The Asia Cup cricket tournament is halfway through its schedule of matches but the sport’s administrators in the “host” country Pakistan and the sport’s regional governing body have squabbled over where the remaining matches should be played.
Until late on Tuesday, on the eve of the start of the second round, it was unclear where the rest of the tournament, including the final, will be played.
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The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) were involved in a tussle over decision-making powers.
Which body runs the Asia Cup?
The ACC comprises cricket boards from 25 regional nations. It is currently headed by Jay Shah who is also secretary of the Indian cricket board and son of India’s current home minister.
Who is ‘hosting’ the tournament?
Well, that’s the complicated part.
Pakistan is the official host but nine of the tournament’s 13 matches are taking place in Sri Lanka.
Pakistan was scheduled to host the event in 2020 but following complications arising from the coronavirus pandemic and India’s reluctance to travel to Pakistan citing government refusal, the hosting rights were passed on to Sri Lanka with the tournament rescheduled for 2022.
With a rising number of COVID-19 cases in Sri Lanka that year, the tournament was eventually played in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Pakistan’s hosting rights were deferred to the 2023 edition, the first time it would host the event since 2008.
However, in October, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) Secretary Shah announced that India would not travel to Pakistan citing “political tensions” between the two South Asian neighbours.
In turn, Pakistan said it would reconsider sending its team to India for the Cricket World Cup scheduled to start next month.
Get ready for the ultimate clash as 6 top Asian teams fight for supremacy in the Men's ODI Asia Cup! Exciting matches await in Pakistan (2:30 PM Pak time) and Sri Lanka (3:00 PM SL local time). Let the battle begin! 🏆 #ACC pic.twitter.com/kh9YJM8phK
— AsianCricketCouncil (@ACCMedia1) August 22, 2023
What finally happened?
India refused to travel to Pakistan and the PCB was unwilling to lose hosting rights.
The then-chief of the PCB, Najam Sethi, proposed a “hybrid model” that would split the tournament between Pakistan and another ACC member nation. India would play its matches outside Pakistan and the PCB would retain hosting rights.
After much deliberation, the ACC – headed by BCCI’s Shah – agreed and Sri Lanka was announced as the second country to host the matches.
Pakistan would end up hosting four matches, with all the participants barring India playing at least one match in the country.
I pleaded for three approvals in various meetings with Jay Shah and ACC colleagues:
Play all matches in Pakistan as international cricket had fully returned to Pakistan.
When this was shot down
I proposed that we play five matches in Pakistan and eight in the UAE.
This also they…
— Najam Sethi (@najamsethi) September 4, 2023
What has caused the latest confusion?
Mostly the weather.
Following a wash-out of the tournament’s marquee clash between India and Pakistan in Pallekele on Saturday, and a wet forecast for the remaining matches scheduled for the capital, Colombo, administrators sought to move the matches to another city in Sri Lanka.
The PCB proposed Hambantota, a remote town in Sri Lanka’s south with a relatively drier forecast.
The stadium’s remote location, lack of accommodation options and last-minute move for teams, broadcasters, officials and fans meant the ACC was reluctant to move.
While details were being ironed out, the ACC announced the schedule would remain with the remaining matches to be played in Colombo.
Why is the PCB annoyed?
As the official host of the tournament, the PCB was angered by the ACC’s move to send out the latest notification unilaterally and without seeking an official confirmation from the PCB, the tournament hosts.
It led to a day of manic behind-the-scenes action as the PCB sought a meeting of the ACC’s executive board and registered its protest with Shah, according to a report on ESPNcricinfo.
As the drama unfolded, Shah released a statement saying: “All the full members, media rights holder, and in-stadia rights holders were initially hesitant to commit to hosting the entire tournament in Pakistan.”
He then controversially added that the reluctance “stemmed from concerns related to the security and economic situation prevailing in the country”.
As the #AsiaCup2023 kicks off! Sending my best wishes to all the teams gearing up to showcase their cricketing prowess. May the tournament be a celebration of skill, sportsmanship, and unforgettable moments. Let's celebrate the spirit of cricket together. @ACCMedia1 pic.twitter.com/OQKolRT5CS
— Jay Shah (@JayShah) August 30, 2023
What happens next?
The comical scenes regarding the scheduling come a month away from the World Cup that is scheduled to take place in India. Late announcements of schedules, subsequent changes and security concerns have marred the lead-up to the cricket world’s biggest tournament.
For the Asia Cup, though, India and Pakistan are set to meet in the Super Fours stage of the tournament on September 10.
The off-field drama will add more spice to the second version of the highly anticipated clash, especially after the first one was abandoned halfway through.