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Pakistan apply pressure on ICC to secure India matches

Azhar Ali gets in position to whip through the leg side AFP

Pakistan will continue applying pressure on the BCCI and, indirectly, the ICC, in the hopes of securing 24 matches with India in the new international calendar. At the ICC board meeting in Auckland earlier this month, the PCB, along with all Full Members, approved in principle a fresh league structure to be implemented after the 2019 World Cup. But the PCB maintained that its final decision will depend on the BCCI honouring a bilateral commitment signed over three years ago.

That is a stance the PCB first revealed last month, and it means not only will the Test and ODI leagues remain tied to Pakistan's pursuit of India games, but also to their efforts to seek legal redress for two bilateral series against India that never took place. That case came into the spotlight over the weekend, after comments made by former chairman Shaharyar Khan and the leak of the bilateral agreement the two boards signed in April 2014.

In Auckland, the Full Members unanimously agreed on a two-year, nine-team Test league as well as a 13-team ODI league. But the real business of what the actual schedule will look like - with details of who plays whom and how often - has not been finalised. Board chief executives have been working on that at scheduling conferences, and will continue to do so at another tentatively scheduled for November. The plan is for a schedule to be completed by January and presented at the next ICC board meeting in February.

The PCB is resigned to not playing India in the leagues - that is something the BCCI has insisted upon - but want matches outside the structure, in an eight-month window when sides are free to play whoever they choose.

At the joint session in Auckland between board directors and chief executives (in which the plan for the leagues was approved), the PCB said it was happy with the new structure on the provision it contained the 24 international matches Pakistan were guaranteed to host against India, by the terms of a previously signed MoU. Though there was no reaction, the stance was noted.

The agreement, and the legal case, has been the subject of renewed scrutiny over the last few days. Over the weekend, speaking to a local TV channel, Shaharyar suggested that the PCB's case against the BCCI at the ICC's dispute resolution committee was not especially strong.

"To an extent, it is a weakness [in our case]," he said, having been involved in these discussions until he stepped down as chairman in August. "The weakness is that it is written in there that both sides need government permission [before playing each other]. We have our government's permission. They haven't got permission yet, so they could say that it is written that until they haven't got permission they cannot come and play. These are problems but it's okay to bring them under some pressure as well."

However, Shaharyar went on, almost immediately, to disown those words. In a signed statement distributed to the media on Saturday, he said: "I strongly deny a statement attributed to me in the media in which I am supposed to have said that the PCB's case against the BCCI is weak. How could I say such a thing when, in fact, as Chairman and with the approval of the PCB's Board of Governors, I authorised preparation of a case on the advice of PCB's lawyers and a prominent QC in the UK who agreed that PCB had a strong case against India."

Not long after, the letter that spells out details of the 2014 agreement was leaked on social media. Officials from both boards have confirmed the authenticity of the letter. Printed on plain paper, without a letterhead and dated April 9th, the letter [see pic] is written by Sanjay Patel, the former BCCI secretary, and addressed to Najam Sethi, the current chairman of the PCB who was, at that time, the interim head of the board. It makes no mention of either side needing government approval.

The basis of the agreement is well known: six bilateral series between December 2015 and November-December 2022, with the BCCI making "all efforts" for a short, limited-overs-only tour to Pakistan in November 2014 as well. As categorically stated in the letter, the agreement applied only if the Big Three resolutions for the revamp of international cricket were signed off in June that year, which they duly were.

But the November 2014 and December 2015 tours did not materialise and are the subject of the PCB's legal case. The BCCI argued it did not have government permission to play Pakistan. The 24 international matches the PCB want incorporated in the new calendar are the three remaining tours to Pakistan as part of this MoU: nine games in December 2019, 10 in August 2020 and five in November-December 2022.

The legal case has not, strictly speaking, yet begun. Though the PCB intends to file the official notice of dispute that will start the process at the ICC's dispute resolution committee, it has yet to do so. In fact that process has been delayed slightly because there was a change in the Terms of Reference of the committee at the Auckland meeting. Once they do send in the notice, a panel of adjudicators will be constituted, who will then ask the BCCI to reply. The way of these things suggests that any resolution is still some time away, and what impact that may have on the implementation of a new calendar is uncertain.

In Auckland, the PCB also asked that a new Future Tours Programme (FTP) Terms and Conditions document be created to govern the administration of the new calendar. Such a document is likely to detail how older FTP commitments fit into a new calendar, which could determine the status of this agreement.

The prospect of India-Pakistan games will also come up for discussion at the next scheduling conference. If the PCB recognises the adversarial nature of a legal case works against that, there is also a suggestion it is using the case as a pressure tactic of sorts, to push the BCCI into agreeing to some bilateral contests.

The Pakistan board is confident it has a strong case and that, in particular, their 2014 agreement with the BCCI has all the ingredients that would constitute the basis of a legally binding contract in a court of law. Its argument rests on whether the Indian government has explicitly, and in writing, denied the BCCI permission to play against Pakistan.

The BCCI seems unperturbed by the public appearance of this agreement and believes it stands on firm ground whenever the time to defend itself comes. "It is a plain piece of paper," one official said. "Even if you take this as a letter of intent there was never a formal agreement that happened."

The BCCI official reiterated that the Indian board did not have the authority to commit to a bilateral series with Pakistan without permission from their government.