No Cricket with Pakistan, No Thaw in the Freeze
No space for cricket now!
NEW DELHI: It is becoming increasingly clear, despite the media excitement, that meetings with Pakistan leader constitute little more than photo-ops for Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the government now reported to be against a India-Pakistan cricket match even in neutral Sri Lanka.
The Paris meeting between PM Modi and Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif in full public view, for 160 seconds as the television channels announced it, was not even able to get the two to some level of cricket diplomacy that had served both countries well over the years. The series that was to start on December 15, agreed to by the Crickets Boards of both India and Pakistan, is now almost certain to be scrapped following a central government’s shake of the head against it.
The message has reportedly been communicated to the BCCI with a formal communication, according to unnamed sources quoted in the media, expected to follow on Monday, just a week before the cricket series was set to commence in Sri Lanka. Pakistan incidentally has given approval with PM Sharif also speaking in support just last week.
A 2014 understanding between India and Pakistan commits them to six bilateral series between 2015-2023, with four series to be hosted by Pakistan. India has not played a full bilateral cricket series with Pakistan since the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The two countries last played together under the ICC World Cup Down Under in February this year.
New Delhi had maintained a stoic silence about the proposed Sri Lankan cricket series, with reports suggesting that the government was waiting for PM Modi to return from his foreign travels and take a decision. The Prime Minister seems to have decided against it, as the reports suggest, as the atmosphere is not conducive for sports.
Cricket diplomacy had acquired larger than bureaucracy dimensions under the Congress government, with peoples of both countries responding enthusiastically efforts to keep the cricket matches between the two countries going despite adverse political developments. The Mumbai attacks impacted on relations,however, to a point where despite wanting to then PM Manmohan Singh was not able to visit Pakistan even once during his ten year term.
The cricket boards of both neighbours have been pushing for the matches to be resumed. Differences over the venue were resolved with Sri Lanka being approved by both. Earlier Pakistan was interested in holding the series in the United Arab Emirates and India was keen to host these at home. A South Asian country was then given preference but given the silence from the government here, officials had begun to worry about the possibility of going ahead with the initiative. BCCI had also fallen silent over the past few days with the Pakistan cricket board officials expressing concern about the delay. The chiefs of both boards Shashank Manohar and Shahryar Khan had met in Dubai on November 21 where differences over the venue were resolved, and Sri Lanka was agreed upon with December 15 being set as the tentative date subject to clearance from the two governments.
New Delhi is clearly not willing to de-link sports from its political relations with Pakistan. And despite the brief meeting in Paris there are no signs of a let up in the freeze that has overtaken bilateral relations.