Pakistan-Australia Test series set to be downsized
Australia's Test series against Pakistan in October this year will be downsized to the minimum two matches, while the venue for the encounter is expected to be confirmed as the UAE.
Despite the ICC Future Tours Programme dictating that the tour would consist of three Tests, the PCB has negotiated for the removal of one five-day match to be replaced by a series of limited-overs matches, likely to include three ODIs and a Twenty20 fixture.
While the location of these matches is yet to be finalised, the loss of a Test from the fixture list is certain. This schedule is expected to bring in a more lucrative broadcast fee for the cash-pressured governing body of cricket in Pakistan, forced to subsist on series played in neutral venues since the terrorist attack on the touring Sri Lankan team in Lahore in 2009.
"Our expectation will be that it will be in the UAE, and my expectation is that it won't be three Test matches, it will probably be two Test matches and a combination of one-dayers," James Sutherland, the Cricket Australia chief executive, told ABC Radio during the Sydney Ashes Test. "Perhaps with a view to the fact there's a World Cup here in Australia and New Zealand in February and March 2015.
"It's the hosts' call on that and we'll work as closely as we can with them, there's a reciprocal arrangement, we wouldn't like to be playing a series of less than three but that's their choice how they balance that, and at the end of the day, Pakistan are not able to host international cricket in Pakistan, their commercial viability is really affected by that, so we respect their position and the decisions they need to make there."
Apart from the UAE, the only other plausible venue for a Test match is Qatar, where the PCB is presently hosting a women's tournament. However stadium facilities and infrastructure in the nation set to host the next football World Cup are not as advanced or varied as those in the UAE, with Dubai host to the ICC's headquarters and global cricket academy.
The most recent encounter between the two nations was also played over just two Tests, the "MCC Spirit of Cricket" series which took place in England in the northern summer of 2010 and was split 1-1 when Pakistan won at Headingley after Australia's victory at Lord's. While CA have spoken consistently of their desire for Test bouts of at least three matches' duration, their own schedule is increasingly light on such series.
Apart from blue-chip contests against England (five Tests) and India (four), Australia have played two-Test series against New Zealand, Pakistan and South Africa in recent times. Their next visit to the West Indies in May 2015 is also scheduled to include the bare minimum two Tests.
"The programme is a real challenge, there's no doubt for us as administrators it is one of the most difficult things we do and we often talk about it in the context of being a three-dimensional game of chess," Sutherland said. "Unlike other sporting codes we don't have a unilateral ability to work out what our programme might be, we have to see what's going on in other parts of the world, what country is playing where and how. And we need to work out the international programme and then work out the best we can from the domestic programme."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here