English team is already in Abu Dhabi to play a warm-up game en route to India, this makes prospects of the Test series starting on December 11 very good. However, a series of critical questions confront cricket administrators and fans. Is the BCCI justified in hastening the resumption of cricket ties on home soil? Are the English coming back to India because money continues to talk and talk strong? Is the resumption an aberration and will subcontinental cricket never be the same again following the Mumbai horror? And are we confronted with the possibility of a racial divide in world cricket with India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka having lost appeal for players from the rest of the world?
It is time to accept that our world will never be fully ‘normal’ in the dictionary sense of the word and that fear and anxiety are bedfellows of modern urban living. In fact, the more we delay the resumption of sporting ties, chances are we will be delaying the restoration of what we now have to accept as a situation of near ‘normalcy’. It is this reality that justifies the action of the BCCI and also the ECB who followed the security advice offered to them.
At the same time, the English team’s commitment to return to India within days of the devastation is indeed a strong statement against the proponents of a racial divide. England captain Kevin Pietersen said before he boarded the flight to Abu Dhabi that it was very important to stand “shoulder to shoulder with the Indian people in their time of need”. Several former England captains have backed the return of the English team to India. It is clearly a vindication of the view that the Mumbai massacre may have occurred on Indian soil but it is certainly not an Indian crisis. Rather, it is a global one and the sporting world is looking to confront it as such.
The perpetrators of the Mumbai violence want India to be in a limbo. Cricket, which is marginal to the terror attacks, will do its bit towards restoring normalcy by getting on with the Test series. The resumption of India-England cricket ties is not an Indian initiative, nor is it an English compulsion. It is the sporting fraternity that is speaking out against dastardly acts against humanity in a united voice in this hour of crisis.
Advocates of abandonment of the Test series have suggested that it is time the English and the Australians learn to survive on their own and give up their desire to grab a share from India’s newfound cricket riches. While this is much easier said than done, we must accept that England was well within their rights in refusing to tour India citing security considerations.
There have been many such instances of cancellation in the recent past and the scale of the Mumbai events would have rendered the ICC powerless in the face of such a stand. The English may have, despite their refusal, escaped without paying a fine and the players were under no compulsion to undertake the trip. India, in the event of a cancellation of the tour, may have inched a step closer to Pakistan as a destination best avoided in the light of terrorist attacks.
However, not all decisions are about money. While money matters, there are other human issues that still take centre stage at exceptional moments in history. England’s coming back to India for the Test matches would be one such moment. It overturns the ‘imperialist’ and ‘racist’ tag that some give to the English and Australians and raises a glimmer of hope that the sporting world, in moments of crisis, can be united.
If the Test series begins on schedule next week, the least cricket fans can do to support the two teams and to get to the venues in large numbers. This unfortunately did not happen when the Australians toured India a month back. Imagine the first Test — much more than a mere cricket match given the exceptional circumstances — being played before a packed stadium on all five days. Imagine thousands of young Indians holding the tricolour aloft in acts of defiance.
In such a situation, sport will no longer be considered marginal. Rather, it will take centre stage in giving us back our sense of identity that we so often seem to lose in moments of crisis.
Adapted from TOI