Photo: Prakash Singh/AFP
The unique challenges the ICC and BCCI will face in relocating the game
A cloud of doubt hangs over the much-awaited India-Pakistan World Twenty20 match, scheduled to be held in Dharamsala on 19 March.
The Virbhadra Singh-led Congress government in Himachal Pradesh has said it is in no position to provide security, considering the sentiments of the families of soldiers who have fought wars with Pakistan and live in the area.
As soon as this information emerged, the Board of Control for Cricket in India got in touch with the Central government. And now, Delhi has emerged as the BCCI and the International Cricket Council's top choice to be the replacement venue for the marquee clash.
Delhi is being considered as the "safest venue" for the India-Pakistan match.
Himachal Chief Minister Singh wrote to the Home Ministry, expressing his inability to provide security for the match.
Two top DDCA officials separately confirmed to Catch that association office-bearers had received messages from the BCCI that Delhi had been picked as a standby venue, should the match be eventually relocated from Dharamsala.
A DDCA official said: "He [DDCA office-bearer] just told us that the India-Pakistan match is almost 90% sure to be relocated to Delhi. Let us see what happens."
When asked why Delhi was being considered as an alternate venue, and why not Mohali, which is closer to Dharamsala, the official said: "Delhi is the safest place for an India-Pakistan men's cricket match. In Delhi, the government can provide the best of security to the Indian and Pakistani teams. That is why if the match is shifted from Dharamsala, Delhi has the best chance as an alternate venue."
When contacted on Tuesday and asked about the Board functionary's meeting with MEA officials, another Board official did not deny the meeting. "But what has changed since Monday evening? The match venue has still not been changed. Right now, we can't say anything about the match venue," the BCCI official said.
While writing to the Home Ministry about its inability to provide security, Chief Minister Singh said that a large number of soldiers lived in nearby Kangra. He argued that if the match was played in Dharamsala, it would hurt sentiments of the families of martyrs of the Kargil War. He also did not rule out protests at the match venue.
The CBI is investigating the disproportionate assets case against Singh. Singh, who could be feeling victimised, has got an opportunity to embarrass both the Dhumal family and the Central government via the politics of cricket.
Also, since the stadium is located in the hills, players could be stuck in an emergency situation as the venue has limited access by road to the mainland.
It can be argued that if the Himachal Pradesh government felt the match would hurt the sentiments of soldiers' families, it could have told the BCCI or the Central government about this soon after the ICC announced the schedule on 11 December.
Essentially, it is clear that it is all politics. Himachal Pradesh is the home state of BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur, a BJP MP. However, his party lost the last state Assembly elections to the rival Congress, which thinks it is in a perfect position to take "revenge".
Thakur, whose father PK Dhumal was the Himachal Chief Minister in the previous BJP government, on Tuesday alleged that the Congress was playing politics by refusing to provide assistance like police security and other official apparatus for staging the match.
"Those politicizing this cricket issue hv shown thr own shortcomings & incapability, are working to tarnish image of HP & the country," Thakur tweeted on Tuesday.
The BCCI and the ICC are taking no chances, especially as the match is just 17 days away and a whole lot of changes have to be made if the match is eventually shifted from Dharamsala.
If the men's match is finally relocated to Delhi, it would pose a unique challenge to the ICC/BCCI vis-a-vis tickets. Several questions were being asked on Tuesday. Since spectators will buy the tickets for the women's match in Delhi on 19 March, will they get to watch the men's game for free? Or will they be asked to leave the Kotla and those who would have bought the tickets for the men's match be ushered in?
Since little time is left, the BCCI/ICC will, in consultation with the Central government, have to quickly take a decision on the venue, as the logistics have to be altered in a big way.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma