For all their bombastic bluster, a near-bankrupt Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is acutely aware that only a series or two against India can pull them out of the red.
But India have refused to oblige. They have repeatedly stated that they will not play ball with a nation that harbours terrorists and directs acts of terrorism against them. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), for its part, has declared upfront that any series against Pakistan is subject to approval by Government of India.
The Indian government, which prohibits its sports bodies from having any relations with Pakistan whatsoever, makes an exception only for multi-nation tournaments, like World Cup and Asia Cup. This loophole, of India taking part in multi-nation events, is probably one of the reasons why ICC has come up with the concept of World Test League Championship spread over two or even four years wherein teams get to play each other in various combinations on a 'home' and 'away' basis.
This backdoor attempt in manipulating India into playing against Pakistan in a multi-nation format is yet to be formulated, even though the concept of a World Test League has been accepted in principle. The draft is expected to be circulated later this year, with a probable signing of it sometime early next year. The cycle of matches is expected to start in 2019, after the World Cup.
The ICC also plans to link qualification to future ODI World Cups based on another sequel of full members playing one another in a three-match ODI series on a similar basis. If ratified, this would come into operation post the 2019 World Cup. However, the question to be asked is: Will India be banned from the World Cup if they refuse to play ODI series against Pakistan? Fat chance! Any traction with television channels in World Cup can only come about if India, which contributed 80 percent of the revenues, take part.
This apart, what is of particular interest at this point of time is the threat dished out by PCB chairman Najam Sethi. In an interview with a Pakistani journalist published in Wisden recently, he said that Pakistan would agree to the ICC World Test and ODI leagues only if India honoured their 2014 MoU wherein they would have to play against Pakistan in as many as six series between 2014 and 2023.
It must be pointed out that India have not played a Test series against Pakistan since 2007, and this has impoverished the PCB. It is bleeding, with the staging of its home matches in the UAE which are played in empty stadia amidst flagging television interest. To be precise, its deal with the television channels would be lucrative only if it could somehow host India matches.
Sethi, in the interview, insisted that the ICC Test and ODI leagues can come into effect for India-Pakistan matches only after India honours its commitment to play them in six bilateral series.
Additionally, he threatened to soon take India to the ICC’s Dispute Resolution Committee and force them to pay $70 million as compensation.
It is obvious from the PCB chairman’s rant that his board is in dire straits financially. The only way they can shore up their finances is if they can get India to play a couple of series against them in their ‘home’ grounds whereby they would be eligible to hold on to the bulk of television revenues.
Tellingly, Pakistan Super League (PSL), Pakistan’s poor version of the Indian Premier League (IPL), is also a drain on their finances, as is their hosting of matches in UAE. So PCB desperately needs to play cricket against India to fill its coffers.
But neither BCCI nor ICC can oblige unless the Indian government grants permission. But why would they? The ruling party would hardly take the risk of going against public opinion, which is overwhelmingly against sporting ties with Pakistan. There are major state elections to be fought between now and the general elections in 2019 and the ruling party would not risk giving the opposition a handle to whip it with.
Sethi too has realised that all the cajoling, pleading, threatening will simply not bear fruit. India have nothing to gain by playing against Pakistan, while the entire future of Pakistani cricket depends on India throwing them a few crumbs in the form of playing matches.
Sadly for PCB, that’s not going to happen in a hurry. At least not before bilateral relations get better and the two countries smoke the peace pipe.
And until that takes place, Sethi can continue his rants about the six series, compensation, etc. It will get him nowhere. More importantly, the BCCI won’t break a sweat over the worthless outburst.