FTP's pink boxes await Indo-Pak dates
The ICC's approved eight-year FTP slipped past unnoticed during its tumultuous annual conference in Hong Kong. So too, on its official Excel sheet of colour-coded columns, did a set of pink boxes. They first turn up in August 2013 and show up four more times on the FTP calendar till March 2020, side by side, in exactly the same period, under the two columns marked India and Pakistan. Whereas all other coded boxes are full of notations about the number of Tests and ODIs to be hosted, and whether the team they appear for will tour or host, the pink boxes have another singular feature. They are empty.
In that vacant space lie the stories of political events and cricketing relations. The empty boxes represent the dates, set aside by the hopeful, when India and Pakistan will play each other - if all goes well. At the moment, it's looking bleak. Not relations between the two nations, whose foreign secretaries have been talking, but certainly between the two cricket boards who have found themselves on the opposite side of most arguments at the meetings in Hong Kong.
In previous decades, while the countries fought bitterly on cricket fields and at the diplomatic table, the two boards were buddies. Most evidently, not any more. In Hong Kong, Pakistan was, like all other countries, supporting the DRS system and even more prominently resisting a high-speed push to amend the constitution over appointment of the ICC president for the fourth time in 15 years. The DRS was approved and the constitutional amendment was deferred for a few months.
More has happened in the backdrop of this conference: the Indian and Pakistani delegations met two nights ago to discuss the prospects of the only India v Pakistan bilateral series that has been clearly mentioned in the FTP.
It is learnt that not much progress has been made. The one bilateral series scheduled and outlined in the FTP - India hosting Pakistan for three Tests and five ODIs - could remain just a piece of paper without either the BCCI asking its foreign office whether they should begin making plans or the Indian government doing what it usually does with minimum notice: turning cricket into a "confidence-building measure".
The PCB, on its part, is doing what it can. In May, former PCB chief Shahryar Khan arrived in Delhi to meet with Indian cricket's most prominent political players. He met with Sharad Pawar, not in his role as ICC chief, but as a key member of the ruling coalition in India, Arun Jaitley, the president of Delhi state cricket and a senior leader of the opposition - the Bharatiya Janata Party - and Rajeev Shukla, MP and BCCI vice-president.
Whenever the question of the resumption of Indo-Pak cricket is brought up before the BCCI, the reply has always been the same - that they are awaiting a green signal from the government. The empty boxes will only help the vagueness. Had the blank spaces in the FTP's pink Indo-Pak boxes been filled in with even a mention of a bilateral series between the two countries, cricket officials on both sides would have had a good enough reason to check the political temperature with their governments.
This way, though, those wanting to play are left in limbo and those who would rather not, have a ready excuse.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo