The spat between Cricket Australia (CA) and the Australian Cricket Association (ACA) lasted just a week shy of nine months. It’s a pretty long time to haggle over something as trivial or as big as money — depending on how you look at it. But that’s not the point here. The thing is that the feuding cricketers were never labelled ‘traitors’ or any such thing by anybody. Funny, eh?
It was not the first time Australian cricket faced the issue. The Aussies have been down this road many a time. From the Kerry Packer days ownwards, cricketers have not shied away from demanding what they think is their due. Cricketers everywhere else actually should be grateful to their Australian counterparts. Every time they go for it, others take a note and get a spike for much less effort.
But there is something that some parts of the world have not learned from the Australians. They have made it a professional issue and have turned their bargaining into an industrial dispute. It is not a national crisis. Not for them.
There is a reason why the Ashes has remained a purely cricketing rivalry while a Pakistan-India series has precious little to do with cricket
In the recent crisis, they refused to undertake a tour to South Africa, and more than 200 cricketers went unemployed after the expiry of their contracts. Also coming under serious threat were tours to Bangladesh and India, and looming large over the head was the possibility of Ashes having to be scrapped — or at least seriously undermined — later in the year.
The stakes were high for all concerned. To force the hand of the players, the temptation to bring in the bogey of patriotism must have been irresistible, but was resisted. Even the government continued with its own business without talking of diplomatic embarrassments or the country’s image. Simply put, the CA management was trusted.
This is not to suggest that there would have been nothing going on behind the scenes. The whole machinery would have been in serious overdrive as days, weeks and then months passed by. But the only people who spoke publicly belonged to the CA and the ACA. And, mind you, just a couple of people from both sides.
There was much talk in the media that Steve Smith, the Australian captain, was not as vocal as, say, David Warner, the vice-captain, and that it sent mixed signals to individual players. As Warner himself explained at the end of the row, the two were playing different roles. “I was going to take it upon myself and represent the players and be more vocal and he (Smith) was sort of going to go behind closed doors and get them talking and make sure he was on the same page with the ACA and Cricket Australia … The way he went about it was how he wanted to play it and I was always going to come out and be vocal and sticking up for the players,” explained Warner.
This sort of professionalism is difficult to even imagine in, say, the subcontinent. There is no point talking of practicing it here. Casting doubts over patriotism is the first thing we do here. The Australians resisted the temptation for nine months. It is difficult to do it for as many hours here. There is a reason why the Ashes has remained a purely cricketing rivalry while a Pakistan-India series has precious little to do with cricket. In fact, it has to do so much with patriotism in all its colours, shades and hues that it doesn’t happen anymore. Had it not been for the global tournaments, the two would not have faced each other for God knows how many years.
Casting doubts over patriotism is the first thing we do here. The Australians resisted the temptation for nine months. It is difficult to do it for as many hours here.
And now even those tournaments are facing the odd ifs and buts here and there. In the words of Najam Sethi, the newly-elected chief of the Pakistan Cricket Board, the Board is planning to raise an objection to India hosting the Under-19 Asia Cup. Using the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) forum that is headed by dear old Shaharyar Khan, the PCB plans to table a resolution to relocate the tournament to a neutral venue.
There are secure neutral venues outside India and Pakistan where the championship can be held, he has argued. On its part, the Indian board has already written to its government to seek a clearance to host the tournament in view of Pakistan’s presence.
While Pakistan and India, especially their administrators of various varieties, would do well to learn from the Australians how to behave in public, the Asia Cup has a few more hiccups to overcome before some cricket actually takes place. The Western Region qualifying round for the tournament is set for October in Kuwait. There are nine teams in the round including Qatar and three countries that have recently broken diplomatic ties with it: Oman, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Patriotism is surely thick in the air!
Published in Dawn, EOS, August 13th, 2017