BCCI has every reason to flex its muscle and have Pakistan eliminated from the World Cup of 2019.
India and Pakistan’s cricketing ties have an elaborate history of disruption. After a five tests series hosted by India in 1960-61, both nations did not resume bilateral cricketing relations until 1978, given the wars of 1965 and 1971. For almost 18-years, the two sides did not engage in a single test match. The first One-Day International (ODI) between the two was played in the same 1978 tour.
The 1978 tour was succeeded by a normalised cricketing relationship for almost a decade until 1989-90 with both sides engaging in 5 Tests and 5 ODI series. For the next eight years, India did not tour Pakistan but met them on neutral venues in Canada and the United Arab Emirates (Sharjah, mostly). Also, due to the emergence of limited-over cricket, the two team squared off in multi-team tournaments like the World Cup.
After the Kargil War of 1999, the two teams engaged in four bilateral tours (2 by hosted India and Pakistan each) before the Mumbai attacks of 2008 brought the bilateral cricketing ties to a complete halt only to be resumed in 2012-13 for a short ODI and T20 series in India. To put things in perspective, the last time India and Pakistan played a Test match against each other, Virat Kohli was yet to make his international debut.
However, even with the disruptions in bilateral ties, two teams have routinely squared off against each other in other tournaments that involved more teams. Since the last bilateral ODI tour in 2012-13, India and Pakistan have played 7 ODIs (all on neutral venues) including the 2015 WC in Australia and the heart-wrenching Champions Trophy Final in England in 2017. The show has gone on between the two teams in International Cricket Council (ICC) tournaments, until now.
Thus, the current demand for India to boycott the June WC game is vital in two aspects. One, such a move has never been made before. India played Pakistan in the ICC Champions Trophy merely ten months after the Mumbai attack in South Africa.
Two, the format of the current WC warrants each team playing against the other nine competitors, unlike the editions of 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, and 2015. The India-Pakistan game is not a possibility, nor a team's group or pool change can avoid that, but a certainty. This further complicates the situation.
If India does boycott this WC game, it won’t be the first time in history for a team to do so. In the WC of 1996, co-hosted by India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, both Australia and West Indies refused to tour Sri Lanka citing security concerns. Eventually, the match points were awarded to Sri Lanka which went on to win the tournament.
In the World Cup of 2003, England refused to play a game in Zimbabwe against the hosts while New Zealand refused to play against Kenya in Nairobi. Again, the points were awarded to the hosts, with Kenya going on to feature in the Semi-Finals.
However, if India does go on to boycott the game, it would be the first in history to refuse to play a team at a neutral venue in an ICC tournament, and would surely have to let go of the 2 points from the 18 at stake.
To repeat what Sachin Tendulkar has already tweeted, it won’t do any good if India willingly gives up 2 points to Pakistan in a scenario where a single win can be the deciding factor between a team making it to the semi-finals or being knocked out.
Two, assuming India does boycott the game, what if they end up meeting Pakistan in the semifinals or the final a month later? India’s precedent from the group stage would then come back to haunt them in the knockouts. Three, Pakistan would still be in the tournament, and the ones in future, and boycotting every game in an ICC tournament or even the subcontinental ones would not offer a sustained solution.
This is not imply that the death of 40 CRPF personnel should be forgotten for 2 points, but a simple group stage boycott is not a solution good enough.
Can India threaten to walkout out of the WC? Sure, yes, but why should they? It’s not India that is harbouring terrorists, it’s not India that has witnessed terrorist firings on the buses of the visiting teams, it’s not India that cannot host international tours, and it’s not India that threatens world peace.
Given India’s more than cordial relations with the other eight competitors, on and off the field, it makes little sense for India to boycott the WC. However, the threat must be used as a bargain to work out the third and possibly the best option for this situation; the boycott of Pakistan by ICC and their elimination from the WC 3 months from now without even featuring in a single game.
In a 2013 for the Sydney Herald, former Australian cricketer and reputed commentator and analyst Dean Jones called India, the new world provider for cricket. Citing their large revenue share, calculated bureaucratic moves, and a fan base of over a billion peoples, Jones commented on how Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) was taking the game ahead across the world.
Jones was not wrong, for income generation is a significant revenue share for the ICC. It is important to note that ICC only earns for tournaments that it organises which include mainly the ODI WC, the T20 WC and Champions Trophy. However, the revenue from the ODI WC is what mostly keeps the ICC going. Thus, there is no incentive for the ICC from bilateral tournaments that form a significant share of cricket played across the globe.
Between 2007 and 2015, ICC garnered $1.6 billion in sponsorship and satellite revenue. For the period between 2015 and 2023, the television rights are alone going to bring $3 billion for the ICC, out of which $2.1 billion shall from India, given the strong viewership numbers.
With investments at the ground level, a systematic revenue generation plan that encompasses satellite and digital rights, and most importantly, catering to a fan base of a billion viewers by diversifying offerings (read: Indian Premier League), the BCCI has emerged as the largest stakeholder of Cricket in the world. To put it mildly, there is no ICC without the BCCI.
Therefore, BCCI has every reason to flex its muscle before the ICC and have Pakistan eliminated from the World Cup of 2019 for harbouring terrorism. If Pakistan is indeed banned from the World Cup or ICC altogether, they won’t be the first.
At the peak of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, the Proteas (South Africa’s national cricket team) were banned from the ICC from 1970 until 1991. Thus, the team played no test match for over 22 years.
The BCCI can further isolate Pakistan by banning international players in the IPL who also play for Pakistan’s domestic league, the Pakistan Super League (PSL). The body must also call for a complete ban on staff and workers that are otherwise associated with the PSL or PCB. To put things in perspective, IPL shall draw $2.5 billion from broadcast and digital rights while the PSL shall draw $15 million for the same. An ant against a boot.
If ICC refuses to entertain BCCI’s request, the BCCI can alienate itself from the World Cup of 2019, thus causing a domino effect.
World Cup, unlike other bilateral series, draws a more significant number of audience. The format of the 2019 WC ensures an incentive for the Indian audience to keep a tab on other games too, as has been the case in the past. Thus, the sponsors and partners for ICC for the 2019 WC shall not take the possibility of a billion fans boycotting the WC lightly.
Pakistan, if eliminated from the WC stands to lose quite a lot. Firstly, it will be another nail in the coffin for an already revenue depleted PCB. Two, it will have a direct impact on an international level and could set a precedent for other sports and events like hockey, Asian Games, and so on. Three, with no participation in the WC, the domestic standing of cricket in Pakistan shall further decline.
BCCI, backed by the government and its audiences, should work on getting the PCB out of the ICC. The WC audience shall feel the absence of Pakistan, for the nation ensures 100-150 million viewers for the game, but if apartheid in South Africa was an international crime, what Pakistan does certainly warrant an immediate and global boycott. BCCI holds all the important cards in the game here. All they need to do is play them well.
Even if India, a week, or month from now, avenges the Pulwama attack with a proportional response, it does not solve the problem of terror in Pakistan. Therefore, the complete boycott of Pakistan from international cricket is not about a single event, but an extremist choice the country’s Prime Minister, ironically Pakistan’s only World Cup winning captain, has made.
Historically, cricket was a gentleman’s game. Today, it hosts tournaments for both genders and diverse age groups. Even with all its formats and styles, cricket has no place for terrorist loving nations.
The grace of the game warrants the removal of the disgrace we know as Pakistan.