The romantic and the realist

THE romantic and the realist must inhabit the world together for in the absence of one, we would have to forego a lot of joy and without the other it would be impossible to govern. In a happy, civilised world the two would share time and space equitably but parts of our world are currently struggling to own either adjective. And so we must choose. It is not an easy activity.

Cricket is having to grapple with this reality as well for the truth is that, more than anything else, we are political beings. Man-made boundaries give us our identity, they define our culture but even more so, they separate us, even plant hatred. And so, much as we would like everyone to play cricket in a spirit of joy and competition, representing nations with pride and commitment, the political animal in us will always come first. The realist will always vanquish the romantic.

In the face of such vast political tragedy, the ICC's 10-year calendar and their admirable, if statistically inadequate, attempt at having a World Test Championship seem like straws in the wind. Nobody wants to go to Zimbabwe where the exchange rate to the dollar now resembles a very good one-day score. And even if they are political opponents, it hurts me greatly that the chances of a team going to Pakistan seem woefully remote. They have contributed greatly to world cricket but like so many other parts of the world, violence seemed to be entwined with the ravishing skills of their cricketers. Here in the West Indies, I met Ian Bishop and Mike Procter, two men who were in Karachi when the bomb went off, and you will have to drag them back there.

The 10-year programme is already taking a beating and that is sad. At its heart, its objective was to ensure that every team played everyone else and in doing so, it rode over individual cricket boards that seemed inclined only to play some countries and not others.

India did not go to Australia for eight years in the nineties and England didn't host Sri Lanka in a three-Test series for 20 years. Without a binding international calendar, and with no guaranteed television revenues, it would have been impossible to expect Zimbabwe and Bangladesh to get too much cricket. The 10-year schedule had a well-defined developmental objective even if it affected the market realities in some countries.

Countries like to invite other teams for two major reasons. They provide good, tough cricket and in doing so, they fill stands. Australia, South Africa and Pakistan might get into this category. Alternately, a country might guarantee solid financial returns through television rights, sponsorship and in-stadium advertising. India occupy that position currently on the back of the largest, most loyal, band of supporters in the world. Zimbabwe and the West Indies, to name just two, have benefitted greatly from Indian tours in recent times and it is now well known that South Africa's amazingly aggressive anti-Mike Denness stand was dictated by the revenues that an extra Test match against India would produce. Even England agreed to play an extra one-day game in India purely because they were tempted by the revenue that the fourth Test this summer would bring in. It is quite a transformation for a country whose players were once made fun of because they were forever short of money! India though, must learn to wear this new financial strength well, with dignity rather than through vendetta.

But the development needs are already creating difficulties for member countries of the ICC. Playing every team home and away every four years means that calendars are getting stretched. The West Indies are having to play cricket in June and July and already the President of the West Indies Cricket Board, Wesley Hall, has asked his accountants to make a presentation to the ICC. By June it starts raining in the Caribbean and by the end of the month, the first hurricanes are sometimes sighted. This year, and next year, the home season in the West Indies extends till the first week of July. If important matches are rained out, like the two one-day games at Sabina Park, a lot of expenses get incurred but the revenues stay away.

Australia are having to spend a lot of money in developing Darwin and Cairns, with their tropical climates, as Test match centres so that cricket can be played in August or September. It is almost certain that those centres will only host the likes of Bangladesh or, maybe Zimbabwe, and that investment is probably never going to be recovered. I suspect that in such a situation, the ICC needs every series to take place and that is not going to happen, certainly not on the sub-continent.

India and Pakistan aren't helping matters either.

Whatever the romantic might say, I do not see India playing Pakistan for a very long time. Ruled by their heart, the romantics find decisions easy to take but this is a very difficult question to answer. Sport ignites passions like few other things in the world and in one of the most violent parts of the world, we need to soothe nerves not inflame them. An India-Pakistan series might be fantastic for the financial health of the game but could generate more damaging rhetoric in the region.

These are not happy times for many parts of the world.

And cricket is but a tiny, insignificant pawn in graver matters. Let us enjoy as much as we get of it for as long as we get it.