Sunday, March 11, 2012

Is ugly politics taking over Bangladesh’s cricket?

The Independent
As I See It Column
March 10, 2012
M. Serajul Islam

The Bangladesh Cricket Board’s President said in a press conference in Islamabad recently that international cricket would resume in Pakistan soon. He led an 8 member delegation there to see firsthand security arrangements to send our cricket team for a tour. Readers may recollect that all cricket playing countries stopped visiting Pakistan after a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in, 2009. Since then Pakistan has been playing its “home series” of Test, 50/50 and T20 matches in the UAE. 

It is a bit strange that Bangladesh is making this overture at a time when no other Test playing country has shown the slightest inclination to visit Pakistan. The decision of the Board’s Chairman to visit Pakistan to clear the way for a visit by our team  becomes more suspect because Bangladesh’s Coach Stuart Law has said categorically that he would not be a part of the team to tour Pakistan.   

It seems like the BCB President is either not taking a lot of factors in the equation or just sidetracking some obvious ones. A major factor he   is sidetracking is the law and order situation in Pakistan, specifically the activities of various terror groups that have increased in recent times. The Pakistan terror groups had no reason to attack the Sri Lankans. Yet they attacked the team to show their potency. More importantly, they targeted the Sri Lankan team because it was a soft target.  

The Bangladesh team would also be a soft target explained by the fact that if our team is, God forbid, attacked, there would be little or no repercussions as there was none when the Sri Lankan team was attacked.  There could however be more reasons for possible terrorist attacks on the Bangladesh team for acrimonies related to our war of liberation. The terrorists could have added reasons there to attack a Bangladesh team on a visit to Pakistan. 

The Pakistanis at the moment are on an upswing in Test cricket. After the match fixing allegations against some of its team members that included Captain Salman Butt, Pakistan Test team had become almost a pariah in the annals of Test cricket.  After sincere efforts of its new management ably supported by the cricketers on the field led by Misbah Ul Huq as the captain, Pakistan has made a dramatic come back to Test cricket wining three “home” test series they played against South Africa, Sri Lanka and England in UAE. The last one against England was a 3-0 white wash. 

Unfortunately, the so-called home series were away from home, without the home crowds watching. More importantly, Pakistanis were not just failing to take pride from the victories of their Test cricketers by watching them in the fields; these victories were embarrassing the country instead. The victories were flagging for the outside world the fact that Pakistan continues to remain a terrorist prone country adding to its negative image. 

Pakistan has therefore been pursuing with all the Test playing nations with offers to visit Pakistan for playing Test cricket. So far, none has shown even a lukewarm interest to visit Pakistan. In fact, Pakistan would consider it a great favour not just to its cricket but to the country if any of the Test playing countries visited Pakistan. It is in this context that one has to know the reasons that are motivating Bangladesh to be the exception among the Test playing nations and undertake an official tour to Pakistan.   

One answer is in the poor performance of our team in Test cricket in recent times for which we are not receiving any offers from Test playing countries for playing a series abroad. Pakistan has just not offered us a series but it is doing so in a silver platter. Unfortunately, this is only one reason and not a good enough one to do Pakistan such a huge favour by putting the lives of our Test team at risk. If one were to look at Pakistan from the view point of our bilateral-relations, Pakistan does not deserve such a huge favour from us. We have many issues outstanding with Pakistan starting with an apology for 1971. 

Thus on balance, there are no strong enough reasons for Bangladesh to do Pakistan such a big favour.   The main reason  for a visit to Pakistan was to see firsthand the security issues. One fails to understand why should a delegation with the responsibility to look at security issues had to be led by the President? His leadership of the delegation has given rise to suspicion whether there is a hidden agenda. The Pakistanis has already used his visit to good political use. Pakistan’s Interior Minister with the BCB President held a press conference in which the latter expressed confidence that international cricket would soon return to Pakistan, a strong political statement to build Pakistan’s fragile international image. 

Bangladesh, as ICC rules are at the moment, could be a candidate for the President of the ICC in 2014. However, Bangladesh would have to be elected to the post of Vice President this year to be in line for assuming the post of President. Unfortunately, there is a move underway to bring changes in the ICC that would deprive Bangladesh of the post of Vice President and eventually that of the President. It is in the context of these proposed changes that the visit of the BCB President makes sense because without the proposed changes, his door to the ICC President’s post was more or less assured. Pakistan is a member of the ICC and could be very useful for Bangladesh. A tour of Bangladesh Cricket Team at a time when Pakistan needs it very badly could be a quid pro quo for its support of  for the BCB President  to become the Vice Prescient this year and President in 2014. The proposals for reconstituting the ICC would come up for consideration in June this year. 

It is of course a national issue for a Bangladeshi to be the President of the ICC. However, it may not be as simple as the BCB President may think.  Pakistan is at this time suspect in the international cricketing circles and its support could bring the opposite result to what the BCB’s President could be expecting. There are also many issues beyond cricket involved here that the BCB President needs to clear with the relevant authorities. Above all, the whole process needs to be transparent. 

Bangladesh cricket is now looking down the barrel of the gun in terms of its Test status because of its poor performance in the field. The recent green signal given by the BCB to BPL has pushed our cricket in the wrong direction. It seems our cricket officials are becoming too interested in cricket politics and lures of money for cricket lovers of the country to feel comfortable.  Individual interests are taking precedence over cricket related and national interests. 

At the time of submitting this piece, the news has come in the media that the BCB President has expressed satisfaction with security arrangements in Pakistan. This means Bangladesh would take the risk of a tour to Pakistan.  Meanwhile, the Board’s President has dropped Tamim Iqbal from the Bangladesh squad for the Asia Cup to be played in Dhaka next week after the selection committee had included him. The Chief Selector has resigned over what he termed as undue interference of the President.  Many other former cricketers have spoken in the media about the role of the President. 

Tamim Iqbal, despite his recent poor form, is still world class and indispensible for the Bangladesh in the short versions of the game. He cannot  simply  be dropped on cricketing merit. He has been retained as a reserve which means that he is not unfit either. Is politics, ugly politics, spreading into our cricket to destroy it? So it seems.

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan.

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