Indo-Pak Cricket: Should Sachin, Dhoni, Afridi and Gul Be Politicans' Pawns?

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Indo-Pak Cricket: Should Sachin, Dhoni, Afridi and Gul Be Politicans' Pawns?
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Yousuf Raza Gilani and Manmohan Singh: Games Politicians Play!

The media is talking about the invitation from Yousuf Raza Gilani, the Pakistan PM, to the Indian cricket team.

It is said that he has invited the team to play 3 ODIs in Pakistan. It is also being said that the invitation was extended to the Indian PM, Manmohan Singh during the World Cup semi final at Mohali.

Was it just a reciprocal gesture from the Pakistani PM to his Indian counterpart, who had earlier extended the olive branch to him by guaranteeing box seats to a Pakistani entourage?

The BCCI has said that we don't have a window of time available for another year, hence the invitation cannot be accepted—not in the immediate future, at least.

Ordinary mortals like me don't have any controls over such invitations, their acceptance, rejection or abeyance. As fans, however, we love our cricketing heroes and believe that they should be allowed a say in such matters.

And they should be asked if they are willing to become pawns in a political game.

Gen Zia ul Haque got himself invited and allowed the media to invent the term cricket diplomacy, a manoeuvre that has of late been used by the Indian PMs; Musharraf has come visiting and so has Gilani.

The aftermath of Gilani's visit has been Afridi doing an amazing flip flop in Pakistani media, and amusing responses from Yuvraj and Harbhajan.

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That apart, the tension in the relations between the two countries hasn't shown any signs of cooling, at least not in the foreseeable future.

But that's a task that's best left to the politicians and diplomats and my belief is that they should leave cricketers out of it. Nothing has come out of cricket diplomacy whether you call a series Friendship Series or Revenge Series and nothing will.

Of course, it can create unpleasant situations.

In 1978, the tour on which Kapil Dev made his debut, saw cricketing ties resume after around 18 years, if memory serves me right. The security situation was tense and Indian players of that tour have mentioned that they spent most of their time in their rooms playing cards since there were severe restrictions on their movements.

The return tour to India in 1979-80 saw Sikander Bkaht kick stumps in exasperation at Kanpur after being denied Vengsarkar's wicket, and it is said that a riot was somehow averted in the city and elsewhere.

On the 1989 tour to Pakistan, an enraged fan attacked the Indian Captain, Krish Srikanth and tore his shirt.

The victory lap at Chennai by the Pak team in 1999 is an exception, because shortly after that the two teams played a test match in front of empty stands at Eden Gardens at Kolkata. The stadium was emptied after the crowds felt angered at injustice being done to Sachin, they strongly believed that Shoaib Akhtar deliberately came in the path of the batsman running in to the safety of his crease so as to run him out.

Of course, the Sri Lankan team has been attacked by terrorists in Pakistan and there is no guarantee that a similar incident will not take place when an Indian team tours the country.

To us in India, the situation in the neighbouring country is volatile, their own ministers get killed by fanatics who will not tolerate a word against the blasphemy law and the killers in turn are applauded as heroes.

What if a Pakistani or an Indian cricketers gets seriously injured or, in the extreme, loses his life? Will we call it service rendered in the interest of good neighbourly relations, write long obituaries and move on the next game?

The situation is fraught with risk. I dare say this to both the PMs: Let cricketers play cricket, don't risk their lives.

And, before extending such invitations, do ask the cricketers if they want to be used this way.

They have a right to their lives. And we, the fans, have a stake over there.

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