India stands not to gain by not playing Pakistan in the ICC Cricket World Cup, 2019, former India captain Sunil Gavaskar has said.

If India wants to put its point across in light of the recent terrorist attack in Pulwama, it can continue to “hurt them” by shunning bilateral ties, he argues.

At the World Cup, India is scheduled to play Pakistan on June 16, 2019. India off-spinner Harbhajan Singh has called for a complete boycott — in cricket — of Pakistan by India.

Read | Amit Panghal dedicates medal to victims of terrorist attack

“Who wins if India decide against playing Pakistan in the World Cup? And I am not even talking about the semis and the finals. Who wins? Pakistan win because they get two points,” Gavaskar told India Today . “India have so far beaten Pakistan every time in a World Cup, so we are actually conceding two points when by beating Pakistan, we could make sure that they don’t advance in the competition. [But] I am with the country, whatever the government decides, I am with it totally. If the country wants we shouldn’t play Pakistan, I am with them,” he added.

‘Why not beat them’

The two nations have not engaged in bilateral cricket since 2012, when the Pakistan team toured India for a limited-overs series. The last full tour by either of the two countries was in 2007.

“Where does it hurt Pakistan? It hurts them when they don’t play a bilateral series against India. In a multi-team event, India will lose by not playing them. The entire matter needs to be looked at with a little more depth. I can understand emotions are running high. But what happens when you don’t play them? I know India are strong enough side to qualify even after conceding those two points but why not beat them and make sure they don’t qualify [beyond the group stage?],” argued Gavaskar.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is likely to fail in its bid to convince the International Cricket Council (ICC) to oust Pakistan from the World Cup, if it decided to do that, according to Gavaskar. “They can try but it will not happen. Because the other member countries have to accept that and I don’t see that happening. I am not too sure an ICC conference is the right forum,” he said, referring to the meetings in Dubai scheduled for February 27 to March 2.

He added: “Sure, all of us are absolutely down with what has happened. It is such a tragedy, but I am not too sure this would work with the ICC. The other counties will say that this is an internal matter between the two countries and they have to deal with it and not involve us.”

‘First step’

Gavaskar urged Imran Khan, the Pakistan Prime Minister, to take the “first step” towards improving ties with India. “Let me speak directly to Imran Khan, someone who I have admired so much, who I think is a friend. Let me say to Imran — when you took over, you said that it is going to be a new Pakistan. You said that India should take the first step and Pakistan will take two steps. But not as a politician, as an average sportsperson, I want to say to you that Pakistan is the one which should take the first step. You ensure there is no cross-border infiltration, you ensure that those in Pakistan who are creating problems in India are handed over, if not to India, then to the [United Nations]. You take those two steps and you see the number of friendly steps India will take.”


Sunil Gavaskar urged Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan (in picture) to take a "first step" to ease relations between the two countries. Photo: AP


He added: “I know many Indian and Pakistani cricketers are friends. You (Imran) are my friend, Wasim [Akram] is my friend, Ramiz [Raja] is my friend, Shoaib [Akhtar] is my friend. We have such a good time when we meet in India or outside and I think the people of the two countries deserve that good time. So you take that first step. Let the Naya Pakistan take this big first step and you will see India taking a number of steps. The love and affection that Imran gets in India is unbelievable. He has spent a lot of time in the country. He knows the Indian people better than any other Pakistani and I do believe that he is capable of taking these steps.”

Will Khan pay heed to his call? “I was thinking of retirement after the series in England (1987) but he said ‘no no, let’s have one last confrontation, I want Pakistan to beat India in India and it won’t be the same if you are not in the team’. So I listened to him then but that was on the field. This is completely different. This touches a lot more lives than a game of cricket,” Gavaskar said.