India in Pakistan 2003-04 February 20, 2004

Karachi and Peshawar to get atleast one match each

The National Stadium in Karachi: recently starved of international cricket

After the uncertainty over whether or not the tour would go ahead, perhaps it was inevitable that doubts would be raised, given recent history, over the venues chosen for the series.

Following South Africa's curtailed tour last October and the Kiwi whistlestop tour in December, Karachi and Peshawar are again in line to bear the brunt of vague security concerns. Although reports in the Indian media have stated that the two cities may be avoided altogether, Rameez Raja, CEO of the PCB, confirmed to Wisden Cricinfo that "the residents of Peshawar and Karachi will be able to witness international cricket during the tour."

Raja refused to comment on whether Karachi was slated to hold a Test match or not in the tentative itinerary that the PCB will send to the BCCI, but confirmed that cricket-starved residents in the financial capital of the country will at least be able to witness one international match. In all probability, as some sources revealed, the final itinerary will propose Lahore, Multan and Faisalabad as Test venues, while these three, plus Karachi and Peshawar will host a one-day game each.

No official decision will be made until the BCCI hold a meeting over the coming weekend to discuss the itinerary. Raja did say that the PCB was willing to be flexible to a certain extent, given the importance of the series, suggesting that although they may suggest Karachi as a Test venue in the tentative itinerary, there will be room for negotiation. There have been reports in the local media that Shaharyar Khan may face government pressure to ensure that Karachi hosts a Test, but even without state influence, the case for Karachi is strong.

The National Stadium is one of few, alongside Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore and Multan, equipped to cope with the large media contingent expected to converge for the tour. It has the requisite facilities for a Test match of this size and nature and is recognised globally as a stadium suitable for international Test matches. Few of the smaller venues can make the same claim. This factor, above anything else, could be crucial in determining whether a Test is held there or not.

Siraj Bokhari, Honorary Secretary of the Karachi City Cricket Association, is confident that no security problems exist here and that both a Test and ODI should be staged. Residents of Karachi, as cricket-mad a city as there is in Pakistan, have been increasingly fed-up with international teams refusing to tour the city and the frustrations of missing out on a match of this magnitude will be a headache the board will be seeking to avoid.

The flexibility Raja and the PCB allow will be evident in the form of alternative options. Although the PCB would prefer and push for Karachi as the third Test venue, this demand could be replaced by a guarantee that ODI's will be played both in Karachi and Peshawar. Alternatively, because the Indians are worried about the length of their stay in Karachi, playing a Test and ODI back-to-back, the dates for either game could be re-arranged to allow for two shorter stays.

Finding a balance, as is implied, sensibly, by Raja's talk of flexibility, will be the key. The PCB will have to weigh up the importance, with all its implications - financial, social and political - of India playing in Pakistan, against the justified frustrations of two cities unfairly deprived of international cricket for too long. Shaharyar Khan has been keen to stress that the PCB will not be dictated to by any team when talk of venues is discussed, but India is not, as the Chairman knows only too well, any team. This is the one team, the one tour where compromise and negotiation, attributes which Khan, as a former diplomat possesses in abundance, are not only allowed, but a necessity.

By hosting an ODI in each contentious venue or breaking up the length of the stay in Karachi, a balance, albeit a delicate one may be found. Crowds will have the opportunity to watch a rabidly anticipated encounter, while the Indians' security concerns will be assuaged to a certain extent. The `will they, won't they' nature of the series, meanwhile, looks set to continue till Monday.