Hello and welcome once again to DRS, my very own personal space where we talk matters cricketing. The IPL is once again with us - IPL 6 is with us. And predictably, once again the IPL has generated controversy. This time, over Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa's decision not to allow Sri Lankan players to play in Chennai.
Frankly, if you ask me not just as a cricket lover but as an Indian citizen, I find what Jayalalithaa has done a little bit offensive. Are we saying that Sri Lankan cricketers cannot play in one part of India, even after they get an Indian visa? Are we saying that they are persona non grata for the people of Tamil Nadu and for the Tamil Nadu government?
The ironies are replete in the situation which has been created as a result. You have Kumar Sangakkara, who's the captain of the Sunrisers, a team owned by the Marans, a family who have built their empire in Chennai and Tamil Nadu. You have a Muttiah Muralitharan, who is a son-in-law of Chennai, who is a Sri Lankan Tamil, but who now may himself in a situation where he could not or should not be going to Chennai. You have a situation where, to take the Marans again, who own SpiceJet which flies regularly to Colombo. So you can have contacts when it comes to business, but you will not allow the cricket players to play in Chennai!
Frankly, the IPL organizers should have made it very clear to the chief minister that if Sri Lankan players are not allowed to play in Chennai then the IPL will be moved out of Chennai. Unfortunately, that won't happen because the Chennai Super Kings are virtually owned by N Srinivasan, the cricket board president. And that's where conflict of interest comes. If Mr Srinivasan was a truly neutral umpire in this situation, as board president, he would have told Jayalalithaa what were the boundaries beyond where the government could not intervene in a private event. Or he should have pushed the Center to put pressure on Jayalalithaa to reverse her decision.
Unfortunately, none of this is happening. So you have a situation where, for example, the likes of Mahela Jayawardene who is the captain of the Delhi Daredevils, or Angelo Mathews who's now the captain of the Pune team, will not be able to play matches in Chennai.
What I find particularly unfortunate about this is that if there is one city which has always been welcoming of cricketers, it has been Chennai. To my mind, one of the most remarkable scenes in cricket in the last 20 years was when Pakistan won a nail-biting Test match against India in Chennai. It was in 1999 and after the match the Pakistanis got a standing ovation from the Chennai crowd. When I think of it, my hair stands.
It was an emotional moment to see after all the trouble between the two countries, cricketers celebrated after playing such a great match in defeating India and then getting such a standing ovation. To my mind, Chennai is one of the few crowds which would have done that. They are that embracing, they are that universal in their ability to cut across the barriers and boundaries that have been imposed upon us politics.
Yes, sports and politics mix. Yes, I am aware that over the years sportsmen have been used as soft targets to send out political messages. But somewhere, I believe we should all draw the line and what has happened in IPL 6 was a good opportunity to draw that line. This clearly is not going to help the cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils. It's only going to lead to more bad blood and divisiveness. It was wholly unnecessary. What it required was for some cricket administrators, some franchise owners, for some cricketers to stand up and be counted. To have the moral courage and say 'we will not differentiate between our Sri Lankan fellow cricketers and the rest'. Unfortunately, we have not shown that moral courage. To my mind, the IPL and indeed cricket in India is much poorer as a result.