February 22, 2020
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But I Say, Not Guilty

The fears that led to the Colombo boycott are understandable

But I Say, Not Guilty

I'm sure that many of us—the players, officials and fans—must have breathed a secret sigh of relief when England's Graham Thorpe dropped New Zealand opener Nathan Astle in the slips. This was the first hour of the first match of the Wills World Cup and there was, finally, some cricket to talk about.

It's unfortunate how the run-up to the tournament was marred the way it was, sounding a bad note even before the first ball had been bowled. Considering the months of hype, the decision of the Australians and the West Indians to forfeit their matches in Colombo on security grounds must have come as a bitter blow for PILCOM, the organisers.

Frankly, although there has been a barrage of criticism against these two teams, and particularly against the Aussies, I have a certain amount of sympathy for the players. It's after all, a Catch-22 situation, one that none of us would like to find ourselves in. You have to remember that while we in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are used to political upheavals and the resultant violence, the same cannot be said for Australia and the islands of the Carribean where such a situation is virtually unheard of.

How strange and ironical then that something good has come out of this sad scenario. It was a magnificent gesture of solidarity on the part of the Indian and Pakistani players to come together in just 48 hours to play that goodwill game at Colombo. It must have come as a great morale-booster to the Sri Lankan organis-ers. And the sight of Indian and Pakistani players being part of the same team must give fresh hope that the two countries can come together again on the field of play after a gap of seven years.

Security has always been a major concern with Indian teams playing abroad. I was the last Indian captain to lead the country to Pakistan. That was in 1989 and the tour is remembered more for an unpleasant incident than the cricket itself, much of which was superb. It was during the opening Test at Karachi that a spectator ran onto the field during a break in play and caught hold of me by the arm, tearing my shirt in the process. This was at a time when relations between the two nations, never too good at the best of times, was being soured by the Ayodhya events.

As you can imagine, I was pretty furious with the whole situation, which was perhaps unprecedented in cricket history. I recall storming into the pavilion and really blowing my top. But manager Chandu Borde cooled things down and it was then that it sunk in that we were not just playing a game of cricket, we were representing the nation. The tour continued and the goodwill between the rival players was magnificent.

There was a similar situation when the Indian team toured Sri Lanka in 1985 at the height of the ethnic conflict there. All this is something we have learnt to live with. But not everyone is equally inured to the spectre of violence. I reiterate, no blame should be attached to the Australians and West Indians.

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