Ehsan Mani, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), has expressed the desire to host next year’s Asia Cup, which will embrace the T20 format to prepare for the World T20 in Australia that year, in Pakistan. In an interaction with reporters at the PCB headquarters in Lahore, Mani said his negotiations with the other cricketing nations these days are solely focused on hosting them in Pakistan.
Pakistan were awarded the hosting rights for the 2020 Asia Cup last year. The venue for the tournament, however, remains unconfirmed. Last year, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) hosted a 50-over Asia Cup tournament in the UAE in September after the Indian government refused to host the Pakistani team on its soil. With the relations between the two neighbours at an all-time low, the chances of India playing the next year’s tournament in Pakistan remain very low. In fact, the BCCI was reported to have asked the PCB last year to host the tournament on a neutral venue.
After the recent Asian Cricket Council (ACC) meeting in May, Mani and Wasim Khan, the Managing Director of the PCB, had offered Karachi and Lahore as the venues to Sri Lanka Cricket for a two-Test series later this year – which will be a part of the ICC Test Championship. It also asked the Sri Lankan board to send its security team to assess the situation in Pakistan. The board is also said to be in talks with its Bangladesh counterparts to host Bangladesh in Pakistan early next year. With that, the heads of the England and Wales Cricket Board and Cricket Australia are also expected to visit Pakistan this year to review the security arrangements.
“My negotiations with every cricket board are regarding hosting cricket in Pakistan and not at any neutral venue,” he said. “Whether it is an ACC event, an ICC event or a bilateral series, we desire to host it in Pakistan.”
The government in Pakistan and the country’s cricket board have been expecting the relations between the two neighbours to become amicable following the general elections in India. Mani said that the two boards enjoy sound relations. He, however, maintained that whenever these two countries play a bilateral series, which hasn’t been the case since 2007, it will be Pakistan hosting the two as per the controversial Memorandum of Understanding.
“The relations between the Pakistan Cricket Board and the Board for Control of Cricket in India are very good,” he said. “We interact on regular basis and there are no issues in them. There’s no hurdle from the Pakistan government [in playing against India]. The ball is in the Indian government’s court – about which I cannot say about the path they want to walk on. Whenever the two nations will play, the first series will be hosted by Pakistan.”
The Pakistan Super League (PSL) has played an integral role in opening the doors for the return of international cricket in the country. It was the success of the PSL final in Lahore in 2017 which convinced an ICC World XI to tour Lahore, which led to the visit by Sri Lanka (for the last of the three-match T20I series) later that year. The 2018 edition of PSL, which had its final hosted in Karachi, opened the gates for the coastal city to host the West Indies for three T20Is a week later.
After hosting as many as eight PSL matches in Pakistan, the cricket board plans to organize the whole of the next edition in the country next year. For that, however, the readiness of the venues remains a matter of concern. Due to the dearth of international cricket in Pakistan over the last ten years, the country’s major stadiums haven’t gotten the desired attention because of which they remain outdated.
“We have identified four venues and we are working to improve those stadiums,” Mani said. “The matter of concern is that these stadiums haven’t been maintained for the last ten years because of the lack of international cricket. A lot of work was done in Karachi before the third edition of PSL [in 2018]. The Lahore stadium also went through refurbishment. Now we are working on the stadiums in Rawalpindi and Multan and I hope that they will be ready by the time we host PSL5.”