Pakistan's chances of hosting the Champions Trophy, which is scheduled to begin on September 12, have received a huge blow with Cricket South Africa (CSA) deciding on Friday that it will not send its team to the country, prompting fears that more national boards are likely to follow.
Australia, New Zealand and England, who have also expressed serious security concerns over touring, are yet to reaffirm their participation for the tournament. And if those countries do follow South Africa, it's learnt that efforts could be made to save the tournament by persuading Pakistan to step aside on its own and let Sri Lanka, the official alternate venue, host the event.
"There is only one way left to save the Champions Trophy and that is for Pakistan to step down on its own and let Sri Lanka host the event," a senior official associated with the tournament, told Cricinfo. "If 2-3 other teams, like Australia and New Zealand, follow South Africa, and Pakistan insists that they will host the tournament, it will have to be cancelled."
South Africa announced its decision to pull out of the event following a meeting with the ICC task force in Johannesburg on Friday. In a statement, CSA said it assessed the presentation made by the team, led by ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat, as well as the information available from a number of other security reports, including one from the South African government, before arriving at a conclusion.
"After extensive discussions and frank exchange of views, the board resolved not to send our team at this time to Pakistan to participate in the ICC Champions Trophy," Norman Arendse, the CSA president, said. "We respect the right of the Pakistan Cricket Board to stage the tournament and we would urge the ICC to reschedule the tournament as soon as possible."
However, the official that Cricinfo spoke to ruled out the possibility of the event being rescheduled because "the calendar is packed for the next year and it's next to impossible to get dates from all the eight participating teams". Then again, ESPN-Star Sports, the official broadcaster, is unlikely to agree to an event with substitute teams like Bangladesh but seem willing to go ahead with the Sri Lanka option, he said.
"The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is aware that the blast on Thursday in Islamabad, which killed around 60 people, has weakened their case significantly. And Sri Lanka has repeatedly said that they are prepared to host the tournament. So it all depends on Pakistan. They could even be offered the next edition of the tournament, if that is an acceptable solution," the official said.
In such a scenario, India's position will be crucial as the BCCI has adopted a hardline stance on the issue, arguing that the tournament cannot be shifted from Pakistan on "flimsy grounds". "The Indian board has stood by Pakistan even if it means that the tournament might be cancelled. But if Pakistan agrees to stand down from its current position, the BCCI should have no problems with that," the official said.
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), meanwhile, said it was "deeply disappointed" by South Africa's "hasty" pullout. "We are deeply disappointed and when a decision was to be made on Sunday we think South Africa made a hasty choice," Shafqat Naghmi, the PCB's chief operating officer, told AFP. "Now it's up to the ICC to take a decision but I would say South Africa's refusal will badly hurt the event. We will still do our best to save the event and host it on schedule."
Later on Friday, members of the ICC's task force met to "discuss the feedback received from meetings with stakeholders from Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa" on the tournament. "That feedback was discussed and will now be considered by the ICC Board, which is scheduled to have its own teleconference on Sunday. The task team noted the decision of Cricket South Africa not to send a team to the Champions Trophy," the ICC stated in a release.
Ajay Shankar is deputy editor of Cricinfo