An emergency meeting of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) has been convened in Bahrain at the behest of the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Najam Sethi.
One topic will dominate the agenda, namely where will this year’s Asia Cup be held. Nominally it is meant to be staged by Pakistan, but with India resolutely opposed to that, there seems very little chance of them staging it.
Instead a neutral venue may be chosen, which could have potentially serious consequences for the World Cup in India which begins in October.
The BCCI’s stance
From the outset, the BCCI has made clear its stance – that India will not travel to Pakistan under any circumstances. Political tensions between the two countries mean that they have not played a bilateral series against each other since 2012.
They have faced each other in white ball tournaments like World Cups and Asian Cups, but that has always been in neutral venues.
(Their most recent encounter was in the T20I World Cup in Australia in October, in a group stage match, India winning a thriller).
Although Pakistan had recently begun to welcome back international touring sides after almost a decade forced to play home games overseas following the attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in 2009, the recent suicide bombing at a mosque in Peshawar has raised fears that the country could yet again be facing a wave of extremist Muslim attacks.
That is a further pretext – if one were needed – why Pakistan should not stage this year’s tournament.
Shah’s conflict of interest
There is some conflict of interest in the role of Jay Shah, who is both president of the ACC and the secretary of the BCCI. Previously he had publicly told the media that India would not travel to Pakistan. It was unclear in what capacity he was speaking and Pakistan had accused him of taking a bilateral decision.”
Roger Binny, the BCCI president, had attempted to take some heat out of the debate by indicating that it was a political not sporting decision, but tensions have continued to simmer.
However, it seems invidious that somebody meant to speak for the whole of Asian cricket, should have such a vested interest in the most powerful and richest nation in its constituent body.
Where might it be staged
Pakistan was meant to stage the tournament last year, but instead it was moved to UAE, so often used as a venue for international cricket competitions. It was where Pakistan played their home games during their ten year exile, and it staged the Indian T20 franchise league during the pandemic.
It is an obvious candidate to stage the event once more.
Sri Lanka, who were surprise winners of the tournament last year, could be given the chance to defend the title on home soil. And Qatar, fresh from staging the 2022 Football World Cup, have also indicated they are willing to act as a neutral venue.
If Pakistan are stripped of hosting rights, then this could have serious implications for the World Cup.
Former PCB chair Ramiz Raja has threatened that Pakistan would retaliate by not travelling to India for the World Cup.
If that were to happen, what had begun as purely an Asian dispute would then have much wider ramifications for the ICC community.
It would, for example, affect the qualification process. Pakistan are one of the seven teams already qualified (something India as hosts do not have to worry about). If they were to drop out, who would take their place.
There is a qualifying tournament to be held in Zimbabwe beginning in June, to determine the last two spots, and there could be repercussions for that.
And if Pakistan were to boycott the World Cup, then in turn India would likely refuse to participate the next time Pakistan were due to stage a global event.
And that would just undermine the ICC and do the global image of cricket no good at all.
Of course, Pakistan may just be bluffing and posturing to a domestic audience.
Nevertheless, it is an unseemly row, and one that the ACC needs to settle in as harmonious a fashion as possible under the circumstances.
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