India vs Pak: Cricket’s love story turned sour

As #BoycottPakistan trends on social media in India, can and should the cricketing team follow suit? Patriot takes a look

With Team India scheduled to take on Pakistan in the T20 World Cup in Dubai this coming Sunday (October 24), the debate #Boycott Pakistan has started trending on social media to settle the scores outside a 22-yard pitch. This trend is the net result of the recent terrorist attacks by alleged Pakistan-backed terrorist group LeT on the Indian soldiers and civilians in the Kashmir valley.

The two teams have only met four times in Abu Dhabi and Dubai since 2000 with India winning the last three games. Going by the stats of an ICC tournament, the two teams have faced off against each other 17 times, and out of those Team India has won 14 times. The three times Pakistan won was in the 2004 Champions Trophy at Birmingham, 2009 Champions Trophy at Centurion and in the 2017 Champions Trophy final at The Oval. Now it will be after a gap of two years that these two bitter arch-rivals will face each other in an ICC event, the last time was in the 2019 World Cup. The Indian team won that game by 89 runs at Old Trafford.

Despite India’s record, Pakistan’s performance has not been special in any ICC tournament, the crowd in Middle East venues would surely be excited to watch these two neighbouring countries after such a long wait. Not to forget that India stopped playing Pakistan in Sharjah in the wake of the 2000 match-fixing scandal because every needle of suspicion pointed towards the underground mafia there controlling illegal bets.

India are fancied to beat Pakistan based on the teams recent performances and how little Pakistan have played in recent times with the country being wracked by terrorist activities. Most of the world teams are scared to tour Pakistan and the recent pull-outs by England and New Zealand from the bilateral series have made this situation even more worrisome.

India have been drawn alongside Pakistan, New Zealand and Afghanistan in the T20 WC with two teams qualifying for the Super 12 stage. This simply means that both teams can qualify for the next stage even after losing this high voltage encounter.

 

Should India forfeit the match?

As has been the case in recent memory, bilateral ties between the two countries are on hold because of political tensions. The two teams only meet in multi-team tournaments, like the World Cups.

With the T20 World Cup returning after a gap of five years, with the previous edition being held back in the year 2016 in which West Indies emerged victorious, India are playing host to all other 15 nations. The tournament, however, was forced to move to Oman and the UAE because of the deteriorating Covid-19 situation back home early this year.

 Virat Kohli of India plays to the offside as Pakistan wicketkeeper Sarfaraz Ahmed looks on during the Group Stage match of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 PHOTO: Getty images

But it was much before March or April 2021 when the Covid pandemic played havoc in India that BCCI was given a green signal by the government of India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in 2020 for allowing visas for Pakistan’s cricket team. It’s important to mention here that both MHA and BCCI are being governed by the father-son duo of Amit Shah and Jay Shah.

And now when the talks of India boycotting Pakistan have gripped the discussion back home following the dastardly terrorist attack in Jammu & Kashmir region, there is no way that Team India could afford to do the same.

India has for long refused to send any team to Pakistan. Even in cricket, the last time the Pakistan cricket team visited India was in 2016, and that was also allowed because India were hosting an ICC event with the same obligation of granting visas to all participating countries. Therefore, it would not be right on India’s side not to participate in global events like the World Cup or the Olympics.

A similar situation played out post the Pulwama terrorist attack resulting in the death of over 40 CRPF personnel before the 2019 World Cup game in England. Even then the government refused to get involved in sporting matters and Team India took revenge on the field.

Otherwise, cricket diplomacy has always worked for both countries. Be it after the Partition of India or the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war or the Kargil triumph, cricket was the only common ground between both countries to come to the negotiation table.

In the world arena also, nothing has been achieved till day by boycotting sports ties. Be it the cold war times of Russia and the United States, where the Moscow Olympic Games were boycotted by the US-led block or the subsequent Los Angeles Games, which were skipped by the Russian block, even the SuperPowers of the world agreed to “not mix politics in sports”.

India participated in the Olympics where Pakistan was also a participant. In fact, in the javelin throw event where Indian athlete Neeraj Chopra won a gold medal, the Pakistani contestant finished fourth.

 

Penalties and repercussions

Now the big question is what will happen “if India technically withdraws from the showpiece event”?

Coming back to the T20 WC tie, no player in the Indian dressing room or for that matter no cricket enthusiast would agree with the theory of giving “two points” on a platter to India’s No. 1 rival. The financial implications, as per the ICC draft, would follow separately along with a situation where no big multi-team tournament would be awarded to India for not fulfilling their commitments as a host nation.

In any case, the demand for boycotting the match has been coming mostly from politicians and social activists. It has further escalated following the recent terror attacks in Jammu & Kashmir. After the recent terror attacks, Union minister Giriraj Singh has expressed anger on the incidents in the Valley, raising his voice for India not to step onto the field.

But what if India forfeit the match this time? What would be the repercussions?

According to Section 16.10.4 of ICC T20 World Cup 2021 playing conditions, the team forfeiting a match that comes into play more often shall get 0 points. In T20 tournaments, what matters most is the Net Run Rate (NRR) when it comes to qualification scenarios. If India forfeit the match then as per Section 16.10.9, average runs per over of the defaulting team over the course of the relevant portion of the tournament will be calculated.

The final call lies with ICC’s match referee. According to sub-section 16.2.1.2, the match referee shall award the match to the other side only if their opponent refuses to play the match.

And don’t forget that India being the host country can hardly afford to resort to such extreme steps for the simple reason that “the prospects of hosting future ICC tournaments may also come in danger”!

(Cover: Pakistan and India supporters in full voice during the Group Stage match of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 between India and Pakistan at Old Trafford on June 16, 2019 Photo: Getty images)

 

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Chander Shekhar Luthra
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