India could host England in the UAE this winter, with the BCCI signing an agreement with the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) to "boost cricketing ties" between the two boards on Saturday. While the agreement is restricted only to this year's IPL, which begins today in Abu Dhabi, ESPNcricinfo understands there have been brief discussions in which the possibility of India hosting England, as well as next year's IPL, in the UAE has been raised.
On Saturday, BCCI secretary Jay Shah posted a tweet announcing the Indian board had signed a "hosting agreement" with the ECB "to boost cricketing ties between our countries". Shah signed the agreement at a meeting with ECB vice-chairman Khalid Al Zarooni. Also present at the meeting were BCCI president Sourav Ganguly and board treasurer Arun Dhumal. Shah did not spell out details of what the agreement entailed, but a senior BCCI official told ESPNcricinfo that it was specific to the 2020 IPL.
This year's IPL was shifted to the UAE because India remains firmly in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic. With over five million cases as of Friday, it is second only to the USA in terms of the number of infections, and has experienced a major spike in numbers over the last fortnight. It is against this backdrop that brief and preliminary discussions have taken place between the two boards, in which the BCCI is believed to have raised the prospect of using the UAE as a venue for that series, currently scheduled for January-February next year.
In the original FTP, the white-ball leg of the tour was scheduled for October this year, before India toured Australia and then returned to host the five Tests against England from January. The white-ball leg was officially postponed last month, and it is expected that they will be played together with the Tests now. The possibility of a shift to the UAE emerged as early as in August, but the chances of it happening would appear to have increased after the latest update.
Depending on the situation of the pandemic in India next year, it could be that next year's IPL is also hosted in the UAE.
The agreement between the two boards marks a significant moment in their relationship. For a long time in the 2000s, after the first wave of match-fixing blighted the game, India refused to play in the UAE, apart from a two-match ODI series with Pakistan in 2006 in Abu Dhabi. But that approach has changed in recent years. The ice was broken with a partial staging of the 2014 IPL in the UAE, before the BCCI relocated the 2018 Asia Cup to the country. The Under-19 team also played in the 2014 World Cup in the UAE.
With Pakistan - who used the UAE as a home venue for nearly a decade till recently - now moving more cricket back to Pakistan, the UAE has been keen to showcase itself as a top-flight venue of choice, especially from the start of the pandemic. At that time, the impact of Covid-19 was far less severe in the UAE than other countries, and though that largely continues to be the case, there has been a rise in recent weeks. Last week the health ministry announced just over a thousand new cases, the highest number of infections since the pandemic began.