Sri Lanka is fast emerging as the likeliest venue to host a shortened bilateral series between Pakistan and India. Sri Lanka Cricket has been sounded out by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), and appear very keen to host the series.
Things have moved fast since BCCI president Shashank Manohar and PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan met at the ICC headquarters in Dubai on Sunday afternoon to break the deadlock over where the series should be held. The BCCI has made no comment as yet on the meeting, and Manohar left Dubai this morning to return to India.
Shaharyar left too, and was meant to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Lahore on Monday, to brief him on the discussions in Dubai. But the meeting could not take place as Sharif was busy. "I could not meet him as he was very occupied with various things, so I will communicate to him in writing all that transpired at the meeting," Khan said. He also pointed out that he would not be travelling back to Dubai on November 25, as originally planned, to meet ECB president Giles Clarke, who is acting as a mediator between PCB and BCCI.*
Shaharyar and Najam Sethi, PCB's head of executive committee, had come out of the Dubai meeting sounding optimistic, but they did not divulge any details. Those were supposed to be provided by Clarke at a media briefing today in Dubai but it is understood that will not happen. The ICC also confirmed there was no media conference scheduled.
The biggest hurdle to the series was the venue: the BCCI had made it clear that it would not play Pakistan anywhere else but in India. Rejecting that offer, the PCB responded by saying the memorandum of understanding signed by both countries in 2014 clearly stated India would travel to the UAE. Then, last Friday, Shaharyar added that the final decision would be taken by the Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The UAE has not been dropped as a venue, officially speaking, but Manohar's opposition to play there remained. So holding the series in neutral ground like Sri Lanka was one of the proposals the PCB placed at the Dubai meeting. Also with South Africa's tour of India finishing on December 7 and India travelling to Australia for a limited-overs series from January 12, both boards decided to modify the original schedule. The best possible option was playing three ODIs and two T20Is. In the ICC FTP Pakistan are listed to host India for a full tour comprising two Tests, five ODIs and two T20Is.
According to an official privy to the details of the meeting, a final decision on the series would be made by November 27. He added that dates and stadiums haven't been chalked out yet but indicated the matches would be played towards the latter part of December to avoid washouts.
A Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) official said Khettarama and Pallekele were the likeliest venues to host the tour. It has rained almost daily in both Colombo and Kandy this month, but the weather is expected to clear towards the end of December. The northeast monsoon typically tapers off quicker in these cities than in Hambantota or Dambulla.
There is a potential clash since Khettarama is scheduled to host domestic T20 matches on December 23rd and 30th, but those games may be moved elsewhere. Pallekele's schedule is wide open in the window for the Pakistan-India series.
Since Pakistan would play the host, the series would be broadcast by Ten Sports. No official from Ten was available for comment. Although no definite plans have been made yet, the Sri Lankan official said SLC would expect significant compensation for the use of their stadiums.
With inputs from Umar Farooq
*12.30GMT, November 23: This article was updated.