Last leg of Asia Cup matches to be played in Colombo as scheduled

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The PCB has reluctantly agreed to have the last five matches of the ongoing Asia Cup played in Colombo, as scheduled. This is despite the Pakistan board having strongly objected to the games staying in Colombo and not moving to Hambantota, as well as the manner in which the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) made that decision.

The PCB had been on board with plans to move the Colombo matches to Hambantota, on account of rains being forecast in Colombo during the next ten days – this information is understood to have been provided by Sri Lanka’s department of meteorology. On Monday evening, and on Tuesday morning, the ACC appeared to be working on the understanding that the games would shift to Hambantota.

But suddenly, around midday on Tuesday, the ACC sent a mail to the stakeholders stating that the matches would be played in Colombo as originally scheduled. This incensed the PCB officials, who not only would have preferred the matches to have been played in Hambantota but were also alarmed that the ACC had made this decision unilaterally, without adequately consulting them, the hosts of the tournament.

In response, the PCB called for an immediate ACC executive board meeting, and has also sent a letter to ACC president Jay Shah, protesting the decision-making process at the ACC. But beyond pulling out of the tournament, there is little the PCB can do now. While deeply troubled by the events of Tuesday, the PCB appears unlikely to take a drastic step.

On Tuesday afternoon, Shah himself made a statement as ACC president, which addressed the matter of the tournament’s scheduling.

“All the full members, media rights holder, and in-stadia rights holders were initially hesitant to commit to hosting the entire tournament in Pakistan,” Shah said in this statement. “This reluctance stemmed from concerns related to the security and economic situation prevailing in the country.”

However, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have visited Pakistan for bilateral tours since 2019, and have also played matches there in the group stage of the ongoing Asia Cup. Neither team has publicly expressed a reluctance to play there, nor have their boards expressed a reluctance to send teams to Pakistan. In fact, two BCCI officials – board president Roger Binny and vice-president Rajeev Shukla – have visited Lahore over the past two days, and were hosted by the governor of (Pakistani) Punjab.

The background to all of this is that the PCB had originally wanted the whole tournament to be played in Pakistan, but the BCCI refused on the basis that their government would not allow the team to travel to Pakistan. Much of the tournament was then shifted to Sri Lanka.

This seemed a workable compromise, until the Pakistan vs India match in Pallekele was rained out on Saturday, prompting fears that the whole tournament would be severely affected by the weather.

In any case, the SLC is pleased the tournament will stay in Colombo, and has always preferred the tournament to be played there, as it is logistically the easiest city in which to host a multi-team tournament. SLC chief executive Ashley de Silva told ESPNcricinfo on Tuesday that one of the reasons the ACC decided to keep the games in Colombo was because “a lot of fans had already made arrangements to watch the matches in Colombo” and because “the last few days it hasn’t been raining as much” in the city.

He also cited Sri Lanka’s largely successful history with hosting ODIs. In the last ten years, 79 of the 84 men’s ODIs played in the country have been completed. Of the five abandoned matches, Saturday’s game was the only match to be abandoned in the month of September, which historically is not an especially wet month.

Jay Shah points to ‘several changes’ in PCB for confusion

In his statement, Shah also said, “In my capacity as ACC President, I was committed to finding a viable and mutually agreeable solution. To this end, I had accepted the hybrid model that was proposed by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) in collaboration with the ACC management. However, it’s important to note that the leadership of the PCB underwent several changes, and this resulted in some back-and-forth negotiations, particularly regarding crucial aspects such as tax exemption and insurance for matches.”

In response to initial PCB suggestions that the tournament be played in Pakistan and the UAE – aired again in recent days given the weather in Sri Lanka – Shah said there was a difference between playing 20-over games and 50-over games in the UAE in September.

“The Asia Cup 2022 edition was played in the UAE in the T20 format. It’s important to emphasize that the dynamics of a T20 tournament cannot be directly compared to those of a 100-over One-day format. In this context, ACC members received feedback from their respective high-performance teams, expressing concerns about playing One-day matches in the UAE in the month of September. Such a schedule could have potentially led to player fatigue and an increased risk of injuries, particularly right before the all-important ICC Cricket World Cup.

“The decision-making process regarding the Asia Cup 2023 format and venue was guided by a sincere desire to prioritise the well-being of the players, as well as the overarching interests of the sport. Ultimately, the goal was to strike a balance that would allow for a competitive and successful tournament while ensuring the health and readiness of the participating teams for ICC Cricket World Cup 2023.”

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf

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