That cricket is followed like a religion in India is well known but a senior diplomat using the analogies of the sport to explain, or to conceal, Indian foreign policy manoeuvers in resolving a military stand-off with China may be a first.
External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay was on Thursday repeatedly asked questions about the contacts or the lack of them between India and China to resolve the deadlock over Doklam, a disputed mountainous tri-junction where the two countries connect with Bhutan.
Baglay peppered his responses with a number of cricket analogies, ducking some bouncers and flicking off some spinning deliveries down the legside. He appeared on the backfoot, mostly, and was at his defensive best, refusing to come on to the front foot and loft away any delivery thrown at him as a question.
When he was asked about the number of flag or diplomatic meetings the two countries have had since the Doklam stand-off started on June 16, the spokesperson compared the difficulty of giving the information with the number of deliveries bowled in a Test match.
“How many contacts we have had is more difficult than counting all deliveries bowled in a Test match over five days.
“I would seek your understanding if I am not able to go into how many contacts and what type of contacts and at what levels (India and China have made).
“When you talk about deliveries in a Test match you do not talk roughly. If I say roughly you would say no you are saying 6.8 overs, you are not saying 6.2 overs of 6.3 overs (sic).
“Let me not get into that. I am aware of flag meetings after June 16. Whether there was one or more I am not sure,” said the career diplomat who has previously served as Deputy High Commissioner in Islamabad from 2011 to 2014.
After his Pakistan posting, Baglay graduated to the role of Joint Secretary dealing with the important Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran desk in the Ministry of External Affairs before being appointed spokesperson in February this year.
On Thursday, when he was asked if Bhutan had approached India first over Chinese troops building a road near the disputed territory, Baglay said New Delhi has been in “close contact” with the government in Thimphu on the unfolding developments.
He returned to cricketing terms saying he did not want to explain “whether the ball came first and then the batsman went forward or whether the batsman had taken a (stance) before the ball was bowled.
“Those matters – it is not for me and sometimes not even in my knowledge, frankly speaking, as to what came first.”
When a journalist raised his hand for a question, Baglay said: “You want to play second innings? It is not a Test match.”
A senior reporter with a TV channel asked two questions packaged in one.
When was the last time Indian and Chinese diplomats met on the Doklam issue and also if India and Bhutan were on the same page on the subject?
Baglay, who has a masters in chemistry, turned a metallurgy engineer.
“This is an art of amalgamating two questions. It is like metallurgy, it is like forming an alloy. You mix two metals and it appears as one. I will take it (the two questions) as an alloy,” he said, adding the Bhutanese government had “essentially” asserted what the Indian government has been maintaining about the issue.
He referred to a 2012 agreement that bound China and India to settle the boundary issue with Bhutan.
Another TV scribe asked her second question which was about Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and her West Bengal counterpart Mamata Banerjee saying that China could be behind troubles in their states.
“It was a no ball to begin with because you had asked a question,” Baglay said and refused to comment directly on the comments by the Chief Ministers.
He said cross-border terrorism that emanates from Pakistan was the root of the problem in Jammu and Kashmir.
A scribe arrived late. Requesting “no cricket analogies”, she asked a question about National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s planned travel to Beijing to attend a BRICS meeting on July 27 and 28.
“This was a dead ball,” Baglay said in reply to the question as he had already answered it in the beginning of the press briefing.