Efforts are on to salvage India's tour of Pakistan, scheduled to begin next month, with the PCB chairman, Ijaz Butt, likely to discuss the issue during his visit to Chennai for an Asian Cricket Council (ACC) meeting on Friday and ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat suggesting the use of neutral venues for the series.
Security concerns in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks had put the tour in doubt and current political and diplomatic tensions make it highly unlikely. India's home minister, P Chidambaram, was unequivocal on relations with Pakistan while speaking in Parliament on Thursday during a discussion of the Mumbai attacks and their fallout. "There is one thing that I wish to make clear: Given the nature of the threat, we cannot go back to 'business as usual'," he said.
PCB officials, however, are working on the issue, with Butt expected to meet BCCI officials on the sidelines.
"The Indo-Pak series is not on the agenda of the ACC meeting but it is a good platform to have direct talks with Indian officials," Saleem Altaf, the PCB's chief operating officer, told PTI. "The matter is in the hands of two governments and we can't do anything. But yes, playing at neutral venues is also an option that can be discussed in Chennai.
Altaf said he held talks with Indian and Australian officials during the ICC chief executives' meeting in Cape Town last week. Both teams are slated to tour the country - Australia had postponed their visit in 2008 because of security concerns and are now scheduled to tour next April. "Both of them, BCCI secretary N Srinivasan and [Cricket Australia chief executive] James Sutherland, said they had sent the tour itinerary for approval to their relevant government ministries and were awaiting clearance," he said.
In the absence of such clearance, Lorgat said the world governing body would be powerless to intervene. "We would try and encourage India to tour but if the government decides otherwise, we will have to respect that because there is nothing the ICC can do about it," Lorgat told reporters here. "We can't force any country to tour Pakistan."
He said he hoped the matches could be played at a neutral venue such as the United Arab Emirates. "Rather than not playing all, it would perhaps be better to go to neutral venues, but that would depend on Pakistan and India," he said. "There are excellent facilities in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, so why not make use of them?"
Javed Miandad, the former Pakistan captain and now PCB director-general, was hoping the visit goes ahead as planned . "India needs to support Pakistan cricket and we are still hopeful that our Test series against India next month will be played as per schedule," he said. Miandad said England's decision to tour India would make teams look differently at Pakistan: teams have been unwilling to tour the country in the past.
"I think this is a step that will send out the strong message to terrorists they can't defeat cricket or cricketers," he said. "Pakistan has been the worst hit because of the incidents of terrorism and our cricket has suffered a lot. I think with England returning to India the situation could change for the better.
"I also hope the ICC and other boards would also now have a rethink of their policy on teams refusing to tour countries, particularly Pakistan, because of security and safety concerns."