By: Chandrashekar Bhat
THERE is a “very real possibility” that Pakistan will boycott this year’s World Cup in India if they lose rights to host the Asia Cup, the chairman of the country’s cricket board Najam Sethi said.
Bilateral cricket has been a casualty of the soured political relations between India and Pakistan over the last decade and the neighbouring countries now play each other only in multi-team events in neutral venues.
India, citing safety concerns, have ruled out travelling to Pakistan for the Asia Cup in September and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has offered to let them play their matches in the United Arab Emirates in what has been dubbed a “hybrid model”.
While the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has yet to deliver a formal response to the offer, Sethi said India wanted the entire tournament moved out of Pakistan.
That could have serious ramifications for the 50-overs World Cup in India this year as well as the 2025 Champions Trophy in Pakistan, he added.
“They want all the matches in a neutral venue,” he said in a Zoom interview.
“BCCI should take a good, rational decision so that we don’t have any problems going forward.
“India should not be looking at a situation where we end up boycotting the Asia Cup and also the World Cup, and then India ends up boycotting the Champions Trophy.
“That will be a huge mess.”
Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have also come out against playing in the UAE, citing the heat and logistics issues, heightening speculation in local media that the Asian Cricket Council may look to move the entire tournament out of Pakistan.
Sethi said that was “not acceptable” and reaffirmed that Pakistan may boycott the World Cup if that happened.
“That’s a very real possibility, of course,” he added.
Should India agree to the hybrid model for the Asia Cup, Sethi said, Pakistan would expect reciprocal terms for their team at the World Cup in October and November.
“We also have security concerns for our team in India,” he said. “So let Pakistan play its matches in Dhaka or Mirpur, or UAE or in Sri Lanka.
“This is the solution going forward, until such time that India agrees to play Pakistan, in Pakistan and outside Pakistan, bilaterally.”
BCCI Secretary Jay Shah was not immediately available for comment but neither the Indian board nor the International Cricket Council (ICC) have said they are even considering staging any World Cup matches outside India.
Sethi said Pakistan, World Cup champions in 1992, was a top cricketing nation which should not be ignored and that they would have to talk to the ICC about the Asia Cup problem.
“The ICC should step in but my sense is India would not like the ICC to step in, especially during the Asia Cup,” he said.
The ICC was not immediately available for comment.
Pakistan was starved of international cricket after a 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore and had to lobby hard to convince top teams to resume touring the country over the last couple of years.
“We worked so hard to bring international cricket back to Pakistan,” Sethi said.
“Every major country has toured Pakistan in the last few years. You name them, they’ve all been there. They all appreciated the security arrangements. That’s not a problem anymore.”
Citing the hype surrounding any meeting between India and Pakistan, Sethi blamed the BCCI’s “stubbornness” for failing to turn it into the greatest rivalry in cricket.
“The India-Pakistan game is the biggest game in town. It’s bigger than Australia v England, it’s bigger than India v Australia. How can we jeopardise that by a stubbornness?” he said.
“The Indian bridge team has been to Pakistan, the Indian kabaddi team has been to Pakistan, the Indian baseball team has been to Pakistan …
“So what’s going on? Why can’t the Indian cricket team come to Pakistan?”