Backtracking on the IPL

I wrote in my previous blog that reality will surface once the dust settles on the IPL auction 2010.

Well it has, and it seems the Pakistani government, PCB, and the cricketers themselves had a knee-jerk response to the IPL fiasco. Now the real comedy will begin as our cricketers try to wriggle out of what the ministers have got them into. First came the misplaced call for unity, now comes the every-man-for-himself clamour.

It took two cunningly placed comments, one from Shah Rukh Khan, the owner of Kolkata Knight Riders, and the other from the Australian assistant coach of Rajasthan, Darren Berry. Shah Rukh said he would have gone for Abdur Razzaq while Berry said they had Umar Akmal in their plans.  Get it, guys? No? Read on.

Before the auction, with catastrophic assumption and arrogance, Shahid Afridi had said his preference would be to play for Kolkata or Rajasthan.  Now are you reading between the lines? Shahid who? In my books, this oversight will go down as the most pleasantly communicated snub of all time.

The cricketing patriots have already realised the future cost of demanding self-respect. Nationalistic fervour has already been replaced by an attitude of appeasement. When a friend asked if the IPL would really be blocked, I responded, “it’s a matter of days before the threat is forgotten as cable operators  realise that by blocking the IPL they’ll lose out on a couple of million rupees in revenues that advertising will generate.”

Plus, the players will realise that their ire has been hijacked by the media for sound bytes, by the ministers for popularity bytes, ex-cricketers for news bytes, the PCB rebels for chairman-seat-claim bytes and the government for vote bytes. For the sake of jingoistic points (which they need after doubling the prices of sugar, petrol, gas and electricity in a matter of 18 months), politicians have unnecessarily given a matter worth sidelining global publicity and brought their own shortcoming into sharp focus.

Now the cricketers, led by Afridi, are rushing to douse the embers as they realise they’ve been made the pawns in a battle of the bytes. In a press release on Tuesday, Afridi expresses his willingness to forgive and forget, claims he will happily visit India to play in the IPL, and in a way snubs both his chairman and the sports minister, who had announced that no Pakistani players would participate in the IPL again.

Chances are, Afridi probably had this change of heart when the SA Redbacks made it clear that he could not share the 3.3-million-dollar winner’s purse in IPL Champions League later this year in the event that the team won.

In the wake of Afridi’s conciliatory message, the argument about who first heightened the stakes will begin, as both Ijaz Butt and Aijaz Jakhrani committed not to send their players to future IPL contests.  Both now find themselves being stared down by the players themselves. General Zia ul Haq had crafted ‘cricket diplomacy’ in 1987, but it was crazy for these two to wage a ‘cricket war’ while they were street fighting each other over control of Pakistani cricket.

Some sort of dressing down after the IPL fiasco – and Pakistan’s reaction to it – was inevitable. It is ironic, though, that the cricketing powers that be are now claiming that they have been vindicated. That’s stupid. The statements of Shah Rukh and Indian Home Minister Chidambaram merely confirm what they claimed on January 19: that there is no conspiracy by the government of India and that this is a private affair of an Indian company. Read their statements in totality; they felt threatened by local nationalists and the responsibility to ensure security. Shah Rukh in particular talks of huge revenue losses in that eventuality.

The Indians have also learned diplomatic skills from their former English masters. They see the big picture and know full well that, by now, saner voices have prevailed in Pakistan. For obvious reasons, the last thing the Indians want is a Pakistan with a bruised ego and a score to settle. After all, they have just received permission from the Pakistan government to send Indian food items across the border without requiring prior permission. And so Mr. Chidambaram steps in with his soothing words.

Other than that, there are economical reasons why both have given sympathetic statements. Shah Rukh fears for his market here: My name is Khan is releasing in Pakistan on February 12 and a Pakistani boycott of all things Indian would hurt him (notice he mentions his Pakistani links in his statement).

You will soon hear that the ministers and players have chosen to be big-hearted and will claim to ‘forgive India’ and reinitiate their parliamentarian delegations. The cricketers will allow themselves to be auctioned again. Butt will remind us that his initial reaction to the auction had been: “So what? We didn’t play IPL2 either.” And knowing the Indians they will grin and move on with promises of including Pakistani players in the future. As such, the IPL auction sums up the story of our two nations.

Sohaib Alvi has been a cricket writer since 1979, and has edited The Cricketer International (UK) Asian Edition. He also has 25 years’ top management experience and now works as a strategic and marketing consultant.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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