There are times in the life of a cricket writer when one feels on edge all the time one is away from the game, no matter how remote the locale. There are others -- and such occasions are increasing these days -- when one feels grateful at being miles away from the action. Times when one thanks one's stars that one is not going to even get a glimpse of the action, not a single scoring shot, not a word of commentary.
Toronto in 1996 was one such occasion. A year later, the feeling is the same. It is one of being cheated, of being witness to a fraud, of seeing the game being cheapened no end. The Indian and Pakistan boards are doing just one thing by agreeing to play in every God-forsaken locale on the globe -- they are lessening the chances of resuming cricket between the two countries in their own backyards.
This year the two countries are playing some one-dayers against each other on home grounds but then this is an exception -- the 50th anniversary of India's independence and Pakistan's creation have led to some barriers being lowered. One has to, or be accused of bad political gamesmanship. Despite all the brave talk by Jagmohan Dalmiya, it is extremely doubtful that the two countries will ever resume normal cricketing relations.
With the spectre of match-fixing hanging over both teams, one would have thought that the cricketing authorities would be eager to clear the air and ensure that those who come to watch do not attribute the darkest of motives to every act on the field and off it. Alas, this is far from any official's mind. The long-term health of the team isn't a matter that really exercises to many people either. Plucking every feather from the goose which has been laying golden eggs is the sport of choice at the moment and people are falling over each other to dip into the gravy train as it passes by.
Imagine the situation if every two teams between which similar rivalry exists were to perform around the world. Can one imagine either the England of Australian teams travelling in this manner? Or for that matter the West Indies and South Africa? I am positive that the English, Australian and West Indies boards would never acquiesce; one is not so sure about the South African authorities though, but then one cannot clap with one hand.
Playing in such places as Toronto, we are told, is helping to popularise the game; I doubt very much if anybody other than the Indians and Pakistanis resident there would come to watch. And anybody else who does would be someone who already knows the game. You won't find any Quebecois there for sure. This business of spreading the game is a lot of hype dished out by people who have no other cover for their greed; it is the surest way to ensure that followers of the game are bored to death. Would anyone go to watch Tyson fight Holyfield every week?
Cricket between the two subcontintental neighbours has thus been successfully reduced to a travelling circus. No matter the ground, no matter the conditions, no matter how far or the number of time zones one has to cross, the teams hasten thither without a murmur and dutifully cross swords. The jingoism on which Sharjah once thrived has now been successfully exported to other locales, Singapore and Canada being the first two. How many more will be added only depend on whether there are promoters who want to stage such contests in other parts of the globe. The circus is willing to perform.