Let’s face reality. India’s run in the ICC Women’s Championship could well be over. In the three-year process that decides direct qualification for the next Women’s World Cup, a premature end is likely because India’s next series is scheduled against Pakistan at home. And in the current political climate, it seems more likely that the cost of petrol will be halved.
Which is why there will be a tinge of regret in the celebrations of India’s win in the ODI leg of their ongoing tour to the West Indies. India clinched the series 2-1, their sixth consecutive series win, and their seventh win in their last eight series. But the margin of two runs, by which they lost the first ODI in Antigua, now looks like a chasm.
India have been magnificent in ODIs since the 2017 World Cup, where they reached the final. In the ICC Women’s Championship, they have registered strong wins over the more fancied New Zealand and England, away and at home respectively, and beat South Africa on their turf for the first time in India’s history. India also notched up expected series wins against Sri Lanka and the Windies, both away. The only series they lost was to Australia, who registered a 3-0 series sweep in India.
But every series India won was by the 2-1 margin, even dropping a game against last-placed Sri Lanka, as well as a surprise defeat to a depleted West Indies. Had India swept even one of those two series, along with the rest of their results, they would have been sitting pretty on the points table, likely to finish in the top four, and untouched by the uncertainty that now surrounds them.
India are currently on 20 points, with 10 wins from 18 games. Hot on their heels are South Africa (16 points), Pakistan (15) and New Zealand (14), and all three have two series (six games) to play. Should India concede all six points against Pakistan, as was the case in the last ICC Women’s Championship cycle, Pakistan will jump into third place with three games still in hand. If South Africa win three of their remaining six games (a tall ask considering they play Australia and New Zealand next), India will be pushed into the bottom half of the table, and have to play Qualifiers.
But had India secured all six points against the West Indies, they would have had some insurance against conceding points; Pakistan would then have had to win at least one of their three remaining games against World Champions England, and South Africa would have had to win four out of their last six, to push India out of the top four. New Zealand are assured of qualification as hosts, and should they finish in the top four, the fifth team will also directly qualify.
Currently, India are in the situation every team dreads, where their fate depends on other results. Even worse, those results will come off the field.
“We are awaiting clearance to host Pakistan from the government,” said a BCCI Official. “We have written to ICC mentioning all the facts as well.” With the union home minister’s son in the BCCI secretary’s chair, conceding points to Pakistan will mean a diplomatic loss as well as a cricketing one, one that the government would certainly look to avoid.
As per the minutes of the Committee of Administrators meeting on 16 September , “..permission of the government of India has not been received for hosting the Pakistan women’s cricket team in India.” The CoA have written to the ICC, advising them of the “BCCI’s inability to host the Pakistan women’s team.” The same meeting notes that points are likely to be shared in this situation, “as discussed at the ICC meetings”, but this could cause other complications.
India’s hosting rights for international Olympic events were suspended in February this year, after the Indian government denied visas to the Pakistani shooting delegation participating in the shooting World Cup hosted by New Delhi. The sports ministry in June provided written clarification that athletes from all internationally recognised Olympic nations would be allowed to come to India “without any prejudice to our principled positions and policies on other political matters.” The letter cited the principle of vasudhaiva kutumbakam, the world is one family. While cricket is not an Olympic sport, a government refusal to host Pakistan’s women’s team in an ICC-mandated series will surely attract bad press, given the women cricket's popularity in India.
It is in the realm of possibility that the ICC may interpret the fact that government permission has not been received by the BCCI, as the BCCI’s inability to obtain a clear response from the Indian government. If the ICC technical committee rule as they did in 2013, that the BCCI cannot establish "acceptable reasons"’ to play this series, it may cost the players direct qualification.
A compromise that suits all parties might be to host Pakistan at a neutral venue, just as the Indian men’s tennis team will now do for their Davis Cup tie. With the window for the ICC Women’s Championship open until March 2020, it is an option that must be pursued, primarily because this would allow the Indian women’s team to take their destiny in their own hands. And they have earned that right: India’s recent performances have seen them rise to the No 2 spot in the ICC Women’s ODI rankings. The team that finished runners up in the last World Cup should not have to play Qualifiers to get into the next one.
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