Three days hence, the city of Hyderabad in India will see another one-day tournament taking place. Surprisingly, three international teams are involved -- India, Pakistan and New Zealand. More surprisingly, there has been little or no publicity given to the tournament. India has, reportedly, named a 16-member squad of which Mohammed Azharuddin is a member. All this is hearsay, mind you, and should not be taken as gospel truth.
Why all the secrecy? Could it be that the board was a bit apprehensive that negative publicity would affect the tournament? Is that the main reason why the international press has been strangely silent even though the tournament begins on June 12? If this is how the ICC plans to promote the game and help it to spread, then the future does not seem anything but bleak. Remember that after this there is another farce in Colombo called the Singer tournament, an Indo-Pak series in Pakistan, then that most famous of farces in Sharjah.... and who knows after that? It all depends on some company deciding that it would be good economics and a public relations boost as well to hold a cricket tournament.
Frankly speaking, New Zealand are superfluous to the tournament. It could as well have been Zimbabwe. But it cannot be a team that has better than even chances of coming to the final; the whole point of this tournament is to see an India-Pakistan final. Sri Lanka spoiled the party a month or so ago; fifty years after Indian independence, there are a vast number who would like to relive the jingoism and so-called nationalism that split up the subcontinent and only an India-Pakistan final will provide the right occasion. This time, the organisers do not want to take any chances. The right amounts have been paid, the tournament has been given sufficient "international" status, and the population make-up in Hyderabad will ensure a rollicking good time for all jingoists. What more does one need?
It would appear that the Indian and Pakistani boards are keen on running their players to the ground, provided they get the guarantee money they demand. Any player who does not fall in line is likely to get the axe. The sad thing is that not many players are protesting; they take the money and run. Some have avoided the pointless plethora of one-dayers by opting to honour their county contracts. The rest stay and face the music. How much motivation can there be when one has to play in endless one-dayers?
The tournament is said to be for the benefit of former Ranji Trophy (the Indian national championship) players from Hyderabad. Azharuddin's presence can be attributed to this. If he does not play in his own backyard, there may be protests. Hyderabadis are a vociferous lot and they would not take kindly to one of their own being kept out. When Azhar was kept out of the Independence Cup, there were some vocal demonstrations. Hyderabad will not tolerate an Indian team without Azhar, not at this point anyway. For good measure, Laxman has been brought back as well. Indian selectors do know how to play to the gallery -- they have been doing it for longer than you or I have been on this earth.
This begs the question -- why was Azharuddin dropped in the first place? If it was to show him that he could not flout orders from the board, then why did nobody have the guts to say so? Who is actually running cricket affairs in the country? And are there at least some rules which govern selection? It looks like a hopeless mess from the outside. And it is likely to be an even bigger mess inside.
I do not know how many of those who read this have visited Hyderabad. And of those who have, I'm not sure how many have dared to go there in the month of June. I have ventured there in March; it is akin to living in a bakery. The weather is unpleasant even in December. It would take a braver man than I to visit the place in June. And yet international cricket teams are more than willing to play in what must be killing heat. It does not matter whether the matches are played under lights or not; the heat is of the sort that can fell a grown man.
The Indian team was forced to visit a large number of places over the last one year to ensure that Dalmiya had enough votes to get elected as ICC chairman. Does he now have any further ambitions after his ICC reign is over? Is that why the team has to continue playing like this? Even paid employees do get a break. There is something called leave written into every contract. There is a slow process of self-destruction going on here and somebody should call a halt. It is a question of who will bell the cat.