Islamabad: For days the standoff continued, at once a political and sporting quarrel. In all this dogmatic drama there was the question: Where did the ICC come into the equation. After all, whose event was this anyway?
The ICC dodged and hid for a while hoping that the arguing nations would figure out what the term ‘security’ meant in the context of the World Twenty20.
For most of this time they sat back in the last row of seats as the interior and foreign ministers exchanged verbal blows with cross border contemporaries in the ring.
It was at times a tag event, with both cricket boards at the benches in the corner, patting away after every round.
The ICC did eventually intervene to force the hand of the Indian government by shifting the India-Pakistan game to Kolkata though the Indian government may claim they took the initiative.
After all the non-negotiable written security demanded by Ch. Nisar never came from the Indian government but by the Chief minister of Bengal and via Saurav Ganguly, President of the Cricket Association of Bengal and one time captain of Indian cricket team.
That should still not have shifted the power of organising the match to the Bengal government or the CAB.
After all the Indian Federal and State governments at all levels kept announcing that they couldn’t give a separate security guarantee to Pakistan because this was an ICC event and in the documents they and state cricket associations had signed with ICC as host there was a blanket guarantee to all 16 competing nations.
I have given all this background for one reason.
Why, if this was an ICC event, was the ceremony allowed to be held in the Indo-Pak match where the CM Bengal was allowed to go ahead with a ceremony that had nothing to do with the World Twenty20?
Firstly, it should not have been permitted at all. Otherwise the Indians have to admit that Pakistan was a special nation and not just one of the 16. They therefore deserved to be given special security.
After all how many CM’s of the states where the tournament games are big held have garlanded former heroes of the competing sides? How many anthems are being sung by iconic artists from each country? None, is the answer.
And even if the ceremony was planned as a gesture and the Bengal government would have taken special permission from the ICC, should not ICC have stepped up to cancel it when the time was not enough?
The ceremony of garlanding of Imran, Wasim and Waqar and Tendulkar, Sehwag and Amitabh ate as much, if not more time as four overs would have taken.
Did not cricket come first for the ICC? What was so special for this game from ICC’s point of view that they allowed the ceremony to go in and after calculating the time that that would take, reduced the game to 18 over a side?
If the ceremony had not been held considering the rain had delayed the lifting of the covers, then it would have allowed a full twenty over game.
Was this the pound of flesh that the government of Bengal had asked for in return for hosting the match when there was no other state association willing to accommodate the contest?
If there was then the ICC should have stepped in to take back the promise because they are there to ensure that the fans at the stadium and global TV audience get a full game.
It is not the ICC’s job to accommodate drama that gives free publicity to the local association and state government or its minister.
If at all, the ICC should have gathered them in a room in the afternoon and told them to have it the moment the rain stopped and the covers were removed from around the ground.
Yes, the stadium would have been empty and that is what the CM and her cronies would have pointed out. Not good production value either. Neither would there be TV audience coming in so early. And the broadcasters would have demanded that time for their preview of the game by the experts.
That was necessary. There are sponsor minutes to deliver in the screen behind the host and the expectation of the fans to be educated on conditions and coming strategy and pitch and toss reports.
But all that had finished when the ceremony started and if that hadn’t happened, there would clearly have been an extra two overs in each innings in the 15-20 minutes that it took for the garlanding and the messages by Imran Khan, Sachin Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachchan.
I write all this to show that the game of cricket was compromised, of which the ICC is the protector and where it failed in its duty.
Neither did BCCI or PCB object to reducing the game to 18 overs a side when there was time for a non- event.
Shahryar Khan and Najam Sethi were both present and surely there must have been Shashank Manohar, President of BCCI; otherwise some other top official of the board.
More than that the Manager and Coaches of the two team should have objected.
On our part we can question why Intikhab Alam didn’t protest and ask for the ceremony to be annulled to fit in the full 20 overs. At most he would have been denied but he would have done the right thing.
The ICC will no doubt come up with an excuse but the point is that the ground is not handed over the authorities unless it is fit to walk on.
By the time the government and CAB President walked in with the paraphernalia the ground was clearly ready for play as was the pitch.
The ICC clearly announced the time for the match to start keeping in mind the time that would be needed for the ceremonies.
It is about time that the ICC put in a clause with officials and sponsors and broadcasters that the match itself and the fans are supreme and that all sideshows like players walking out and lining up and anthems and to top it all politically, bi-lateral tainted ceremonies would be dispensed with if they are to transgress upon the time available for a full game.
It is first about bat and ball and then about the glamour and politics.
The result could probably have been the same considering how poorly Pakistan planned, strategised and captained on field. That is not the point.
What I see was that a ceremony that allowed India to show the world that they love Pakistan and their heroes and garland them and give them an opportunity to speak to the Indian crowds was allowed to go ahead by Pakistan at the expense of cricket.
It is politics that keeps the fans away from India Pakistan cricket contests and yet when it happens because of ICC, it is the politicians that our boards allow as facilitators and to eat into the game.