The fate of the proposed cricket series between historic rivals India and Pakistan is set to be revealed in the coming days, with it appearing increasingly likely that the matches will go ahead, although in a protracted, multi-continent format. Both Sri Lanka and England have emerged as potential venues, with the limited-overs matches reportedly taking place in the former next month, before a Test series will be held in England next summer.
The proposed series, which was set to involve the first Test matches between the neighbors since 2007, has been the subject of much conjecture and controversy since it was placed on the official schedule last year.
India was due to travel to the United Arab Emirates, where Pakistan have been playing their home series since the Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked by terrorists in Lahore in 2009. However, the Board of Control for Cricket In India (BCCI) refused, insisting they would be unwilling to play the series anywhere other than India. Resistant to give up what was set to be a home series and citing their own security concerns, Pakistan refused, and a stalemate ensued. Given the tense relations between the two countries, negotiations have been further complicated by the necessary involvement of the highest levels of government of both nations.
However, it is believed that a meeting between new BCCI president Shashank Manohar and Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Shaharyar Khan in Dubai on Sunday has led to a breakthrough.
“We have sent the report to [Pakistan] prime minister Nawaz Sharif and has sought permission to play India on a neutral venue,” Khan told AFP. “After the Dubai meeting both BCCI and PCB have said that the final decision rests with the respective governments, so in the next three to four days we expect a final decision.”
As for the venue, Sri Lanka, another cricket powerhouse in the region, appears to have emerged as an agreeable choice for both sides. And the country’s cricketing authority, Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) has confirmed that they have been approached.
“PCB has sent a letter to SLC interim committee president Sidath Wettimuny asking if they could hold the series against India here,” SLC interim committee vice-president Kushil Gunasekera told the Times Of India on Monday. “We had a meeting of the interim committee this evening and decided that it would be a pleasure to host both India and Pakistan in Sri Lanka. We'll have to get the tour cleared by Sri Lankan sports ministry, of course, since the interim committee works under them.”
The original tour schedule, however, will now be changed. On the International Cricket Council’s calendar, Pakistan and India were set to play two Tests, five One-Day Internationals and two Twenty20 Internationals. But that is no longer feasible. India’s current series with South Africa will not finish until Dec. 7, with their tour of Australia beginning just over a month later, on Jan. 12.
Instead, Gunasekera revealed that the proposal is that three ODIs and two T20s will be played in Sri Lanka. And it has since emerged that a separate venue and time could be found to contest a Test series. With Pakistan set to tour England next summer, it has been suggested that they could also find time to take on India. A similar arrangement took place in 2010, when Pakistan played two Tests against Australia in England.
“The plan is that Pakistan would tour India in 2017 for a full series while before that India will play us in two phases. Indications are that the Tests will be held in England in summer,” a source in Pakistan’s Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination told Indian news agency PTI.
Last year the cricketing boards of both countries signed a memorandum of understanding agreeing to schedule six series between 2015 and 2023, with four hosted by Pakistan, although subject to clearance from their respective governments. India and Pakistan have not played a full bilateral series since the 2008 Mumbai Attacks, which was allegedly orchestrated in Pakistan.
The two countries met in a short ODI series in India three years ago, while they also faced off in the World Cup earlier this year. That match was estimated to have been watched by more than a billion people, providing understandable reason why several parties are keen for more regular editions of one of sport’s great rivalries.