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Friendship all over again?

THIS time, they aren't calling it the Friendship Series. No, the organisers of the annual tamasha in Toronto have stuck to the name of the trophy by merely calling the five-match one-day series between India and Pakistan the Sahara Cup.

The allegations against the Pakistani cricketers seem to have come at just the right time (if you are one of those who believes that these matches are a fraud) or the wrong time (if you are an organiser of the Toronto scam). Taking Salim Malik and Ijaz Ahmed away from the Pakistan team would very much lower the chances of an equal sporting contest and also spoil their chances of winning and exacting revenge for losing so badly last time.

Yet, nobody has bothered to examine the rationale behind the matches at all. That it yields money is sufficient. This time there are others trying to jump on the bandwagon; Khaleej Times, a newspaper from the Persian Gulf, has gone into partnership with an info-tech firm to provide ball-by-ball scores -- and hopefully rake in some money from advertisers.

Pakistan has clearly shown where its priorities lie by sending its senior team to Canada and selecting a second string for the Commonwealth Games; not a single eligible player will be absent from Toronto. India was not far behind; the board sent Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble to Malaysia as part of the Games squad only because of government intervention. Had the Board been left to its own devices, then both would have been very much in Canada today.

I think it's sad that India-Pakistan matches are being (and I choose the word advisedly) prostituted this way. There have been numerous epic contests between these two teams in either India or Pakistan. The World Cup quarter-final in Bangalore was a cracker. In 1987, the final Test of the series was a gripping contest. And as I've said numerous times before, the more offshore matches the two teams play, the lesser and lesser are the chances of them resuming normal cricket ties.

The voices of sanity on this issue have more or less been stilled or else shouted down. The boards are bothered about one thing; the ICC appears to know no better. Promotion of the game has acquired new meaning. All that is needed is another incident like the one Inzamam-ul-Huq was involved in last year and it would provide evidence, if any was needed, that this method of spreading the game is indeed working.

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