Cricket For Peace

All’s fair in love and war?
April 6, 2010, 12:15 pm
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The recent news that Indian tennis star Sania Mirza and Pakistan cricketer Shoaib Malik has created wave after wave of news and scandal.

It started out as a beautiful love affair across the divide.  An Indian and a Pakistani Muslim – both sports stars in their own right – fall in love and decide to get married regardless of what anyone might say.   And why not?  I have good friends who celebrated their wedding in India last year – she’s Indian, he’s Pakistani – and are wonderfully happy despite initial obstruction to the marriage.

As usual those who want to constantly stir up trouble between the two countries, and atagonise Indian Muslims, cried traitor pretty quickly.  Bal Thakeray, leader of right wing Hindu group Shiv Sena, claimed Sania would have to become a Pakistani citizen after her marriage (my friend hasn’t even though she currently lives in Karachi with her husband) and therefore could no longer represent India.

He said, ‘Henceforth, Sania will not remain an Indian. Had her heart been Indian, it wouldn’t have beaten for a Pakistani.’

Unfortunately on Friday I saw a poll on the Times of India website that overwhelmingly supported Thakeray’s view.

However I’m glad to hear others speaking out against this view.  Union Urban Development Minister, Jaipal Reddy criticised Thakeray’s views and said,

We in India have very serious problems with the Government of Pakistan. That does not, however, mean that there cannot be good relations between the people of the two countries.’

Readers of this blog know that I believe increased people-to-people contact can only be a good thing.  So let’s hope the wedding goes ahead and Malik and Mirza are happy.

Sadly though, the forthcoming nikah is being threatened by another scandal.  Malik’s former ‘marriage’ to Indian woman Ayesha Siddiqui.  The marriage allegedly happened on the telephone in 2002.   There’s been claim and counter claim over whether Siddiqui and Malik ever actually met.

He says he was cheated because photos of the woman who was given to believe was Ayesha, was in fact someone else.

I never met Ayesha.  Sania will be my first wife

Ayehsa on the other hand claims that Shoaib mistreated her and finished with her because she was fat.  The Times of India also published claims that she had miscarried Shoaib’s child.

I find this angle of the story astounding.  One of the two parties is distorting the truth outrageously.  I can’t quite believe that Shoaib would be stupid enough to chose a new bride not only from the same country, but also from the same city as his previous ‘wife’.  However it also amazes me that Siddiqui’s family would put themselves through this without a shread of truth in the matter.  It makes English football’s John Terry affair seem a minor drama!

Whatever the truth, I hope that Sania and Shoaib can be together, be happy, continue playing the sports that they are famous for (one Shoaib’s ban is over at least!) for their respective countries, and bring pride and joy to their fans.


Peace for Cricket
January 23, 2010, 10:44 am
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IPL franchises failed to bid for Pakistani players in the third edition of the competition.
This has caused outrage, understandably, from Pakistan.

From the Indian side, everyone seems quick to deny a conspiracy.

The problem is that it is quite likely that this was purely an rational economic decision rather than a political one.    It is less likely that the Indian government or the BCCI told the franchises not to bid for these players than that the franchises feared that the political relationship between the India and Pakistan was so unstable that they couldn’t risk shelling out cash for players that may not, in the end, be able to play.  So for the franchises it was an economic decision but one influenced by political realities.

Its a tragedy that cricket is being held at ransom by politics yet again and that followers of the IPL won’t be able to see members of the national team that won the T20 world cup in action. It surely isn’t that surprising though.

This uncertainty of visas and availability is yet another reason why the rumoured move of the ICC to Mumbai is such a bad idea.

It has been mooted that the ICC could move either back to London or cricket’s powerhouse – India. Whilst one of the negatives about London is the possibility that Zimbabwean’s cricket administrators might not be able to get visas, no one seems to have mentioned that if the ICC moves to India, PCB administrators might find a similar uncertainty around getting visas to that which the Pakistani cricketers have recently experienced.  This would be far more devastating to world cricket than the loss of the Zimbabweans.  One to ponder on…..

Cricket or Chess? The struggle for supremacy
April 4, 2009, 4:09 pm
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The article was written for the Corridor of Uncertainty fanzine in the run up to the tour of India in December last 2008.  At the time of writing I still wasn’t sure whether England would be going or not.


Cricket and identity in South Asia
April 4, 2009, 4:01 pm
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This article, written for the Corridor of Uncertainty fanzine in December 2007, is a summary of my research on cricket and identity in South Asia.


Cricket and Indian National Consciousness
March 30, 2009, 5:46 pm
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Click image to read document

Click image to read document

My IPCS paper on cricket and national consciousness in India

Tragedy in Pakistan
March 10, 2009, 7:19 pm
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The recriminations have been flying almost since the moment the bullets stopped.   What happened on Tuesday 3rd of March was tragic for Pakistan, Sri Lanka and cricket in South Asia.

I don’t really know where to start with this one…..  I was horrified to hear what happened in Lahore – a city that I had a wonderful time in when watching England on 2005.

Much of Pakistan seems to be in denial about what happened.  I’ve seen this absurd piece of ‘evidence’ (110 per cent true!) a number of times on the web now suggesting that India’s spy agency RAW was behind the attacks.

Now I don’t deny that India and Pakistan both interfer in each others internal affairs but RAW shooting Sri Lankan cricketers really is crazy.

Imran Khan has got in on the denial act, suggesting a foreign element – Afghans, Indians, Tamil Tigers – anyone but Pakistanis.   However there are rational voices too that accept, tragically, that this attack was carried out by homegrown extremists (let’s face it we all have some).

‘First off, what did the poor gentle Sri Lankans do to deserve the treatment they in Lahore at our hands?

I ask this question in the manner I do because right-wing pundits and the authorities can bury their heads in the sand and say that this country and its own people had nothing to do with the atrocity; I believe it was no one but Pakistanis who planned, trained for, and did the dastardly deed.’–szh

Sri Lanka has noted that they do not believe that India was involved in the attacks,

‘‘From our point of view, there is no Indian involvement,said Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama.

And indeed Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror today says,

‘A little-known militant Muhammad Aqil has been identified by Pakistani security agencies as the mastermind of the audacious attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore, but raids across the city to nab him proved futile on Monday as he managed to escape.

The security agencies conducted raids at several places after identifying Aqil, who has links to a banned militant group. However, the name of the group was not revealed.

Though Aqil, who hails from Kahuta, managed to escape, his accomplice Talat was captured.’

Meanwhile aside from the typical Indo-Pak finger pointing that often accompanies acts of violence in either country, the cricketing world is reeling from the shock.  While the Mumbai attacks missed international cricketers by a day or two (and I was adamant at the time that they were not the targets) this time there is no doubt that cricket was the target.

Pakistan’s cricket captain, Younis Khan, pleaded with the international community,

‘I can only plead to everyone don’t abandon Pakistan now or try to isolate it. If this mistake is made, terrorism will have won in Pakistan,’

The 31-year-old said cricket was a binding force for young and old in the country.

‘We don’t have much to cheer about and if you stop cricket activities you are encouraging young minds to be influenced by these militants’.

Ordinary Pakistanis feel the same,

‘For entertainment there is cricket or you can go to a restaurant with your family. But the first priority is cricket,” said Shahzad Mehmood, a 28-year-old accounts clerk who had come to the site of the terror attack to lay flowers. “When we play cricket, or watch cricket, we feel so happy.”

You can read Pakistani bloggers reactions here too.

However in the short term is seems unrealistic that international cricket, or indeed any other sport, will continue in Pakistan.  This is a disaster for an already struggling cricket board, and for all fans of Pakistani cricket.  There have been rumours that Pakistan may play Australia in England next year and from a purely selfish perspective, I would love that to happen but I would prefer to be able to watch Pakistan play cricket at home like I did in 2005.

Even in the slightly longer term, these attacks look like they may have impacted in South Asia’s ability to host the 2011 world cup.  None of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh are risk free and all have been subject to terrorist attacks, civil war and coups.  As Nasser Hussain said,

‘The 2011 world cup due to be staged in the region, has to be in jeopardy’.

In October last year Imran Khan said in a TV interview that militants would never attack cricket in Pakistan because Pakistanis love cricket so much that there would be a backlash.  Well let us only hope that this backlash comes soon and that those determined to destroy Pakistan’s reputation in the world can be prevented from doing further damage.

IPL – the new battle ground for big business vs government
March 10, 2009, 1:04 pm
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Will India’s showcase cricket tournament go ahead?

Even before the hideous attack on cricket in Pakistan, the Indian government was voicing concerns about whether the IPL should go ahead on time.   The premier league is going to clash with the Indian general elections.  Anyone who’s been to India during election time knows its a crazy hectic and sometimes a little scary place to be.   I was once in Bihar during an election and the whole place was shut down to prevent chaos and violence.  On a side note – they also don’t serve alcohol in India the day before and during polls, although wierdly once the polling stations shut booze becomes available again.

As soon as the general election dates where announced, some cities became uncomfortable with hosting matches and elections on the same day.  Matches for the Kolkata Knight Riders and Bangalore Royal Challengers are being rescheduled so they don’t clash with polls in Calcutta and Bangalore.   But the government’s unhappiness at the clashes weren’t just about security – there was a fear that coverage of the series would clash with the election campaign.

The BJP said,

‘Election is the biggest festival of the masses in democracy.  If there is any other event that threatens to spoil this party, at least an attempt should be made to prevent it’.

And  a Congress party representative noted,

‘I just appeal to the people to understand that they can watch the same match next June but they will only get to elect the next government only after five year (sic).’

The fear is that the IPL will overshadow the election.

Since the attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team and match officials, the concern has grown greater.  Trouble at the IPL would seriously dent India’s standing in the world and negatively impact on India’s reputation as the premier cricketing nation.

Lalit Modi, head of the IPL and the sponsors are pressuring the government to give the go-ahead despite security fears.

‘Advertisers say that there will be an impact if the event is deferred even by a couple of weeks as “there is too much at stake, with close to Rs 1200 crore riding on the event.” Major sponsors of IPL this year include Hero Honda, Coca Cola, Pepsico, Airtel, Vodafone and Kingfisher.

“If IPL is rescheduled, at stake are advertising campaigns, launches and activities – all will be affected. It will upset a lot of facets of advertising connect, leading to chaos. There is nothing that matches it (IPL) in scale and value,” says Tarun Nigam, executive director of Starcom India-north.’

This poses a huge dilemma for the Indian government and may reflect who holds the real power in India now – big business or government.

If anything happened at the matches, or in the cities holding the matches, whether election-related violence or (more unlikely but still a possibility) some kind of terrorist attack, the government will pay the price.

‘Over the past 48 hours, the Indian government has reached the conclusion that to cancel the IPL, even to avoid clashes with polling in the national elections, would represent an admission of impotence against terrorist attacks that cannot be contemplated. There are many things that can be cancelled without too much damage to national pride, but cricket is not among them. But until the IPL reveals its security plans in detail, and the Indian government clearly states that it is committed to them, then Modi’s assurances that the tournament goes on have an element of promotional bluster.‘ –

There are of course other factors at play in the Congress government’s calculations.

One has also valid reasons to suspect that electoral considerations– the anxiety of the Congress (I) not to step on the toes of Shri Sharad Pawar, who apart from being an influential member of the union cabinet, wears a second hat as the czar of the commercialised cricket world– are also playing a role in preventing a totally professional judgement on the issue.’ –

Lalit Modi has recently said that security for the matches and players will be run by a central committee for the IPL and that the budget will be ’10 times’ that of last year (no figures given though, although its rumoured to be in the region of £5m). 

However the Indian government has already said that paramilitaries will not be available for players protection, as they’ll be busy making sure the election goes smoothly.

Many players will wait for detailed security plans to be revealed before committing to the tournament.  KP and the New Zealand cricket board have already voiced concerns.

And the latest news is that the IPL is refusing to involve the players association (FICA) in negotiations.  Many players set great store by this organisation that represents their interests, and apparently FICA was closely involved in encouraging England players to go back to India after the Mumbai attacks ( ).  The IPL management are opposed to such player representative (another sign of big businesses lack of care for its workers/unions?).

The IPL has said that they security arrangements will be similar to those put in place for England players after the Mumbai attacks.  Well they worked in that no trouble was seen but in Chennai they were patchy at best (sometimes you got frisked, sometimes you didn’t) and oppressive in Mohali – which arguably reduced crowd numbers to disappointing levels.

Empty stadium

The current plan is for matches to be held (if the event goes ahead) in more cities, including Ahmedabad (no trouble there, ever!), Cuttack, Nagpur, Dharmshala as well as the original eight franchise cities.  This is great news for fans no doubt but whether it will allow things to go smoothly is questionable.

So as Modi tries to assure everyone that all is well, there’s a lot of arm twisting going on.  For the players and the government there’s some deep thinking to be done – is it safe? will it effect the elections? and is the money really worth it?

Who wins will surely say a lot about the power of big business and politics in modern India.

UPDATE:  Modi has just announced that the IPL will not be staged in India.  So I guess the politicians won.  Although whether it’s really a win is another matter – I guess we’ll just have to watch this space.

The current plan is most likely to involve the IPL being staged in England.  Seems like madness to me – more cricket in April???  Still I for one would love it to be held here as that’ll mean I can go and watch some games.  Bonus!