As I write, the Board of Control for Cricket in India appears to be on the brink of agreeing to a short bilateral series against Pakistan to be played in neutral Sri Lanka. Gallingly, reports that a deal has already been done emerged from a Pakistani TV channel on November 26 — the day India marked the anniversary of the Invasion of Mumbai by terrorists from Pakistan whose urban carnage served as a template for those who attacked Paris. Other reports say that the only thing that would now stop a series taking place in mid-December is a refusal to grant clearance to play by India’s Ministry of External Affairs. If that’s true, I hope clearance is denied. I do not want a bilateral cricket series with Pakistan. And if the clearance does come, let this column serve as an indignant protest against that decision by a fervent fan of Indian cricket. Whether we like it or not — and most of us like it — cricket is more important to Indians than most other things in life. It is referred to, lazily, as the nation’s religion; and if that is true, it is the only Indian religion in whose name people don’t kill each other.
I’d be lying if I were to say that I don’t enjoy watching India play Pakistan. That word — enjoy — is a meagre way to describe the feelings that course through millions of Indians when India takes on its westerly neighbour. We watch these games on tenterhooks, not merely because of the cricket, but because we are invested in the outcome as Indians. For most of independent India’s history, Pakistan has been an enemy nation; so yes, cricket against Pakistan is cricket against the enemy. I am not so refined of spirit as to transcend that inner bite, that quickening of my Indian pulse. India hasn’t played Pakistan bilaterally since 2007. The two have played each other in World Cups, and frankly, I wish we hadn’t had to. But to forfeit games in a small multinational competition is self-defeating (plus free points for your opponent). There’s little choice but to play Pakistan in the World Cup. There is, however, a choice not to play them in a one-on-one series. These contests take place by our own election. Pakistan is desperate to play India. Its cricket board is flat broke and a short series against its arch-rival—even three piddling ODIs and two T20s in Sri Lanka—holds the promise of a life-saving windfall. The Indian board does not need the money. That it is frequently driven by greed is quite another matter. Pakistan harbours terrorists who seek to cripple India. It harbours the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks. It violates the Line of Control daily, whether by firing or by the infiltration of terrorists. Why should we play cricket? Santosh Mahadik, a colonel in the Indian army, died fighting terrorists on the border this month. Would his widow want us to play cricket with Pakistan? India’s cricketers should ponder that question, and make themselves unavailable to play the series as a matter of conscience. Think about it, Virat Kohli… India’s cricket boycott bleeds Pakistan in ways that other boycotts in other spheres do not. Pakistan’s cricketers are personally blameless.