PCB's stand-off with ICC May 15, 2009

Butt turns to diplomacy in bid to retain World Cup benefits

Pakistan has embarked on a diplomatic bid to retrieve what benefits it still can from the 2011 World Cup and narrow the widening rift that seems to have developed between it and the Asian bloc, after the ICC unanimously voted last month that Pakistan would not be the location for any of the matches.

Following the initiation of legal action by the PCB against the decision, a way forward seems to be emerging. Ijaz Butt, the PCB chairman, is on a trip to meet counterparts in Sri Lanka, and possibly India, and the ICC now says that Pakistan's hosting rights were never taken away from them, only the matches.

On Thursday, the ICC issued a rejoinder to Pakistan's legal claims, highlighting various "factual inaccuracies and misunderstandings". In a point-by-point reply, Haroon Lorgat, the ICC chief executive, clarified that the ICC board had removed Pakistan as host location, not the PCB as joint host for the World Cup; Pakistan's removal as a host location was on the ICC Board's agenda; and the ICC board has the power to make such decisions.

The less-than-clear stance on hosting, however, suggests that there is some wriggle room for all parties to operate within. One possibility could be that Pakistan's share of matches move to Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Though PCB officials talked of making such a proposal soon after the April meeting, nothing, apparently, has come of it. "The ICC has never received any proposals from the PCB on alternate venues so we cannot speculate on how the ICC Board would deal with any requests," an ICC spokesperson told Cricinfo. There is, it is understood however, considerable opposition to this move among some ICC members, particularly India.

There also exists the option of some kind of a financial-sharing arrangement of the event's hosting fee with India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, the other co-hosts. The host for each World Cup match receives US$750,000 from the ICC for the "extra work", 100% of gate receipts and 100% of money raised through hospitality.

The host board also gets a 7.5% share of distributions from the event, which is worked out on the basis of 75% of the amount being divided between the ten full members of the ICC and 25% for the developing cricket world. "Hosting fees are only paid for hosting matches," the ICC spokesperson said, but added that "financial sharing is a matter for the co-hosts to firstly consider and then for the ICC Board to agree."

Much will depend, however, on Butt's meetings with his co-hosts. Ehsan Mani, former ICC president and an advisor to Pakistan in the current dispute, has maintained that the PCB needs to keep back-channel communications open and the board seems to have taken the advice on board.

Butt left Thursday and is already in Sri Lanka, before he heads to Delhi for a possible meeting with Sharad Pawar, the ICC vice-president and former BCCI president who still has the final word in Indian cricket affairs. "We have no knowledge of any such visit," a BCCI official said. Sources in Pawar's office, however, have confirmed that the veteran politician who is a major player in the ongoing Indian election process, will be in New Delhi early next week. "If anybody can help the PCB wriggle out of this mess, it's Pawar who will become the ICC president next year and continue through the World Cup," the Indian official said.

The Indian board is understood to be livid at the PCB's aggressive posture on the World Cup. "There has always been a political disconnect between the two countries, yet the two cricket boards have enjoyed a wonderful relationship and worked closely together," a senior BCCI official said. "But all that has changed now, and we are very disappointed with the PCB's approach on the World Cup issue."

At some point soon, something will also have to be done to repair a faltering relationship between the ICC and Pakistan. The two options, it is believed, have always been available to Pakistan and by acting as it has, it has possibly strained relationships with other members as well. The ICC's offer of support earlier this year to work out a viable way forward has not been taken up. "The ICC offered to form a task team to assist Pakistan and ensure the game remains on its feet in the country in these difficult times," the spokesperson said. "That offer was made at the ICC Board meeting in Perth in January/February but, to date, there has been no response from the PCB. The task team could assist in some or all of these matters."

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo; Ajay S Shankar is deputy editor of Cricinfo