THE controversy surrounding world cricket’s shift from Dubai to Mumbai is out of place keeping in mind our market-oriented trajectory. From the traditional Lord’s to the upwardly mobile Dubai, the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) change of home had gone largely un-mourned, bar a few sighs which were too gentlemanly to have any kind of an impact on the current crop of players.
The further movement of the nucleus into territory ruled by the rich and powerful Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is precisely where logic should have taken it.
The news from Dubai says India, along with Australia and England, appears to be meaningfully pushing towards controlling matters at the ICC. An IBN post reads: “In a landmark move that will change the global structure of cricket administration, the BCCI’s status as the most influential cricketing body in the world was on Tuesday formally acknowledged with the bulk of its demands being ‘unanimously’ passed at the ICC executive board meeting...”
Just how much uncertainty the ICC meeting had generated can be judged from a line inserted early in the official release. It says, reassuringly, that “There will be an opportunity for all members to play all formats of cricket on merit, with participation based on meritocracy; no immunity to any country, and no change to membership status”. That’s an ill-conceived attempt at wrapping generosity in modesty.
The first information reaching the angry cricketing circles in Pakistan didn’t specify if any profit percentages were in the process of being worked out as of now. The message, however, was clear: the big three were determined to withstand whatever resistance other members including Pakistan were able to muster.
From now on, most likely, it is going to be about what Pakistan can secure from the leftovers after India and its chosen global partners have had their fill. That is what some Pakistanis who can combine business with cricket had been advising the cricket board here to concentrate on: the best possible harvesting of leftovers.
This could well be the formula to be applied in other areas of business; only it is too soon for sometimes adamantly old-fashioned Pakistan to realise what buys what on the circuit right now.
There is little dispute about the need for friendly relations between Pakistan and India. That is an objective which has to be chased in all circumstances. The question of India’s ‘takeover’ of the ICC raises relates to the Pakistanis’ inability to come to terms with the current economic diction.
All these reams dedicated to policy notwithstanding it always boils down to getting the best cut out of a given situation. It seems that in the situation that could prevail for some time to come, Pakistanis must learn to be content with what some ungrateful and ignorant souls amongst us call crumbs thrown our way by India.
It may sound unfortunate and lacking in grace but really this country should be thankful to the real powers that it is still playing the game rather than make obnoxious claims in the name of some old, outdated principles it proudly adheres to. This adherence, which is not peculiar to cricketing matters, is dictated by absence of choice.
It is not that the Pakistanis are not learning; they are getting the drift even if slowly in comparison to some others. When the wise surmised the two countries, two hostile countries indeed, should be left to sort it out on the cricket field, it was put down to naivety. At many moments over these years of engagement those theorists have been vindicated.
Away from impending wars, the cricket boards in India and Pakistan were until recent years known to be close allies. Together, they managed to bring world championships to the subcontinent and they were credited with many other successful joint ventures within the ICC.
The gap when it came was Pakistan’s fault. It was rooted in Pakistan’s inability to keep pace with the trends. The security situation in the country deprived it of its share of cricketing tours and turned its cricket board into a pale shadow of the powerful international actor it once was. The board was condemned to negotiate from a weak position.
The Indian board, in the meanwhile, grew bigger and larger and more influential, so commanding in its authority that it could easily attract blame for the cancellation of a tour by Bangladesh of Pakistan. Every country that took on India over cricketing matters now did that at the risk of losing good business. This is a fact that even those who have been ridiculing India for some of its showings on-field and over its unabashed display of greed against convention cannot deny.
Pakistanis are eager to invoke the old world etiquette but the big three alliance at the ICC would be fully aware of how desperate this country is to stay relevant and they are going to take advantage of this. A healthier version of Pakistan cricket would have given the gang of three a tough time. This Pakistani desperation is betrayed by the intensity of the reaction to the ICC takeover.
The experts have yet to fully grasp the reasons why the Pakistani opposition to business ties with India has died down with time. There are groups, not all of them of a religious persuasion, which are at a loss to understand why reports of atrocities in Kashmir don’t quite draw the same response in Pakistan as they used to in the years gone by.
It could be that Pakistanis believe that cricket is something where they can still compete with India. And they are vulnerable here since cricket is a priority with them.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.