Cricket is taken for a ransom. The powers-that-be have arrogated the right from others.
Pakistan is at the receiving end once again. The Continental multi-nation event is facing a standoff. The perennial problem international cricket has been facing; An Indo-Pak stand-off. Cricket should take precedence but it’s not.
Blatant politics is ruining cricket. A stand-off between Pakistan and India has been threatening two major events this year: the Asia Cup and the World Cup. The worst scenario is that India plays its Asia Cup matches on a neutral venue and not in Pakistan, the host of the event. In a tit-for-tat, Pakistan threatened not to tour India for the 50-over World Cup that follows the Asia Cup and demand their matches be shifted to a neutral venue.
The bilateral ties are on a hold since 2007 and although Pakistan took a short tour of India but that excursion failed to revive what millions of fans want to watch. The biggest rivalry is stalled. The arch rivals play only in multi-national events viz World Cups, Champions trophy and Asia Cup.
Not an ideal scenario for the cricket fans around the world. The stand-off continues as the matter is not in the hands of the respective cricket boards, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). It is in the hands of the two respective countries. While Pakistan has been flexible, a tendency they showed by sending Pakistan team to the Twenty20 World Cup in 2016 held in India despite threats by BJP zealots but India has remained firm on defanging the spirit and events.
BCCI secretary Jay Shah, son of India’s powerful home minister Amit Shah, had denounced any probability of India going across the border, almost a year before the event. Shah also categorically declared that the Asia Cup 2023 will be held at a neutral venue. A few days later, India’s sports minister Anurag Thakur, who previously held the posts of both secretary and president of the BCCI, tried to pacify things by saying that a final decision will be taken by the government.
Another bone of contention or discontent is that Jay Shah is the president of Asian Cricket Council (ACC) and with that double hat on his head he announced the annual calendar of the ACC in January this year. It was a week or so after a change in Pakistan cricket’s set up, with Najam Sethi taking over as head of the 14-man management committee. Sethi showed displeasure on not taking Pakistan into confidence as a major stakeholder. On Sethi’s demand a meeting of the ACC was convened in Oman in February but status quo remained as nothing could be decided. Another meeting was convened on the sidelines of the ICC Board meeting in March. That too failed to provide a breakthrough but a hybrid model was proposed. The idea it put forth was that while five teams play their matches in Pakistan, India played at a neutral venue. Pakistan’s point of view is that if that model was followed then the same arrangements will be made for the World Cup, meaning Pakistan will play its matches on a neutral venue.
The impasse continued even after meetings in Oman and then in Dubai. So inclined to keep the hosting rights, Pakistan again showed more flexibility by giving another hybrid model. This time Najam Sethi dangled the carrot by offering to play only four first round matches in Lahore and then the remaining matches, including the final, in the UAE.
Even that model is not ideal for BCCI nor for Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. But the excuse is lame from the BCB: heat of the United Arab Emirates. That’s news for everyone. Have they not played in September 2018 under the scorching sun? They did and played the final of the 50-over Asia Cup then. Sri Lanka also did. So bring a new excuse.
Sri Lanka wants to host the event. With the BCCI hierarchy not very happy with some of the Emirates Cricket Board officials, they are also pushing for Sri Lanka as the alternate host by ditching Pakistan. But PCB has a strong cause to discard that option when they reckoned that the event will not produce great gate money considering the economic crisis the Island is going through, a valid point.
But it remains to be seen for how long Pakistan can afford to affront the ICC and the BCCI. Asia Cup and World Cup are two different entities, just like the ACC and ICC. ACC has little power and it is ruled by India. India’s clout on the ICC is immense and significant. India can vitiate and veto. They have the power and the money to influence the ICC.
Pakistan had signed a Member Participation Agreement with the ICC and that binds them to feature in all the ICC events. Pakistan gets handsome money in each five-year cycle of ICC events and that is around 34 million dollars a year under the proposed new financial model.
PCB management committee Chief Najam Sethi is defiant. He doesn’t want to go on the backfoot. At this stage, the PCB is only in discussions with the ACC over the hosting of the ACC Asia Cup and no discussions regarding the World Cup have taken place with the ICC. This is not to say that the hybrid model will not be advocated at the proper ICC forum at the right time.”
While there is nothing official, there were reports that ten venues have been allocated for the World Cup but Mohali is not included in that list. Mohali is a venue where Pakistan have been at ease playing their matches. They did so in 2011 and then in 2016. Excluding Mohali from the list meant that India had assumed Pakistan would not tour them. But while we assume that there emerged reports from Indian media that if Pakistan tours India, then Chennai and Kolkata are assigned to host Pakistan games. That is some news, if it is to be believed.
The matter is mired in politics. India is now busy with its glitzy and lucrative Indian Premier League until May 28. Fans around the world want India to tour Pakistan for the Asia Cup and the same for Pakistan for the World Cup. But politics will have its say. A breakthrough is only possible if there is a thaw in the relations of the two countries.
Cricket had been the winner. It can win again, fingers crossed!