Jay Shah has a distinct position when it comes to playing against Pakistan.
As secretary of India’s cricket board, he can advocate on behalf of the International Cricket Council to have visas granted to Pakistani players and officials to participate in the ODI World Cup, which will be held in India from October 5 to November 19. However, as president of the Asian Cricket Council, he has no control over Team India’s participation in the Asia Cup, which will be staged in Pakistan in September.
As things stand, the 2023 Asia Cup is likely to be hosted by Pakistan with the condition that all matches involving India will be played at a neutral venue. Reliable sources informed this writer that both the Board of Control for Cricket in India and the Pakistan Cricket Board have agreed to find a suitable venue outside Pakistan for both their teams’ matches against each other.
India and Pakistan have been grouped together with a qualifier in the Asia Cup. Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are part of the other group. Thirteen matches will be played across 13 days, including the final. As per the format in 2022, the top two teams from each group will advance to the Super 4s and the top two teams then contest the final. The possibility of India and Pakistan playing three times remains. If that happens, the India-Pak final will be played outside Pakistan for sure.
Shah definitely informed the Asian Cricket Council that India would not be able to travel to Pakistan for the Asia Cup. To further drive home its point, the BCCI pointed out that India had hosted the 2018 Asia Cup at a neutral site (the United Arab Emirates) after it became evident that Pakistan could not visit India due to the tense political relations between the two countries.
As discussions began in Dubai last weekend, Shah reiterated this position. The PCB, meanwhile, said if the entire tournament was taken out of Pakistan, it would pull out of the event altogether. That’s how a working group was formed during the recent meeting, tasked with creating a schedule and a travel plan agreeable to all participating countries as well as the broadcaster and media rights company before a final call is taken.
The PCB was represented by its chairman Najam Sethi while Team BCCI comprised Shah and IPL chairman Arun Dhumal. Though the overseas venue isn’t confirmed, the UAE, Oman and Sri Lanka are being considered as frontrunners. Even England cropped up as a potential host for India-centric matches during the 13-day Asia Cup.
As per highly placed sources, broadcaster Star Sports and in-stada rights company Twenty First Century Media have also expressed their reservations about holding matches in Pakistan because of visa issues and loss of revenue. “Most of the employees of the broadcast company fear that securing a Pakistan visa would jeopardise future chances of obtaining visas for other countries,” said a source. “TCM fears there will be hardly any in-stadia advertisements in Pakistan cricket venues.”
Both Star Sports and TCM will be happy if the Asia Cup in entirety shifts to the UAE or Sri Lanka, similar to how India hosted the 2021 T20 World Cup in the UAE.
But there’s a problem. Going by the history of playing in the UAE in September, the BCCI is wary of the fact that many of its top players like Hardik Pandya, Kedar Yadav and Shardul Thakur fell sick due to heat conditions during the 2018 Asia Cup there between September 16 and 28. Temperatures in early September in the UAE usually hover around the 40-degree Celsius mark. In fact, Pandya sat out for nearly six months following the injury.
Another factor that could go against the UAE is that due to high dew levels in the Gulf region during this time of year, the team batting second is assured of victory on almost all occasions. That’s why Sri Lanka or England could well emerge as an obvious choice over the UAE for all other countries except host Pakistan. Pakistan has been playing practically all of its home matches in the UAE since the 2009 Sri Lanka squad terrorist attack in Lahore, which led to a general boycott of Pakistan by most cricket-playing countries.
The UAE could also lose here because it’s not part of the Asian Cricket Council, unlike Sri Lanka. Yet England is also being mentioned in this regard because of the prospect of drawing big crowds.
Yes to ICC, no to ACC?
One might ask why Jay Shah, as BCCI secretary and Asian Cricket Council president, has double standards over playing against Pakistan, since Pakistan will arrive in India in October for the ODI World Cup.
Well, the answer lies in a Members’ Participation Agreement that India signed in 2014 under then BCCI president N Srinivasan. The MPA, in force from 2015 to 2024, says it’s the duty of each member country to ensure that all top players take part in ICC events, along with the agreement to provide visas to all players and officials during such events.
That’s why it’s Jay Shah’s duty – and the BCCI’s duty – to ensure that all Pakistani players and officials get Indian visas stamped on their passports, even with general elections taking place in India four months after the World Cup.
It’s important to note here the position of the Bharatiya Janata Party, to which Shah Senior belongs. Ever since the BJP came to power in 2014, it’s been clear that no sporting ties should exist with Pakistan since they harbour terrorist activities against India.
This is perhaps why the BCCI still hasn’t signed the Members’ Participation Agreement for the next 2024-31 cycle because Pakistan is likely to get hosting rights for the 2025 Champions Trophy – a key ICC event. A BCCI official told this writer the BCCI hasn’t signed the new agreement “due to the policy of our government”.
Sports minister Anurag Thakur said last year that India will take a call on its participation in the 2025 Champions Trophy in Pakistan in due course. “Even in the past, many countries have refused to play in Pakistan due to security concerns,” he said. “As you all know, many players were even attacked while playing out there and that’s a big issue to be dealt with.”
But there is no such Members’ Participation Agreement signed between member countries of the Asian Cricket Council. And that’s why Jay Shah can take liberties as BCCI secretary to change his stance. Even if he can play host to Pakistan at the Narendra Modi stadium in Ahmedabad – assuming they reach that stage.
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