England to host Pakistan Tests against Australia
Pakistan and Australia will play two Tests and two Twenty20 internationals in England next July, after the England & Wales Cricket Board reached a staging agreement with their Pakistan counterparts.
"We've reached a contractual agreement with the PCB, although the nature of those details remains confidential at the moment for obvious reasons," an ECB spokesman told Cricinfo. "We haven't agreed on the venues yet, that will have to be determined by the Major Match Group, but clearly we will want to do that as soon as practically possible so that we can market the games."
The decision follows hot on the heels of Pakistan's superb showing in the World Twenty20, in which they beat Sri Lanka in the final at Lord's, having been supported throughout the tournament by arguably the most vociferous and passionate fans in the country. With virtually no prospect of cricket returning to Pakistan in the near future after the terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka team bus at Lahore in March, England promises to provide the exiled team with the perfect home from home.
"The Pakistan team performed outstandingly well in the World T20 tournament in England and were worthy world champions," said the ECB chairman, Giles Clarke. "The passion of the support for their team in England demonstrated why this country is an ideal venue for these matches against Australia."
"The warm relations between our two Boards has developed further under the leadership of the current PCB Chairman Ijaz Butt, with whom I enjoy an excellent working relationship, and ECB is delighted to support Pakistan in staging these matches."
For the final of the World Twenty20 at Lord's, the vast majority of the fans in the stadium were Pakistani, and according to Keith Bradshaw, MCC's chief executive, the atmosphere they created was "electric". He was very hopeful that the experience of that match would persuade the Major Match Group that Lord's is the logical venue to stage such a game.
"I think we've said all along we're right behind the concept of neutral Tests," said Bradshaw. "We are the home of cricket and so our doors are open. We are very keen to stage the match and we'll be bidding hard to stage a Test.
"When Pakistan were here for the final the atmosphere was electric, as it was the week before when India were here. I know that Tests in London are still very strong in terms of attendance, both here and at The Oval, and to keep Test cricket as the pinnacle of the game it would be a logical place to stage such a match."
Another venue with strong claims to hosting a Test is Headingley, given the size of the Pakistani population in and around Leeds and Bradford. "We feel that of all of the venues, given our demographic and track record in staging matches, we'd be very well placed and would make Pakistan feel at home," Stewart Regan, Yorkshire's chief executive, told Cricinfo.
"Nothing has changed since the previous discussions in the media several weeks ago. We have put our hat in the ring and said we would be very interested in talking to the ECB and PCB about staging one of the Test matches."
Regardless of the enthusiastic response to the news, there remain several hurdles to be overcome before the series can be set in stone, not least the thorny issue of TV rights. In November 2008, the PCB agreed a US$140.5 million five-year television contract with Taj Entertainment Network (Ten Sports), with a clause that enabled series to take place at neutral venues in the event of an adverse security situation. It remains to be seen whether BSkyB, who hold the rights to England home series, will contest the staging of such a contest on their turf.
The ECB and PCB also confirmed that England will host Pakistan for four Tests, five ODIs and two T20Is in August and September of next year.
Clarke, meanwhile, has accepted the role of chairman of the ICC Pakistan Task Team, a body set up by the ICC to provide strategies and solutions to assist the PCB in protecting its position in international cricket.
"The Pakistan Cricket Board is faced with a very challenging situation at present and ECB in its role as a member of the global cricket community is keen to offer PCB all possible assistance at such a difficult time," said Clarke. "I am delighted to take on this role and will be liaising closely with my colleagues at PCB in the coming weeks and months."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo