He also added that if the hybrid model worked during the Asia Cup, it could pave the way for it to be used in the one-day World Cup, to be held later this year in India. Given the fraught and tense relations between India and Pakistan, Sethi said there is a “distinct possibility” that the Pakistan government doesn’t allow Pakistan to travel to India.
Sethi held a meeting with ACC officials in Dubai on Tuesday to try and find a solution to the issues, and he believes the PCB has “bent over backwards” to accommodate the various concerns. “The proposal that I submitted three days ago takes care of all this,” he said. “We play four matches in Pakistan, the teams come straight here and then everybody moves to the neutral venue wherever that may be. We play the rest of games there. I made the concession that in the event we get to the final we play the final in a neutral venue, whether against India or anyone else. We’ve bent over backwards to solve all these issues.”
Keeping four matches in Pakistan, ESPNcricinfo understands, is to ensure the PCB’s long-term strategy of high-profile international cricket and the hosting of tournaments in Pakistan continues uninterrupted.
“My mandate given to me by the government and by the media and by the people of Pakistan is that this has to be an honourable and reciprocal arrangement,” Sethi said. “We are happy to play in the Asia Cup but it can’t be that India refuses to come to Pakistan and then doesn’t allow us to even host few of our matches at a neutral venue. Don’t forget immediately after the Asia Cup, we have the World Cup coming and it’s going to be in India and it’s an ICC event. What happens if India doesn’t come to Pakistan or India torpedoes my hybrid model? I don’t think my government will allow me to go to India to play the World Cup.”
The idea of this hybrid solution, and the possibility of the neutral leg being played in the UAE has not gone down well with the boards of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. They have raised logistic and operational objections as well as the heat in the UAE at that time of the year. Sethi insisted that as the host country, it was up to the PCB to decide where the neutral venue should be.
“I am quite surprised that this idea is being floated unofficially by Sri Lanka and by Bangladesh,” he said. “In the last ACC meeting, which was about a month ago, we all agreed that it was imperative that Pakistan play the Asia Cup and without Pakistan there will be no Asia Cup. Nearly 80% of the revenues of the Asia Cup are from India-Pakistan matches of which, the way the schedule is structured, we play at least two of those and possibly three if we are both in final. The only objection Bangladesh made was that it’s going to be too hot in September in the UAE and that would be a problem. Then the other issue was logistics. The proposal that I submitted takes care of all logistic problems.”
The PCB has also been keen to point out that both the 2018 and 2022 editions of the Asia Cup were played in the UAE in September.
According to Sethi, time is running out to make a decision. The board, he said, required three months to prepare. “We need to reserve venues in the UAE or Sri Lanka or wherever we decide. Time has already run out, the ACC has to make a decision. We have made our position clear. I had a meeting with a high level ACC interlocutor two days ago in Dubai. He liked it, he said it is eminently workable. He said he would go back to [BCCI secretary and ACC president] Jay Shah and talk to him.
“We need to resolve the first issue [of accepting the hybrid solution] and then we can sit across a table and decide where to play. We will be reasonable. The interolocuter said I have briefed Jay Shah about our meeting, he’s okay with it. He now wants to check with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. So let’s see where this goes.”
As has been the case throughout the protracted negotiations of where this tournament ends up, Sethi raised the spectre of the consequences in case the worst happens with the Asia Cup. “There is a very distinct possibility [of Pakistan not playing in the World Cup] if we do not come to any solutions right now. I raised this issue in the ACC meeting we had in Bahrain and I invited the ICC chairman [Greg Barclay] to come and sit with us and hear what we are talking about.
“The idea being that if the hybrid model works here, then we could well make it work in the World Cup. Meaning the Pakistan matches could be held in Bangladesh or the UAE, one hop away and we can sort it out and all other games in India. Why can’t India come to Pakistan and play? If India comes to Pakistan and plays, then we can go there and play and this matter will be resolved.”
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent