Saturday, July 19, 2008

Pakistan wait for Champions Trophy verdict

A crucial day awaits Pakistan, and the subcontinent, as ICC members gather round in front of a team of security experts to discuss arrangements and address concerns for the Champions Trophy, currently scheduled to be held in Pakistan this September.

Representatives from all eight countries will be present at the important briefing in Dubai tomorrow and it is expected that if there is to be any decision on shifting the venue, it will be taken here.

Security experts, led by the Australian Reg Dickason, have toured Pakistan recently, visiting venues in Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi amid increasing concerns in Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa about the security situation in Pakistan. Though their final assessment is yet to be heard, Pakistan is cautiously optimistic of its chances as host.

"We are pretty confident that the tournament will go ahead, as scheduled in Pakistan," Shafqat Naghmi, the board's chief operating officer, told Cricinfo. Naghmi, in Dubai ahead of tomorrow's meeting, believes the incident-free and smooth hosting of the Asia Cup helped Pakistan's case as much as Australia's pull-out a few months before hindered it.

Security measures in place for the Asia Cup were stringent and a similar level will be provided for the Champions Trophy. "We did a fairly good job in hosting the Asia Cup without any such issues," Naghmi said.

"We have assured fool-proof security measures for the Champions Trophy and there is no reason for us to believe that the tournament will be relocated from Pakistan. The ICC has so far said nothing to suggest that the tournament will not be held here, so we are pretty confident."

The slow pace of the ongoing renovation of the stadium in Rawalpindi has been a micro concern, but even that, Naghmi says, should be completed by August 15. "The roof design had changed there, but the stadium should be ready between August 15 and August 20."

The other reason to believe the tournament may not be moved is that the implications of any such shift are likely to be far-reaching. The credible talk is of moving the event to South Africa - recent reports about England being a venue have been dismissed by one high-ranking non-Asian official - which also means bypassing the official alternative Sri Lanka, presumably because the security situation there is also a concern.

The four full members of the subcontinent are due to jointly host the World Cup three years from now. It is unlikely that the strife in Sri Lanka or the war on terror afflicting Pakistan will have stopped in that time, so if the Champions Trophy goes to neither Pakistan nor Sri Lanka now, the precedent set for the 2011 World Cup and future tournaments in the subcontinent, as one official points out, is a "dangerous" one.

Pakistan will also hope that their position as hosts does not become the subject of politicking and bargaining between boards of India, England and Australia, for example, over issues such as the Champions League.