Nagraj Gollapudi and Umar Farooq
A full-strength West Indies team is expected to land in Lahore next March for a three-match Twenty20 series after Cricket West Indies (CWI) "committed" to tour Pakistan next year. The tour was meant to be played this November, but logistical challenges forced the tour to be postponed.
At an impromptu media conference in Lahore on Saturday, PCB chairman Najam Sethi confirmed the schedule for West Indies' tour with the three matches to be played on March 29, 31 and April 1. Sethi also stated that both PCB and CWI agreed to play a series of Twenty20 matches annually over the next five years both in Pakistan and the USA subject to availability of dates.
"There were talks to play the series in November, but due to unforeseen weather, we didn't take a risk so we will start our first series from March next year followed by the one in the USA," Sethi said in Lahore. "From then onwards, they will keep coming to Pakistan for the next five years and we will reciprocate by playing in the USA. But the series we will play in the USA will be a tri-series with the third team to be decided later."
Both CWI and the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) gave their approval for the tour subject to the security situation in Pakistan remaining the same as it was during the World XI series and the solitary T20 Sri Lanka played in Lahore recently.
"We have not had time to get through procedures and processes to get the tour scheduled in time, but we are still committed to support Pakistan cricket. Our intention is to return in March," CWI chief executive officer Johnny Grave told ESPNcricinfo.
After hosting the World XI and Sri Lanka T20s successfully, the PCB was confident and keen to host West Indies too. However, Sethi had admitted to ESPNcricinfo recently that scheduling remained a concern for CWI.
Before they could finalise the schedule, both CWI and WIPA were waiting for an updated security and risk assessment report from Eastern Star International (ESI), an independent security firm owned by security expert Reg Dickason. ESI sent its updated report to CWI on November 3 and the WIPA had its meeting this week before intimating its decision to Grave.
After deliberations among its members which includes players, the WIPA was assured that the threat levels had not "materially changed" since the World XI games. "Therefore, they said they would have no objection based on security," Grave said. "They legitimately raised concerns around trying to do these things quickly without the necessary time to review the security plans. And they also had concerns about our ability to inform and communicate those plans to all the players.
"Also, addressing any questions and concerns of the players and team management over the scheduling of the proposed T20 series in Lahore has been a real challenge as most of our squad is either playing in our domestic cricket across the region or playing in the Bangladesh Premier League. And with all the team management in Zimbabwe, we and WIPA needed time before making a final decision."
The PCB and the Punjab government (Lahore being the capital) assured that the same level of security would be afforded to the West Indies team as was to the World XI and Sri Lankan contingents. But with time running out, the logistical challenges were growing. CWI is understood to have communicated the same to the PCB during a conference call on November 6.
During the call, Grave and Roland Holder, CWI's cricket operations manager, informed PCB officials that even as they awaited the WIPA's decision (the WIPA called an emergency meeting on November 7), the biggest challenge would be sorting the visas and the travel plans of the T20 squad which was scattered between the Caribbean and Bangladesh, where some players are participating in the BPL.
With West Indies playing New Zealand in a limited-overs series following the Tests in December, the same players had submitted their passports at the New Zealand embassies in New Delhi and Washington. So even with the WIPA nod, arranging Pakistan visas within a short span of time was nearly impossible.
Both boards tried to find a solution and CWI checked if they could tour late November or early December so the West Indies T20 squad could fly from Pakistan en route to New Zealand. However, the foggy conditions in winter in Lahore was the big hurdle, the PCB informed.
According to Grave, West Indies will fly to Lahore after the World Cup Qualifiers in March in Zimbabwe. However, that trip will get a final nod based on an updated security report closer to the tour.
"We will now focus our attention on playing in the final week of March, which is after the World Cup Qualifiers and before the IPL," Grave said. "We are now working on an operational deadline. In order for us to be arriving in Lahore end of March, we need to have booked the flights and confirmed the names by mid-February. In order to do that, we would need to have selected the squad by early February and we will need a security assessment [in the] first week of January and also have to get WIPA approval and have a discussion face-to-face with the players. This timeline is not formalised, but that is the broad framework."