It was only a matter of time before the skeletons would topple out of the closet and demons would appear on the walls. Such was the controversy courted when Mahendra Singh Dhoni chose to put on the gloves bearing the army insignia in his match against the South Africans.
If the jingoistic volumes can be muted for a minute, within hearing distance is the conspiracy theory going around that the Indian team was on collusion with the former captain in that obvious explicit gesture on the field, knowing fully well that not only would it catch the eye of the world’s leading governing body but also, hoping to throw their opposition off their game.
If the reports are true, then the Pakistan cricket team nearly took the bait before being pushed back. While the footnote carried a small fact that the International Cricket Council (ICC) refused Chris Gayle the opportunity to brand his apparel with the moniker ‘Universe Boss’, of greater interest was the fact that a response from the Pakistan cricket team was awaited.
While the Indian television media raised their loudest jingoistic voices to raise support for Dhoni’s gesture, even though it is a well-known fact that the governing body does not ratify any kind of symbolism on the field lest cricket be used a spawn to advertise messages of any kind – which is perhaps why no permission was sought by the powerful forces that is the Indian cricket team, board and affiliates, there was, as a corollary, that given the high profile India-Pakistan match scheduled in a week’s time, Pakistan would fall for the reference to Dhoni’s association as a honorary Army member but also, in reference to the Pulawama attack that had been the latest seed of discontent between the two warring neighboring nations.
Cricket has often played the role of a proxy vehicle to settle scores, sometimes with dangerous consequences for the security forces on the border, manning the Line of Control. In that light, while Dhoni’s gesture was considered noble, cricket was no place to incite more provocation in an already volatile situation. The match on the field would have sufficed.
That the Pakistan cricket team were turned down from creating their own celebratory gestures for the match against India may be all smoke, what cannot be denied is that there is the greater perception that India, knowing their position as one of the tournament favourites, were daring enough in that notion to take the game to another level, using the vehicle of their otherwise quiet, unassuming wicketkeeper-batsman to make a rather loud statement of what they thought of the state of affairs between the two nations.
Even as the Pakistan Cricket Board has been trying to push the ICC to compel the BCCI to honour bilateral series suspended in the wake of the terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008 and even lost a legal battle to that end, it seems that if the deliberately provocative act was indeed premeditated, then the Indian team do believe that Pakistan are easy pickings come June 16.
While the Gayle gimmick of the Universe Boss might have been an amusing gimmick for some, it was never going to get quite as much as traction as Dhoni’s gloves or Pakistan’s proposed celebrations. For the moment, the fireworks must wait to explode on the 16th of June when India takes on Pakistan on the cricket world in the backdrop of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019. In the age of internet and social media, scrutiny will be tougher and brutal.