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Straight talk: Forget Delhi belly!

June 03, 2012

The Indian Premier League may have its highs and lows, pluses and minuses, ups and downs, pros and cons, and people may agree or disagree over this and that, but what it has proved beyond doubt and in no time is the simple fact that the subcontinent, after all, is not that bad a place for cricket.

The ‘Delhi belly’ is no more an issue to talk about; the weather is not that hot and humid; the pitches are not that dusty and cracking; and, indeed, security is not that big an issue. Just five years ago, these were BIG issues that kept people away from the subcontinent and those who did come were mostly reluctant visitors on a tough assignment. There was even a hardship allowance paid to some of the teams that came to Pakistan.

It is the lure of the money that has forced the ‘whites’ to surrender their right to grumble. The fact is that they can’t grumble when they are themselves falling over themselves and bending over backwards to be in India during the IPL. Even a string of blasts during one of the IPL seasons could not shake the resolve of the visitors to continue playing… in the larger interest of the game, of course.

While India has taken control of the game with the power of pelf at its disposal, the world has found a practical façade to cover up its reluctance to visit Pakistan; security concerns. While the concerns are, indeed, genuine and cannot be wished away, there can be no denying the simple fact that the ‘whites’ had always been reluctant to visit Pakistan, especially after the social transformation in the late 1970s under a dictatorial regime. Ian Botham infamously called it a place fit enough to send one’s mother-in-law, and Dennis Lillee called it the graveyard of fast bowlers.

In his autobiography, Being Freddie, English all-rounder Andrew Flintoff has recalled his visit to Pakistan in 1996 as the captain of the English Under-19 side. His remarks are self explanatory: “We got a lot of praise on that tour from Pakistani officials for being an English team that just got on with things and didn’t let conditions affect us or our conduct; little did they know we were whinging like anything behind closed doors. When you go to somewhere like Pakistan, you have to accept things are not always as they are at home...”

A few paragraphs later, he dilates on how actually different things were: “I must admit I didn’t realise quite how bad Pakistan could be until (Steve) Harmisson came up to me and told me he wanted to go home. Quite a few people who had been on several tours found Pakistan difficult, but he was on his first trip, so it must have been even worse for him. He came in the middle of the night to tell me, as captain, that he wasn’t enjoying himself and was really struggling.” Flintoff tried to reason out, but “it was obvious he wasn’t going to change his mind.”

If this is how desperate a teenager felt, one can understand the ‘frustrations’ of a grownup in a country that has no night life and where they have to celebrate with soft drinks — at least in public.

This inherent lack of interest in travelling to Pakistan is one of the major reasons why the players have always been as vocal in their reluctance as the administrators, if not more. If they have even a façade of a reason not to travel to Pakistan, they will use it. And, frankly speaking, it is understandable.

As a country, Pakistan has a serious problem in terms of marketing itself as a safe destination for those who can afford to stay away. It has never been a destination of choice, and today it is not even on the radar. Finding itself in a somewhat undesirable situation being in the forefront of the global effort against terrorism, Pakistan does have to pay a price. The situation is not as bad as it is made out to be, but to a foreign eye the perception churned out by international media is good enough.

The IPL, however, has proved that any hurdle, any barrier, any reluctance can be turned on its head by throwing around sums of money; massive loads of money. ‘India is where the money is’ has become the mantra among international players and administrators alike. When the T20 Champions League had to be put on hold in the wake of Mumbai attacks, it was considered by the global cricketing community to be a serious blow. James Sutherland, who at the time was heading Cricket Australia, could not hide his disappointment when he said, “We are all out of pocket” and there was “no money floating around for anyone as a result of this … [CA is losing] quite a lot … It’s millions of dollars.”

The IPL has, for sure, put hypocrisy to rest.