India’s petty muscle-flexing to block young England’s young Muslim spinner Shoaib Bashir


In years to come, the Somerset off-spinner Shoaib Bashir may look back on his first tour as an England cricketer with pride. First, though, he will have to deal with the day his team-mates flew to India without him.

Elevated to the Test squad one minute — a call-up that sparked tears of joy — he has been slapped down the next, reminded of his status in a part of the world where not everyone welcomes his kind.

A British Muslim of Pakistani heritage, he was on Monday waiting in Abu Dhabi for his visa to arrive, while the rest of Ben Stokes’s Bazballers trained in Hyderabad ahead of Thursday’s first Test. Perhaps he followed their progress on social media.

It seems almost futile to point out that those of Pakistani origin have to clamber through extra hoops to gain entry into India — if they get there at all. The mood, stoked by the prime minister Narendra Modi, long ago took an anti-Muslim twist.

Another Westerner pointing this out isn’t going to shift the dial. But it seems an unnecessary humiliation to make Bashir, a 20-year-old with six first-class matches to his name, hang around in the Gulf for paperwork that could easily have been processed in time — he applied as soon as he was selected on December 11 — and which ought to arrive before long anyway.

Uncapped England spinner Shoaib Bashir was unable to fly with his team-mates for their test tour of India

Uncapped England spinner Shoaib Bashir was unable to fly with his team-mates for their test tour of India

He was left grounded in Abu Dhabi where Brendon McCullum's side had recently ended a 10-day training camp

He was left grounded in Abu Dhabi where Brendon McCullum’s side had recently ended a 10-day training camp 

The young spinner was not able to travel because of a visa delay. A similar incident has previously happened to Australian cricketer Usman Khawaja

The young spinner was not able to travel because of a visa delay. A similar incident has previously happened to Australian cricketer Usman Khawaja 

Who gains from this administrative muscle-flexing? What else does this achieve other than to make Bashir feel small, and India — the world’s largest democracy — look smaller?

Pakistanis routinely face these hurdles to enter a country which is home to around 200 million Muslims — the rough equivalent of the populations of the UK, Germany and Italy combined.

Just ask their cricket journalists, who experienced a struggle to get visas for the recent World Cup, a tournament from which Pakistan fans were almost entirely absent. Before that, Australia’s Pakistan-born opening batsman Usman Khawaja was forced to arrive in India for a Test series later than his team-mates. Paperwork, you see.

The ECB are putting on a brave face, with head coach Brendon McCullum cheerfully suggesting: ‘Things take time, don’t they?’ And if they are less impressed in private, they know it doesn’t pay to poke the behemoth: Indian money rules world cricket, and the whole circus — administrators, coaches, players and commentators — understand which side their bread is buttered.

The news of Bashir’s snub came on the day Modi arrived in the northern city of Ayodhya to open a Hindu temple on the site of the former Babri Masjid mosque. The mosque’s notorious destruction by Hindu nationalists in 1992 sparked communal violence not seen in India since Partition in 1947, turning the site into one of the country’s most bitterly contested spaces.

So it was no surprise that Modi, hailing ‘the advent of a new era’, chose Ayodhya as the unofficial starting point of his campaign for re-election, with India going to the polls in the spring. His pro-Hindu overtones are expected to produce another crushing victory.

And it lent irony to the ECB’s suggestion that they would be turning to the Indian government to help Bashir. On one level, the suggestion made sense. The secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India is Jay Shah, whose father, Amit, is India’s minister of home affairs — effectively Modi’s No 2. If anyone can sort out a visa with a simple phone call, it is Shah Jnr.

But the entanglement of cricket and politics in India has become so complex that any decision taken by the BCCI has to be viewed through the prism of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived to lead the opening of a Hindu temple

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived to lead the opening of a Hindu temple 

Modi was seen attending the inauguration of the Ram temple built on the site of the former Babri Masjid mosque

Modi was seen attending the inauguration of the Ram temple built on the site of the former Babri Masjid mosque

The first of England’s five-Test series against India begins in Hyderabad on Thursday 

Bashir's visa application was made back in the second week of December, just hours after he was announced as part of England's touring party

Bashir’s visa application was made back in the second week of December, just hours after he was announced as part of England’s touring party 

At times, the recent World Cup felt like a vehicle for the prime minister’s aggrandisement, and it nearly worked: had India not flopped in the final, he would have got the photocall he cherished, handing over the trophy to Rohit Sharma in front of more than 90,000 fans at a stadium bearing his name. Instead, he had to present it to Australia’s Pat Cummins, who stood — alone and bemused — on stage long after Modi had left him to it.

Bashir is not the first person of Pakistani heritage to be messed around by the selectively turning wheels of Indian immigration, and he won’t be the last. But the normalisation of this process is no reason to ignore it.

Bashir must now twiddle his thumbs until he can feel part of a tour that should instead provide memories for a lifetime.

As for his family, they are unlikely to make the trip, even if their lad earns his first cap. It just isn’t worth the hassle.



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