The war of words between India and Pakistan escalated quickly during the past week, with the latter now indicating it might boycott the ICC ODI World Cup to be held in India next year. The threat comes in light of the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s reluctance to send its players to Pakistan next year for the Asia Cup.
While no official confirmation has been made by either side, the situation has deteriorated to such an extent that the International Cricket Council might have to step in to mediate between both sides to allow for the smooth conduct of both tournaments.
India’s Reluctance To Visit Pakistan
While Pakistan has steadily improved its security scenario, especially for foreign players and supporting team members in recent months, the situation remains volatile. With the success of Australia’s tour early this year, Pakistan are now confident that they can host the Asia Cup successfully next year. The upcoming games against England in the next few weeks will act as indicators of their readiness to hold the regional tournament.
At the same time, players and team members still have to deal with anxiety about their safety whenever they visit the country. The recent assassination attempt on former Pakistan captain Imran Khan has caused concern among the English players. The security precautions also take a mental toll on the players – with constant surveillance of their movements and continuous monitoring by bodyguards taking away their privacy.
It is also reported that England and Pakistan would have to train at the same time during the tour and are hiring their own chef for the tour. The security arrangements are so huge that Pakistan would be incurring a net loss on making the matches happen.
India have not visited Pakistan for any bilateral or multilateral tournament since the Asia Cup in 2008 when concerns around terrorism and security effectively cut off the cricketing relations between both nations.
Issues With Asia Cup
BCCI’s Secretary Jay Shah told the media last month that India will not be visiting Pakistan for the Asia Cup. It should be noted that Pakistan were originally scheduled to host the Asia Cup this year, but Sri Lanka hosted the tournament after the 2020 edition got cancelled because of the pandemic.
Even this year, the venue had to be shifted from Sri Lanka to the United Arab Emirates because of the volatile security situation in the island nation. India is arguing for a venue change next year on similar grounds, but Pakistan denies the claim. When the tournament shifted to a neutral venue this year, Sri Lanka themselves put forward the request.
The only neutral venue that would be acceptable to both Pakistan and India would be the UAE, with both Abu Dhabi and Dubai stadiums serving as alternative venues for countless games in the past. But any decision has to be taken with the concurrence of both sides, in the absence of which India is likely to boycott the Asia Cup.
If Pakistan doesn’t allow the tournament to shift to a neutral venue, it is almost guaranteed that India will boycott the Asia Cup. That would not only take the top cricketing nation in Asia away from the Asia Cup – making the trophy a farce – but also reduce the viewership of the tournament drastically.
The absence of one of the finest limited-overs sides in world cricket from the ODI World Cup will certainly lower the competitiveness of the tournament. This will most definitely help India, as the only other team that is equally strong on the batting-friendly tracks of India is Pakistan. India are already the hot favourites to win the ODI World Cup after a 12-year gap, and their odds will only increase if the Men in Green miss the tournament.
At the same time, this development comes at a time when the Indian team needs to play a significant number of ODIs to be ready for the ODI World Cup next year. Their recent loss to New Zealand exposed the lack of depth in the side, and there are a number of issues to be sorted out, especially in the wake of new selectors.
While India is certain to host the next edition of the ODI World Cup, the potential absence of Pakistan will leave a void in the tournament. Every game between India and Pakistan over the years was religiously followed by fans from both countries and fetched the International Cricket Council billions of dollars in revenue.
Even without Pakistan’s presence, the ODI World Cup will attract both fans, both to the stadium and on television. This makes the situation more favourable towards the Indian side, and they will be willing to take the gamble.
Will Pakistan Walk The Talk?
Fans of both India and Pakistan certainly want both sides to play each other, and hasty decisions from either side would be a disappointment to the cricket community. Apart from the Ashes, it is the India-Pakistan rivalry that keeps international cricket alive, especially in the longer formats which are failing to attract eyeballs in recent years. Despite making a public statement, there is no official statement from the Pakistan Cricket Board regarding their decision. There is still plenty of time for both sides to air their concerns with each other and settle the issues. A possible solution might be to retain the hosting rights with Pakistan, while shifting the venues to the United Arab Emirates.
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