The prospects of a bilateral series between India and Pakistan seem to have moved a step forward on Saturday with India offering a series at home later this year. However, Pakistan’s initial response to the offer – pending high-level consultations – has been to reiterate that, according to the Future Tours Programme (FTP), they are to host the series in the UAE. This, and security issues on both sides, leaves the actual prospects of bilateral cricket still far from confirmed.
“At about five in the afternoon yesterday, I was giving a lecture at Lahore Universty of Management and Science (LUMS) when [BCCI president] Shashank Manohar called me,” PCB chief Shaharyar Khan said on Saturday. “He told me that the Indo-Pak cricketing ties should resume and the BCCI has got the permission from the Indian government. He said Pakistan should travel to India to play the series.”
According to the ICC’s FTP India were meant to travel to the UAE to play Pakistan pending the federal government’s permission. After the BCCI’s AGM in Mumbai on Monday, Manohar had said that the board would be approaching the Indian government as soon as it was possible. Manohar told PTI the board had not yet met with the government. “We have not yet approached the government. But yes, I have talked to him [Khan] over phone and we may talk again in the next couple of days.”
BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur confirmed the development, but said that the only way possible for the cricketing ties to resume was if Pakistan travelled to play the series in India, and the board would go ahead and meet with the government only if Pakistan agreed to play the series in India.
“We can only start talking if they agree to play in India,” Thakur told ESPNcricinfo. “It was not possible to play in Pakistan and a neutral venue as the Indian government would not give the permission. To keep the India-Pakistan series alive the BCCI has made an effort and spoken to the PCB [to see] if they are keen to play in India. Then we can take matters forward, and we can talk and discuss with the [Indian] government and further work out the details of the series.”
According to Khan, the telephone line was not clear and the surrounding noise at LUMS did not help either. “I only understood slowly, after a lot of disturbance, about his offer to play in India. The Memorandum of Understanding signed between both countries [last year] had stated that both countries would play in the UAE.”
Manohar told Khan that the security of the Pakistan team would be taken care of by the BCCI. “Secondly, he said we would play the matches at places where there is no danger, like in Mohali and Kolkata,” Khan said.
“Thirdly, he said that the Indian board would make some arrangements so that the loss of revenues emanating from not playing the home series can be taken care of.”
According to Khan, he responded to Manohar by simply reminding him that India must play Pakistan in the UAE according to the MoU. “I told him that we had signed the agreement to play in the UAE and we want to stick to that. Secondly, we would suffer massive losses, considering hosting even one series would amount to $50 million. And we are talking about the MoU, which was signed for six series. I told him I am not saying we are coming to India to play the series, but what is it that you are thinking of to offset such a big loss?”
Khan also expressed scepticism about playing in India as, despite Manohar’s assurances on security, he was still concerned about the opposition expressed by certain political organisations like the Shiv Sena to Pakistan playing in India. Last month Khan and his PCB team had to return home disappointed after their scheduled meeting with Manohar in Mumbai had to be put off after Shiv Sena activists barged into the BCCI headquarters saying they would not allow the talks to take place.
“You are saying we should come to India, but whenever any Pakistani goes there Shiv Sena and others oppose that,” Khan said. “That creates a security problem for us. Why are you then saying we should come to India? You should come to a place [the UAE] where there is no problem of security.”
Khan said that it was not the right time at the moment to play in India, given recent incidents involving eminent personalities from Pakistan: legendary ghazal artiste Ghulam Ali decided to opt out of a concert in Delhi and said he would only perform in India when the political environment was appropriate, while in October the Shiv Sena opposed the book release of former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri.
Given the connectivity issues during the call, though, it was decided that Manohar would send a detailed offer over e-mail/letter/fax, which would help the PCB make a decision. “We are just waiting for a clarification as to what exactly they are offering,” Khan said.
While Khan said that Manohar’s formal offer would arrive in “one or two days”, he maintained BCCI’s move was not correct. “In my opinion it is not appropriate for PCB [to play in India]. You have signed it [the MoU] and we have finished [finalizing] our broadcasting rights.”
Khan also pointed out that he could not take any unilateral decision on the matter. He said he would present the details of the offer to the PCB board of governors next Tuesday and seek their opinions. “Importantly, I need to speak to the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to take his permission, and only after that I will respond to them.”
The Pakistan series holds a lot of importance for the BCCI. Two years ago, the BCCI, under N Srinivasan, had recognised the importance of and need for a well-defined home season. That became an integral part of the ICC revamp, designed by the Big Three of India, England and Australia; the revamp ensured the bigger teams would visit India for marquee series during their winter, thus establishing their own home season, like Australia, England and South Africa already have in place.
The BCCI’s attitude towards playing Pakistan as scheduled has so far been lukewarm, but now the Indian board wants to make the series happen given once the final Test of the South Africa series ends on December 7, India have month-long window without any international cricket. Their next assignment is a limited-overs tour of Australia, comprising five ODIs and two T20Is between January 12 and 31, 2016.