The Pakistanis could face their greatest rivals this winter in the UAE if an agreement is reached between the PCB and BCCI Image Credit: AFP

Pakistan versus India: It’s perhaps the fiercest rivalry in world cricket and certainly one of the most watched sporting spectacles of all time. But it hasn’t been allowed to evolve over the past six years during what has possibly been the greatest period of change the professional game has witnessed.

The fervid Pakistani cricket fan base has been robbed for six long years of the highlight of its sporting calendar following the devastating 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.
However, there is hope of that long wait coming to an end this winter in the UAE. There is the very real possibility of a Pakistan-India series, if only the two governing boards can collaborate with one another.

Amid the controversy surrounding the radical restructuring of the International Cricket Council (ICC) in Dubai, the Emergent Working Committee of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), after meeting in Chennai in January approved a series against Pakistan.

Although met with initial excitement, the move by the BCCI is seen by some as a shrewd incentive to get the Pakistan Cricket Board’s (PCB) support in the BCCI’s planned takeover (in collaboration with the England and Wales Cricket Board and Cricket Australia) of cricket’s highest authority — the ICC.
As the situation stands, the PCB is the only remaining full ICC member to not have backed the India-England-Australia move. The PCB’s reluctance to do so, however, could change very soon.

Pragmatic approach

Former PCB Chairman, Zaka Ashraf, referring explicity to India’s role in the takeover, deemed the move against principles of “equality”, according to cricket news source ESPNCricinfo.com.

Ashraf’s replacement, Najam Sethi, on the other hand, has taken a more pragmatic approach to the PCB’s role and recognised that Pakistan stands to benefit from the improved bilateral tours it needs in its current financial and political position and that not officially supporting the BCCI will increase the sense of isolation from other
ICC members.

Sethi’s appointment is good news for Pakistan cricket fans. “I don’t think this is about principles, it is about safeguarding our own self-interest in the long run in world cricket,” Sethi told reporters earlier this month.

“We are the only ones now, left alone [against the revamp]. Whomever I have spoken to says they also initially opposed the changes but later went with it because they were gaining a lot by supporting [it].”

Sethi’s pragmatism could provide the key to breaking the deadlock between Pakistan and India. When reports surfaced of a potential series rumoured to take place in the winter, former ICC president Ehsan Mani told Gulf News: “[The] BCCI has at least twice in the past offered to play against Pakistan if the PCB supported the BCCI at the ICC, and each time it has reneged on its promise.”

Home ground

Because of the lingering security concerns in Pakistan, the likelihood is that India will, if a bilateral agreement is reached, opt to play in the UAE, where Pakistan have been hosting home games since 2008.

The 76 match capped former Pakistan cricketer Mudassar Nazar tells
GN Focus he believes the reputation of the sport stands to gain a lot from a Pakistan home series against India. “It would be hugely important, especially for Pakistan, because the people have been starved of their greatest cricket rivalry for so long.
“It’s a chance to show the rest of the world that the two countries can move on from what’s happened, put the sport and the fans first and put on a great show of cricket. It would be so important for the relationship between India and Pakistan — beyond cricket’s boundaries,” he says.

“There is of course a certain amount of doubt in some peoples’ minds that there’s going to be too much interference by authorities in the game. Some fans are looking at this latest phase with very little confidence, and thinking cricket is not being pursued for the right reasons.

“Let’s not forget India has a big part to play, as the big brother — and the series would be a great way to show they are in this to support the game,” he continues.