Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tournament hangs in balance

It's expected that the BCCI and PCB will once again highlight the ICC's "positive" security assessment after the Asia Cup in Pakistan in June-July at Sunday's teleconference.

The fate of the Champions Trophy hangs on Sunday's telephone hook-up after it emerged that India and Pakistan have hardened their position on the tournament going ahead as scheduled from September 12 onwards in Karachi and Lahore, leaving the ICC with the possibility of a cancellation otherwise.

An option is to relocate the tournament to Sri Lanka, the official alternate venue - a solution that ESPN-Star Sports (ESS), the official broadcaster, may agree to even at this late stage - but India and Pakistan remain adamant that the tournament cannot be shifted on what they believe are "flimsy grounds".

The ICC, it is learnt, was informed about this view during a meeting at its headquarters in Dubai on Tuesday evening between David Morgan, its president, Sharad Pawar, its vice-president who also heads the BCCI, Haroon Lorgat, its chief executive and Shafqat Naghmi, the chief operating officer of the PCB. Apparently, there is also a credible pullout threat from Pakistan, backed by India, if the venue is changed.

Asked if moving the tournament to Sri Lanka was a solution, a source said, "You can't rule out the possibility of a cancellation, considering the absolute lack of a consensus at this stage."

There is no other alternative for the tournament which involves teams from the top eight cricket nations, sources told Cricinfo. "If countries like Australia pull out, there is no question of the tournament going ahead with substitutes like Bangladesh," a source said. "The broadcasters are not going to allow that."

Crucially, it's understood that ESS is concerned as there is no clarity yet on the tournament, which is less than a month away, and is open to a shift in order to salvage the situation. "Obviously, ESS wants the best teams to participate and ensure a world-class tournament," a source said. "It is possible [to ensure quality coverage] if it is shifted to a nearby country even now, but it will involve significant extra costs for the broadcaster."

The ICC board is expected to take a final decision on the issue during a teleconference on Sunday, two days after its task force on the Champions Trophy discusses the feedback it received from officials and players' representatives in Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa.

Players' associations from these countries have insisted security concerns remain - another blast was reported near Islamabad on Thursday - and officials from the Australian Cricketers' Association and the New Zealand Cricket Players' Association have said they would advise teams against touring. Their boards may highlight those views, if not endorse them, on Sunday, but the BCCI and the PCB, with the traditional backing of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, are expected to reiterate that the ICC's "positive" security assessment after the Asia Cup in Karachi and Lahore during June-July leaves no room for doubt.

The ICC, meanwhile, remains firm the tournament will go ahead in Pakistan, as of now, and its officials are in Karachi and Lahore this week, conducting venue inspections. "We are still fighting and are hopeful of hosting the tournament," Naghmi told Cricinfo.

All this, of course, leaves Sri Lanka in an unusual position. Duleep Mendis, Sri Lanka Cricket chief executive, told Cricinfo his country is prepared to host the tournament if needed. However, he said the tournament should go ahead in Pakistan, indicating which way the Asian countries are likely to go if the future of the Champions Trophy comes down to a vote of the ICC board - any decision requires at least a 7-3 majority.

"The issue of security is subjective and what some may believe to be reality will be seen as mere perception by others," a source said. "This is the issue that has to be resolved on Sunday, if the tournament has to go ahead."