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Why India shouldn’t try to avoid Pakistan in sporting encounters

Should India take on Pakistan in the international sporting arena?

BCCI boss Anurag Thakur doesn’t believe so.

The BJP leader, while ruling out resumption of cricketing ties with the rogue neighbour after the latest attacks from across the border at Uri, said:

“Keeping in mind that the government has adopted a new strategy to isolate Pakistan and in view of the public sentiment in the country, we request ICC not to put India and Pakistan in the same pool of the multi-nation tournaments. If the two countries reach the semi-finals and have to clash at that time, it is another situation which can’t be avoided.”

The statement above reeks of political opportunism while ignoring commercial considerations and the future success of ICC tournaments.

While it’s no one’s case that Pakistan is a sponsor of terrorism, to ask the ICC or any other sporting body to accommodate the Indian government’s  views would be setting a bad precedent—if accepted.

What happens if Bangladesh or Afghanistan make similar demands? Will the ICC oblige?

What about other sporting events such as the Olympics or World Championships? Are Indian sports persons to refuse to take on Pakistani athletes in group encounters but not in knockout rounds?

Can the US decline to play North Korea or Iran in international competitions?

India last toured their north-west neighbours in a full-fledged series in 2004. The last bilateral series occurred in 2012 with the visitors drawing the T20 series and clinching the ODIs.

India are grouped with Pakistan for the 2017 Champions Trophy.

ICC President Dave Richardson said:

“No doubt we want to try to put India versus Pakistan in our event. Its hugely important from an ICC point of view. Its massive around the world and the fans have come to expect it as well. Its fantastic for the tournament because it gives it a massive kick.”

It’s unlikely that the ICC will oblige Thakur by moving India out of the group. If the BCCI insists on making a political statement in the cricketing world, Team India might have to forfeit their game against their arch-rivals.

The men’s team are the only ones affected. The women’s side are slated to play Pakistan in a bilateral series. Should the tour be called off, their ODI ratings will be affected that may reduce their chances for automatic qualification for next year’s World Cup.

Thakur’s statement was greeted with disdain across the border.

Mohammad Yousuf said:

“I just don’t understand what he wants to say. For the last eight years India has avoided playing us in a proper bilateral series even when relations were better.”

He added:

“The ICC keeps on saying it will not tolerate politics or government interference in member boards and the BCCI President is making political statements. Either he speak as a BJP leader or BCCI head.”

An unnamed Pakistan Cricket Board official said:

“It is an out and out political statement from the President of the BCCI. We are disappointed as we have been trying hard for a long time now to normalize cricket ties with India and we have always believed in keeping sports and politics apart.”

In another news report, sources within the PCB revealed that they do not take Thakur’s tirades seriously.

“If they really don’t want to play Pakistan at all would they be willing to forfeit the match against us in next year’s Champions Trophy. No changes can be made now so what is the purpose of such statements except to play to the galleries.

…But for public consumption he (Thakur) gives different statements.”

Were the UN to declare Pakistan a sponsor of terror and impose sanctions, then it’s possible that sporting bodies across the world could declare it ‘persona non grata’, much like South Africa was for its heinous policy of apartheid.

But until then, it’s downright foolish to expect to be able to avoid Pakistan in multilateral contests.

At the same time, to simply claim that sports and politics shouldn’t mix is being naïve in this age of realpolitik.

Sports is a metaphor for war without weapons or bloodshed. 

It is also  a vehicle for peace such as when the Pakistani premier visited India for the crucial quarter-final encounter during the 2011 World Cup paving the way for resuming cricketing ties even if it was short-lived.

The issue at hand is complex. Simplistic statements from the BCCI chief muddy the waters especially when he must and should know better.

Sanjay Manjrekar: Vegetarianism

“Yes,  vegetarianism is supposed to be healthy and all that,  but I have seen many fat,  unhealthy vegetarians to know that it is more about eating less and eating healthy,  than being a vegetarian or non-vegetarian.” 

—Sanjay Manjrekar. 

Maria Toorpakai Wazir: Religion and sports

“Love for religion should come from within and stay there. My faith is between me and my God. I think the more we keep religion out of education, sports and politics, the better.”
—Maria Toorpakai Wazir, Pakistan’s No. 1 woman squash player.

Remembering Mohammed Shahid while he fights yet another battle in Gurgaon

I don’t remember watching Mohammad Shahid play.

Hassan Sardar—his Pakistani counterpart—was much more of a household name in those days.

But I do recall—faintly—the 7-1 drubbing of the Indian men’s hockey side in the 1982 Asiad final in New Delhi.

It was a tragedy—a loss wasn’t unexpected—-but  humiliation was disaster.

Mohammed Shahid was a member of that squad; he was also part of the 1980 side that last won gold for India at an Olympics.

But it was goalie Mir Ranjan Negi who was anointed villain of the piece. He was termed a ‘traitor’ and there were claims that he had been bribed by his opponents.

Negi said:

“Everywhere I went, I was abused by the public. Nothing matters to me more than playing for my country. I am a proud Indian and will always be so. There were lots of things that happened in the run-up to the final. You find out. I will not speak about the politics that contributed to our defeat.”

His team-mate Zafar Iqbal later said:

“The entire team was to blame; we forwards missed chances, the defence left huge gaps that the Pakistanis exploited. Despite making great efforts to cover the gaps, poor Negi became a sitting duck and the Pakistanis scored at will […] He was blamed solely, but every player was to blame […] The atmosphere was vicious. I remember someone claiming that he had seen Negi come out of the Pakistan High Commission on match eve […] Some even enquired whether Negi, with his first name Mir, was Muslim.”

Hassan Sardar believes that the scoreline was no indicator of how close the final really was.

He says:

“Do you know who the man-of-match that day was? It was our 17-year-old goalkeeper, also named Shahid (Ali Khan) who made more than eight saves that day. Nobody remembers that, the scoreline should have been 7-5 or 7-6, just an indication of how good the Indian team was back then.”

Mohammed Shahid now lies in a hospital bed in Gurgaon fighting for his life against a liver condition that afflicted him following a bout of jaundice and dengue.

Shahid is an employee with the Railways. They will be picking up all his medical expenses.

His condition is still critical.

The Sports Ministry has announced a grant of Rs. 10 lakhs for the former Olympian.

Sundeep Misra of Firstpost describes  Shahid thus:

“In the late 70’s and early 80’s, you didn’t go to watch hockey. You went to watch magic; mesmerizing magic created by a man from Benares called Mohammed Shahid.

Those were the kind of skills that couldn’t be taught. No amount of coaching camps, elite coaches could create supple wrists that, honestly, were an extension of the hockey stick. Shahid, short but lithe displayed his dribbling skills like a card-dealer in a casino. Defences retracted inwards, backing off not willing to take on this twisting and turning dervish whose only challenge in life seemed to be cutting through defences like a combine harvester in a wheat field. Fans watched in disbelief. Opposition coaches gave up. Defenders wanted to quit the sport. Little kids wanted to know ‘dodge kaise karte hain’. Commentators lost their voice if Shahid didn’t have the ball. In those days, Mohammed Shahid was hockey.”

A Times Of India story called him “the genius of dribble”.

Shahid himself was much more self-effacing.

He said:

“Look, I am Mohammed Shahid. That will not ever change. Yes, I was India captain; people said I had God given talent with dribbling skills. Mujhe bhi yaad hai, har waqt mar dodge, mar dodge. Par ek time ke baad mann bhar gaya (Even I remember dodging past players all the time. But after a while, it was enough).”

Sardar has fond memories of playing against Shahid.

He said:

“Yeh bade afsos ki baat hai (It is quite unfortunate to hear of this) Kya kamaal ka khiladi tha! Aisi behetreen stickwork modern hockey mein bahut kum dekhne ko milti thi. We may have been sworn rivals on the field, but I was a Shahid fan. All our pre-match plans would revolve around how to check Shahid and he would simply destroy it all. We could never catch him

But do you know, Shahid and I were part of a dream attacking trio that could never be realised. Shahid would often tell me, ‘Hassan-bhai, had we played together in the same team, no one would have been able to touch us.’ Imagine a team where Zafar was left-in, I was centre forward and Shahid on the right…”

Hassan laughingly recollected an incident during the 1986 bilateral series when he was at the receiving end of Shahid’s wizardry and threatened to sort Shahid out by visiting his hotel room.

He said:

“Blind with rage, I told him, ‘Arrey, mujhe sey panga kyun le rahe ho?! Lag jayegi, toh udte hue jaoge.’ But it just wasn’t us alone. None of the European teams could ever catch him. In the Pakistan camp, we would say, ‘Yeh sabke phephre nikal deta hai, bhaga bhaga ke…”

Shahid has the respect and love of his countrymen, teammates and opponents.

Here’s hoping that he makes a full recovery and soon.


Mohammed Shahid passed away aged 56 on July 20, 2016. May his soul rest in peace. 

Imran Khan: Fairy tales

“We grow up with fairy tales,  but in life there is no happily ever after. And if there were,  I would get bored of life. To me,  life is interesting when one is struggling.” 

—Imran Khan,  cricketer and politician. 

Isn’t sports reduced to jingoism when it’s considered patriotic to win?

The Pakistani cricket team returned home only to find their fans in no mood to forgive them for their dismal showing in the T20 World Cup.

Chants of  ‘Shame, shame’ rent the air at the Allama Iqbal international airport in Lahore.

Cricketers in the Indian sub-continent are accustomed to such treatment from their volatile followers.

When they do well, they’re worshipped as demi-gods; when they fail, they’re devils incarnate.

Sri Lankan skipper Angelo Matthews was a sorry figure as he pleaded with the media and his countrymen back home to cut his young team a little slack after being knocked out from the tourney.

He said:

“It has been a disappointing few months for all of us. We’ve let down the fans and we’ve let down the whole country. We haven’t played good cricket at all. We’re disappointed. All we can do is try and stick to our combinations and not try and change the team too much. Try to pick about 20 players and re-evaluate them over six months — give them an opportunity to settle down and see what they come out with in terms of performances.

We can take decisions then. Quick decisions won’t solve this matter. We have to try and be patient. If you look at the style we played in, we are not deserving of a semifinal place. The team didn’t play well. That’s why we lost. “

India are the only sub-continental side to make the semis. New Zealand, West Indies and England make up the numbers.

The mercurial Shahid Afridi riled jingoists back home when he claimed that he felt more welcomed by Indian fans than anywhere else including Pakistan.

The identification of patriotism with sports is not restricted to just South-East Asia.

Wanting your fellow countryman to win is fine, but associating that support with patriotism is overdoing it.

On the far edge of the spectrum is Norman Tebbit’s Cricket Test of April 1990.

The parliamentarian infamously declared:

“A large proportion of Britain’s Asian population fail to pass the cricket test. Which side do they cheer for? It’s an interesting test. Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are?”

He revived the controversy post the London bombings when he said:

“I do think had my comments been acted on those attacks would have been less likely.

What I was saying about the so-called “cricket test” is that it was a test of whether a community has integrated.

If a community was looking back at where it had come from instead of looking forward with the people to whom they had come to, then there is going to be a problem sooner or later.”

And in 2014, Tebbit produced an ancestry test.

Speaking to BBC Newsnight, he said:

“One test I would use is to ask them on which side their fathers or grandfathers or whatever fought in the second world war. And so you’ll find that the Poles and the Czechs and the Slovaks were all on the right side. And so that’s a pretty good test isn’t it? Perhaps we’ll even manage to teach them to play cricket gradually over the years.”

Rick Ayers in the Huffington Post writes of the Super Bowl on the 4th of July:

“Twenty years ago, I would refuse to stand up for the Star Spangled Banner — making a small protest of the notion of imposing a rightist political ritual on the moment of a sporting event. Back then, one could look around and see plenty of others sitting. If anyone gave me a hard time, I would easily glare back, knowing I had my principles and my rights. Now I either stand up or find a way to be at the concession stands. The atmosphere is more challenging, more aggressively conformist. You could get hurt if you don’t participate in the ritual.

There are so many ways this hypocritical nod to ‘our troops’ is nauseating. The display of militaristic patriotism, the ritual unity of our ‘supporting our boys,’ is actually an act of complicity in sending them over to Iraq and Afghanistan to die. The super-patriots are not the friends of the GI’s; they are loading them in the death transports to the front.”

He adds:

“As I watch the soldiers march out in stiff uniforms, bearing a flag that almost covers the infield, I see the Americans around me adopt an attitude of reverence — our soldiers are our heroes and they deserve our love. Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House in Chicago and an opponent of World War I, mused on the phenomenon of crowds cheering our troops as they marched down Main Street. We are not celebrating that they are going to go out and slay others, not really. We are honoring them because they are about to go out and be slain. Yes, their very suffering and death has sanctified them, has made these youths a holy object, someone from among us who we send out to die, to preserve our community, our way of life.

This does not have a rational basis — for the war may indeed be a disaster, a waste, a cruel joke. Thousands more may die while politicians dither and maneuver. No matter. The important thing is that they are to die and that is something that gives our lives meaning. It is primal, it is sick, how we send them off. How different if we were to see our identity, our sense of community, with other peoples in the world and not just in our narrow and embattled enclave. Our self-imposed nightmare.

And, of course, even those who oppose the disgusting wars America has launched in the Middle East stick to the narrative of the slaughtered GI’s, the victims. We are against the war but we support our troops. Someone needs to deliver the bad news. These are not just heroes. . . . or victims. These are Americans who are killing, slaughtering people in our name. Yes, Iraqi and Afghan families, parents and children, are being burned, blown open, lacerated by American weapons wielded by American youngsters. Get used to it. The trials of Marines for murder in Hamdania and Haditha will be added to the tortures of Abu Ghraib. And more horror stories are yet to surface. The Iraqi victims have no names in our consciousness but their suffering will not leave us in peace. Ultimately, to heal, our soldiers will have to confront not just their victimhood but their complicity in the crimes of this war.”

Avram Noam Chomsky, American philospher and political activist says:

“When I was in high school I asked myself at one point: ‘Why do I care if my high school’s team wins the football game? I don’t know anybody on the team, they have nothing to do with me… why am I here and applaud? It does not make any sense.’ But the point is, it does make sense: It’s a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission to authority and group cohesion behind leadership elements. In fact it’s training in irrational jingoism. That’s also a feature of competitive sports.”

David Alm on Contrary Blog echoes Chomsky and Ayers when he writes:

“Because if we’re already amped up about sports, then we’re also amped up about being American. And that’s exactly what makes the whole business (because that’s really all it is) so damn unsettling.”

Substitute American for whichever nationality you are, and you’ll find that the above statement resonates with you too if you’re averse to mixing patriotism, politics and sports.

It’s simply another form of jingoism.

And, perhaps, Indians understand it better than anybody else.

The T20 game at Dharamshala was moved to Kolkatta because the Himachal Pradesh state government refused to guarantee the safety of the visitors from across the Wagah border.

In the past, Shiv Sainiks have dug up pitches and threatened agitations whenever cricketing talks or relations resumed. The mileage that can be derived from such shenanigans around an Indo-Pak cricket game—not any other sport—that drives such posturing.

Can sports be above politics? Maybe yes, maybe no.

The isolation of the South African cricketing team was one of the drivers for the lifting of apartheid in that  nation. Yes, cricket fans never got to enjoy the likes of Barry Richards and Graeme Pollock but it was (arguably) a small price to pay.

India, too, have used sports as a weapon to protest apartheid. India refused to play South Africa in 1974 foregoing a chance to win a maiden Davis Cup. India’s Davis Cup tie at home against Israel occurred only after then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s intervention.

The team made the final that year losing to Sweden.

India and Israel were again drawn to play each other the following year in Tel Aviv permission for which was denied by the External Affairs ministry. The encounter never materialised since both teams lost to their first round opponents.

Sporting policy is not entirely black or white. It’s shades of grey—like all questions and decisions surrounding ethics.

When will sports fans realize that?

Gautam Gambhir: What he said, really meant and definitely didn’t

Gautam Gambhir is quite tone-deaf when it comes to Bachchan.

Gautam Gambhir at Adelaide Oval

Gautam Gambhir at Adelaide Oval (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What he said:

“I am nothing more than a mere mortal when it comes to judging Bachchan, even if he was cooking an omelette.”

Former India cricketer and opener Gautam Gambhir professes his unreserved admiration for the great Hindi film thespian Amitabh Bachchan. The baritone-voiced actor sang the Indian national anthem prior to the Indo-Pak World T20 encounter last evening at Eden Gardens in Kolkatta.

English: Amitabh Bachchan photographed by Stud...

Amitabh Bachchan photographed by Studio Harcourt Paris Français : Amitabh Bachchan photographié par Studio Harcourt Paris Harcourt Paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gambhir added:

“Here he was, at my beloved Eden Gardens, his deep voice in its full youth, loaded with grace and admiration for the national anthem. Only soldiers can sing better that Bachchan did on Saturday.”

What he really meant:

“I’m a huge fan of Hindi film cinema and Amitabh Bachchan in particular. In my eyes, he can do no wrong. He could even boil water and I’d watch with open-mouthed admiration.”

What he definitely didn’t:

“I wonder how Shah Rukh Khan would have sung the anthem instead. Perhaps, a duet with Kajol would have baked an Eden cake.”

Mohammad Amir is the lone hit-man for Pakistan

Team India may have won their Asia Cup T20 encounter—not quite in a canter—but for a while, Indian fans could have believed that there was to be a reprisal of those Sharjah days when their arch-rivals Pakistan beat them more often than not.

It was not to be.

Mohammad Amir pulling on his jumper in the out...

Mohammad Amir pulling on his jumper in the outfield. Taken during Pakistan’s third Test against England in August 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mohammad Amir had a point to prove and he did leaving India tottering at 8-3.

But he lacked support.

The knocking over of the top order brought back memories of India touring South Africa when Dale Steyn and his cohorts gave Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan a torrid time in the opening overs.

It just goes to show that even the best batsmen struggle against top-class pace bowling.

And it also reminded us why Pakistan were so quick to reinstall Amir as their main hit man.

Virat Kohli showed why he’s the most reliable bat in the side.

Yuvraj Singh struggled abjectly but stuck around till the end to see India through.

The next game in the T20 World Cup is eagerly anticipated.

Mohammad Amir divides nation and team on his return to international contention

Mohammad Amir pulling on his jumper in the out...

Mohammad Amir pulling on his jumper in the outfield. Taken during Pakistan’s third Test against England in August 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The selection of Mohammad Amir to Pakistan’s national squad stirred up a hornet’s nest not just in the local media but also had the nation and former and current cricketers divided about the merits or demerits of the Pakistan Cricket Board’s decision.

Two of his teammates Mohammad Hafiz and Azhar Ali refused to join the camp and relented only after some convincing by the PCB.

Amir, Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif were banned for accepting money in a spot-fixing scandal involving a Test match at Lord’s against England in 2010.

The three players and their agent Mazhar Majeed were jailed by a British court in 2011.

They were also banned by the ICC for five years.

Amir was then only 18.

The ban has been served and Amir served notice of his precocious talent by handily claiming wickets by the bagful.

22 wickets in four non-first class games, another 34 in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy capped by another 14 in the Bangladesh Premier League.

The Pakistani selectors could hardly ignore him given their lack of pace options.

Hafeez said:

“My stance was based on principle and it was portrayed in a wrong sense. My stance is the same against all players who stained Pakistan’s image through corruption.

It’s my right to raise my voice, which I did, and I will do everything in my capacity to fight corruption. My stance is that all corrupt players should not be given another chance to represent Pakistan.”

The PCB stuck to their guns claiming that they were right.

Their statement read:

“There are a few players and commentators who are opposed to his selection. But in the past, spot fixers and drugs cheats have been permitted re-entry in to the international arena after serving their sentence. They include Marlon Samuels, Herschelle Gibbs, Tyson Gay [an American sprinter],

After serving his six-month probation, Amir has been participating in domestic first class cricket with success.

He has also performed well in the BPL. Accordingly, Amir has been called to the fitness camp which will enable him to bond with national players. His selection for the national team, for which he is eligible, would depend on the selectors.”

The PCB has a point. Amir has served his sentence and has to be given his chance for redemption.

Rashid Latif, who risked his career blowing the whistle on his former teammates in 1995, was not so forgiving.

He said:

“Amir is a living example of someone who betrayed Pakistan in an international match.

Let him live his life but don’t allow him to play for the country again. He can play domestic cricket and play in different leagues but don’t allow him to wear the same national colour which stalwarts like Hanif Mohammad, Imran Khan, Majid Khan, Wasim Bari, Fazal Mahmood and Javed Miandad wore with pride.”

Mohammad Yousuf  felt otherwise.

He said:

“Amir is a wonderful bowler and since he has completed his sentence he has every right to play for Pakistan again.

Amir is performing very well since his ban was lifted and his inclusion will strengthen Pakistan team, so I back his inclusion.”

Azhar Mahmood, writing for, said:

“I think it is the right thing to do and I support the PCB in this decision. Look, we as human beings are prone to make mistakes. This is human nature. In Amir’s case, he made a mistake and has served his punishment. Now that the ban has lapsed, it’s time for everyone to move forward and give him another chance. Even from a religious point of view, we need to forgive him and move on.”

Amir , the man at the centre of  storm , said:

“I promise that I will do my best to respect the prestige of the green cap and Pakistan shirt.”

Indo-Pak cricketing ties derailed by opportunistic politics and unrealistic expectations

It’s a crying shame, really.

Shahryar Khan, former Pakistan Foreign secretary.

Shahryar Khan, former Pakistan Foreign secretary. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shashank Manohar may have begun ‘Operation Clean-Up’ on the right foot but the even-handed BCCI President couldn’t prevent Shiv Sena activists from barging into his headquarters in Mumbai and disrupting the scheduled bilateral series talks with Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) counterpart Shahryar Khan.

Boria Majumdar puts it aptly in his column:

“In India we celebrate cultural tolerance and plurality, we are forever ready to uphold freedom of expression and speech and most importantly are always open to dialogue. What happened in Mumbai goes against the very grain of what we stand for and that’s what has left us all with a sour aftertaste. Had Shashank Manohar been able to tell Shahryar Khan that the series is off because the situation is not conducive or the government has not given bilateral cricket a go ahead, it would have been far better for both cricket Boards. But to see a meeting stymied by a few political extremists who barged into the office of the BCCI president, which was left unguarded and to see these pictures being transmitted round the world is rather disconcerting.”

Shiv Sena

Shiv Sena (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The shame is not that a bilateral series between the two countries has once again been pushed onto the back-burner.

To be realistic, if the two boards were really intent on continuing relations, they could have easily opted to play in Abu Dhabi (as other cricketing nations have been doing) thus avoiding security concerns and untoward elements in either country.

That is not the nub of the issue.

If you were to read the newspapers and media reactions to Pakistani writers, cricketers and artistes, you would believe that anti-Pakistan sentiments are at an all-time high.

Is that really so?

Isn’t it more likely that certain opportunistic parties have raised the bogeyman once more to gain political mileage and divert attention of the general public from more pressing concerns about governance or rather the lack of it?

The more closely you look at the matter, the more apparent it becomes that having any sort of ties with the ‘enemy’ across the North-West border is a political decision. The mandarins in New Delhi have the final say.

Perhaps, realpolitik dictates otherwise.

For actual progress to occur, a nod must begin from the Prime Minister’s office and then only can the nation rest assured that change is in the air.

A bottom-up push is not the way to build bridges across a diplomatic divide.

That would be a revolution.

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