‘On the radar’: PCB boss flags Australia as neutral host of Pakistan-India Tests

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The Pakistan Cricket Board says they are open to staging a blockbuster neutral Test against India in Australia amid fears of a World Cup boycott over a scheduling impasse.

PCB chair Najam Sethi has told this masthead Australia would be a contender to host a series between world cricket’s most fierce rivals – if they can get a full house.

Pakistan and India fans pack out the MCG during last year’s T20 World Cup.Credit: Chris Hopkins

Though the initiative was first floated late last year, this is the first time a senior figure from Pakistan or India has put their name to the idea.

Despite the box office appeal of India-Pakistan matches, they rarely clash outside of major tournaments due to the political tensions between the countries. Their last bilateral series in any format was played in 2013, and they have not played a Test against each other since December 2007.

Though the London-based Sethi cast doubt on Australian crowds flocking to see Pakistan and India play, Melbourne showcased its credentials after 90,293 packed into the MCG last October to watch the two sides stage a thrilling group game in the Twenty20 World Cup. There is a strong Indian and Pakistani diaspora in both Melbourne and Sydney.

“Yes, I think bilateral Test matches can be played in Australia, England, South Africa,” Sethi said. “But I think the best bet would be England, and following that Australia. If you can get a house full in any of the Australian stadiums, fine, that would be great.”

Pakistan hosted fixtures in England and the UAE in 2019 when they could not play at home after the 2009 terror attacks in Lahore. Sethi said it would be cheaper to play India in Dubai but said Australia was “on the radar” as an option.

The two boards are in a tense stand-off over where to play matches in the six-nations Asia Cup, to be staged in Pakistan in September, which could have massive ramifications for the World Cup and the Champions Trophy – two of world cricket’s biggest sources of revenue.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India has said it cannot send its national men’s team to Pakistan due to security concerns, despite the Pakistan Cricket Board offer of “VVIP presidential security”.

This has left the Pakistan Cricket Board in a politically sensitive situation as it would then be unable to gain approval from its government to play World Cup games on Indian soil. Australia, England, New Zealand, the West Indies and South Africa have all toured Pakistan without incident since 2021.

Sethi has proposed a hybrid model where Asia Cup matches could be staged in Pakistan and another nation to be voted on by the Asian Cricket Council, led by BCCI secretary Jay Shah – whose father Amit Shah is the Home Affairs Minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

In return, Sethi wants Pakistan to be able to play their World Cup games outside of India, including knockout matches. The International Cricket Council is yet to publish the World Cup fixture despite the tournament being due to start in less than five months’ time.

A huge crowd watched India and Pakistan play in the T20 World Cup at the MCG in 2022.Credit: AP

“Now if India doesn’t come to Pakistan to play the Asia Cup, my government’s going to say to me, we have the same sort of security concerns in India, so you can’t go to India to play the World Cup,” Sethi said.

“And then following the World Cup, there’s going to be Champions Trophy. And that Champions Trophy is going to be hosted by Pakistan. And then India will turn around and say, ‘all right, we can’t come and play the Champions Trophy in Pakistan’. So, there is no end to this business of not coming to play.

“In order to protect the Champions Trophy and the World Cup, the ICC needs to negotiate with India … that you must go to Pakistan and play, or working with us for a hybrid model so that the matches are not disrupted, these tournaments are not disrupted.”

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