Cricket transcends boundaries; it brings people of diverse backgrounds together in their shared love for the sport. However, that assembly of fans can have a broader perspective when it rallies behind a slogan or a message to support a cause. These acts could also have extreme undertones, which are generally intertwined with bitter rivalries between the teams or countries.
When two nations have strained relations, it is also mirrored in the conduct of their cricket boards towards one another, which could lead to a boycott of matches, scheduling conundrums, and hosting restraints. And when they do meet in a compromised setting, the atmosphere outside the stadium could have its repercussions on the stands filled with spectators and also on the pitch where verbal spats and aggressive body language of the players turn up the heat.
Pakistan and India have a long history of agitation, which often offers glimpses of the cricket field. The arch-rivals have been involved in multiple wars and border skirmishes since their partition in 1947. The only thing that has, time and again, broken the ice is cricket. In 1987, Pakistan President General Zia-ul-Haq landed in India to watch a match between the noisy neighbours in a bid to thaw their relations; hence, the term cricket diplomacy was coined. There have been other instances, too, when both countries tried to bridge the gap by employing cricket as a tool. It would not be wrong to say that if there was no sport of cricket, Pakistan and India would find it challenging to sit at the negotiation table.
Bitter Bilateral Relations: Cricket is the Sufferer
Pakistan and India last played a bilateral series in 2007 when the Green Shirts outclassed the Blues in the latter’s backyard. Since then, they have only faced off in events sanctioned by the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) and the International Cricket Council (ICC). The standoff has reached such a point that the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) are in a dogfight over the 2023 Asia Cup, which is scheduled to be held in Pakistan in September, in the lead-up to the ODI World Cup in India in October.
India is not ready to send its team to Pakistan, citing security concerns, and has demanded to stage the event at a neutral venue. The PCB is also apparently not prepared to bow down to any pressure and has instead put forward a hybrid model in which it desires to host the first-round matches in Pakistan and the remaining in the UAE. Making things easier, the PCB is not even asking India to come to Pakistan for the latter’s matches. They are allowing India to play all their games in the UAE, but the BCCI is adamant about sticking to its stance and showing no wiggle room. India’s political gimmicks have exacerbated the situation and given rise to a new stumbling block – Pakistan’s reluctance to send its team to India for the global showpiece.
Pakistan, in a tit-for-tat riposte, is now demanding to move its World Cup matches to a neutral location and threatening to pull out of the event if its proposed hybrid model is not accepted. These are glaring examples of how acrimonious relations between two countries can have a detrimental effect on the gentleman’s game.
On paper, it is easy to deduce that Pakistan will be hailed for championing fair play and adopting a proactive approach, but in reality, the decision to withdraw from the World Cup could come back to bite them in the future. The ICC events are the most significant source for boards to boost their coffers, and teams like Pakistan cannot survive without the money that can be earned by participating in them.
Moreover, the attraction generated by Pakistan-India matches is unmatched as they garner the highest viewership ratings. Hence, a World Cup without Pakistan will not only take the gloss off the tournament but also deal a massive blow to the global governing body in terms of match ticket sales and television and digital viewership ratings.
BCCI’s monopoly in the ICC has hampered the development of the game in the nations languishing at the bottom of the hierarchy, with the Indian board pocketing the lion’s share in revenues generated through cricket around the globe. According to the proposed financial model for the 2024-27 cycle, BCCI will take home approximately 38.5 percent of the projected revenue share, while Pakistan will only bag 5.75 percent of it, which manifests a stark disparity in the distribution of resources among the member states. India contends that its contribution to advertising-income is humongous compared to any other nation.
The King Thy Name is IPL
Since the inception of the money-spinning Indian Premier League (IPL), with international cricketers participating in it receiving a whopping amount, the BCCI has been able to dictate its terms and influence its decisions within the ICC. The cricketers are prioritising leagues over international cricket, and many are either turning their backs on their central contracts or bidding farewell to national duties in favour of the lucrative T20 league run by the Indian board.
The boards have their hands tied behind their backs, and since they cannot offer their players the same sum of greenbacks, they allow them to skip bilateral series. The cash-rich BCCI is calling the shots, and nobody else has the resources or muscles to stand up to its might. There is only one loser in this situation – cricket.
The ‘Big Three’
When it comes to international cricket, the so-called ‘Big Three‘ of cricket, namely India, Australia, and England, get the most number of matches in a calendar year. These are the only three teams that play each other in a five-match Test series. The other less privileged yet quality outfits like South Africa, New Zealand, and Pakistan have their maximum quota of three-match series in the longest format of the game. The sport can never see its boom with such a gibberish approach, where the vested interests of a few stakeholders rob others of the right to exercise equal opportunities.
Governance in Domestic Cricket
Governance plays a vital role in ensuring the progress of cricket in a country. It is the soul without which no sport can find its footing. The presence of the right individuals at the helm corroborates effective governance. The West Indies were once a cricketing powerhouse, but poor management and incompetent people scuttled their ship.
Appointments based on nepotism and cronyism are a regular feature in cricket boards, particularly in South Asia and Africa. In Pakistan, the prime minister is the patron-in-chief of the board and has the authority to appoint its chairman. Hence, whenever a new government comes into power, despite all the good work being done by the cricket administration under the previous regime, it is shown the door, and a new set-up, usually made up of the incumbent patron’s allies, is put in place. If their policies don’t come to fruition, it will be reflected in the dismal performances of the national team on the international stage, and the musical chair for new faces on the board continues.
Strong Leader, Successful Team
Leading a team on and off the field is one of the most taxing jobs in the world of cricket. A captain is expected to lead from the front and should have the steel to make difficult decisions while keeping the unity of the team intact. Some individuals wilt under pressure, and that’s where their perseverance is tested. Not only is a captain required to deliver personally, but they are also responsible for keeping the whole squad motivated and steering them out of tribulations. A weak captain would lose the support of the dressing room, and their desperate attempts to find remedies could cause cracks within the team, leading to the emergence of factions and, eventually, their downfall. Only a calm and composed skipper can change the direction of the wind. Pakistan cricket has, in many eras, witnessed captains losing the backing of their team and facing mutiny.
Like any other sport, all the eleven players in a cricket team should possess the talent to represent their country. This bunch is responsible for bringing laurels to the country. However, a team lacking flair cannot produce the desired results. Selection on the basis of nepotism or overlooking deserving players always puts the chances of the team’s success in jeopardy.
Agent of Change
Cricket has proven itself to be a catalyst for change, and it has the potential to play a significant role in resolving conflicts. However, for this to happen, it requires an earnest and sincere effort from all stakeholders involved. The governing bodies must ensure transparency, fairness, and equality in the distribution of resources and opportunities. Players, coaches, and officials should prioritise the spirit of the game above personal interests.
Cricket holds immense power to unite people, bridge gaps, and promote goodwill among nations. It is a sport that transcends boundaries and cultures. However, it is not immune to the influence of politics, commercial interests, and governance challenges. It is crucial for stakeholders to address these challenges and work together to ensure the growth of the sport.