New Delhi: The ICC World T20 2016 Group-2 game between bitter rivals India and Pakistan has been shifted to Eden Gardens, Kolkata from its original venue Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, putting an end to the conundrum surrounding the fate of the high-profile game amid security concerns.
ICC CEO Dave Richardson announced the council's decision in a press conference on Wednesday in Delhi, saying that the BCCI and ICC had arrived at the decision owing to security reasons after much deliberation. The match, however, will be played on it's original date of 19 March.
"Security concerns arose following public comments reported in media allegedly made by Himachal Pradesh CM warning of potential demonstrations. Our concerns relate both to uncertainty as to level of those threats & also uncertainty as to level of commitment to implement security plans that have been developed to mitigate those threats," Richardson said.
"It was a difficult decision. Not the one we wanted to take. We wanted to stick to original plan, but we've been forced into (taking the decision)."
Richardson regretted the turn of events and also hinted displeasure at Himachal Pradesh's attitude in the matter, saying that it was "unfortunate" that the State government raised its concerns so late. He, however, recognised the complexity of the issue and the sensitivity associated with an India-Pakistan match, especially when the two countries have witnessed souring diplomatic relationships over issues of cross-border terrorism, and refused to blame BCCI for the entire episode.
"I don't think BCCI could've done anything to prevent it from happening. India is an extremely big, complicated country in many respects," the ICC CEO said. He also maintained that safety and security of the event is of "paramount importance" to the ICC.
Richardson also promised full refunds for all the fans who had bought tickets for the Dharamsala game. They could also exchange them for a similar ticket at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata.
The India-Pakistan match had been in mired in doubt since announcement, with the Pakistan government playing a waiting game over giving PCB the go-ahead for the event. Once the permission was granted, concerns over security arose. Himachal CM Virbhadra Singh put the fate of the game in further doubt after his comments. Singh had voiced his concern over the India-Pakistan match, saying that the state government could not ensure security of players and that welcoming Pakistani players on Indian soil will a disrespect to the martyred soldiers from the State.
Pakistan refused to play in Dharamsala and on Tuesday night, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) held back their team from travelling to India following security concerns over the game. Pakistan had even sent a two-member team to review security arrangements in India following Singh's comments.
"The Himachal Pradesh chief minister has not committed full security for the match and the Indian government has also not come up with any assuring statement... Under the prevailing circumstances how can we allow our team to play there?" PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan had said on Tuesday.
As per the schedule, Pakistan were to arrive late evening on Wednesday and fly out to Dharamsala on 17 March, but now, owing to the change in venue, they will remain in Kolkata till 20 March before heading to Mohali where they face New Zealand on 22 March.
Eden Gardens will also host the World T20 final on 3 April.