Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and the home minister’s angst

So while I was away in Dubai, ooh-ing and aah-ing about outsize piles of steel and glass, Sri Lanka came up with a novel idea to fill a gap in its social calendar: another series against India, and how incredibly novel is that? Cricinfo has some detail:

The teams began 2008 by playing four ODIs against each other in a tri-series in Australia and faced off in two more matches during the Asia Cup in Pakistan in July. India then toured Sri Lanka for three Tests and five ODIs in July-August. After a gap of a few months, India visited Sri Lanka again in January-February 2009 for five more ODIs and a Twenty20. They won four of the one-dayers and the Twenty20 as well. Not yet satisfied, India returned in September, this time for a tri-series involving New Zealand and the hosts. They played Sri Lanka twice and lost once. Now it was Sri Lanka’s turn to visit and they toured India in December for three Tests, five ODIs and two Twenty20s.

So over the last two years, India and Sri Lanka have played a whopping 32 matches against each other across three formats – six Tests, 23 ODIs and three Twenty20s. That’s 52 days in all. And they want more.

Keep this up, and wives of Indian players are going to be filing for divorce in droves — and citing Sri Lankan players as the cause, for alienating the affections of their husbands. Seriously though, do either of the boards even know the meaning of ‘enough’?

Elsewhere, television stations across India breathed a collective woosh of relief when it turned out the franchises had ignored Pakistan players for the upcoming IPL season — the auction provided the talking heads a promising issue [here’s Cricinfo’s full coverage] to flog at considerable length, and when I flipped through the channels this morning, many of them were still at it.

Judging by reactions, the franchises have in one stroke hurt Indo-Pak relations, embarrassed the country, dealt a mortal blow to Pakistan cricket and devalued the equity of the IPL, to name only the more prominent sins that have our television anchors excited.

Sundry celebrities have helped the good work along with their comments — Shah Rukh for instance with an none more so than Home Minister P Chidambaram, who with a pretty pout was seen talking of how disappointed he was that Pakistan players wouldn’t feature this season.

Chidambaram and his ministry have, in recent days, warned that (a) parts of the permanent fence at the Line of Control have been cut, signaling the possibility of a concerted push by militants from across the border to infiltrate into India; (b) that the ceasefire has in recent days been broken by Pakistan troops firing into Indian territory; (c) that there is the very real apprehension of LeT-sponsored terrorist attacks across the country, including with para-gliders; and (d) that there is significant intelligence that hijack attempts will be carried out.

So, a question for the home minister: If these threats are real, and if one or more of them fructifies in the immediate future, what do you suppose the reaction within India will be to Pakistan players appearing in the IPL? Even assuming the mango person is okay with it, how do you suppose the likes of the Shiv Sena will react? And while on that outfit, the Sena has already said it will ‘not stand idly by’ if Australian players play in the IPL — so does the home ministry have any thoughts on that? Does the home ministry have the will to stand up against attempts by extra-constitutional authorities to impose their writ on the rest of us?

No? Then PC should just shut the hell up, no?

The problem for the franchises is very clear: If they pick Pakistan players, and if something untoward happens, their investment goes down the drain. Given the current climate, given the drumbeat of warnings emanating from India’s own home ministry, why should any franchise take the chance? Amit Varma among others makes that point.

That leaves the other one — the “damage done to Pakistan cricket”, the “snub to Pakistan players”, etc. What damage? A few players will not be able to add big bucks to their bank balance, true — but the ‘damage’, if any exists, is to individual fortunes, not the collective good.

More to the point, if participation in the IPL is so integral to the well-being of Pakistan cricket, where was this angst when the government last season banned its players from being part of the IPL? It wasn’t the franchises who “snubbed” Pakistan players in 2009 — it was the Pakistan government that actively blocked its players from coming to India. The dog did not bark then, no one made the case that bilateral relations had been irreparably harmed, and PC was absolutely okay following an IPL sans Pakistan stars. But now that franchises have taken what is a purely economic decision, there is a deafening uproar?

You could argue, with considerable justice, that the whole thing could have been handled better; the Pakistan stars could have been warned and given the opportunity to withdraw from the auction rather than see no public takers — but to take that button and to sew on it the vest of fractured international relations is a bit much, no?

Oh, and out of the corner of my eye I notice that Bangladesh, after raising some hopes of tweaking India’s nose a bit, is hurtling towards demise. Nice — frees me up to catch up at work after a week-long absence. Back to regular updates on blog once I settle back down here. Meanwhile, quick poll: is this whole Pak/IPL thing media-manufactured, or is there some justice to the criticism the franchises are attracting? Appreciate your thoughts.