Top ICC official to visit Pakistan next week

KARACHI: The Chief Executive of the International Cricket Council (ICC), Manu Sawhney will visit Pakistan next week to start preliminary discussions with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) on the hosting of ICC events in the period from 2023 and 2031, reliable sources confided to Dawn on Wednesday.

Sawhney, the 56-year-old Indian businessman who replaced the former South African wicket-keeper David Richardson as the CEO in April 2019, will arrive in Islamabad on Jan 22 and will then head off to the PCB headquarters in Lahore on Jan 23. He is expected to meet high-ranking government officials while in the federal capital and will discuss matters of mutual interests with the PCB’s top hierarchy during visit to Lahore.

This will be Sawhney’s maiden visit to Pakistan but the third one by a top ICC official in the last four months after ICC Deputy-Chairman Imran Khawaja and ICC General Manager Cricket, Geoff Allardice, visited Lahore and Rawalpindi during the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Twenty20 International series and first Test, respectively.

In October last year, the ICC Board had decided that the eight-year events cycle commencing in 2023 will comprise eight men’s events, eight women’s competitions, four under-19 tournaments each for males and females, respectively.

Although the ICC didn’t elaborate on the eight men’s competitions, these are likely to include two 50-over World Cups, four ICC T20 World Cups and two more events, expected to be the 50-over ICC Champions Trophy, of which Pakistan are the defending champions.

The PCB has not publically spoken about this matter, but insiders say PCB Chairman Ehsan Mani and his team is looking to stage, at least, one ICC tournament in the 2023 to 2031 cycle. However, they are yet to shortlist their preferred events.

The PCB has started aiming for an ICC event following the successfully delivery of 12 domestic competitions since May 1 last year, apart from the international series against Sri Lanka (twice) as well as Bangladesh women’s and under-16 sides.

Their belief in the event delivery capabilities has been further strengthened after they successfully hosted eight HBL Pakistan Super League 2019 matches in Karachi, which has proved be the cornerstone for the entire 34 matches of the 2020 edition to be played across four Pakistan venues — Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi and Multan — from Feb 20 to March 22.

The PCB’s confidence is also around massive improvement in the security arrangements over the past few years that has convinced the ICC to send five different set of match officials since 2017 as well as the backing of the international players associations who have given thumbs-up to their players to feature in the HBL PSL 2019 and 2020.

On Tuesday, the PCB top brass successfully managed to convince their Bangladesh counterparts to play three T20s, two Tests and a One-day International in three phases at home.

A PCB spokesperson confirmed to Dawn the ICC chief executive’s visit, saying this was the start of the ICC’s expression of interest process, while adding the process for the submission of bids will commence at a later stage but termed the upcoming meetings as important ones as the ICC will listen first-hand from the government officials while the PCB will understand the ICC’s expectations.

Apart from the discussions around the events, the PCB is looking at the ICC chief’s visit as part of relationship and confidence building exercise. It is no hidden secret that the ICC has supported the PCB’s efforts for the resumption of international cricket in Pakistan by sending their best match officials for the series.

The fact that PCB chief Ehsan Mani is also part of the ICC’s Financial Affairs Committee and was instrumental in securing the ICC’s first-ever commercial deal worth $550m in 2000, gives a little more weightage to the ICC chief executive’s visit though the ultimate outcome of event hosting will largely depend on the PCB’s presentations and guarantees.

“The ICC has set very high event delivery standards. Next week’s meetings will help the PCB learn from the ICC about their expectations, which, in turn, will assist the PCB when preparing their bid document. It is just the start of a long process,” the spokesperson said, while talking to Dawn.

The PCB, in partnership with India, had staged the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup in 1987, while they teamed up with India and Sri Lanka to host the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 1996 with the final in Lahore.

Pakistan were last awarded the ICC Champions Trophy 2008, which was subsequently held in South Africa in 2009 following some teams’ refusal to travel for the event over security concerns.

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