Despite repeated statements from the ICC that the Champions Trophy will go ahead in Pakistan next month, suggestions that the tournament might be switched to an alternative country continue to circulate. David Richardson, the ICC's general manager of cricket, said on Friday it was not too late to take such action.
His comments come at a time when the ICC appears to be fighting a losing battle in its bid to persuade players from several countries that there are not major safety issues over staging the event in Pakistan. "We're very short of time now," Richardson said after meeting with James Sutherland, Cricket Australia's chief executive, Paul Marsh, the head of the Australian Cricketers' Association, and Australia's captain and vice captain Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke. "If we're going to relocate now it needs to be made within the next few days. Operationally it would be difficult, but it's certainly not an option that would be discarded at this point and it could be relocated."
Although the ICC has issued vehement denials, there continue to be reports in the English media that some Test grounds there are on standby to host games at short notice. However, should players refuse to travel to Pakistan then the ICC's hand might be forced.
Were that to happen, the ICC would face substantial financial penalties from ESS, who have a long-term broadcasting contract with them. That stipulates that if the venues for any major tournament are switched at less than three months' notice then they will be entitled to compensation that is likely to run into millions of dollars.
The ICC had hoped that the findings of its fact-finding mission to Pakistan earlier this week would sway players wavering over playing, but it seems not to have worked. Meetings with New Zealand and Australia team members are reported to have been less than productive.
The ICC will meet players from England and South Africa next week and much could depend on their reaction. Were only one country to decline to send a side, then the ICC would in all likelihood replace them with Bangladesh, ranked ninth in the ODI rankings at the time of the qualification cut-off date in March. Were two to back out then in theory Ireland, ranked tenth, would be invited.