By Suresh Menon
Pakistan have cancelled a parliamentary committee trip to India. Prominent sportsmen have suggested that they pull out of the hockey World Cup in India next month. If the government also decides to take steps to stop terrorist activities aimed at India, then perhaps the IPL auction would have achieved something. We can live without parliamentary committees and hockey teams; we can’t live with terrorists.
I make no apologies for being facetious. It was Pakistan, after all, who politicized the IPL issue, somehow concluding that national pride was pricked – and that is a facetious reaction. It is like saying that by not choosing someone from Pakistan for their staff, Indian companies are insulting that country. The analogy is not accidental. The IPL is not about sport or national honour or political point-scoring. It is business pure and simple, and when businessmen make decisions, they do not use the same yardsticks that sentimental folk do.
The question they ask is not “How will this improve relations between countries ?”, but “What is the bottom line ?”.
There were, after all only 13 slots to be filled and a cap of 750,000 dollars per team. If you were a businessman, and looked at some of the Pakistani names, perhaps you might have been tempted by Shahid Afridi and Sohail Tanvir. Maybe Imran Nazir and Umar Gul. Or the young Umar Akmal. But Tanvir apart (he was the leading wicket-taker) players from across the border were a disappointment the last time around.
True, Pakistan won the T20 World Cup in between, but Tanvir has been nursing injuries that have kept him out of both the Victoria team in Australia’s T20 and the Pakistan one-day squad in Australia. Afridi’s ten matches in the IPL saw him score a grand total of 81 runs (he claimed nine wickets, besides), and that was hardly sound return on an investment of $675,000 paid out by the Deccan Chargers.
It is understandable if, denied such riches, the players scream ‘politics’ and ‘conspiracy’. The comments by the Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board Ijaz Butt came like a breath of fresh air when he said, “It really does not bother us; what difference does it make if our players don’t play in the IPL?” Perhaps he was misquoted, for a day later he said, “We are highly disappointed. I have spoken to our sports minister to speak to his counterpart in India about this.”
Even if it was an orchestrated move by the franchisees (whether in response to signals they were getting from the Indian government or not), they were entirely within their rights to act as they did.
There is uncertainty over the future – anything could happen in the two months before the tournament, the visas could be revoked and that would mean good money down the drain. Or there might be incidents like the one which saw Mohammed Asif being caught the last time in India for drug abuse. Business houses pick players as much for their skills as for how well their public image meshes with the company’s image.
It is not often that one agrees with the Board of Control for Cricket in India, but when its Secretary says that the franchisees are entitled to their selections, it is hard to disagree.
There is a school of thought which holds that it was incumbent upon the team owners to help political relations with the ‘soft diplomacy’ approach that cricket affords. If so, it should have been made clear to them. But that would have been an insult too – to be chosen for political reasons!
One of the clichés of the India-Pakistan situation concerns the excellent ‘people-to-people’ relationship unlike the politician-to-politician one which is responsible for all the ills. Less than six months after the Pakistanis played in the IPL last, terrorists attacked India. So much for people-to-people relations. Terrorists don’t care. Politicians don’t care. Why should businessmen be forced to care?