Back when I edited slightly complicated news stories, journalistic habit would kick in and present me with a question: What if someone landed from Mars and read this story? Would it adequately explain the scene on the ground? That question helped ensure context, cut out superfluous details, and ensured the edited story went out with its important bits in appropriate places.
In this age of instant news and live-blogging, the question has become a little irrelevant, but suddenly it popped up again when the ICC announced the World XI to take part in the three-match Independence Cup in Lahore this week. If someone landed from Mars and looked at the list - five South Africans, three Australians, two West Indians, one each from Bangladesh, England, New Zealand and Sri Lanka, and a Zimbabwean coach - that Martian would have no idea that the game's biggest elephant is missing from the room.
Today the picture on the ground is this: cricket's biggest, richest and most powerful country is not present at a we-are-the-world kind of gathering in Lahore this week. "The nations that play cricket," said Bangladeshi batsman Tamim Iqbal, excited to be part of the World XI team, "are one big family. We have to come forward to help restore international cricket in Pakistan." Everyone except the family's wealthiest son, who today is found suddenly far removed.
World XI coach Andy Flower was asked why there was no Indian in his XI, and his answer generally spoke about the tightness of the Indian team's calendar and how it would have taken too much time to sort out the issues around getting an Indian or two over. However, it is not as if there is a shortage of Indian players available to be part of global attention-grabbing cricket this week. In two words: Yuvraj Singh.
"Every time India plays Pakistan in ICC events, it is so darn obvious that the players on both sides are far better sports than the army of social media "hateriots" who "support" them, or the TV news anchors who impersonate foghorns"
As an Indian cricket fan for nearly 40 years and a journalist for more than half of those, my first reaction when the World XI was announced was, "How can India not be a part of this?" However, despite the Indian-cricket-shaped hole in the World XI, the world is doing fine; Lahore is abuzz. The loss is Indian cricket's, its stature in the world game is now that of a cash machine: necessary, functional, but that's about it.
In the 1990s, Indian cricket, aka the BCCI, would rally other Asian nations together to form what was thought of as an Asian "bloc". The motive was getting ICC votes, of course, but in terms of cricketing exchanges, the BCCI used to put its money where its mouth was. In November 1991, India was the first country that invited newly reinstated South Africa to play international cricket. In 1996, a joint India-Pakistan team travelled to play Sri Lanka after Australia and West Indies said they would forfeit the Sri Lanka leg of that year's World Cup, in the wake of a devastating bomb attack in central Colombo two weeks before the first match in the country. In 2005, Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan players formed part of an Asian XI that played a World XI in Melbourne to raise funds for tsunami relief. In 2009, an India v Pakistan World T20 warm-up match at The Oval raised money for victims of the Lahore terror attacks.
Yet now, in the flat world of the 21st century, Indian cricket has allowed itself to be used, abused and so caught up in political entanglements that it is somehow seen as only logical that Pakistani cricketers cannot play in the IPL (unless they have non-Pakistani passports), and that no Indian player can be part of a World XI in Lahore. Bilateral Test cricket between the two countries and the idea of India playing Pakistan at a neutral venue have also been allowed to become anathema. So much so that the PCB has filed a dispute notice against the BCCI. Who wants the hassle of having an Indian involved in a global cricket event in Pakistan?
Every time India plays Pakistan in ICC events, it is so darn obvious that the players on both sides are far better sports than the army of social media "hateriots" who "support" them, or the TV news anchors who impersonate foghorns. There is no shortage of politicians of influence on both sides in the India-Pakistan cricket business, but there is a shortage of cricketing statesmen among them. Contact or goodwill between the two nations is as easily generated as animosity is, but cricket gets stretched out on a rack depending on which of those two is sought to be generated and by whom.
Less than two years ago, on Christmas Day in 2015, the prime minister of India stopped over in Lahore on a surprise visit to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on his birthday, and had some cake with him. Pakistan is on a list of India's Most Favoured Nation trading partners, with business between the two countries totalling close to US$2.6 billion. Cricketing contact between the two nations, on the other hand, is only used as political currency. Today as that currency is not quite so useful to either side, it is not being used.
But it's not like there won't be any Indians around the cricket in Lahore this week - there are nine involved in the TV production. Wishing you great TV pictures from Lahore, guys. So what if Indian cricket didn't think it worth the bother of sending a representative there. In any case, we'll be watching.