It was 22nd March 2016. Just another Tuesday in many parts of the world. But for Mohali, it was the day to host a match between Pakistan and New Zealand in the then ongoing ICC World Twenty20. Now if you know about the India – Pakistan relationship ever since 1947, you might have the feeling that these two nations don’t get along with each other. True, politically. That day at the PCA Stadium (Mohali) the stands were filled and they were cheering for Pakistan. Yes, of course, Mohali is quite close to the India – Pakistan border (pretty much the same distance between Mohali and Delhi) and people from across the border (Pakistan) can get to Mohali through the land border. And they did that for sure. But the more interesting thing to look out for that day was – many Indians who had come to watch the match were cheering for Pakistan (including me!). Everyone around wanted Pakistani players to outshine in the match. A group of people (coming straight from their office) sitting right behind me were discussing the old glory days of Pakistan in cricket with players like Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Javed Miandad and lots more. There were two young twin brothers sitting next to me who wanted Shahid Afridi to hit some huge sixes. It really did not look like there ever was any problem between the people of India and Pakistan. And I doubt if there is any today too, non-politically. In North India, we share a hell lot of food tastes with Pakistan!
By far, cricket and politics are the most talked about and debated upon topics in South Asia. Civil wars, military rules, terrorism, corruption have dominated the political atmosphere with neighbours helping and sometimes worsening the situations. Everyone has different views in the region and political meddling in cricket – everyone’s top task.
The India – Pakistan rivalry
Ten days back India had to play Pakistan in the ICC Champions Trophy final and some news channels and political groups were boycotting the match. Sure, the negative attitudes toward the match were motivated by a concern for justice and they must be respected. But can’t we play politics and cricket in two different fields? Of course, we can if we want to.
From the partition to the ongoing Kashmir conflict, the India and Pakistan have the most intense cricketing rivalry (and hockey too)! And their matches are one of the most watched television broadcasts in the world. Many politicians on both sides of the border don’t want these nations to play the game. And this politics has become the direct factor in the holding of cricketing events between the nation.
Governing cricket in India
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is India’s richest sporting body and the richest cricket board in the world. Who does not want to be part of this? And politicians? Duh. They have been ruling it every now and then for quite some time! Late SK Wankhede, Late NKP Salve, Late Madhavrao Scindia, Ranbir Singh Mahendra, Sharad Pawar and Anurag Thakur to name a few. I am not saying they did something wrong or anything, but they are just a few past Presidents of BCCI who just happen to be politicians. I have great respect for a few of them I have to say. Going to the state associations under BCCI, many regional and national politicians have their presence there too! Interesting story I have about Anurag Thakur to share with you. Anurag Thakur has played a solitary Ranji Trophy match for Himachal Pradesh. He made a grand total of ZERO runs, facing seven balls and picked up two wickets in a match that Himachal lost quite convincingly. And grapevine has it that Thakur, as President of HPCA, picked himself for the match so as to fulfil the BCCI criterion for becoming a selector at the state level!
Politicians involved in 2010 spot-fixing?
Corruption is deep-rooted in Pakistani society. Back in 2010, the “spot-fixing” scandal engulfed Pakistan’s tour of England. Connections with Pakistani politics are surreal. The spot-fixing episode disgraced Pakistan cricket and one of my favourites Mohammad Amir.
The other way around
Pakistan’s biggest cricketing hero – Imran Khan who led Pakistan to a World Cup win in 1992 – is a prominent face today in Pakistan’s politics and his party won the second most number of seats in the last election.
In 2012, Arjuna Ranatunga, Sri Lanka’s former captain, said that political interference is ruining cricket in Sri Lanka. Current President of Sri Lanka Cricket is also the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament of Sri Lanka. In 2011 at his MCC Spirit of Cricket lecture, Kumar Sangakkara said and here I quote, “It was and still is confusing. Accusations of vote buying and rigging, player interference due to lobbying from each side and even violence at the AGMs, including the brandishing of weapons and ugly fist fights, have characterised cricket board elections for as long as I can remember.” That is too much let’s just be honest!
Rise and Rise of Bangladesh and Afghanistan
Can politics play a positive role in cricket? YES! Bangladesh and Afghanistan are the best examples. Bangladesh Cricket Board president Nazmul Hasan is the son of the late politician of Awami League, Ivy Rahman and ex-president of Bangladesh, Zillur Rahman, and has been associated with Abahani Cricket Club for many years before he came on the board. He has done so much good for cricket in Bangladesh. Especially with reining in the indiscipline and blooding in new players.
Then comes Afghanistan. This past week, Afghanistan became the eleventh full member of the ICC and is now eligible to play Test cricket. Interestingly, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is the patron-in-chief of the Afghanistan Cricket Board. In the last 5 years, Afghanistan has risen up in the ICC rankings, beaten West Indies twice, started a full-fledged domestic competition in both first class and twenty-20s, built cricket stadiums in Afghanistan (which have not yet hosted international matches due to security concerns, but still making stadiums in a country which has been a battleground for the past two decades, and still is, is a big thing), and dominated the ICC Intercontinental Cup. As said before, the country has been a battleground for the past two decades and the rise of cricket could not have been possible without the support of the government.
Mixing cricket and politics has turned out to be great in some cases and has worsened the game in others. As far as the political interference results in a gain for the game, the players and the country, I would love to have politicians interfere. But if they are here for money and can’t bring anything good to the table, they should not be let to come anywhere near the game.
P.S. - I am not a supporter of either India or Pakistan or Sri Lanka or Bangladesh or Afghanistan or any other team for that matter. I just like to watch good cricket and I support players instead of teams. And I really hope we get to see a Test series between India and Pakistan soon because I want to see Mohammad Amir bowl to Cheteshwar Pujara. But I love Pujara! Apologies - I apologize if this blog post was one sided, biases, lacking information on some topics and for missing a lot of topics. Please provide suggestions and I would love to work on them.