Calcutta: The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government appears favourably disposed towards okaying the Indian cricket team’s participation in the eighth Asia Cup.
The tournament — slated to be hosted by Pakistan this year itself — will, however, be shifted to another country and can be held only after the (February-March) 2003 World Cup. Next April, then, is the earliest.
That the government is inclined to give the green signal was, according to The Telegraph’s sources, “more than indicated” by Union sports minister Vikram Verma during a meeting with Board president Jagmohan Dalmiya earlier this month.
Verma has replaced the hawkish Uma Bharti.
In any case, recent developments (troop withdrawal, chiefly) are being “positively interpreted” by the cricket fraternity.
Dalmiya, for his part, is understood to have conveyed that the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) will choose a “fresh host”, thereby respecting New Delhi’s stand of no cricket with Pakistan either on Indian or Pakistani soil.
Though the government hasn’t vetoed India’s participation in “major” events (like the World Cup or the ICC KnockOut) featuring Pakistan, the Board requires clearance for every series/tournament.
As Pakistan has already agreed to opt out as host, provided India’s presence is confirmed, the ACC will, in all probability, award the Asia Cup to either Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, though, are also in the frame.
Given New Delhi’s allergy towards Sharjah, that Gulf Emirate is unlikely to come into the picture.
Incidentally, the Asia Cup’s last edition (2000) was staged by Bangladesh and, if the tournament again goes there, Bangladesh may not host the proposed triangular (with India and South Africa being the visiting teams) soon after the World Cup.
[The ACC’s presidency, by the way, is with Bangladesh.]
The meet will put the ACC (and the Asian Cricket Foundation, its fund-raising arm) back in business, financially, besides ensuring that the Asian solidarity — which has seen some strain — holds firm.
Much, if not all, the attention will be on the India versus Pakistan encounter (s). While both will surely be in separate three-team pools, they should meet in the round-robin (second) stage. If they finish as the top two, both will again clash in the final.
Besides the four Test-playing nations (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh), the tournament will feature the ACC Trophy winners Hong Kong and runners-up UAE.
Of course, India and Pakistan will be meeting each other at least once before the Asia Cup — in the pool-stage of the World Cup (Centurion, March 1).
For the record, the last India-Pakistan encounter anywhere remains the June 3 clash in Dhaka, during the 2000 Asia Cup. Pakistan won by 44 runs.