England in India 2005-06 November 21, 2005

Itinerary saga takes another twist

Ahmedabad, and not Chennai, has been allotted to host a Test against England © Getty Images

Chennai, and not Ahmedabad, should have been allotted a Test match against England, Cricinfo has learned. The last few weeks have been filled with vociferous complaints from the England and Wales Cricket Board, and the English media, over the itinerary for England's forthcoming tour of India. While, on the surface, the Board of Control for Cricket in India is strictly adhering to its rotation policy, deeper investigation reveals that something questionable has indeed occurred.

The Tour Programmes and Fixtures Committee of the BCCI, which chalks out itineraries for all home matches, met in Mumbai on September 6 to sort out the schedule for the forthcoming season. At the time, however, the committee only decided on the venues for the one-day internationals that were coming up against Sri Lanka and South Africa. Why this was done, no-one is able to answer satisfactorily. And this has made a big difference to how the rotation policy has been applied.

According to the rules followed by the board, the Test and ODI rotations run parallel. This means that a situation could arise where it could be a venue's turn to host both a Test and an ODI in a series. When this happens, it has been the practice that the venue must stage the Test, and wait its turn for the next series for the ODI.

Therefore, if the Programmes and Fixtures Committee had worked out for the venues for the forthcoming ODIs and Tests, then Ahmedabad would have been forced to stage a Sri Lanka Test match (Sri Lanka are now playing at Chennai, Delhi and Kanpur). This would have meant that when England's turn came around, Chennai would have been an automatic allotment for a Test match.

There has also been some discrepancy in the allotment of practice matches to the North-Eastern centres of Jamshedpur and Agartala. The fixtures committee met in Delhi to allot the venues for the England Tests and ODIs but did not rule on the warm-up matches. In the past, on most occasions when the Test and ODI fixtures are announced the committee also announces the venues for the side games. In this case, however, it appears that that the chairman of the Tour Programmes and Fixtures Committee, in consultation with the BCCI president, has later allotted the venues to Jamshedpur, Agartala, and Dharamsala for a practice match before the ODIs, which only came to light when representatives of the ECB visited Kolkata for discussions on the itinerary.

Staging a three-day game against a touring team is the first step in a venue's movement towards becoming an international venue. If they stage this warm-up match against England, Agartala will be in a strong position to stake a claim to holding an ODI in a couple of years' time, a board source told Cricinfo. Dharamsala has already staged a tour match, against Pakistan, and this will only strengthen their case. The most recent instance of this happening is Vijayawada, who hosted a warm-up match when the Zimbabweans toured in early 2002. Just nine months later they were handed their first, and so far only, ODI when West Indies toured.

It has also been reported, in Hindustan Times that there was some uncertainty over Kanpur hosting the Sri Lanka Test match in December this year owing to a money dispute with the Kanpur District Association, who own the ground. However, as a permanent Test venue, Kanpur has already refused to host Tests in the past, on grounds that the stadium was not ready for play. When New Zealand toured India in 2003 Kanpur was to host a Test, but refused to do so.

The BCCI pressurised Kanpur to stage the game, but the Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association refused to relent, fearing that if they did stage the game in substandard conditions (poor pitch, outfield, facilities) then they were in danger of being blacklisted as a venue by the ICC. But a long time has passed since 2003 and the BCCI refused to relent this time round, rightly contending that the UPCA had enough time to get its act together. Soon after it was decided, Cricinfo has learned, that if Kanpur was to attempt to forego a Test again when its turn came, stern action would be taken that could have resulted in it being stripped of Test status, which would be accompanied by a loss of a place in the working committee. Therefore it was a fait accompli that Kanpur hosted a Test against Sri Lanka.

Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo