Should Pakistan boycott the T20 World Cup in India?

02:51 PM | 11 Mar, 2016
Should Pakistan boycott the T20 World Cup in India?
A lot of my close friends (both Indian and Pakistani) have recently been asking my opinion on the Pakistan Cricket Board’s (PCB) reluctance to send the Pakistani team to India.

While I have absolutely zero interest in any Indo-Pak politics and don’t wish to offend anyone’s sentiments, I can’t refrain myself from expressing my views on this occasion.  The reason is simple, as always in cricketing matches involving India and Pakistan, we shift our focus away from cricket to politics.

Being a cricketing traditionalist, I have a big problem with India-Pakistan games for this very reason.  The increased media-hype diverts focus from what should be a good cricketing contest into a political battlefield. The game on the 19th March, and moreover, Pakistan’s participation in the tournament is turning into a political soap opera.

It is no secret, nor should it be a surprise, that if it were any other international team (such as Australia or England) in Pakistan’s current position, they wouldn’t have gone to India.

That said, the BCCI (Board of Cricket Control in India) is a financial powerhouse, and missing a tournament of this scale may result in severe financial consequences for the PCB.

But putting aside the economic implications, I personally still believe that Pakistan should NOT boycott this late in the day.  The PCB, as always, has been too late to react and should have been more proactive.  At the time of writing this article, it is quite embarrassing that the Pakistan team still hasn’t departed and is sitting idle at the PCB Headquarters in Lahore - with less than a week away from the biggest cricketing event of the year.

The shift of the India-Pakistan game from Dharamsala to Kolkata

I recall when the schedule for the tournament was released in December last year, it was very clear even then that Dharamsala was not fit for an India-Pakistan match.

There are 3 things that a visiting team typically considers when touring abroad:  facilities, security and supporter logistics.  Dharamsala failed on all 3 accounts – the ground is one of the smallest in India; the political tension was high, fuelled by the Shiv Sena; and lastly, as I experienced while making my travel arrangements for Dharamsala, it's nearly impossible to reach (my planned journey for the originally scheduled game involved an overnight 12 hour bus journey from Delhi).

It's not a coincidence that Anurag Thakur (current secretary of the BCCI) is also a Member of Parliament from Himachal Pradesh (the state in which Dharamsala sits), and was one of the key stakeholders in the development of the Dharamsala Cricket Stadium.  To allocate the most prolific group games (India-Pakistan and Australia-NZ) to Dharamasala was a political decision.

Pakistan touring India

Why is the PCB only now waking-up to the security issues of playing in India?  India had been chosen as a host nearly 3 years ago, and although Pakistan started to raise their hesitations about touring India last November, no concrete action was taken.  The PCB should have formally raised this issue with the ICC well in advance, not less than a week before the main tournament.

Moreover, it is also unlikely that many Pakistani fans will travel to India.  Not only has the Indian High Commission put restrictions on the total number of visas to be issued, it will also be very difficult to get visas processed in a short space of time.

Although Shahryar Khan (current head of the PCB) is a credible ex-diplomat, the way with which he has handled the current situation leaves a lot to be desired.  He took a similar passive approach in handling the Oval ball tampering fiasco in 2006.  Participation in the T20 could have also been used as a more solid bargaining chip against India for cancelling the scheduled test series in the UAE.

The ‘small’ matter of the tournament itself

To compound matters further, Pakistan’s focus at this minute in time should have been to overturn their poor showing at the Asia Cup.  Instead, the attention has been totally diverted to security and participation.

According to some sources, certain players are extremely nervous about traveling.  Pakistan isn’t expected to go past the group stages, but if Pakistan is to progress further in the tournament, the security situation will no doubt get worse.  One can't even contemplate how some extremist parties in India will react if Pakistan reached the tournament final.

This creates a 'lose-lose' situation for the team and it's extremely disappointing to see things turn out the way they have.  The PCB should have thought of these issues beforehand.