In an extraordinary move, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has requested the ICC to swap venues for two of their league matches in the 2023 ODI World Cup. Pakistan are currently scheduled to play Australia in Bengaluru on October 20, and then Afghanistan in Chennai on October 23 but they have asked for a change where they play Afghanistan in Bengaluru and Australia in Chennai.
It is learnt that the PCB offered no specific reason to the ICC for the request, but an internal note accessed by ESPNcricnfo says the venue swap would “make” Pakistan “favourites” in both matches.
“Australia in Bengaluru and Afghanistan in Chennai are the two which we should look to get changed as much as possible,” the PCB’s internal note said. “Ideally, we can switch these around. Australia in Chennai and Afghanistan in Bengaluru would make us obvious favourites in both matches.”
It could not be confirmed whether the ICC had responded to the PCB request, or, whether it would even consider it. Pakistan are also scheduled to play Afghanistan in one of their warm-up matches, and it is learned that the PCB has asked the ICC if they could play one of South Africa, England, New Zealand or Australia instead.
Normally, security is the primary reason for a venue change at an ICC event. For example, during the 2016 T20 World Cup, the original schedule had the India-Pakistan match on March 19 in Dharamsala, but in the absence of a water-tight security assurance from the from Indian government, the match was moved to Kolkata.
There is no mention of a security threat in the PCB’s internal note, which was prepared as part of an assessment of the grounds where they will be playing during the World Cup. It suggests looking into changing the venue for all but three of Pakistan’s matches, including the one against India on October 15.
“India in Ahmedabad will be advantageous to them, but I doubt that’s going to change considering what that venue means for the BCCI and what this match means for the World Cup.”
The New Zealand match, listed on November 5 in Bengaluru, is an “issue” but “not a hill worth dying on.” The internal note cites a bit more concern about the two games Pakistan play in Kolkata, against Bangladesh on October 31 and defending champions England on November 12, the last match of the league phease. It also presents alternative venues that the team would be more comfortable playing.
“Lucknow would also be a good ground for us considering the overall numbers there. Delhi against most teams would be good for us too. If there is a third change we can make it to get the England game to Lucknow or Chennai.”
World Cup schedule on June 27?
It is understood the BCCI was planning to unveil the World Cup schedule on June 27, which will be 100 days from October 5, the scheduled start of the tournament. However, the PCB are yet to give their approval of the fixture list which the ICC had distributed to all participating countries and the broadcaster in search of feedback.
Najam Sethi, who stepped down as interim PCB chairman on Monday, had said this at a recent media briefing: “We have written to the ICC that we can’t give approval or disapproval to this [World Cup schedule]. It’s our government who has to decide, just like when it comes to India, it’s their government that decides when they go to play.”
In its email to ICC, the PCB stressed that the Pakistan government would need to give a clearance for all venues. It is learnt that the PCB’s response has played a part in the ICC’s inability to release the World Cup schedule to the public and go live with ticket sales.
The next PCB chairman, who is likely to be Zaka Ashraf, will need to have an immediate conversation with Pakistan government. It is understood that ICC has notified the PCB that it cannot afford to wait for much longer before releasing the schedule.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent. Nagraj Gollapudi is a news editor at ESPNcricinfo