New Delhi: Had India lost the World Cup semi-final match to Pakistan at Mohali on Wednesday, the Indian government would have been under pressure to demand a repeal of the result.
If Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had not stepped in to prevent a controversy that had the potential to snowball into an international crisis, India could have come close to invoking a rarely-cited section of the International Cricket Council (ICC) code of conduct to annul a Pakistani victory.
According to highly placed sources at the Prime Minister’s Office, Singh, in an uncharacteristic display of firmness, set aside moves by the Indian cricket board to invoke a dusty law in the ICC rulebook that would have disqualified Pakistani players of disputed domicile.
An obscure law would have allowed India to claim the game even after losing.
This exclusive comes in the backdrop of a highly anticipated World Cup final between India and Sri Lanka at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium, even as the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan met marking the resumption of official contacts, which India broke off after militants attacked Mumbai in late 2008.
ICC’s Law 1.4 (11), that explicates the eligibility criteria for players, clearly states that to play Under-19 cricket or above at the international level, a player has to be a) a national or b) be born in a recognized country or c) is resident in the country for at least 90 days in each of the immediately preceding seven years.
A sub-section of the law that enumerates a "disputed domicile" states that any player from a country/state not recognized by all Test-playing and associate members of the ICC can be disqualified at any time if they fail to submit a certificate of clearance issued by the world cricketing body 30 hours prior to a match to the host country.
Several players of the current Pakistani World Cup squad were born in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and have stated PoK as their domicile in documents submitted to the Ministry of External Affairs.
However, due to a technical snag at the Pakistani Foreign Ministry the players reportedly could not submit their ICC clearance certificate to the MEA on time, a technicality the Indian side was ready to pursue had they lost to Pakistan in the semis.
This basically means that had India lost to Pakistan in the semis it would be still eligible to play Sri Lanka in the final had it invoked Law 1.4(11) to get some of Pakistan’s top spinners and a middle-order batsman disqualified. The law further states that if four or more players are disqualified then the match result is null and void and the defeated team is automatically eligible for a walkover.
Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician and Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, told IBNLive in an exclusive interview that he first came to know of the delayed certificates through a MEA leak.
“After a hectic midnight meeting with the BJP top brass before the crucial semifinal match, I immediately brought it to the notice of Mr S M Krishna,” Jaitley said.
India has not won the Cup in 28 years and emotions are riding high in a country hungry for a win that eluded them several times.
Even as a billion people in India sat glued to their television sets as India took on Pakistan at Mohali, Krishna and Jaitley, along with senior leaders from both Congress and BJP, met ICC President Sharad Pawar Wednesday evening to discuss the possibilities of a repeal in the event that India lost the match.
Sources at the MEA said an emergency cabinet meeting was called at around 5 pm, when the Indian innings seemed to be floundering after in-form Yuvraj Singh lost his wicket to a full toss and Pakistani spinners took control leaving India gasping at 194/5.
“That’s when I told Mr Krishna, a win looks impossible,” Jaitley told IBNLive.com. Pawar, who Jaitley said was open to the idea of a match reversal asked to see the official papers of four Pakistani cricketers who we are told originated from PoK.
MEA sources said the identity of the Pakistani players were not to be divulged for security reasons. But there are two spinners and a middle-order batman among the four, the sources said.
A reversal would not only result in the Pakistani team being disqualified from the semifinal and India being given a secured final spot but had the potential to trigger off a major diplomatic row between the two nuclear-capable cross-border rivals.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani watched the epic encounter at Mohali from the VVIP stand along with his wife at the invitation of the Indian Prime Minister.
A cricket controversy would not only have resulted in a bitter feud between the two nations but sour diplomatic ties as well, which are gradually on the mend after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks that claimed over 160 lives.
Krishna, who reportedly contacted Singh to apprise him of the latest development, was asked by him not to go ahead with plans of a match reversal in case India lost to Pakistan to uphold the spirit of the game.
Singh is said to have told Krishna that “India will always play fair, be in war or in cricket, and there will be no exception to that rule.” A united Opposition led by Jaitley said they were ready to dispute Singh’s decision to “play the game fair” had India lost to Pakistan, in Parliament’s monsoon session starting July 26.
As it turned out, India won the match, making all of this a hypothetical possibility only. But it remains to be seen whether Singh’s refusal to take this drastic step will be continued in his management of India-Pakistan relations in the face of a belligerent Opposition.
Said the editor of IBNLIve.com to all readers when publishing this report, “Considering the date of the day before the World Cup final, there is no reason to believe any of this.” He confirmed that this report was a figment of the imagination, in keeping with the spirit of the first of April.