India Women's return to action has hit yet another hurdle, with the Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) informing the BCCI late last week about its inability to host the eight-match series against South Africa in March in Thiruvananthapuram. The reason given by the KCA is that the ground has been "made available to the Indian military for a recruitment drive, without the KCA's prior knowledge", and it doesn't have a venue with "appropriate broadcast facilities" apart from the Greenfield International Stadium to stage the matches. The Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) might now host the matches in Bengaluru.
India, who haven't played international cricket since the T20 World Cup final on March 8 last year, were scheduled to play five ODIs and three T20Is against South Africa, with the Indian squad and support staff set to assemble in Thiruvananthapuram and enter a bio-security bubble on February 17. Though the BCCI hasn't released an official tour schedule yet, the first match was marked for March 7 or 8, and the series is expected to run for a month or so.
The games are now likely to take place in Bengaluru, though ESPNcricinfo understands that the Indian team has not been informed of the change yet, and no official communication has come from the BCCI.
Responding to the development, Cricket South Africa director of cricket Graeme Smith told a press conference, "The talks have been progressing so it is still my hope that is the case, that the tour will go ahead. We are very keen on providing as much content to our ladies as possible. We are working hard on building a busier FTP for them going forward. We are in the process of dealing with the BCCI on it."
The update came less than a fortnight after KCA office-bearers and BCCI joint secretary Jayesh George met Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan to seek permission to host the series. The KCA on Monday confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that the proposal was subsequently green-lighted by the state government, but the sudden allotment of the stadium to the army forced the state association to alter its plans.
"The series was originally allotted to KCA. The BCCI had informed us in January, and we had begun our preparations accordingly. But the ground has been suddenly given to the army, without informing the KCA or the KCA's prior knowledge," Sreejith V, the KCA secretary, told ESPNcricinfo. "Unfortunately, the army's recruitment drive is supposed to go on for 20 days or so, and we explored an alternative, smaller ground - the St Xavier's College ground - for the first two games but appropriate broadcast facilities are not there and all these eight games are meant to be broadcast. So we don't have an alternative choice.
"We tried our level best to conduct the matches here and the chief minister and sports minister of Kerala were very interested to host the India women and South Africa women here, and they intervened directly, and fully supported us. There was a Covid facility in the premises [of the stadium], so with the CM's help, we had even begun taking steps to have that moved, sanitised everything, and all safety protocols for all parties involved were being put in place. The hotel bookings were done, the travel agents, too, were booked.
"So, it's a big loss for us that we can't host the series because to host eight international matches at one venue, because of the Covid-19 pandemic situation, was a good opportunity for us, too."
With inputs from Firdose Moonda
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha