Political flip-flop on Pak sends BCCI on spin

Published: Tuesday, May 29, 2001, 23:53 [IST]
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New Delhi: India's cricket chiefs were left red-faced on Tuesday after the government questioned their plans to play a Test match in Pakistan for the first time in 12 years. "I think we are back to square one," an official with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) told AFP. "It's all very confusing. I am not sure when we will play against Pakistan again." The BCCI, taking refuge in an official directive that permitted cricket matches against Pakistan in multi-nation events, agreed to play across the border in the Asian Test championships. The India-Pakistan match in the championships, which also features Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, was scheduled to be played in either Lahore or Karachi over September 13-17. Not only did the BCCI publicly confirm that India would take part, but it also signed up to a new Asian Cricket Council (ACC) ruling that imposes hefty fines on teams refusing to play a match. Sports Minister Uma Bharthi, however, stunned cricket officials on Monday by saying the BCCI had jumped the gun in announcing India's participation in the Asian championships. "The BCCI should not take the liberty of making such announcements," she said. "To play in Pakistan, the BCCI has to first give a written proposal to the Sports Ministry which in turn would forward it to the Foreign Ministry. The final decision rests with the foreign office," Bharthi said. The BCCI's fears were confirmed by Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, who told a press conference on Monday the government was not in favour of resuming cricketing ties between India and Pakistan. "Cricket matches between the two countries were less cricket and more of a gladiatorial contest," Singh said. The BCCI official, who requested anonymity because he did not want to "get into trouble," said the Sports Ministry's flip-flop was tarnishing India's image in international cricket. "One day they say we can play against Pakistan in multi-nation events, now we hear something else," the official said. "We agreed to the Asian Test championships because we have a written directive from the Sports Ministry about multi-nation events. "The Asian championship is not only about India and Pakistan. There are Sri Lanka and Bangladesh also to contend with." If the proposed India-Pakistan Test comes about, it will be India's first on Pakistani soil since 1989. The two sides played three Tests in India in 1999 despite unsuccessful threats from Hindu fundamentalists to disrupt the matches. India cancelled a scheduled tour of Pakistan in December and then twice pulled out of the Sharjah Limited Overs series in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The weekend decision to play in the Asian championships came days after India invited Pakistan military ruler General Pervez Musharraf for peace talks. India accuses Pakistan of backing Muslim rebels in the disputed Himalayan state of Kashmir, which has sparked two of the South Asian rivals' three wars since they gained independence from Britain in 1947.

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