It’s cricket’s biggest travesty. Neighboring foes India and Pakistan, the sport’s best rivalry, don’t play each other due to political differences.
Contests between India and Pakistan have been sadly confined to official International Cricket Council (ICC) events since the last bilateral series between the bitter rivals eight years ago. The drought is even longer for Tests – cricket’s longest and most prestigious format – with the sides last playing more than 13 years ago.
On the rare occasion they do square off on the pitch, the cricket world – and certainly both hugely populated countries – comes to a standstill conjuring a swirl of anticipation and excitement that is probably unparalleled in all of sports.
It’s more than a game for countries continually at loggerheads and matches between India and Pakistan have produced the three highest television ratings in cricket history bar India’s home triumph over Sri Lanka at the 2011 World Cup.
A recent report in Pakistan’s Jang newspaper quoted a Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) official saying that a short T20 series – maybe before the T20 World Cup in India – could be staged possibly in the neutral venue of the UAE.
“A PCB official said that while there has been no direct discussion with anyone from India, indications are there and we have been told to be ready for such a series,” said the report.
Officials from both sides have not confirmed the report but it has sparked slight optimism in cricket’s never-ending sad saga. Due to a firm stance from its government, India do not play Pakistan in bilateral series which robs the PCB of the financial bounty boards get from playing cricket’s superpower.
“Cricket between Pakistan and India is very important. Sports should be kept away from politics. Relations between the two countries can improve because of cricket,” Pakistan great Shahid Afridi said.
Testament to the sheer popularity of the bat and ball sport in Pakistan, which rivals its neighbor, the PCB has impressively managed to remain fiscally sound unlike many other cricket nations. Still, India and Pakistan series would do wonders for the coffers and ensure the new World Test Championship (WTC) – which is hard to take seriously when these teams can’t play each other – is legitimized.
“The current format was lopsided and prolonged and it made no sense not having India and Pakistan series. Teams didn’t play the same number of matches and even the points system was weird. There should have been a three-month window and everyone should have played against each other,” former Pakistan captain and renowned commentator Ramiz Raja said.
“Next time when the WTC is held no cricket should be held at that time, if you want to promote Test cricket and infuse life into it and also attract sponsors to this format. Sponsorship will only come when you will not give sponsors any other option to park their money,” he added.
Straight-shooting PCB chairman Ehsan Mani, who was the ICC president from 2003-06, has previously told me that political differences should be put aside.
“Sport should not be used for political purposes,” he said. “It’s dangerous when that happens. When I was at the ICC, the situation was not much different but the teams still played each other.”
Cricket may still be invisible in many parts of the world, but it’s worth noting that India and Pakistan amount for around 20% of the world’s population. And cricket is almost a religion in those countries making matches rare opportunities for diplomacy amid a volatile part of the world.
Right now, cricket is the poorer without its showpiece rivalry but, hopefully, the bickering neighbors can start putting differences aside and reignite a contest that transcends the sport.