Spin star Harbhajan Singh has called for India to boycott their World Cup game against Pakistan in June in protest at a Kashmir attack which left more than 40 paramilitaries dead.
India has accused its arch-rival neighbour of supporting the attack, and amid nationwide calls for reprisals, Singh said: “There is no need for any relations with Pakistan, let alone cricket.
“Don’t play the World Cup match with Pakistan on June 16 — country comes first for all of us and we are all standing with our forces,” added the 38-year-old, who played his last Test in 2015 but is still an Indian Premier League regular.
“Pakistan has been promoting cross-border terrorism and this attack was unbelievably shocking,” said Singh, whose 417 Test wickets are the second highest for an off-spinner. Pakistan has denied any role in the attack.
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India, one of the World Cup favourites, would at the very least forfeit the match points if they boycott the group game to be played in Manchester. But Singh said this would not matter.
“I don’t care about losing points as the Indian team is powerful enough to win the World Cup without playing Pakistan,” Singh told the Aaj Tak Hindi news channel late Monday.
– ‘No indication matches will not be played’ –
International Cricket Council chief executive David Richardson expressed sympathy over the attack in Kashmir last Thursday, which saw a suicide bomber ram an explosives-laden car into a military convoy.
He added he was confident the game — one of the showpiece fixtures of this year’s World Cup in England and Wales — would still go ahead.
“There’s no indication that any of the matches will not be played,” Richardson told AFP at a 100 Days to the World Cup event in London on Tuesday.
“Obviously, our thoughts are with the people that were impacted by the incident.”
The former South Africa wicketkeeper added that cricket “has a wonderful ability to bring people together, unify communities, and hopefully it can play a huge role along those lines in this case as well.”
India’s top-tier football league has, however, been thrown into turmoil by the attack, with defending champions Minerva Punjab FC refusing to travel to Srinagar for the game against Real Kashmir on Monday.
East Bengal have also expressed concerns about their February 28 game against the team.
“They are using a very unfortunate incident as an excuse for not playing the games. Instigating communal hatred against our team is unpardonable,” said Sandeep Chattoo, a co-owner of Real Kashmir.
“All that we want is to play for the sake of peace and for the people of Kashmir,” he told AFP in Delhi.