The shadow of strained relations between India and Pakistan continues to cast its influence over the cricketing landscape in the region.
The upcoming Asia Cup, scheduled to be hosted by Pakistan, has been significantly scaled back due to India’s refusal to tour the country. This decision has highlighted the complex interplay of politics, cricket, and regional tensions in South Asia.
Back in 2008, when Pakistan last hosted the Asia Cup, the cricketing and political landscapes were different. The entire tournament was played on Pakistani soil, marking the last time an Indian cricket team visited Pakistan.
Fast forward 15 years to the 16th edition of the tournament, and only four out of 13 matches are set to take place in Pakistan, a stark contrast to the past. Some see hosting these matches as a miraculous feat, given Pakistan’s hurdles.
The decision to award Pakistan the hosting rights for the Asia Cup in 2021 was seen as a sign of normalization after years of international teams shying away from the country due to security concerns.
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However, just a year later, the Secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and President of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC), Jay Shah, announced India’s refusal to tour Pakistan due to “political tensions.”
This left the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) scrambling to find solutions, including considering a tournament boycott or a hybrid hosting model.
“Considering the influence India holds over the International Cricket Council as well as ACC nations, I cannot imagine any ACC country, apart from ours, being able to stand up to the BCCI. Nobody can afford to antagonise India,” said the source at the PCB.
Ultimately, a compromise was reached, with only four matches scheduled to be played in Pakistan and the rest hosted by Sri Lanka. This decision has raised questions about India’s influence in world cricket, attributed to its vast population and significant financial clout within the sport.
Saad Shafqat, a cricket writer and analyst, believes that India’s dominance in the cricket market allows them to dictate terms on a global level, leading to situations like these.
“Their board [often] refuses to play against us in bilateral games. They don’t include our players in the Indian Premier League [IPL],” Shafqat told Al Jazeera.
“They are only able to do this because they have the biggest cricket market, and they dictate terms on a global level. Nobody wants to cross them.”
“The Indian cricket board is hurting Pakistan just because it can. Back in the 90s, Asian nations were a bloc and presented a united front, but things have unfortunately changed now. This is a classic bullying tactic,” said veteran cricket analyst and writer Sharda Ugra.
“Do not treat cricket as the Line of Control,” she added, referring to the 740km (460-mile) de facto border between the two countries through the disputed Kashmir territory. “Do not make the sport a border conflict.”
The influence of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has grown substantially, especially after the success of the IPL. This domestic T20 tournament has become one of the world’s most lucrative sporting events.
Despite this, Pakistani players have been excluded from the IPL since its inception, reflecting the strained cricketing relations between the two nations. Coupled with the decision to strip Pakistan of its hosting rights, this has fueled perceptions of the BCCI’s strong-arm tactics.
While some experts argue that India’s approach reflects “small-mindedness” and raises conflicts of interest, others believe that Pakistan should have anticipated India’s stance.
According to former Pakistan captain Rashid Latif, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) should have anticipated the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) refusal to play in Pakistan.
The BCCI has made it clear that India will only play in Pakistan during events organized by the International Cricket Council (ICC).
“We all knew that India were not going to travel for this tournament. However, with Pakistan scheduled to host the Champions Trophy, an ICC tournament in 2025, you will see them traveling here,” said Latif.
He also mentioned that Pakistan had limited options and had to opt for the hybrid model. Latif highlighted the significance of BCCI President Roger Binny and Vice President Rajiv Shukla agreeing to travel to Pakistan for the Asia Cup, saying, “That is a very big deal and should be appreciated and seen as a positive development between the two countries.”
Shafqat, who authored a biography of Pakistan’s former captain Javed Miandad, acknowledged that Pakistan has a weak position but emphasized the opportunity to showcase their capabilities during the four matches.
He said, “We can show to everybody that we mean well. It is easy to get demoralized in such a situation, but this can also be a great motivator to do well on the ground and let it spur you on. I feel that this is what we will see by the Pakistan cricket team, not only in this Asia Cup but also the World Cup in October.”
It’s noted that India tends to only play in Pakistan for events organized by the International Cricket Council (ICC), the global governing body of cricket. The decision to participate in the upcoming Champions Trophy in Pakistan remains uncertain.
As Pakistan prepares to host the limited matches of the Asia Cup, cricket enthusiasts and analysts alike acknowledge the challenging circumstances. Despite the disappointment, there is a sentiment that Pakistan should make the most of the opportunities at hand. The matches could serve as a platform to showcase their cricketing talent and demonstrate goodwill to the world.
As Pakistan prepares to take the field in the limited matches they will host, there is an opportunity to transcend the political tensions and focus on the spirit of the game.
Cricket, with its power to unite and inspire, could serve as a bridge between nations, reminding everyone that even in the face of adversity, the essence of the sport remains undiminished.
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