Friday, February 15, 2008

Pakistan mull ODIs with India if Australia pull out

The Indian team may well be playing an ODI series in Pakistan in case Australia don't tour in March-April...

Pakistan are considering inviting India for a quickfire series of ODIs if, as is becoming increasingly likely, Australia pull out of their scheduled tour in March-April.

Doubts about whether Australia will come for their first tour in nearly a decade have increased day-by-day over the last week, the latest coming from Ricky Ponting, the Australian captain.

The Pakistan board has all along insisted it's priority is to get Australia to come to visit, but has privately admitted they are working on alternative options, which include inviting another country over.

And a well-placed source revealed to Cricinfo that informal talks had been held with the BCCI about a series of ODIs in Pakistan in case Australia don't come.

"There have been informal discussions with the BCCI but nothing has been firmed up. Things will become clearer in a day or so," the source said. "The first priority is still to get Australia to come over but if they don't come, options have to be and are being examined."

Two PCB officials, including the chief operating officer Shafqat Naghmi are currently touring India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh for bilateral board talks regarding scheduling ahead of an ICC meeting to devise the Future Tours Programme (FTP) till 2013. The ostensible purpose of the mission is to fill the gaps in Pakistan's schedule in the current FTP.

The current Pakistan administration is said to be unhappy over their predecessor's work on the last FTP, which has left Pakistan with a number of gaps in their cricketing calendar. "Pakistan played half the number of Tests that Australia did according to that FTP and that is something that needs to be rectified," the source said. But as a result of Australia's hesitancy, the trip has become an opportunity for Pakistan to try and arrange an alternative contest with countries who are free in March-April.

Both boards, however, are officially denying the development. India, as ever, is hemmed in by a hectic schedule. Between their return from Australia and the first Test against South Africa, an ODI series, even just across the border, seems unlikely. "It's not possible," a senior BCCI official told Cricinfo. "The Indian team returns from Australia on March 8 and the first Test against South Africa starts in Chennai on March 26. Where is the time?"

Ahsan Malik, the PCB spokesman, explained the board's focus was on getting Australia over. "This is an official trip with regards to the FTP till 2013. They wanted to meet boards and have a pre-scheduling round of meetings with them. Our full concentration is on playing Australia."