Brad Haddin, Graeme Swann, Mohammed Kaif, Darren Ganga, Shakib Al Hasan, Doug Bollinger, Tim Bresnan, Justin Kemp, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Chamara Silva, Phillip Hughes, Wavell Hinds, Lendl Simmons, Upul Tharanga, Jonathan Trott, Jason Krejza, Johan van der Wath, Grant Elliott, Ashley Noffke, Rory Klienveldt, Tyron Henderson and Su
leiman Benn. That is a total of 21 players apart from the 6 Pakistanis who didn’t attract any bids.
At this time the process was shortened since 5 overseas slots were to be filled, and four teams out of eight had no money left, so teams could explicitly ask for a player. If two franchises asked for one player then that player went into auction, otherwise he was to be sold at base price. At this point 2 players from the discard pool were bought – Justin Kemp and Mohammed Kaif, the latter actually going into auction. In addition Adam Voges and Yusuf Abdulla were bought. Since none wanted to bid on any of the other players, three Under-19 players were drafted into different teams.
Though Afridi was the talk of the town before the bidding actually started, I had a hard time believing why anyone would want him, good though his credentials are in the T20 World Cup. He was an unmitigated disaster in the first season, he tried to foster ill-harmony in his team with his acerbic comments disparaging his captain VVS Laxman, and his disciplinary track record in Pakistan is, well, dirty laundry. Surely Deccan was not going to pick him up again! Frankly among the Pakistanis only Umar Gul and Mohammed Aamer deserved to make the cut, not players like Sohail Tanvir who struggle to find a place in the Pakistan team.
The natural response to the auction was outrage, which is understandable – none likes to be told that he is unwanted. But then a rather interesting sequence unfolded. Some events in this sequence were hilarious and some were tragic.
A lot of interesting quotes came out:
The way I see it, the IPL and India have made fun of us and our country. We are the Twenty20 world champions and for me the attitude of the franchises was disappointing. I feel bad for the Indian people who, I am sure, wanted to see us play in the IPL this year.
– Shahid Afridi, the airhead captain of the Pakistan T20 team
A little later this was heard:
They have basically tried to hurt our cricket and image and this is most disappointing because I believe there should be no politics in sports
– Abdul Razzaq
I found these statements really funny and contradictory. One person above branded the non-selection of individual players of the Pakistan team in the IPL to a snubbing of Pakistan as a country. Another was concerned about not mixing sports and politics together, while his captain had done precisely that. If Afridi had drawn a line between sports and politics, he would have stopped at saying that India had made a mockery of his team, and not brought his country into it.
I was particularly pleased with this quote from the external affairs ministry in response to all the rants from Pakistan:
Pakistan should introspect on the reasons which have put a strain on relations between India and Pakistan, and have adversely impacted peace, stability and prosperity in the region.
And this one:
Unless Government of Pakistan takes action against those involved in the heinous acts of 26/11… strong, convincing action to dismantle the terrorist outfits across the border, Indian people will be always impatient.
Then came the damp squib:
I think it is disservice to cricket that some of these players were not picked. I don’t know why the IPL teams acted in the manner they acted. But certainly to suggest that there was a hint or nudge from the government is completely untrue.
What is a disservice is that this is a step the Government of India should have officially taken. We should have banned any such participation from Pakistan from our side, rather than waiting for private organizations like the IPL franchises to take a stance. Tell Pakistan that you show us concrete evidence of cracking down on terror and we will let you into our society again. Instead we had pansies like Chidambaram pandering to the egos of people of a country that has done nothing in the recent past to deserve the respect. Shame on you, Chidambaram! You are a disgrace, because you are accusing those people of disservice who have done something you should have done! Whether guided by conscience or business motives, the IPL and the franchises exercised their right. They did not ask the government for help and money and whom they picked and why was entirely their decision. What will Chidambaram do next? Accuse people of “disservice” to the country because they voted the Congress out of power?
There were eminent mediapersons who jumped on with their righteous indignation:
Modi screeched "Availability, availability, availability" is all that will matter in auctions going forward. And so the Australians weren’t the hot picks this year as well. Point taken. But Australia are involved in a cricket series at the time. What are Pakistan doing? Nothing at all. Their players are available for all six weeks and can certainly play T20 cricket, they won the World Cup, remember?
– Gaurav Kalra, Sports Editor of CNN-IBN
What is Gaurav Kalra’s IQ? Negative? Is availability something that is determined by a calendar? If that is the case why did the Pakistani players not play in the IPL last year? It is not as if they were engaged in an international tour or had suddenly forgotten how to play T20 cricket. People like Kalra need to realize that this whole issue is a lot bigger than cricket. Even if this issue was not bigger than cricket, who compensates the franchises for the Pakistani players not playing last year? Kalra? Chidambaram?
Whether or not Pakistan plays cricket or anybody plays cricket in Pakistan is never dependent on what the Pakistani players are doing; it is intricately tied to what Pakistan as a whole is doing. No international cricket team wants to play in Pakistan. Some of the logically-minded citizens of Pakistan put this down to the fact that Pakistan doesn’t have the kind of nightlife that international cricketers like to enjoy, hence this is not a preferred destination for cricketers. They tend to forget that the political and security environment in their country doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
While we have had a few people in the media and in the entertainment industry (folks like Shah Rukh Khan, albeit for a publicity stunt of his latest movie) springing to bat for the Pakistanis, the Pakistani people don’t seem to share that kind of a feeling. A lot of people in the Pakistan team don’t distinguish between India and Hindus, conveniently forgetting that India had more Muslims than Pakistan till a few years back. Outlook India had a well-written article about what Pakistan thinks about India in general. Here is what Sohail Tanvir, one of the IPL rejects of this year says in an interview on a Pakistani channel:
Wow! “Hinduon ki zahaniyat hi aisi hai” (This is the typical Hindu nature)! Coming from the person who was the player of the tournament for the first season of IPL, this reeks of the same attitude that the journalist accuses Hindus of having, “Bagal mein chhuri, moonh mein Ram Ram” (They will stab you with a smile on their faces). Didn’t Tanvir benefit hugely from the first IPL? His stock rose and he never really had to do too much of hard work after that season – he currently doesn’t find a place in his national team, as stated earlier.
I am not debating whether there was a deliberate and concentrated effort to reject Pakistanis in the IPL. IPL and the franchises say there wasn’t, some other Indians say there was, Pakistan as a whole is convinced there was and most of the Indians don’t care, because they didn’t want Pakistan in. I am one who doesn’t care. I must admit, though, that I would be very happy if there was indeed a conscious attempt since it would have made a much better statement. With people like Chidambaram in the government we can’t really expect the government to take such a stance. So it comes down to the business houses in the IPL in such a tournament. Even if the business houses’ motive has been a potential loss of money due to no-show Pakistanis, the end result is very much to my liking.
I had initially just saved a draft of about 40% of this article about 10 days back, but following the blasts in Pune on 13th Feb (earlier today in India) I was tempted to finish this. Now imagine that the IPL picked up the Pakistani players and after the blasts today relations went further south, and again Pakistan put on a charade of withdrawing players from IPL. What would people like Chidambaram and Kalra have to say? Nothing, I am sure. They would pretend it did not happen. All talks of “availability” being a non-issue would go up in smoke. As if to prove me correct, I see that Chidambaram has already declined to comment on this.
It is one thing to have your opinion and it is another thing to lambast other people for not sharing it. I have nothing against people wanting to see Pakistan play in the IPL. But I wouldn’t like it if those people started abusing people who for whatever reason decided not to spend their money on Pakistan. I am not against people like Shah Rukh Khan, for example, who made statements on the same topic.
I truly believe Pakistan players should have been chosen. They are the champions, they are wonderful but somewhere down the line there is an issue and we can’t deny it. We are known to invite everyone. We should have. If there were any issues, they should have been put on board earlier. Everything can happen respectfully. Everyday we blame Pakistan, everyday Pakistan blames us. It is an issue.
Here is a set of people who are spending up to Rs 70, 80, 90 crore and suddenly, if you say this much to me (that a buy might be risky), I’m like, “Uh-oh, so should I?”
I am not giving an excuse and I truly believe Pakistanis are the best T20 players in the world. But somewhere down the line there is an issue and we cannot deny it. We cannot keep saying, “Oh, this was wrong”. Yes, maybe the way it was done was wrong, the way it is being carried out may be wrong. But you can’t keep on saying “Koi issue nahi hai yaar, woh aa jate” (There isn’t any issue, they could have come). There is an issue, let’s not deny it.
– Shah Rukh Khan
At least he admits there is a core issue at the bottom of all of this and doesn’t go out of his way to abuse someone. Though I question the timing of this statement a few weeks before the release of his movie, I can’t find fault with the statement itself. It is his view.
At the end of it all, forget security concerns about Pakistani players participating in the IPL. This is the time to make a stand and to boycott Pakistan fully till they act on the evidence we have provided them for Mumbai.
PS: I admit it has been long since I have posted. The truth is that my Aquoid blog gets all my attention these days.
Update (16th Feb 2010): Quite out of the blue this post has been picked as one of BlogAdda’s Tangy Tuesday Picks. Funny how I write one article after so many days and that article happens to be truly partisan and it gets picked! Maybe I should try being opinionated a lot more often on my blog!