Picture this, for just one moment: a foggy morning with the sun just beginning to be visible. Cricketers in their pristine whites. Mohammad Amir is standing at the top of his mark, with the glistening red cherry in his hands. Wahab Riaz is licking his lips in anticipation of the next over. Misbah-ul-Haq is at mid-off, as expressionless as usual, but engrossed in imparting a final piece of advice to his strike bowler. Younis Khan, as is his wont, is chirping away relentlessly from the slips.
The batsman on strike is remarkably composed, despite the enormity of the occasion. KL Rahul is talented. He has a century in all the three formats. Now, however, he has a challenge on his hands. The crowd holds its breath with anticipation. He marks his guard, takes his stance. The umpire calls for play to start. And Amir sets off.
Are you an Indian cricket fan? A Pakistani cricket fan? A Twenty20 fan? No matter. You're salivating by now.
A series for the ages
Everyone knows India and Pakistan make for fantastic cricketing contests. But think of the added significance of a cricketing encounter between the two nations right now. A clash between the No. 1 and No. 2 Test sides. Pakistan, newly buoyed by a fantastic drawn series against England away, and looking the best they have ever looked in the Test format in a long time. On the other side, a smarting Virat Kohli, annoyed at having the No. 1 rank snatched from his team by the combination of a poor outfield and rain, itching to set the record straight.
Think of the potential contests-within-the-contest. Mohammad Amir against Virat Kohli. No restrictions, no limits. Amir can go as hard or as soft as he wants against Kohli. India’s batting genius can play him however he wants. He can choose to be defensive or take the attack to the Pakistani bowler. We suspect he will do the latter, but what a contest it will be.
Or what about Yasir Shah against Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara? Turn, bounce, glorious leg-spin. Will Pujara just batten down the hatches? Will Rahane add another feather to his cap with one more century? Or does Yasir Shah get one to rip viciously and bowl him around his legs?
The possibilities are endless. Ravichandran Ashwin against Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali against India’s support cast of bowlers. And so on...
Of course, these glorious fantasies come to an abrupt halt when the thorny question of the practicalities makes its appearance. At the outset, where could such a conceivable series even take place? Not in India, as Pakistan will not be travelling any time soon. Not in Pakistan’s adopted home, the United Arab Emirates either, as the Board of Control for Cricket in India is unlikely to give permission for India to travel there in the conceivable future.
But for the well-being of cricket, especially for its longest and most storied format, can a solution, any solution, not be found? Especially in the current context, because, let us face it, there cannot be a better time to have an India-Pakistan Test series. Both the teams are playing exceptionally well. They have some fantastic players in their respective line-ups, and have recently pulled off some spectacular wins.
Make it happen, BCCI and PCB
For the sake of cricket fans, can the two respective cricket boards come to some sort of compromise? Simply put, they must see what an exciting proposition this series is. Five Tests of watching them go hammer and tongs at each other. Pure unadulterated Test cricket, no quarters given and none asked for.
What are the possible solutions? Last year in 2015, there was talk about a proposed India-Pakistan bilateral series. It ultimately came to nothing but there were rumours that the series could be held in Sri Lanka. Can that possibility be explored again? Or at the least, an alternate location? How about in England next summer, where full houses will definitely be guaranteed?
Whatever be the case, it has to happen. It is difficult to believe that the Pakistan Cricket Board and the BCCI have not woken up to the golden goose that they hold in their hands. In a day and age when mutterings about Test cricket’s decline never cease, there could not be a better antidote. An India-Pakistan series could easily become the most iconic Test contest of all time, surpassing challengers like the 2001 India-Australia series or the 2005 Ashes.
Of course, the prickliest thorn here is the domestic situation existent in both the countries. Sorting out that impasse will require tact and diplomacy from India as well as Pakistan. Hosting the series in a neutral venue could go a long way in alleviating the major concerns. Regardless, the sheer magnitude of such an event should ensure that at least an attempt be made to broker out some sort of compromise.
For the fans’ sake, it needs to happen. The recent Twenty20 Internationals between the two countries have only whetted the appetite. Now, we need the main course. And there could not be a better time.