ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Cricket Board’s interim Management Committee chairman Najam Sethi confirmed on Thursday the possibility of the national side playing their 2023 ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup matches at a neutral venue instead of host country India was well on the cards.

It was the first time Sethi openly mentioned the “hybrid model” in the presence of media, turning what has been mere speculation so far into the official narrative of the PCB.

Dawn had reported earlier that the “hybrid model” was under consideration for the Asia Cup — which Pakistan are set to host in September — with India to play their matches at a neutral venue.

However, during negotiations with the Asian Cricket Council and the Board of Control for Cricket in India earlier this month, the PCB leadership had made it clear that it would expect the model to be replicated come the World Cup in India in September.

Sethi had discussed the matter with top ICC officials in the body’s Board meetings last week and according to sources close to the PCB, the proposal received an “encouraging response”.

While addressing reporters here outside the Parliament House after the Standing Committee on Inter-Provincial Coordination (IPC) meeting, Sethi reiterated the stance, confirming his talks with the ICC and ACC.

The PCB chief claimed that despite “resistance” he was able to convince the ICC officials that the “hybrid model” was the way forward, especially with the matter to arise again when Pakistan host the ICC Champions Trophy in 2025.

“Although we did not talk about such things, but yes, anybody can trigger debate for not playing World Cup matches in India and if the Pakistani government will ask us not to play in India, then we will have to look towards the hybrid model,” he said.

“If India do not come here to play Asia Cup matches, the Pakistan public could ask the PCB why Pakistan is playing in India.”

Despite being awarded the hosting rights of the Asia Cup, the PCB was shocked by comments from the ACC president Jay Shah — who is also the BCCI secretary — who unilaterally announced in October last year that India wouldn’t travel to Pakistan for the Asia Cup.

The PCB — led by Ramiz Raja back then — had reacted to Shah’s statements with a strong stance, going as far as threatening of withdrawing from the World Cup.

Sethi — who took office in January this year — meanwhile, had adopted a more diplomatic approach, which saw him call an emergency meeting of the ACC earlier this month, which saw the idea of the “hybrid model” emerge.

The 74-year-old administrator then presented the idea to the ICC in what Dawn understands was an informal conversation with ICC high-ups including the body’s president Greg Barclay and chief executive Geoff Allardice.

While the ACC is expected to adopt the hybrid model, it is yet to make a final decision.

AFGHANISTAN SERIES NOT A ‘DEBACLE’

During the media talk, the PCB chief backed the new-look Pakistan side that lost their three-match Twenty20 International series against Afghanistan 2-1.

Pakistan went into the series without five of their top players in captain Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan, Fakhar Zaman, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Haris Rauf with all-rounder Shadab Khan leading a squad of a number of young and inexperienced players.

After getting beaten in the first two matches, Pakistan’s consolation win saw youngsters Saim Ayub and Ihsanullah shine with impactful performances.

Sethi said the series was meant to test new talent for Pakistan and PCB deliberately sent junior players.

“It was not a debacle,” he said, adding that Pakistan identified two “shining stars” from the series.

Earlier, the standing committee on IPC, headed by Nawab Sher, applauded the PCB management for successfully organizing the HBL Pakistan Super League’s eighth season. The committee was informed that the PCB paid Rs.2 billion tax to the Government of Pakistan.

During the meeting, a PCB official briefed the committee that the board was making efforts to revive domestic and international cricket in the country.

Sethi added that PCB’s next goal was to revive women’s cricket through the Women’s League, for which a budget of Rs.7 billion was allocated. The committee was also briefed regarding the rehabilitation/revival of Hyderabad’s Niaz Stadium.

A PCB representative said that the stadium was under the city’s civil administration without any prior notice. He said the PCB management desires to take charge of the stadium. The committee directed the PCB to call a meeting with Hyderabad’s district administration to resolve the issue.

Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2023

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